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Season: A Letter To The Future Review - A Ride That Stays With You

EDITORS' RATING : 9 / 10
Pros
  • Intentionally insightful
  • Dripping in thoughtfulness
  • Absolutely gorgeous to look at
Cons
  • Can be overwhelming if you're after every single thing that can be explored
  • A few clunky moments with the bicycle mechanic

A PS5 code was provided to ZaaZ for this review. "Season: A Letter To The Future" will be available on January 31, 2023, for PS4, PS5, and PC.

Meaning. It's an interesting theme that routinely presents itself in games set inside a dystopian future following some sort of cataclysmic event that results in society's collapse. Whether you're finding meaning in a second chance at parenthood or retribution a la "The Last of Us" series, or you're literally finding your own meaning (and overall game experience) in a game like "Kandria," it's funny that a desolate, often hopeless world can actually present the themes of hope, optimism, and meaning. Heck, even the fast-paced and chaotic "Left 4 Dead" series features four complete strangers finding a sense of meaning in protecting one another throughout their zombie-slaughtering journey.

"Season: A Letter To The Future" doesn't exactly fall into the same overtly apocalyptic tropes as the aforementioned titles, though. The atmospheric experience follows a young girl as she explores her past, present, and future in a world where seasons otherwise come and go without much thought.

Time is running out in Tieng Valley and Estelle must document the outgoing season — which is never a thing that is specifically defined — before it's gone forever and onto the next. Estelle embarks from her small mountain village with her camera, audio recorder, and scrapbook, and with her bicycle, journeys outside of her village to capture the last moments of the world as she knows it (and is experiencing for the first time).

Every moment counts

As Estelle collects photographs and meets other inhabitants of the world, she delves into a meditative and thoughtfully designed adventure. Through conversations and contemplative monologues, players are able to take part in a meaningful story that explores topics such as memory and the importance of community, in all its many forms.

From the start, you're told to live for and appreciate every single moment, no matter how minute and unimportant some may seem. The first scene that takes place is between Estelle and her mother, the morning of Estelle's departure. Even in this single scene, a significant amount of time is spent taking in everything — from various knick knacks to photographs. Even before setting forth on you journey, you're given the option to spend just a little more time taking it all in.

Without a doubt, the exchange between Estelle and her mom hits exceptionally hard if you're a parent. We already know all too well that our time with our children is fleeting. And even though Estelle's mother likely never imagined her daughter leaving the village one day, she empowers her and even makes sacrifices (in the form of cherished memories) to ensure her daughter is protected on her journey. This opening moment sets the stage for every other interaction with the characters met throughout Estelle's travels in both influencing Estelle herself, as well as making her think about her own impact on the world and others.

The weight of words

As you venture into the vast world via bicycle, it's easy to forget the surrounding minutiae and seemingly unimportant notes and items left behind from others as you take in the incredibly beautiful and far reaching views and scenery. Seemingly a Ghibli-inspired trek through starkly-contrasting colors and bold comic book lines,"Season: A Letter To The Future" is absolutely breathtaking — whether you're staring out amongst the clouds at other tall mountaintops or riding your bike next to an endless ocean.

The game actually goes out of its way to make sure players don't forget their search for meaning by having Estelle narrate everything she experiences or captures on her camera or audio recorder through insightful monologues and narrative. Every piece of dialogue — and even every single individual word — feels intentional and heavily weighted. Estelle's narration is also incredibly effective. While her words, keepsakes, and journey overall is intended for whoever ends up finding her journal in the future, Estelle's words also seem to echo and reverberate for the player as well. Estelle is not only writing a letter to the future, she's also trying to leave something meaningful behind for herself in order to make her life worth living — or to at least understand the importance and fragility of it all.

Your own experience

With its simple camera system, "Season: A Letter To The Future" allows players to capture whatever moments they please and put them in their scrapbook. This also goes for audio, allowing players to record clips as mementos of their journey. These tools, while simple, are incredibly powerful in allowing players the ability to capture and reflect on the world around them.

And there are ample opportunities to reflect. You can take a break from your journey, find a calm and serene spot, and just sit with your thoughts for a while. Or, you can stop and inspect every single item or place that you come across. Interestingly, as thoughtful and meditative as the experience is, if you have any inkling of completionism in you, exploring every single corner and aspect of the world can become overwhelming and, dare it be said, a chore. That's not to say doing so is without eventual reward, but it does require a certain level of dedication and effort to truly take everything in that's available to you. It will also take the game from a 6- to 7-hour playthrough time to well over 15 hours, depending on your thoroughness.

GOTY material

"Season: A Letter To The Future" is one of those games that you continue to think about even after walking away — whether that be between playthrough sessions or after completing the game. But it's not just the game itself that stays with you, the impressions Estelle's words and experiences leave behind are incredibly powerful. Together, these two make for an experience that is incredibly immersive and impactful. "Season: A Letter To The Future" has a particular knack for making the small moments in life seem significant, not just to you but to others as well. The game lets you become part of its world and when it's all said and done — you too will likely have written a letter to the future in your own life, whether you meant to or not.

If there's anything to take away, it's that having a sense of meaning is what defines us as humans. "Season: A Letter To The Future" is an excellent exploration of this concept and its ability to evoke emotion and contemplation make it a remarkable experience. It encapsulates what it means to be alive, for both Estelle as well as the player — and that's something worth writing home about.

While it may not end up being the sexiest choice, "Season: A Letter To The Future" should very much be in the conversation as an early candidate for 2023's Game of the Year.

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