Indie Game of the Week 149: Seasons After Fall

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I figured winter was as good a time as any to review a game called Seasons After Fall. It's another explormer, though I might refer to it more as a "lite explormer", in that there's a significant reduction in the usual components that make up this ubiquitous sub-genre. For one, Seasons After Fall lacks combat and its large areas are connected in such a simple and straightforward way that an in-game map isn't strictly necessary (nor is one provided, more to the point). Instead, the game's more about quiet exploration and some mild seasonal puzzles of the kind you're probably familiar with if you've played The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons or that one tree level in Banjo-Kazooie. The plot is loosely about a spirit that is tricked by a minor forest god and must make amends by helping the forest's guardians fix the natural imbalance you caused as an unknowing accomplice. As such, the game is split into three "acts" where you visit the game's four regions - each based on a specific season - for a different objective each time.

The first time through a region is where you acquire the power to change to that region's season, and this first third of the game operates as a tutorial for each of the seasons and the changes they bring. A common example is to switch to winter to freeze waterfalls and pools, allowing you to walk and jump across them to reach new areas. A more complex puzzle might involve switching from winter to spring to cause water spouts to thaw out and grow higher, and then switching back to winter to refreeze them into taller platforms. The player also has a "bark" (they spend the game in the guise of a fox) that they can use to influence other creatures or activate button-like protuberances. The crux of the game is figuring out how these seasons affect your surroundings and using that understanding to make progress, and each story-critical objective becomes that much trickier to reach. Along the way, you're getting voiceovers from both the god (called a "Seed," though you don't find out what this seed's role is until late in the game) and the forest's Guardians, which are invariably large animals - the most talkative being the ursine Guardian of Winter seen above.

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The visual changes for each season, in addition to looking spectacular, really makes it easy to know which one is presently active. Even if the colors of spring and summer look similar, the fact that it's always raining in spring makes the difference clear.
The visual changes for each season, in addition to looking spectacular, really makes it easy to know which one is presently active. Even if the colors of spring and summer look similar, the fact that it's always raining in spring makes the difference clear.

The story's beats about the insecurity and fear of growing up and the importance of environmental equilibrium, as well as the simple puzzles, suggests that the game is perhaps more suited for a younger audience, or those who appreciate gentler types of video game that the Indie circuit is more inclined to provide. The beautiful graphics with its heavy brushstrokes in addition to all these forest spirits definitely puts to mind something like My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke - Studio Ghibli often features environmental themes in their films - or the similarly picturesque and arboreal Ori and the Blind Forest from Moon Studios. If you're looking for something more demanding in terms of challenging platforming or tough boss encounters like Ori, though, Seasons After Fall isn't all that interested in delivering either. It is not, by any stretch, a demanding video game.

In summery(!), I think I appreciated Seasons After Fall more than I strictly enjoyed playing it. I found the puzzles a bit too easy and the platforming has a bit of stickiness to it that means you always have to build up a little momentum for longer jumps. All the same, this time of year is always miserable and stressful, and I unwittingly picked a supremely chill game to cover as we lead up to the rigors of GOTY and the holiday fallout. While it's rudimentary as games of this genre go, focusing exclusively on environmental puzzles and the smallest amount of hopping across branches and leaves, the unhurried pace of the exploration, the story, and the voiceovers lends it a wholesome fairytale aesthetic that is the epitome of wistful and serene. If you're in the right mood for its humble charms and aren't looking for anything too deep in terms of difficulty or mechanical complexity, Seasons After Fall might have what you want.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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