We’ve all played walking simulators, but have you ever played a riding simulator?
Season: A Letter to the Future is a serene game with moments of profound sadness. You start your journey as Estelle, a young woman with a passion for recording stories. She leaves her local village near the end of the season by bicycle to make records of the world around for posterity’s sake. Seasons in this fictional world are catastrophic and biblical in their transition. Estelle’s journey leads her to Tieng Valley, a place that resembles a small village from South East Asia. Here she learns of the Grey Hand society that are leading an evacuation effort on the village as a flood will wipe out the place at the season’s end. On the last day for evacuating the village, Estelle explores the land and its remaining people by recording their stories, taking photos, and recording sounds. The end goal of Estelle’s journal is to take it to the museum, like the Smithsonian, that can keep the records for the future generations.
The gameplay is very simple as you have a journal, a camera, a microphone, and a bicycle. By using the journal you create your own little narrative by the way you align the photos you’ve taken. Five photos will usually complete the location, not that you need any, but they do make for an enjoyable looking journal at the end. The camera was great, and if anything extended my gameplay by hours as I was trying to align the best shots. I want to say I took probably three hundred photos throughout the game, most of them having no relevancy towards the story. Two-thirds into the game I found I was not taking as many photos so I could get through the story faster. The microphone is an element I rarely used, even though I appreciated how good it felt to use. For a game that wants you to primarily utilise a bicycle, it was fine. You would press L2 and R2 to move the bicycle and would feel the tension in the Dual Sense Controller’s adaptive triggers when doing so. The problem with the bicycle was the camera angle when using the bicycle, it would easily steer off or not keep up when turning the bike on tight corners, and that would detract from the beautiful vistas you pass.
The mission structure was mostly up to you once you explored Tieng Valley, you could choose to uncover all the clues by taking corresponding photos of each area to learn more about the place. You could effectively skip most of it and just be riding a bicycle ignorant to the place and its people. I’m not usually into these fantastical stories in alternate worlds however it seemed grounded enough by talking to the villagers and learning their very human struggles. Most of the villages are dealing with loss, whether that be of a loved one, memories, or time. It’s interacting with the villagers where I enjoyed this game the most because the writing is always profound, and the voice acting is excellent. If the writing was sub par I would probably enjoy just riding around the bicycle in a meditative state.
I went into the game not expecting much story, I was frankly surprised how much story there was. When it was over I wanted there to have been tons more of the narrative. I would have liked for there to have been more villagers spread across the map, while there isn’t, it did make the weight of the situation feel more real. Riding around in the village I was thinking about how this will all be gone once the flood came. Everyone had to uproot their lives to and leave their memories to be washed away. I played it for the most part in one sitting making the game feel parallel to Estelle experiencing the village for one day. I think the game works better like that. You would lose something if you played this game over a week or two.
Season: A Letter to the Future may very well be a beautiful looking game, but for me it’s like a series of depressing poems and I revelled in that. This game will appeal to those who enjoy walking simulators, great writing, and meditative backdrops.
Available now on PS4, PS5, and PC.