Something just isn’t quite right. We’ve all had that feeling before, whether it’s deja vu or just a general feeling of unsettlement in the pit of your stomach. Maybe there’s a sense of dread or disquiet that gently, slowly, steadily seeps up your body. You’re not quite sure why it’s there, but it’s settled in, leaving you feeling sick and… wrong. Sometimes it goes as quickly as it appears. Other times it lingers for some time. And it seems to be the latter that Mark, the protagonist of the upcoming Until Then is suffering with.
Is “suffering” the right word? We’re not quite sure, and honestly, even after spending two hours playing through Until Then’s demo, we’ve no idea how things are going to pan out for Mark. But this gorgeously-animated pixelated visual novel weaves an intricate, engaging story of his day-to-day life at school, walking us through crushes, almost-failed class presentations and friendships. It’s not until word reaches Mark and his friends of new students arriving at the school that something seems to be wrong. Mark’s absolutely sure he knows them, but he doesn’t know from where, or how.
Adding to his general feeling of unease is a recent conversation he’s had with his crush, Louise. She spoke of deja vu, of feeling like she’s lived through moments before. Could she be on to something? Is something really wrong in Mark’s seemingly mundane teenage world? We’ll have to wait until the full game releases later this year to find out, but one thing’s for sure: Until Then has its teeth firmly nestled in us, and we can’t wait to play more.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Until Then is its visuals. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a pixelated art style breathe so much life. Walking left to right along a street in control of Mark, it really feels like a living, bustling city. Carefully chosen sound effects add to that, too, with the sounds of crowds, traffic and chatter seeping through your speakers as you move around.
Backdrops are absolutely gorgeous and teeming with detail. Streets are packed with vendors, people, dogs and other animals, and walls are often littered with posters and graffiti, making this feel like a lived-in world. The characters perhaps steal the show, however: their faces are incredibly expressive and despite having no audible voices, each and every character packs in a whole lot of personality, carried through their expressions and their text boxes.
Despite being best described as a visual novel, there’s enough interaction in Until Then to keep you hooked even if this isn’t a genre you’re too familiar with. Rather than simply reading reams of text, everything is neatly presented in speech bubbles and text messages. The odd minigame breaks up the action, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to move around, choosing who or what to interact with. You’ll be able to scroll through your phone, look at (and interact with) social media, too, which is a great way to break up the action and provide more detail on the world that the game is set in.
Although it’s a fictional location – inspired by the Philippines – there’s a strong sense of realism running throughout Until Then. Early on you’ll learn of recent earthquakes in the nearby area, and it sets a tone for the entire game. Whether it will play more of a role in the narrative later on remains to be seen – but it’s clear something has been shaken in Mark’s world, literally or figuratively.
While Until Then’s story still has a large question mark hanging above it, it’s safe to say that fans of narrative-driven experiences are going to want to keep this on their radar. It’s beautifully presented in such a way that it makes you want to keep playing, and we can’t wait to see what happens in Mark’s world next.
There’s no release date for Until Then, but it’s coming to PC “soon”.