With each and every change of season there comes an atmosphere associated with the idea of life. Spring sparks growth, Summer maintains the health of the newly grown, and Fall, appreciated for its colorful display of death, bleeds into the icy vastness of Winter before returning back to the nurturing rains of Spring. In this way, Seasons After Fall follows the same sense of progression in both its narrative and gameplay, and life and death together act as the basis for the solution(s) to each of its puzzles. But as effective as its conceptual and artistic presentation is, a few of its petals could definitely use some trimming.
You play as a fox. A poor, little fox caught in the middle of nature’s take on an existential crisis. The silver lining is that this poor, little fox learns to command the seasons and their elements, and eventually proves just how much one small thing can affect. Seasons After Fall‘s gameplay blossoms similarly. As is the case with most any fox, the capabilities of this one includes running, jumping, and barking. That’s about it until you learn how to control all four seasons, but even that only changes the landscape as you run, jump, and bark. Utilizing the four together unveils new, uncharted territory for the fox, and running, jumping, and barking quickly become a series of strategic movements instead of three simple actions.
Almost every puzzle in the game revolves around the player’s understanding and manipulation of the seasons, providing a brilliant foundation for potentially intricate problems to solve. Winter turns geysers into frozen platforms of various heights (depending on the current season), Fall grows mushrooms and creates platforms from the leaves in the wind, Summer blooms small pods to bounce off of to new locations – I could go on. The possibilities of puzzle complexity unfortunately remain a mystery by the end of the game as most problems are solved with a fairly simple order of actions that only relies upon two (rarely three) seasons at a time. But Seasons After Fall doesn’t aim for complexity. It doesn’t strive to bend your mind or stress you out. No, this game has another direction in mind.
Seasons After Fall seeks to eliminate distractions. It provides a calm, slow pace in the face of strife between the personified elements of nature. The beauty of the game’s art direction creates a natural dichotomy with the severity of its narrative, and omits many conventional aspects of similar games to ensure its appreciation. Enemies are nonexistent, and character resources like health and stamina are tossed away for the sake of the experience. The screen consistently consists of nothing more than the world itself. Outside of the subtitles to the fully voiced script, there’s not a single character of text, not an indication for button input, nothing. Nothing but the moment at hand. No distractions. Whether sitting idle or running freely, every in-game moment looks like a moving painting, and there were countless moments I stopped playing to think about how nice that would look framed on my wall. Having considered minimizing the game to google prices for high quality prints at the FedEx around the corner, I dove back into the game’s enchanting sense of autonomy.
After a while, I began to feel increasingly more restricted by the game’s complete (nearly) lack of direction. There’s no fear of death or failure, leaving the urge to explore as the main source of motivation to continue. While it’s quite lovely to be able to complete the game’s puzzles in any order, it all feels like it’s coming to its fated and inevitable conclusion because time is not of the essence. Time is a distraction, and there’s no distractions here. There’s no rush. It’s definitely tranquil and incredibly easy to give your full attention, but it sacrifices a sense of reward for it.
The reward for playing is an unveiled story. Collectibles and hidden secrets (read: distractions) are nowhere to be found, so exploring for anything but the sake of curiosity grows tiresome over time. Despite this, Seasons After Fall is interesting enough in the presentation of its narrative to carry the game from start to finish. The ending can feel unfulfilling after having weathered such a storm to get there, but the game maintains its identity throughout its entirety.
Seasons After Fall is not so much about being directed as it is about finding direction. You’re a fox with a burden no fox should bear, and you have no idea how to achieve it. You’re in control. You’re directing this creature. So what do you do? You move. You act without knowledge and you find it along the way. It’s a worthwhile experience if you have a few hours of solitary bliss, but its level of freedom can fail to capture your attention if your mind is preoccupied. Distractions outside of the game can really impede the effectiveness of the game’s entrancing and most prominent offering: a fragile illusion of pure freedom.
This one’s for you and you alone.
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Review Statement: The author of this review received a PC code from the publisher for the purposes of this review.