Exploring the butterfly effect in Last Day of June
This article contains spoilers.
Released August 31, Last Day of June follows Carl, one half of a couple in love before a car crash paralyzes his legs and takes away his beloved. The game is based on the song “Drive Home” by Steven Wilson, and its accompanying music video directed and animated by Frankenweenie animator Jess Cope, who also drew the art for the game. Here, the pain of loss first comes as gentle memories, then more and more nightmarish as Carl follows a shadow of himself to the edge of a lake, forcing him to relive and augment the horror of that day. Indeed, as the song’s lyrics go, “a moment in time suspends.”
Reliving the worst time in your life
That’s certainly not the first impression you’d get from Last Day of June, whose scenery and characters are painted in beautiful warm, loving watercolors. Carl and June seem like such a happy couple, even annoyingly so as he plucks many flower petals for her.
Yet take another look at the characters, and there are already signs to the contrary. The characters are faceless, allowing you as the player to fill in the blanks (or leave them be), and they themselves remain wordless as they talk in grunts and other non-words. Their big eyes-without-eyes and rounded heads are reminiscent of Tim Burton illustrations – no surprise, perhaps, for an animator of Frankenweenie. All of this points towards something amiss.
This game’s initially warm beginnings take a drastic turn to horrified almost within the first ten minutes of the game, where ice and blue colors freeze over the warmth, and a ringing bell, later replaced by ever more desperate wailing, serves as a constant warning of death. Paintings and memories-made-real hang over you as endless reminders of things lost. The game, in a bout of deja vu, replays the same or similar scene as you switch from cozy to increasingly desperate again and again.
The butterfly effect
Last Day of June takes after titles like Groundhog Day or Life is Strange, where someone can transport themselves (or is transported) back in time to change things for better or worse. Often, as is very apparent in Life is Strange, which completely depends on the player’s choices throughout the game, changing even the smallest event can completely change an entire timeline. This phenomenon is called the “butterfly effect,” coined after the hypothetical scenario that a butterfly’s flapping wings could ultimately set in motion a chain of events that would cause a tornado several weeks later.
The butterfly effect is certainly not lost in Last Day of June, where your objective is to find the right sequence of events that will hopefully bring your end goal. As the player, you shuttle back and forth between four different characters, changing what they did in the moments leading up to the game’s main event.
This gameplay mechanic presents a stark contrast from both Groundhog Day and Life is Strange. In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors unwillingly relives the same day again and again – an unsettling scenario for sure, though it ultimately allows him to grow as a person. In Life is Strange, Max Caulfield finds that she can reverse events to a certain extent. In this way, she is the agent of change, affecting other characters by talking to them using knowledge of the “past.”
However, in Last Day of June, rather than unwillingly reliving the same scenario or changing others through your own actions, you willingly thrust yourself back into the past multiple times over and become the other people themselves. You thus have more control over every small change, but that may or may not lead to your desired outcome.
The game seems to ask the question: even if we change such-and-such in our lives, would that have led to the result we wanted? As with many other titles like this (with an exception, of course, made for Groundhog Day, where Phil memorizes the entire day to a T – though only after reliving it an incredibly large number of times), the answers seems to be no.
Image credits: Ovosonico, 505 Games