Focus have come a long way recently. Though they have been consistently publishing games for a significant number of years, the past five or so have been especially successful for them. Taking them from a relatively unknown, primarily niche affair, to a full blown…almost “AAA” grade powerhouse. Offering the development studios who work for them, often as third parties, virtually complete control over their product and standing by them no matter what, so it’s not too hard to see why. It certainly helps set them apart from pretty much every other developer, especially the larger ones, in the industry. Meanwhile, they have most decidedly not forgotten their roots as a niche, indie haven. Which brings us to today’s topic, Seasons After Fall.
The most striking thing about Seasons, far and away, is the art design. It cannot be understated that this is an absolutely gorgeous game. Best described as, quite literally, a moving painting. Featuring a watercolour style that is immediately reminiscent of 18th century British works, or the artistic stylings of the inimitable Bob Ross if you want something more contemporary. Almost as though one of his happy little accidents came to life and developed a sense of its own identity.
That’s actually not such a bad analogy considering the game’s narrative. Which, though the player character is a fox, focuses around a forest “seed.” Though what a seed actually is remains unclear for quite some time. Primarily sitting in the background for a good chunk of the first half, it is a question that nevertheless lingers at the back of one’s mind. Such that, when the story kicks into full gear, the seemingly unrelated task of gathering the power to harness the four seasons takes on a whole new depth of significance.
However, the relative languidness of the overarching plot, coupled with the initially unintuitive gameplay may turn off many, who could go on to miss an otherwise superb game. The fox moves somewhat floaty and with a daunting degree of inertia, especially during jumps, that can be frustrating at the beginning. But rest assured, with only a modicum of patience, and a few minutes of practice, this actually works heavily to the game’s benefit, reinforcing, mechanically, the sense of being in a living world.
The use of the four seasons is more cerebrally complex, but functionally far more straight forward. Initially, your repertoire consists solely of movement and a ‘bark’ mechanic, which effectively translates into a pretty simple Use function. Though as the game progresses, and you gain the ability to change from Spring to Autumn, for example, things become far more interesting. You travel back though each of the game’s five areas several times, unlocking and gaining access to more of the environment via pointed application of different seasons. Essentially, this is more of a puzzle game with platforming and environmental manipulation serving as a tool to solve them.
The four seasons affect your ability to progress in a number of ways, and often involves you switching between two, or even three, of them to reach a single platform. Autumn opens up mushrooms that can be used as platforms, creates small waterspouts and frequently increases winds. These last can be sued to clear obstructions or levitate large feathers which can act as platforms. Spring causes water spouts to grow larger, and enables some larger, beehive like flower pods to either release, or drain water into an area.
Summer removes all water spouts, but allows various vines and flowers to bloom, allowing them to acts as a walkway to previously out of reach areas or function as springboards to propel you further. Winter freezes all water, which will turn the previously mentioned spouts into solid towers which can be used to ascend. Some of which will require a short, then long water spout to reach the highest point in an area. Though this is hardly an exhaustive list of all the various aspects each season brings into play.
They also, for obvious reasons, change the look of the world. Meaning that the game actually has not one, or even two, but four sets of assets for all but one of the in game environments. Which is really bloody impressive considering how much detail is contained in each area. Though the overall size of the world is not particularly significant, nor is it small. And when considered in its quadruple format, there’s actually a hell of a lot of content. Nor is the game short, clocking in at a quite respectable 5/6 hours. With room for more if you take the time to find all of the little extras the world has to offer.
The voice acting, fully voiced in English, French and German, is top notch across the board. Though, take it from, pop the subtitles on and switch the dialogue over to French, there’s just something about the language that fits Seasons so much better. It also helps you understand what’s being said, because the sound balance is less than ideal, with no ability to alter incidental/music/audio volumes independently. Which is a shame, but remains one of only two complaints that can really be made about the finished product. A shame really, because the soundtrack and, especially, incidental sound design is outstanding.
Though the music, which is more than slightly reminiscent of the immensely talented Austin Wintory’s work on The Banner Saga, is beautiful. It’s also not particularly striking. None of the individual pieces will really stay with you after you stop playing, but they can easily induce a gaming fugue during your time as a playful, cheeky little fox. The sounds of the world however, now that’s a very different story. Again significantly distinct between the four seasons, the whistling of winds in Autumn and constant drizzle in Spring second to none.
The only significant complaint to be made, is that the framerate can chunter at times. Which is disappointing, considering the relative simplicity of the, so-called, 2.5D aesthetic. Though it never hits a point as to become insufferable, it serves as little more than the single, unfortunate crack on an otherwise pristine diamond.
Having said all of that, Seasons After Fall is definitely not for everywhere. The general simplicity, however creative, of the platforming and otherwise fairly simple puzzle solving leaves little to endear people mechanically, resulting in a game that will appeal almost exclusively to the more philosophical (read: Pretentious) gamer such as myself. However, for those who do take the time to explore the foxes journey will have wandered their way into a very charming, visually gorgeous little gem of a game.
Art Design: Imagine if Bob Ross painted a video-game.
Sound Design: The striking differences between the four seasons are like milk chocolate for the ears.
Voice Acting: Featuring three different languages, each with their own quirks, that make for a diverse, but still oddly cohesive experience.
Difficulty: Well, really, there isn’t any. Which makes for a relaxing experience, but may seem pointless for some.
Floaty Controls: They take a little getting used to, but are not really insurmountable and actually work really well in context.
Performance: Framerate can sometimes dip to a still playable, but frustrating staccato.
I have a confession to make, I’ve never beaten Ori and the Blind Forest. It was just too big of a game for me. Thankfully, Seasons After Fall is what you get when you take Ori’s gorgeous portrayal of a mystical woods and refine it down to a bite-sized indie title instead of letting it expand to a picturesque labyrinthine maw.
While some people will hate it, Seasons After Fall is like a mother walking you through the local pines. It holds your hand playing pleasant, orchestral music all the way through and helping you towards wherever your next step may be. It never goes beyond its simple two-button layout, and its puzzles can always be solved with an admiring glance, a thought, and couple jumps. Much like a real forest, you’re meant to enjoy the beautiful scenery rather than survive nature’s trials.
Seasons After Fall resembled Ori and the Blind Forest mostly because of its painstakingly beautiful hand-drawn 2D environments, but where Ori can be compared to a trek through a corrupted forest of hostility, Seasons is a friendly reminder of nature’s primal and marvelous bounties. It’s a simple, short, and light-hearted game that may belong more in an art gallery than on a Steam account, but it’s a pretty title for your more Zen moments.
Right off the bat I just have to gush all over Seasons After Fall. The immensely lovable Red Fox, named ‘Little Seed’, whom you control throughout the game, is absolutely exploding with cute exuberance. From her teeny, tiny barks, right down to her adorably hypnotizing ‘Fox trot’. The basic premise of the game won’t win any awards or knock your socks off, but it’s quaint, whimsical and easy to follow. You play as a lone forest spirit embarking on a vast adventure to reunite four ancient seasonal spirits, along the expedition of discovery, you happen upon a lone Fox who wandered into an enchanted forest. With your newly found furry buddy you take off through forests, caves, lakes and fields on an epic voyage.
You’re tasked with figuring out simple, explorative puzzles as you traverse newly found areas, each filled with their own seasonally unique obstacles. Requiring help from each Season Spirit’s transformative power, and a little bit of brain power for good measure. For the most part, controls are as straightforward and simplistic as it comes. You can run, jump, turn and magically transform landscapes on a whim, which isn’t a bad thing, this isn’t Street Fighter, requiring nimble fingers and memorizing lengthy combos. My only gripe when it came to controls was the strange, awkward and slightly jarring feeling when turning back and forth too quickly. While lacking complexity in presentation, yet still elegant, gameplay, story and controls are nothing to write home about, however, both sounds & sights are where Seasons After Fall really shine.
I was mesmerized by the lush, stylized look and feel of each new area, the beautifully colored landscapes and vibrant green fields flowing like a river in the wind, to the enchanting reflection of Little Seed beaming off the shimmering, cold winter ponds. A fluid world filled with smooth animations, particle effects and lavish shades of green, reds and blues. The wondrous melody of the bow gracefully gliding across the strings of a violin follows you from start to finish, invoking perfectly attuned emotion, oozing with passion and splendor. Only one teeny, tiny niggle in the audio department I found was the music overpowering the few talkative portions in the game, with no individual volume slider to fix it. Other than that, it truly was a feast for the eyes and ears throughout its modest three to four hour long journey, easily earning its rightful position alongside such wonderful works of art as Dust: An Elysian Tail, Braid, Child of Light and Ori and the Blind Forest.