This article contains spoilers. You’ve been warned.
From the trailer, Last Day of June seems like a sentimental puzzle game reminiscent of its developer’s first game, Murusaki Baby. With Last Day of June, director Massimo Guarini set out to “create a riveting emotional experience that connects with the broader audience of human beings.” Last Day of June was bundled together with Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons on Steam, a game that feels like a foot to the gut, so I expected Last Day of June would be a touching emotional experience. It turns out I was wrong—almost.
Last Day of June opens on a couple sitting on a dock, inhabitants of a world Tim Burton might have made if black was not a color. They, and the rest of the adorable, archetypal villagers, speak their own language of small sounds and gestures. It’s sweet.
I spent most of the game here, changing the sequence of events to prevent this tragedy. Except when Carl turned back time, I could only play as other villagers and change their actions, not Carl’s. But why would Carl go back and alter other people’s behavior? Isn’t each person ultimately responsible for their own actions?
As I continued playing, I became even more troubled. The puzzle wasn’t daunting; there are four villagers whose actions I directed over the course of the day to change the outcome. That’s too many variables to expect that changing one will solve the problem. Yet I could only play through each of these characters one at a time, in a certain order. I would prevent one cause of death only to unearth another. Then I would have to go back and make more changes. It seemed cruel. Why did I have to watch this tragedy over and over, all this work for no gain? Was Carl punishing the people of his village, making them do their puppet dance once more, with feeling, only to still hold them responsible when they failed?
Over the course of playing through the fourth villager it’s revealed it hasn’t been Carl turning time back for the player—it’s June. Carl even finds one of her sketchpads covered in the action options I’ve been choosing among for the villagers, with some circled, some scratched out, and arrows crisscrossing the page. So, did June hold the villagers responsible for her death?
I don’t think so. Because at this point I could finally go back and change Carl’s actions. I think June wanted to eliminate every possible option before having Carl go back and change his own actions. And she was okay with having the villagers be culpable in her death over and over because she had a pretty good idea of how to save her own life, and it would involve Carl losing his. She wanted to protect Carl: protect what had been, up until her death, a perfect day. But, because of the unknowable laws of the game’s universe, a life must end.
After, Carl finds out why June was so driven to live, why she would stop at nothing to do so. His willing self-sacrifice let her, and his child, live on.
But I was angry. June was acting to protect her child, but she willing to manipulate people’s lives to do it. She made the villagers, and me, and Carl watch her die repeatedly. To the point where I didn’t see her as the victim of this story anymore—to me she had become the villain. June being the only unplayable character pushes the blame for her death off onto everyone else in the story. And the narrow approach to puzzle solving added to my frustration. As June and Carl were the primary actors in this story, and June was asking everyone in general and Carl in particular to answer for her death, I didn’t feel like she deserved to live.
Which is when I finally emotionally connected with the story. Did I deserve to live? And what would I be willing to put others through to save the one person on the planet that means the most to me?
I don’t know the answer to that last question. I’m not sure I’m ready to know. But I’m not angry with June anymore.