This is the first installment of a new series I’m beginning on this blog called “GOTY Contender.” I’m planning on playing a lot of new releases this year, and this will hopefully help me keep track of my favorites. At the end of the year, I’ll pick my top game of the year from this list and do a special post on it.
It’s not often that upon finishing a game I turn around and immediately start playing it again from the beginning, especially if it’s a narrative game. Season: A Letter to the Future is a notable exception and already a contender for my personal game of the year. I wasn’t ready to let it go. I still had some unfinished scrapbook pages, more of the world to explore, and ultimately, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.
In Season, you play as Estelle, a young woman who’s leaving her home village for the first time. In the world of the game, prophetic dreams hold weight and meaning, and Estelle’s best friend has experienced such a dream. This leads Estelle on a journey to document the end of a season, or era of time, and take her findings to a museum archive in a faraway city. She’s equipped with a bicycle, a scrapbook, a Polaroid camera, and an audio recorder. She uses the latter three to document everything she finds as she explores Tieng Valley, a culturally significant place that will soon be flooded and lost to time.
Season is a meditative game, as you spend most of it riding your bike around, exploring, and listening to Estelle’s thoughts on the world around her. You meet a few people along the way, those who are clinging on to the last vestiges of the Valley before they must evacuate. It excels at environmental storytelling, relying on your exploration to learn about the world and its seasons instead of spoon-feeding you exposition.
Most of all, Season feels deliberate. There’s a moment toward the beginning of the game when Estelle says she’s going to think about what kind of visitor she wants to be, and the game seems to have a message about tourism and what it means to enter another place and adhere to its customs, to remain an observer and chronicler without altering or ogling. And Tieng Valley is especially important for visitors at this moment because it will soon be no more. Its last residents open their arms to Estelle, giving her permission to capture their home as it is, as they have always known it, and as they hope to remember it.
The game also has quite a lot to say about memory and remembrance. There are three gods of Tieng Valley: Din, Void, and Tide. They are the gods of memory, forgetting, and sleep, respectively. People pray to these gods in hopes of remembering things they’ve lost, forgetting painful memories, and experiencing restful sleep or good dreams. Estelle is documenting the world around her in hopes that it will be remembered and preserved for future seasons, and she discovers other people’s memories during her journey in the form of magical flowers that capture memories and replay them over and over again. The game hints at diseases that can cause people to lose their memories or become trapped in time. This theme about what kind of things we’re desperate to hold on to, and what we want to forget, is woven throughout the experience of Season, making the game feel almost nostalgic for something I’d never known, and that feeling is largely why I went back to it so soon after finishing it.
The scrapbooking aspect of Season feels deliberate as well, giving you reason to pause and spend time with each place you visit as well as Estelle’s thoughts. I had so much fun placing the photos and drawings and stickers, and it was even more fun on my second playthrough to see what I could do differently on each page. Scrapbooking made me slow down and reflect on everything I had just taken in, giving me a real sense of place and appreciation for Tieng Valley as a whole. I loved flipping back through my scrapbook at the end of the game, seeing all of the beautiful, colorful pieces I had created and reflecting on the journey I had taken, realizing that my own mind was now full of memories of this incredible game.
I highly recommend Season if you like narrative exploration and you’re looking for a rich world in which to lose yourself for a while. It kept me captivated enough to play it twice, back to back, and I still can’t stop thinking about it.