You know, the themes of video games can sometimes be more shallow than those we find in novels or film. We don’t get a lot of video games nowadays that explore the slice of life genre, while tackling profound themes regarding humanity and the preservation of memories. Canadian indie developers Scavengers Studio said "speak no more", and announced their newest project SEASON: A letter to the future back at The Game Awards in 2020. This came as a surprise as this studio was mostly known for their short-lived free-to-play battle royale Darwin Project. To see them work on a game that is pretty much a polar opposite of their previous work definitely came with some doubt and hesitation, but I’m glad to say that SEASON: A letter to the future doesn’t disappoint and starts 2023 off strong as an indie game of the year contender. In SEASON, you play as a young woman leaving home for the first time on a bicycle adventure to learn more about the outside world before a mysterious cataclysm washes everything away. Video games are a form of art, and this game is a prime example of the potential of the art form, from the colorful world building and the cozy gameplay to the heart-wrenching and complex narrative.
Much of the game progresses at your own pace, with a vast “open-world” section that you can explore in any order you please. Perhaps you’ll pay a visit to the mysterious looking temple at the top of the mountain or venture through a gorgeous field of roaming cows. Once you get past the prologue, the world of SEASON: A letter to the future is truly your oyster, and it’s a charming one indeed. I found myself more often than not just admiring the beauty of the sunset in the distance or the flowers swaying in the wind. The bike that you choose at the beginning of the game purely serves as a mode of transportation, but also integrates some neat features with the DualSense controller. You can feel the resistance of pedaling up a hill or incline with the adaptive triggers and you even have a cute little bell you can ring. A minor quality of life addition I wish the developers would add is the ability to auto ride so I can change the camera angle to enjoy the spectacular landscapes in the background.
The cast of characters you meet on your journey are some of the most diverse and endearing I’ve ever met in a video game. The premise starts off very vague, with the concept of the season coming to the end, whatever that means. Is the world coming to an end or is it like summer turning into fall? Being able to listen to these characters' stories and share a memory with them before the season concludes is something that I hold dear to my heart even as I’m writing this review. From meeting Kochi, the cute little kid who takes me on a bicycle tour of a valley to sharing a final moment with the last monk of Tieng Valley, there was never a dull moment to be had in my roughly six-hour playthrough. The question that I desperately wanted to answer for myself by the end was: what does it really mean for the season to end?
Aside from traveling around and appreciating the scenery or meeting important people, you’ll be taking pictures, recording sounds, and filling out your personal journal. Every page of this diary is dedicated to an event, place, or person. It’s your documentation of experiences that ultimately dictates what you choose to remember or forget. There’s no limit to the number of photos you can take, and the camera even comes with a zoom functionality along with some cool filters. It’s not much, but photography nerds will definitely rejoice. You are tasked to seek out specific landmarks to take pictures of, but I do wish the camera was more interwoven with the game. On the other hand, you are also equipped with a handy recorder to capture music played by various instruments or the stories told by strangers along the way. Gathering enough clues unlocks inspirations and revelations as you piece together the mysteries of this world.
Such a beautiful title is not without its faults. While the vocal performances from each character were strong and imperative, I couldn’t help but notice that the mouths of each character would not move when dialogue was being spoken. Performance on PlayStation 5 leaves more to be desired, as semi-frequent frame drops and stutters do occur during gameplay. Keep in mind there is no graphical or performance mode. The benefits of playing on the PS5 are the ultrafast load times and the tempest 3D audio feature. More often than not, the camera angle can also get jumbled up if you ride your bicycle into a tight corner. Clipping glitches of the environment can be seen on screen, but nothing took too much away from the overall immersion and flow of the game.
SEASON: A letter to the future is an experience that I can’t say many games offer in today’s day and age. There’s no big bad antagonist, intricately designed combat system, or overly complex gameplay mechanics. Heck, there’s no fighting at all, but just a young woman setting off on a serene adventure to learn more about the outside world and what it really means for the season to end. The developers even describe it as a game about lingering, and they’re not wrong there. That being said, I don’t feel like this game is for everyone. If you’re looking for something fast paced and exciting, you won’t find it here. Come into this experience with the right expectations and mindset and you might be surprised how much you enjoy it.
The more time you take with it, the more appreciation and enjoyment you’ll get out of SEASON. There’s no rush to get to “end-game” nor is there a new game plus. While SEASON does offer multiple endings depending on key choices made during your playthrough, it ultimately is a game that is most magical your first time through. That being said, I do feel my journey ended too soon, as I wished there were more of this world to explore and more interesting people to meet. I genuinely hope that Scavengers Studio continues to build on this universe with their future projects.
If you can find some time out of your busy everyday life to step into the world of SEASON: A letter to the future, then I highly beckon you to do so. Scavengers Studio has created a beautiful work of art that captures powerful motifs of humanity and themes of preservation. After all, it’s the memories we choose to remember that really matter in the end.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.