From one side of the chessboard, a ghostly figure says, “A glass of wine.” Their opponent replies: “We cannot do this otherwise.” Bientôt L’été is a surprisingly lonely game for one with conversation at its heart, and an oddly counterintuitive one. It’s a game about picking dialogue options that are metaphorically represented as potential moves on the board, but it’s that which goes unsaid that makes its semi-improvised conversations so intriguing.
Walking comes before talking, however, since Bientôt L’été drops players off on a desolate, otherworldly beach. There’s a collection aspect to your seaside strolls, since here you literally pick up phrases to use later as they wash in on the tide. There are apparitions, too: bizarre mirages of things such as pyramids and magnolia trees, which vanish as you interact with them, leaving chess pieces behind. Bientôt L’été’s beach is mostly empty, and it’s eerie and unstable, the slow fizzing into life of its apparitions blending with the shifting skybox and bleary lighting to suggest a reality that doesn’t quite cohere. And that’s before you close your in-game eyes and see its simulated nature brought to the fore.
Tale Of Tales’ beach is a melancholy place, being large and empty enough to make you feel abandoned even as it turns out to be finite. Stroll to the edge of the playable space and an apparition stares back at you from the other side of a translucent wall. It’s a metaphor, but it’s a shepherding device as well, steering you back to the café a little way from the shore.
It’s here you drink wine, smoke, listen to music and make conversation with another player. And it’s here that touching improvised theatre can emerge, as you exchange dialogue that hints, obliquely and indirectly, at a deeper relationship between the speakers. Tale Of Tales has provided roleplaying instructions for players, but even without context these staccato, quasi-scripted dialogues can play out themes of shared longing, deeply felt heartbreak, or mutual disdain. Players are limited to the phrases found upon the shore, but this doesn’t stifle conversation. In fact, it lends it a surprisingly human discord, a sense of cross-purpose and connection not quite made.
There’s a lack of purpose to these exchanges – conversations tend to peter out rather than wind down – and you’ll find the oblique, unscripted poignancy lessens in impact after an hour or three spent smoking and drinking in this café. Eventually, your conversations will even start to bore. But in the moment, they offer smoke-fuelled instants of intimate and evasive drama. “What do you want?” asks our partner. “I would like another glass of wine,” is our reply.
Bientôt l’été is available for PC and Mac from Tale of Tales’ website.