video games

‘Until Then’ showcases Filipino culture and creative storytelling devices

Jason Rodriguez

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‘Until Then’ showcases Filipino culture and creative storytelling devices
Filipino representation in games takes a step forward with newly released 'Until Then'

Warning: This contains spoilers in the second half of the article.

While reviewing Until Then for Eurogamer, a certain fellow named Jose Astrada came to mind. I remembered how, as I progressed through the PlayStation 1 game Front Mission 3’s campaign over two decades ago, I saw a character named Jose who looked uncannily like a Katipunero.

I recalled how a part of the campaign was set in Taal Volcano Base, which caused great surprise (cue the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing at the screen meme). It was genuinely the first time I had ever seen the Philippines mentioned in a video game.

I didn’t think much of Filipino representation back then until 2003’s Anito: Defend a Land Enraged, which saw characters Agila and Maya fighting various creatures from folklore, including a Tikbalang. As time passed, I wondered if I’d see my people, country, and culture showcased in video game form again.

While it’s true that a few notable inclusions wowed me over the years – Tekken’s Josie Rizal, Soulcalibur’s Talim, and Apex Legends’ Conduit come to mind – I still felt that there was something lacking, as though these were background characters or token appearances. (Don’t get me wrong: I do appreciate the effort from various developers.)

And so it was that Until Then, a visual novel game heavily inspired by Filipino culture and themes, and made by PH-based Polychroma Studio, managed to surprise me even further upon noticing countless references and nods to our culture and traditions.

You’ve got everything from vendors yelling “TAHO!” and waiting sheds made by a certain “Governor Kupit,” to minigames where you have to pass coins in a jeepney or press arrow keys to the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” blaring from a videoke machine.

A piano rhythm minigame even brought back nightmares because of how terrible I was at the game O2Jam. Likewise, there are nods to movies and shows, such as Praybeyt Benjamin, Shake, Rattle, and Roll, Ang Probinsyano, Princess Sarah, Ghost Fighter, Jumong, and Marimar. (Yes, some of these are shows from foreign lands, but Toguro and Senyorita Angelica might as well be honorary Filipinos.)

This quintessentially Filipino setting is further bolstered by a likable cast of characters, with Mark (the main character) joined by friends Cathy, Ridel, Ryan, Louise, and Nicole. Centered on interactions among high school students – including encounters with Marites who makes snide comments behind your back–you’ll certainly be reminded of your youth whether your experiences of high school life happened two, 10, or 20 years ago.

Perhaps my only gripe here is how all the written dialogue – characters don’t have voiced lines – is purely in English. I started wondering if everyone grew up in a high-class village or if they somehow found themselves in a PGag skit (I half-expected Mark to sell “soya beancurd” and inject “sheesh” into his veins).

I understand that this decision might have been made so Until Then can appeal to a wider, predominantly-Western audience, but some interactions and statements did lose their impact and/or meaning. I doubt that this would’ve been the case had the studio chosen a “floating text or subtitles for slang” approach; it would’ve been more appealing to a Pinoy audience, that’s for sure.

In spite of these qualms, Until Then manages to deliver an emotionally impactful story. This is primarily through its use of a rather clever storytelling device.

One of the key narrative arcs in Until Then concerns false memories, where characters experience a weird sense of déjà vu – the screen even flickers or blurs during these moments – and of people who suddenly disappear without a trace. And yet this particular tangent wasn’t fully explored even after I had finished the game in under nine hours. There’s a good chance that players would find this concerning, especially if they expected to uncover the truth behind these mysteries.

Warning: The next section of this article does contain spoilers.

Skip this part unless you’ve already completed Until Then’s campaign or you’re the type who doesn’t mind knowing that Almira read the diary to learn that Mara is her real daughter.

The answer lies in almost every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie ever made. Once the story is done and over with, sit through the entirety of the end credits. Then, choose “Yes” when prompted if you wish to continue the campaign. What follows is less of a short post-credits scene and more of a New Game Plus mode. And in any New Game Plus mode, your character carries over his XP (well, sort of)…

On your second playthrough of Until Then, Mark carries over some of his experiences from your previous playthrough, though his memory is somewhat muddled. You’re also bound to notice several key differences. For instance, you no longer have a chat with Ryan while riding the MRT and he’s not your project groupmate either.

Instead, it’s a different classmate. Moreover, certain moments are somewhat akin to “fixed points” – i.e. you’ll run into the same character, albeit under slightly different circumstances. This means you’ll have to proceed through a few chapters and scenes that are similar to what you’ve played beforehand, and you have to keep your eyes peeled for minor changes.

Likewise, there are a few important developments, such as entire chapter scenes and locations that are different, or major/spoiler-heavy reveals no longer happening near the end as characters open up halfway through the campaign. And, of course, there’s also a vastly different conclusion. That’s your cue to continue onward to your third playthrough, where you’re going to notice even bigger changes.

So, yes, even if Until Then has relatively simple minigames and purely English dialogue that might seem corny at certain points, it still offers a surprisingly fulfilling journey as you learn more about Mark and co. The game nudges you to keep playing past the end credits, just as it encourages you to keep living in spite of all the hardships you face.

Until Then is available now on Steam and PlayStation 5. –

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