Until Then – Review

Until Then - Key Art

Until Then is a side scrolling, voxel and anime-styled visual novel set in and around a Philippine high school. You play as Markus, a teenager living alone while his parents work abroad, who struggles to complete assignments, pines after girls and stays up late texting and playing video games.

Broadly speaking, Until Then tells a coming of age story in a setting that is both familiar and unconventional. While a lot of the game is set in the high school, Until Then’s strong sense of place, with all the sights and sounds of the Philippines being as much a character as Markus and his friends.

The majority of the game has you move Markus across detailed scenes, engaging in conversations and interacting with the environment. Occasionally they will throw a mini-game at you, which are always very simple but a nice distraction.Until Then - Train The story told here certainly has its moments. Key narrative beats hit hard emotionally, and there’s a general aching sense of nostalgia to so many of the interactions of this charming and familiar cast. The dialogue is pitch perfect, avoiding clichés while also feeling true to life.

Markus’ friends, whether it’s budding filmmaker Ridel or scruffy ragamuffin Cath, are a delight, and the trio they form is at the heart of the narrative. There’s a pretty expansive cast of characters beyond this, though, and each of them feel fully realised and authentic.

A big reason for this is how Until Then handles scenes where Markus is texting. On the left-hand side of the screen is his phone, and on the right are his present environment. Perhaps he’s lying in bed with a foolish grin on his face, or sitting hunched over, sweating the details on a particularly important message.Until Then - Pizza These moments really capture socialising as a teenager on social media. The multiple rewrites as you try and pin down the perfect response, the flurry of messages in a group chat as rumours spread, and walking the tightrope of flirting for the first time.

Despite this, the script could definitely have used some tightening. A majority of scenes go on too long, creating this pervasive sense of sluggishness in the narrative. There is a sci-fi side to this story, which takes a frustrating amount of time to be properly addressed, and lacks impact or originality when it does raise its head.

Speaking of things getting long in the tooth, Until Then adopts the Nier Automata approach to multiple playthroughs. To see everything the story has to offer, you will play through the key events of the game three times. The changes in each subsequent play through range from inconsequential to vastly different, and each run is much shorter than the first.Until Then - Night Still, this means it will take you 15–20 hours to reach the actual ending, and depending on how engaged in the story you are, this could feel like an absolute slog. For me, the endearing characters saw me to the end, but there were multiple moments where I considered dropping it entirely.

All things considered, Until Then is worth checking out if you’re a fan of visual novels. It’s at its strongest when it focuses on the experience of being a teenager navigating the world of instant messaging and social media, but it’s overarching narrative has its fair share of emotional highs and gut punches too.

Bringing the sights, sounds and traditions of the Philippines to the wider world is certainly a key selling point, and the visual style is undoubtedly gorgeous. Unfortunately, significant pacing issues and lacklustre sci-fi elements means your mileage may vary.

Rating: 7/10

Until Then was reviewed on Steam with a code provided by the publisher.