Season - A Letter to the Future Review

Petal to the metal

By Paul Hunter

I've tried a lot of experimental indie games in recent years, but Season - A Letter to the Future is one of the most unique. It seamlessly blends exploration of a strange new world full of mystery and intrigue with journalling the life moments that matter most to you, personally. It's a pensive, meditative experience that won't appeal to all players, but those open to a slower-paced game that bucks nearly all elements found in modern-day indie and AAA titles will find something special here.

Let's hop on our pink bike and cruise on down to Tieng Valley to see what Season is all about, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: The Worldbuilding

One of the most interesting aspects of Season is that it takes place in a world resembling Earth but it's clearly different from the home planet we've come to know. This strange new place is defined by seasons that aren't merely a change of weather but rather cataclysmic events that reshape the dynamics of the entire world. And, apparently, new seasons also result in the world's population having collective amnesia of all prior memories.

To get a sense of just how different seasons are in this peculiar world, you play as a character named Estelle who exists during a 'season of dream sickness' where some folks have fallen asleep for decades after succumbing to an unknown illness. Prior to this was the season of a devastating great war that went on for 10 years, and before that was a prosperous 'golden' season lasting nearly 50 years. Given how different each season is, it seems like a terrifying place to exist in where every season is a massive life gamble.

What's so great about Season's worldbuilding is that it's mainly up to you to uncover its secrets. As Estelle, you begin in the isolated mountain village of Caro following the village elders' vision that a new season is about to begin. You head out of the settlement for the first time in your life with the purpose of documenting this season for future generations to learn from. While a small portion of the world's history is told through cutscenes, the majority of your learnings will come from your explorations.

Early on you'll be given a digital camera and an audio recorder, which act as tools to record the world around you. By taking photos of everything that captures your imagination—whether that's beautiful landmarks, local fauna, propaganda posters, eye-catching graffiti or religious shrines—you'll get rewarded with short monologues from Estelle that explores these objects in a little more detail.

This is a game with a heavy focus on observation, contemplation and reflection. Moments after leaving Caro Village you'll grab one of three coloured bikes and head out to explore a world thoughtfully created and full of intricate details. After a linear segment that gets you used to capturing moments and objects of interest, you'll make your way to Tieng Valley, a lush farming community on the verge of disaster. The valley's dam is about to give way, which threatens to flood the entire area. As a result, the villagers have mostly fled to an apartment complex up high with only a few stragglers in the valley remaining. Your driving force is to trek through Tieng and its surrounding areas to record anything that captures your imagination—and it's up to you to decide where this journey will take you and what memories you'll save from it.

In a departure from nearly all modern-day open-world games, Season has no mission objectives, no waypoints to direct you, and no combat whatsoever. What motivated me to spend eight hours in this tranquil world is to piece by piece put together the mysteries of the seasons, and the villages and people that inhabit these strange lands. Interestingly enough, you can 'mainline' the game in about four hours if you want to quickly get through it, but you can easily spend double that time or more if you choose to really dig deep and explore the land fully. Considering how interesting and complex the game world was to me, I felt compelled to discover all that was out there and fill my scrapbook with the memories that meant the most to me.

Liked: Scrapbooking

Your scrapbook, which serves as a physical memory of your experience in Season, is such a joy to complete. While in Caro Village, the surrounding mountain road and within Tieng Valley there are dozens of areas to explore each receiving its own two-page scrapbook section. You're tasked with documenting these areas by taking photographs or audio records and then placing these items in your scrapbook.

Your camera has a few photo mode-type features such as zoom, focus and colour filters that help you frame shots and customize your snapshots. Within the scrapbook itself you can rotate, position and shrink or enlarge photos and audio logs to personalize the pages exactly to your liking. I used to have a scrapbook when I was a kid and this game brought back fond memories of those cherished memories in simpler times.

For every area you visit, if you manage to place around six items into the scrapbook you'll 'complete' the area and be given a short cutscene where Estelle muses about the location's history or how she feels in the moment. It's a nice incentive indeed, but what makes these moments feel extra special is you can choose to place whatever memories interest you the most in your scrapbook—there's no checklist to follow. See a beautiful sunset that inspires you? Take a photo and put it in your book. Or hear a bullfrog chirping sound that interests you? That can also go in your book if you so choose. The whole point is filling up the pages with the items you cherish most, and it's completely up to you what goes in there.

That said, the game does throw at you a modest number of 'find the objects' scrapbook pages where your goal is to search an area to find important objects which generally help to explain this mysterious world a tiny bit better. But like all pages in your scrapbook, these prescribed collectable pages are optional and nothing forces you to complete them.

The open-ended nature of your scrapbook is easily my favourite element of Season. It felt so refreshing not being told what to find and collect and given total freedom to explore how I please and record whatever memories impacted me the most. I was encouraged to explore off the beaten in case there was a beautiful bird to photograph or capture a vibrant sunset at exactly the right angle. Being empowered to create my own unique journey through this world, and knowing it will be unlike the experience of anyone else, was a wonderful feeling.

Liked: Gorgeous Cel-Shaded Graphics

Season is extraordinarily nice to look at, and was yet another reason that compelled me to comb through each area to see all the visual highlights. The game has stunning cel-shaded graphics reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that makes the environments really pop. The soft colour palette and excellent use of lighting perfectly complement the gentle and reflective nature of the game itself.

Anyone who enjoys photo modes will have a huge playground to discover, whether that's breathtaking vistas with incredible depth or getting up close with wildlife brought to life with exceptional detail. Beyond that, Season's world is filled to the brim with curious relics of the past that hints at the civilizations that came before and shed insight into their tragic ends. After 'completing' the adventure, I walked away thinking there were still unsolved mysteries and loose ends I may never get to solve, and it feels like this was done by design.

The team at Scavengers Studio put so much effort into making Season stand out visually among its peers and honestly the game is worth playing through for its beautiful visuals alone. From the intricate shrines to the detailed monuments to the stunning flowers and fauna, the game begs to be explored and photographed in all its cel-shaded glory.

Didn't Like: The Focus on People in the Latter Half

Season is a wonderful experience that I enjoyed end-to-end, however, I must say that the first half of the game was slightly more interesting. And that's because you start out with the intent of simply exploring this fascinating world and documenting everything of interest. By the time you reach Tieng Valley, you move into the 'open-world' portion of the game where the focus, to a degree, switches to understanding the lives of the people who still remain in this doomed village. It's a narrowing of scope that didn't quite sit right with me.

Now don't get me wrong, the villagers themselves are interesting and their stories are touching—so I enjoyed interacting with them quite a bit. It's just that I initially had the impression I was out to explore and experience a large and wondrous world, so it was a tad disappointing to find out the second half of the game is so focused on this one community, surely a small part of an otherwise gigantic world. While I had fun learning about the valley's plight and doing my small bit to bring comfort to their lives, part of me wished I could go beyond the events of this community and uncover the larger secrets of this world.

Didn't Like: Bike Gets Caught in the World's Geometry

The bicycle in Season is a fantastic mode of transportation that brought me a lot of joy speeding down windy roads and otherwise pedalling through the game's many scenic locations. But there was one minor issue that kept on cropping up whenever I decided to venture offroad: my bike was constantly getting caught in the geometry. Whether it was a nuisance rock clogging my tire or invisible walls that tripped me up, I wish bike riding was smoother.

It got so irritating that sometimes when I'd approach a forested area or trail path I opted to hop off my bike and walk through it to avoid riding the clunky bike that I figured would just get caught on random objects anyways. Occasionally I'd get rewarded by finding a pretty bird or a colourful flower I may have missed if I quickly rode my bike through, but it was little consolation. For a game so focused on bike riding it's a shame the experience wasn't better. But hey, on the bright side if you go into the menu you can recall your bike at any time, so I did that whenever the path smoothed out.

The Verdict

Season - A Letter to the Future is a joyous experience unlike any I've played in recent memory. It's a calming, cathartic game where you'll end up learning just as much about yourself as you do this interesting and unusual world. The scope narrows in the second half of the game, which was a slight disappointment, but the overall journey was still rewarding making it an easy recommendation.

Final Score: 8.5/10 - Great

Season - A Letter to the Future details

Platform: PS5, PS4, PC
Developer: Scavengers Studio
Publisher: Scavengers Studio
Genre: Adventure
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

A key was provided by the publisher.