There’s a lot to love about Season: A Letter to the Future, a breezy new cycling and scrapbooking indie title from Scavengers Studio. Perhaps ironically, the degree to which the game eschews conflict is what left me most conflicted.
At its core, Season explores memory, identity, and the fragility of both the mental and physical world, set in a magically-real land not unlike our Earth. You play as an unnamed character who — after a friend’s prophetic vision — sets out to bike around, chronicling the moments before an impending cataclysm.
Nods to Hayao Miyazaki’s painterly style, along with beautiful scoring and sound design, bring the game’s environment to life. You’ll spend the majority of your time pedaling around a single valley as a sort of end-times diarist, equipped with an instant camera and tape recorder. These accessories beg you to slow down and tune in to your surroundings — and you’ll want to, because atmosphere and pacing are where this game shines.
Season tasks you to fill out journal pages with photographs, field recordings, and observations. I was impatient with these scrapbooking mechanics at first, but that didn’t last long. Once united with my bike and free to explore, the world felt worth documenting. In short order, I was eagerly returning to my journal to sort through all the images and sounds I had captured, fidgeting far longer than necessary to arrange them just-so.
For its short run time — you might finish the game in anywhere from three to eight hours, depending on how much you linger — Season manages to deliver memorable experiences. Like a guided meditation through a friend’s prophetic dream. Or a found recording with an apocalyptic cult campfire song. Those two scenes alone are probably worth the price of admission.
Frustratingly, then, for a game that packs in some character depth and excellent writing, it’s the sum of the story that falls flat. Ostensibly this is a hero’s journey, but the arc here is more informative than transformative. You reach your journey’s end largely unchanged, your expectations never really challenged along the way (imagine a Law & Order episode with no red herrings). And that’s perhaps what best sums up what you won’t find in this otherwise charming game — a challenge.
For the final day before a world-changing event, things couldn’t be much more cozy and safe. You cannot crash your bike. You cannot go where you should not, or at least if you do, no harm will come of it. You cannot ask the wrong question. Relationships won’t be damaged. You won’t encounter any situations that require creative problem solving.
There are some choices to be made — dialogue options that only go one way or another — but they’re mostly about vibes: Which color bike will you ride? Will you “absorb the moment” or “study the scene”? Even when confronted with the game’s biggest decision, your choice is accepted unblinkingly. Without discernible consequences, most of your options feel, well, inconsequential. Weightless. A matter of personal taste.
Season: A letter to the future has style to spare and some captivating story elements. Uncovering its little world is rewarding, but it’s so frictionless as to lack the drama of other exploration-focused games like The Witness or Journey. In essence, Season is meditative interactive fiction. Remember to stop and smell the roses, because nothing awaits you at the end of the road.
James Perkins Mastromarino contributed to this story.