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Until Then Review: A Touching Tale Of Friendship & Love From The Philippines

Platform(s): PC, PS5
Genre: Narrative Adventure, Visual Novel

It seems like Southeast Asian developers are conquering the narrative adventure visual novel genre. In 2023, we had the award-winning A Space For The Unbound by Indonesian developer Mojiken Studios. Now, in 2024, we have Until Then, a new game from Polychroma Games, a studio hailing from the Philippines.

Memories

Until Then features some striking and vibrant pixel art visuals, and it’s refreshing to see a familiar Southeast Asian setting (even if you’re not Filipino), such as schools, street stalls, and others. The highlight of the game’s visuals is probably the facial animations. Despite being animated in pixel art, some of the facial animations can be really expressive, showcasing and conveying the emotions of the characters. This is a plus, especially considering that there’s no voice acting in Until Then.

If you’ve ever played a narrative adventure or visual novel game before, you’ll be familiar with the gameplay of Until Then. Basically, it consists of dialogue and a few choices to make. Some of these dialogues are entirely via the characters texting with each other, and I like the extra detail of how Mark will sometimes type something before changing his mind and writing something else just like a real person would (in terms of texting habits).

The dialogue is sometimes interspersed with the occasional minigame, including some piano rhythm game minigames. This is one of the few issues with Until Then. Since I had access to a pre-release version of the game, many of the minigames were unpolished and some felt a bit broken. I didn’t have a good experience with them, including the piano rhythm games, which were a bit too difficult especially since this isn’t supposed to be a rhythm game. Hopefully, the launch version of Until Then will make the minigames feel better to play and complete.

Since this is a narrative adventure, it would be remiss of me not to say something about that. Until Then puts you in the shoes of high-schooler protagonist Mark Borja. Through his life, you’ll explore the trials of any normal teenager: school, piano practice, friends and more. Overall, Until Then actually reminds me of a Makoto Shinkai movie (some Weathering With You vibes here), with young people and tales of friendship and romance in the air with something supernatural or magical happening on the side.

However, there’s less emphasis on the supernatural or magical stuff in Until Then. The supernatural elements in Until Then are mainly there to further complement the existing subject matter and themes being explored in the game. These themes include ennui, abandonment issues, abuse, political issues, social commentary and much more. So, yeah, you can definitely expect Until Then to make you cry, with the ending packing quite an emotional wallop. There are more subtle details in the background that help flesh out the world of Until Then, including a post-disaster setting where a natural disaster called The Ruling took place and caused devastation across the Philippines. Again, most of that takes place in the background, as the focus of the game is more on the emotional and personal issues of the characters, including their relationships with each other.

It took me around 10 hours plus to finish all five chapters in Until Then. That’s a decent amount of content for a narrative adventure like this. While there are minigames and other stuff sprinkled throughout the game’s playtime, the best part of the game is the final chapter, which features a tear-jerking climax. That being said, the first few chapters might feel somewhat uneventful compared to the later ones.

The Friends We Made Along The Way

Kudos to Polychroma Games for making a game that Southeast Asians can be proud of, standing tall amongst the likes of other similarly good games from the region. While there are some issues regarding the minigames & overall pacing, the story in Until Then is worth experiencing, at least for its more exciting second half.

 

PROS

  • Striking and vibrant pixel art visuals.
  • The story packs an emotional wallop that will leave you in tears at the end.
  • Unique and refreshing Southeast Asian / Filipino setting.

CONS

  • The minigames were unpolished and not a pleasant experience (perhaps this will be fixed for the launch version).
  • Most of the best parts of the narrative and story only take place in the final chapter of the game.

 

FINAL SCORE: 70/100

Review copy provided by the publisher. It will launch for PC and PS5 on 26 June 2024.

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