I don’t know that I’ve ever played a game with so many aspects I thought were absolutely spot on, and yet walked away strangely unsatisfied. Seasons After Fall is absolutely beautiful to look at, the soundtrack is haunting, and the voice acting is spot on. The story is sparse, but it was enough to make me want to see it through to the end. Unfortunately, once I passed about the 25% mark, I realized that in spite of all that, I really wasn’t enjoying the game play.
Now, I’m pretty much always willing to consider the fact that it’s just me, especially when dealing with a game outside of my preferred genres. I haven’t played all that many metroidvanias, mostly because precision platforming is not my thing, and combat while platforming is even worse. In fact, one of the main reasons I chose this game to play this month is the fact that there is no combat and the platforming is very, very forgiving. It seemed like that would make it a good choice for an ultimate noob to the genre.
But after spending four hours with it (on this playthrough – I previously completed about 1/3 of the game before wandering off), I’m not entire sure who this game is meant for. It’s not really story-focused, the puzzles are often frustrating and obtuse, and the platforming – and there’s a considerable amount of it – is super floaty. Normally, when I miss jumps, I know it’s my fault. In Seasons After Fall, even the same exactly jump feels different each time you need to do it, and I can’t imagine how frustrating that would be for a player with some actual skill.
On the upside, there are absolutely no fail states – although I did hit a couple of points where I briefly believed I’d screwed up in a way that there was no recovering from. More than once, I needed to quit the game in order to reset a mechanic I’d messed up. This wasn’t a deal-breaker, once I learned about it, but it did lead to a little bit of frantic Googling.
At about the halfway point, I found myself a walkthrough, and finished the game with that open on my second monitor. Figuring out puzzles wasn’t satisfying – I wasn’t feeling clever, I was feeling cheated by mechanics that were never really explained. I did really appreciate ability to change the season at will – watching the world change when switching between seasons made me smile almost every time. However, I feel like it was used so often in the exact same ways and became so repetitive, it couldn’t be considered a puzzle; it was just a set of powers that enabled you to get around the world.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit grumpy when the credits rolled and the game basically told me “OH SO CLOSE, BUT NO!” and I realized that if I really wanted to finish the game, I still had more to do.
In order to reach the actual ending, I need to backtrack for a missed achievement, which added probably 20 minutes to my play time. I’m not sure why I missed it initially – I believe I was already using the walkthrough at that point, but since I took a two week break between the first 2/3 of the game, and finishing it up, I couldn’t recall if I just couldn’t make it work, or I blew it off, figuring it didn’t matter all that much. As it is, I finished up with 19/21 achievements, but I have absolutely no desire to go back and complete the two I missed while playing.
(Incidentally, just over 16% of players finished through the credits, but only just 12% bothered to get to the real ending, so clearly, that was annoying to at least a few other people, too.)
I don’t know – I guess I just don’t know who this game would be a hit for. It’s too frustrating to appeal to people who aren’t really fans of platformers, and far too simple to appeal to fans of the genre. The basic mechanics are super simple, but the more puzzling-focused sections are poorly explained, tedious, and unsatisfying, even when I did figure them out without the walkthrough. I guess if, like me, you don’t mind using a walkthrough or consulting a video now and again, and – unlike me – you’re a fairly competent platformer, it might be a lovely, brainless way to spend an evening or two. I honestly don’t know anyone I could wholeheartedly recommend it to.
Still, I’m not unhappy that I finished it.
In retrospect, I don’t know that it was necessarily a great choice for #MetroidvaniaMay. I definitely think it qualifies, since there a large map, divided into discrete sections, and you need to acquire your seasonal powers in order to unlock further areas. However, since you unlock them all pretty early in the game, all the backtracking after that point is just to find new objectives rather than opening up any actual new areas. And maybe that is the real problem with Seasons After Fall – it overstays its welcome.