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Platform: PC

Until Then Review

Dull dramatic misfire

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Adventure games from indie studios have been a hot commodity in recent years. Trying to tell original tales while pulling on players' heart strings seems to be a hit – if done right. It lets players experience different worlds, both real and fictional, without focusing too much on action or interactivity. But a delicate balance must still be struck, and heavy emphasis is placed on the story, as no amount of flashy art will save the games that do not manage to captivate their audience with their adventure. Until Then is a new narrative adventure from indie developers Polychroma Games that unfortunately falls short of its dramatic ambitions.

Until Then game

The game takes players to 2014 and follows Mark, a young student living in a fictional city, heavily inspired by the developers' home nation of the Philippines. Mark is not exactly a model student; with a carefree attitude, cramming his homework assignments at the last minute, he is no stranger to the principal's office. He lives on his own as his parents are working overseas; he misses them, and tries to focus on practicing piano, which his mom also loved to play. Outside the home, he has a best friend named Cathy, and some other classmates with whom he spends time. One concern for Mark is that he sometimes gets strange memories, like déjà vu, and reality distorts briefly. He discusses these feelings with a classmate named Louise, who takes a scientific interest.

About a year ago, there was an apparent cataclysmic event that created a combination of earthquakes and tornadoes; and while the rural areas were apparently heavily damaged, the capital city where Mark lives is largely unaffected. The government is working to restore the highways, and the hospitals are occasionally crowded, but Mark is mostly concerned about video games, and trying to maybe get a girlfriend. When new students arrive at the school for the start of the semester, he manages to charm his way into a friendship with Nicole, who witnessed the devastation of the storms. He hopes that this school semester proves to be interesting, he can find his passion for music and join the school's program, and that his strange visions don't create any further cause for concern.

Until Then is, by and large, a visual novel, despite some attempts at interactivity. You will be pressing spacebar thousands of times to advance the dialogue, which appears in typical text bubbles. While you can set the speed at which it appears, there is disappointingly no auto-play option. There are some rare conversation choices, but they are very simple and don't affect much. You'll spend a while in text chats with friends as well, waiting for them to reply, and again holding spacebar to see what Mark says. These delays, such as Mark making and deleting multiple versions of a reply to show his hesitancy, are realistic and add a little character to the conversation. You can even sometimes browse the internet and social media, and look at your friends' profiles, which is a nice touch to add depth to the smartphone representation.

Until Then game

When not reading dialogue, as there is no voice acting, you may control Mark for a few brief moments in order to walk across the screen and interact with something. The game is 3D but features 2D sprites for characters and certain objects, allowing for some depth, but you will be moving left and right only on a flat plane. Interacting with something may bring a closer look at the item, or just additional conversations. There are also one-off interactivity moments, such as when you perform unique actions: sorting through papers, buttoning up your shirt, removing push pins from a board. But, all of these interactions are gimmicks – there are no puzzles, and most of the time controlling Mark feels like a chore. You often have to interact with everything before being able to move on, so it's just a tedious illusion of player control. The gameplay actually gets annoying towards to the end, as a music QTE minigame that requires quick reflexes and feels extremely unresponsive is thrust upon you - a rude wakeup call after hours of passively scrolling through text. Other minigames are also not very fun and often feel a bit broken. The game would have benefited from abandoning its weak attempts at meaningful interactivity.

Which just leaves us with the visual novel, and a game like this lives and dies by the quality of its characters, writing, and story. Unfortunately, Until Then fails to impress in any of those aspects. The cast of characters is predictable, but at least decently executed. Mark's friends range from the silly and hyperactive best friend, to the standoff-ish new girl Nicole, to the smart and calculating Louise, to the sports-focused friend that helps him cram homework. The dialogue is serviceable, too, with a decent representation of how teenagers talk (without being obnoxious), the various awkward things they may experience, and how they handle it.

But it's in the narrative that Until Then truly stumbles. The game kicks off with a highly melodramatic, piano-backed series of sentences and images, about missing someone. But trying to elicit some kind of emotional response from players from the opening scene, having no sense of place, context, or indeed feeling, seems foolish. This scene turns out to be the game's intro cinematic that plays (and can be skipped) each time you fire up the game, and it serves to be a great example of the kind of misguided emotional manipulation that the game tries to pull.

Until Then game

Before even getting to the forced drama, one of the main issues with Until Then is that it tries to weave many different stories, but keeps bouncing between them without any sense of urgency. It's an extremely difficult narrative to engage with, as nothing worthwhile can happen for hours at a time. The game is split into five chapters, lasting about an hour each, and the majority of those chapters are spent in meandering conversations. Scenes just drag on for far, far too long as the teenagers talk about things that are inconsequential beyond the immediate dialogue.

There is no central hook and no central story that drives the game forward – instead, there are a number of stories that seem to compete for attention, and all are underdeveloped. Mark's strange memories are just left on the backburner for long stretches. His relationship with Nicole takes center stage in the second half of the game, but that devolves into good ol' fashioned trauma bonding. His best friend has issues, but it's kept very under the surface for most of the time. The fact that Mark lives alone also keeps coming up, but is abandoned just as quickly. As already mentioned, the fact that some natural disasters occurred doesn't seem to affect Mark's daily life much. The pace of the game is just so slow to sit through.

Seemingly realizing that all these stories need to end, and that this needs to be a dramatic tear-jerker, the game tries to end each chapter with some kind of emotional moment, backed by the cliché piano track. But all of these moments fall completely flat, as they often do not gel with the rest of the chapter and seem forced. Though nothing feels as forced as Until Then's ending chapter, which decides to put players through an emotional gauntlet that feels about as natural as that high speed, broken music QTE minigame. You get some more trauma bonding, tearful apologies, some abusive parenting, some absentee parenting, and highly contrived series of reveals that create an absurd, chaotic finale that demands to make players feel sad. Accompanied by photo slide shows and piano music, of course. But it's all so obviously cheap, so forced, and so unearned, that you might feel relief instead, that this overlong game is finally reaching its conclusion. Yet, it decides to keep going post-credits, with the same extremely misguided emotional ambition as it ended.

Until Then game

The game tries to stand out with its visual style, which is an interesting blend of 3D environments and 2D characters and objects, along with heavy pixelation. The depth allows for some traditional camera angle changes during scenes, adding a bit of cinematic feel to the presentation compared to typical 2D visual novels. The heavy pixilation looks okay from a distance, and for some of the character close-up renders, but on many occasions the visual style prohibits the game from having much visual detail. In some scenes, it's difficult to understand what some objects are supposed to be, which removes the charm and ventures into just poor visuals territory. The characters also all have a sort of bouncing idle animation, which looks strange, but you eventually get used to it. Given the game's visuals, there are no performance issues, and a decent amount of settings. A chapter select is offered, though there's no real replay value, since there are no worthwhile choices or even collectibles.

The audio is a similarly mixed result. The game has some decent piano tracks, and lots of immersive background effects that help set the scene – from the shuffling of people on the street, to the dogs barking at night, to the idle hum of the AC units. Some scenes work really well, but others unfortunately have effects that are too crude and far too loud, and having them on a constant loop proves to be quite irritating and distracting.

Until Then is a game that tries to imitate quite a few narrative adventure games and visual novels, but it stumbles at the most important step – the story. It just tries to offer far too many storylines, mishandling all of them, and using piano as a rickety crutch to support the many contrived emotional scenes. Everyone has different experiences and attitudes towards life, but there's no arguing that the game just doesn't deliver its emotional moments with any sort of finesse. 2024 may not be a marquee year for visual novels, but at least entries like Stray Gods and Goodbye Volcano High had more music or a worthwhile story to follow. Until Then tries so hard to be To The Moon and Night in the Woods, but doesn't come close to reaching those hefty goals.

Our ratings for Until Then on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
An interesting art style that is well realized. Some good piano tracks.
Minimal interactivity, and the minigames often don't work very well.
Single Player
An overlong story that is at times decently written, but one that in the end tries too hard to artificially illicit some kind of drama and emotional response from the player.
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5700X
GPU: AMD 6700 XT 12GB
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
PC Specs

No issues
Until Then has an interesting art style and some decent writing, but mundane pacing, limited interactivity and contrived, poorly delivered drama make for a forgettable adventure.
Until Then
Until Then box art Platform:
Our Review of Until Then
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Until Then is ranked #1772 out of 1988 total reviewed games. It is ranked #38 out of 42 games reviewed in 2024.
1771. Life of Delta
1772. Until Then
1773. BreakQuest
PlayStation 3
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Until Then
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