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Until Then is a mystery we can’t wait to solve

Deja vu is a funny thing. You think you’ve seen something or been in these exact circumstances before, despite having no real recollection of the incident. It’s strange, mysterious even, and it makes up for the unsettling feeling that follows protagonist Mark Borja in Polychroma Games’ upcoming game, Until Then.

On the surface, Mark is your typical high schooler. He’s burned out, crushing on girls, and would rather spend his hours whittling away on video games than homework. One of the first things we learn about him is that he lives alone, which, intentional or not, means he can get away with simply not doing anything, whether that be helping participate in his school project or sort out his laundry.

Yet, as we quickly discover, there’s more to Mark than meets the eye. For one, he is interested in piano and has been actively trying to improve his skills and join a group, but he keeps getting rejected. He is also, at least somewhat, lonely. Living alone gives him the freedom to do what he wants, but his only connection to his parents is monetary, and the relationships that do seem to thrive are his school friends and the people he interacts with on social media.

This changes after he aces a group project alongside his friend, and his crush, Louise. Unlike Mark, Louise is a grade-A student and a well-known teacher’s pet. Regardless of her studious nature, it seems everyone can’t help but be drawn in by her. Mark’s crush on her is the trigger for revealing that there’s something weird going on. Memories seem to be jumbled up, with Louise having a vivid memory of rain occurring throughout most of the week, whereas Mark remembers differently. Then there are disappearances or people suddenly falling ill. At first, it seems like it may just be a mistake, but as I quickly learned during my playthrough of the demo, there are no such things as coincidences.

Until Then
Image Source: Polychroma Games

It’s this mystery that seeps into the very world of Until Then, but without overpowering the very real and relatable stories that you come across. Indeed, What I really enjoyed about the demo is just how much intricacy and life is brought into the world that Mark and his friends inhabit. Set in a fictional but Philippines-inspired city, you’re quickly immersed in this culture through the mannerisms of the people you meet, the different stores and shops you walk past, and even the food that you pick up and purchase. There’s a real sense of place here, and it helps that it all looks absolutely gorgeous, thanks to how lovingly rendered the pixelated art looks. Even calling it picturesque doesn’t really do the game justice.

What really excited me, as a player, was the level of interaction you get with said world. One of the more memorable moments of the demo is the player going up against a character called Sofia in a mini-game to see who can pick out the most fishballs from the food vendor. It’s all based on timing and hand-and-eye coordination, and it expertly breaks up the more narrative-focused sections of Until Then to give you something more to do than clicking through and reading. It also works as a little breather from the intense mystery that permeates throughout without feeling jarring.

The only downside to these mini-games is that, as far as the demo goes, you can’t play them again. I’m not sure what the developers have planned for the full release, but I certainly wouldn’t say no to an option to play these mini-games from the main menu.

While clear love and adoration have been shown in the developer’s curation of the setting of Until Then, it’s impossible to mention it further without also giving credit to the memorable and relatable characters you meet. I’ve mentioned Mark and Louise, but there are plenty of classmates whose lives we get to know more about without ever properly interacting with them, all thanks to social media accessible via Mark’s phone. For example, there’s one kid called Khyle who never does his coursework and plays computer games all day, to the utter dismay of his fellow group, who want him to do anything, anything at all. Then there’s Janet, a girl who speaks in riddles and is utterly incapable of having a conversation with. Last but not least is a kid who posts in the class group chat to sell umbrellas. Just umbrellas. Nothing else.

But my favourite, out of all of Mark’s friends and potential romantic interests, is Cathy.

Until Then Cathy
Image Source: Polychroma Games

Like Mark and his other friends, Cathy also has a romantic interest in Louise and isn’t afraid to show it. In many ways, she’s portrayed as being ‘one of the boys’ from how she dresses to how she flirts and expresses attraction to other women. In fact, she’s the one who’s most excited about the prospect of two new students entering the schooling body, solely because both are girls, and she wants to ‘wife’ them up.

I can see a few people feeling somewhat alienated by how Cathy talks and expresses herself in a way that’s similar to her male friends, especially as it doesn’t seem she has female friends, but as someone who grew up surrounded by guys and expressed myself in a way that was ‘masculine’, I found Cathy’s portrayal rather refreshing. It hit close to home.

The only difference was that, unlike my own reality, Until Then’s high school seems very accepting. None of Cathy’s friends judge or make any homophobic remarks toward her about her romantic interest in women, with Mark even encouraging her to go out there and meet new girls. In fact, the most teasing Cathy gets about her sexuality is her seemingly one-time attraction towards a guy, but even that is done in a way that’s more about Cathy’s reaction within the guy’s presence, rather than the guy itself. All in all, it’s respectful while still having that teasing edge found in any close friendship, and I, for one, loved it.

By the time I completed the demo, there was one thing I was sure of: I wanted to know more. The slow pace of everyday life for Mark and his friends feels almost cozy, but the undeniable unease underneath it all takes Until Then from being an interesting game, to one that makes me want to purchase at launch. I’m intrigued, and I can’t wait to see what Polychroma Games will do with it when it launches in full.

Until Then is ‘Coming Soon’ to PS5 and PC, via Steam.

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