top of page
  • Writer's pictureJulie Cooper

LudoNarraCon Mini-Preview: Last Time I Saw You strikes the nostalgia bone with a tale of first love and folklore in the forest

Some mornings you wake up clinging with both hands to a dream. As wakefulness settles in, you find yourself grasping at what few fragments remain at the edges of your memory.

Over the course of my 20s, I’ve found that life has this same effect on your childhood (at least, as someone with notable memory problems, that’s true).

In a way, I think Maboroshi Artworks’ upcoming game Last Time I Saw You captures the same feeling in its nostalgic explorations of first loves, friendship, family issues, and a heavy sprinkling of the fantastical.

Key art for Last Time I Saw You. Yellow text has the title and the tagline "A first love and a terrible curse." On the right, there are eight other figures, including main character Ayumi, a young boy, several other preteen kids, a pale young woman with a black bob, a white deer spirit with red markings, crows wielding bows and arrows, a kappa, and a few other humans.

Just the Facts

Platform(s): PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox

Release Date: Autumn 2024

Early access to demo provided by LudoNarraCon 2024.

Last Time I Saw You comes to us — and to the narrative games-focused festival LudoNarraCon — from Maboroshi Artworks, an indie game studio based in Osaka. Founded by Juan Fandiño, the small studio aims “to create emotive and innovating stories,” and their debut game certainly fits the brief.

Planned for an autumn 2024 release date, Last Time I Saw You is a coming-of-age story set in 1980s Japan. You play as Ayumi, a 12-year-old boy living in a rural mountain town. He’s like any other. He enjoys drawing and video games, and he's not afraid to plead with his mom to buy a game guide so he can beat the final boss. He procrastinates on his homework. He plays baseball on the edge of town with his friends. He loves his mom’s cooking, especially her curry rice. He has otherworldly recurring dreams of a mysterious girl in a black dress.

Wait. Pause. Back up on that last part.

While Last Time I Saw You is very much a slice-of-life kind of game, it also bakes in a heaping helping of magic. From the start, it’s clear that there’s something strange about Ayumi’s town, and especially about the forest just outside it. When Ayumi walks by the steps leading to the forest, the scene becomes fuzzy around the edges, almost making you forget there’s anything else besides this young boy and those shadowy stairs. It’s magnetic and sets up a major desire to see what’s inside, although we don’t get the chance to do so just yet in the game’s current demo.

He even remarks to himself that he once ventured inside as a kid, and although he was too young to remember the experience now, it terrified his mom; people avoid the forest if they can. This forgotten visit feels like it could potentially be setting up the origin point of Ayumi’s strange dreams — for days, he’s been having the same dream of the same girl. He doesn’t remember ever meeting her, and he isn’t sure what to make of this or what she wants.

Who is she?

...No, really, who is she? I don't know. You’ll see her a couple of times in dream sequences, but for now, she remains a mystery to us and to Ayumi.

A screenshot from the game Last Time I Saw You. Ayumi, a small boy in a blue poncho, prays at a shrine where a two-tailed cat sits on the roof. There is a rainbow light flare at the edges of the screen.

But as I got this first look into the game’s world, it’s not just the supernatural that tugged at my curiosity. Just as importantly as its spirits, shrines, and haunted forests are the impressions it gives of the lived-in town where Ayumi is growing up. The demo introduces us to many other characters: his parents, best friend Nao, classmates, and other community members (plus a neighbor’s dog that you can pet and the most Studio Ghibli-looking cats you’ve ever seen perched everywhere, bless).

You see neighbors gossiping, guys smoking and acting shady at the edge of town, slightly older kids acting ridiculous on first dates with their crushes — Ayumi doesn't really get their weirdo behavior — and shopkeepers beefing with each other in neighboring stalls at the market.

In so many small details, the developers really make the world feel established. For a game that mixes reality and mysticality like this one, it’s essential to have a real world grounding Ayumi and creating that feeling of place and history; to show how he grew up and who's waiting for him back home when he inevitably runs off to chase adventure and mystery in the haunted, and potentially dangerous, forest.

Something I appreciated about the game’s approximately 30-minute demo was how it showed off its warmth and natural relationship-establishing moments.

A favorite scene of mine saw Ayumi joining some friends for a spontaneous baseball practice. He takes a few swings at his friend’s pitches, giving you a new and more interactive bit of gameplay while continuing the narrative. This also sets up his “weapon” of choice for later in the game, a baseball bat: a necessity for future action but entirely appropriate and in character for a kid like him. While they play, Ayumi and his buddy Manabu carry on a conversation about Ayumi’s strange dreams of the mysterious girl. The way the chat unfolds felt incredibly natural, exactly how you would talk to a friend while your hands and mind are occupied with a secondary activity. It flowed well, occasionally interrupted by a brief interjection about Ayumi’s athletic performance — “how come you aren’t in the school team yet?” or “I hope no one saw you missing that one…” — then back to the topic at hand, and another question about the strange, repetitive dreams.

What originally drew me into this game was its remarkable hand-drawn art style. The game is brimming with transcendental light flares, nostalgic anime-like character designs, and cloudy sunrises you'll want to take a minute to appreciate, just standing on the balcony outside Ayumi's bedroom to take in the view alongside a neighborhood cat. Sunlight streaming through a living room window wishes it looked as good as it does in this game. But now, having played a snippet myself, I was glad to see that the storytelling seems up to par as well. From the art and animation to the narrative to the soft music, Last Time I Saw You is incredibly atmospheric and envelopes you into its world.

A screenshot from Last Time I Saw You. Ayumi stands in front of the TV with a typhoon weather warning. His mom sits across from him at a kotatsu and knitting in front of a big window with rain outside. Next to her is an altar to Ayumi's deceased grandpa.

With a look openly inspired by Ghibli and anime from the '80s and '90s — the developer cites the movie Only Yesterday as a particular guiding light — the game seems to be aiming to capture not only the aesthetic, but the nostalgia and the magic of those classics, too. It similarly portrays the idea of youth as a place where mundane and magic clash, one of my personal favorite ways to capture the feeling of that transition from youth. How growing up feels big. Too big. And too slow. And too fast. And strange — where maybe you’re strange, or maybe everything else around you is. This magical realism is what gives Studio Ghibli films such iconic staying power, and I would love to see this game successfully tell its story of a surreal childhood adventure just the same.

It occasionally feels like it leans a little heavy into the “you’re just a kid and someday you’ll grow up and understand this better” tone... Yet at the same time, it doesn't shy away from some mature topics in Ayumi's life, either. The loss of his grandfather, who’s honored with a small altar in the family room. The anxiety of stockpiling supplies for an impending typhoon (and still having to go to school the day it’s set to hit). And, of course, the threat of evil spirits, which touch down as things coalesce in strange and fantastic fashion at Ayumi’s school, with a swarm of malicious spirits, the pummeling rains of the typhoon, and Ayumi's first time hearing, in the real world, the voice of the girl in his dreams. While this by no means seemed a scary game, I’ll admit it got some squeaks out of me in these later scenes. The sudden darkness was a stark contrast with the youthful warmth of the rest of the demo.

With the team citing inspirations like Ghibli films and Night in the Woods, I’m incredibly curious to see how it all comes together. I'm looking forward to exploring the town further, and getting beyond the city limits into the unknown depths of the forest — even if only in dreams.

T H E  C H I L D R E N  Y E A R N  F O R  T H E  F O R E S T.

A screenshot from Last Time I Saw You. Ayumi, a young boy in a blue poncho with a baseball bat on his back, stands near a bamboo patch and shrine near a bunch of crows with bows and arrows and wearing red kilts. Next to him is the girl he sees in his dreams, a woman with black hair and a black nightgown-type dress. Her feet don't touch the ground.

If you want to give the demo a try during the narrative games festival, LudoNarraCon, check it out on Steam and wishlist the game to keep up with its development and eventual release date announcement.

Check out more of our LudoNarraCon 2024 coverage and watch our playlist of LudoNarraCon demo playthroughs on YouTube, featuring Naetoid, Fernfolk, Mercutiglo, FishpasteGG, and Svideotheque!

The LudoNarraCon 2024 key art depicts a forest scene where a young witch does some spell atop a log stump. A dog wearing a wizard cap is at her feet, looking at a stone creature she seems to be working with. Strange robotic creatures walk around the log stump and statues with bright spotlights in their mouths can be seen at the edges of the forest.


bottom of page