Capturing Hearts and Heritage: How "Until Then" Marries Filipino Culture with Universal Themes

INTRODUCTION: Embracing Cultural Nuances in Gaming

In an increasingly bloated video-game universe that seems more and more focused on lootboxes and first-person shooting, it sure is a rarity to find a title that not only entertains, but also educates and humanises its players. A story game called Until Then is just such a project: an unconventional (at least outside of the Philippines) take on growing up and finding one’s place in the world. The game, developed by Polychroma Games, will release on 25 June. What makes Until Then unique, apart from being a story-driven simulation of love and maturity in the Philippines, is the way it wields the power of cultural representation and narrative tourism.

A SETTING BY ANY OTHER NAME: The Significance of Locale

The choice of Manila as the location of ‘Until Then’ was more than just a backdrop for Polychroma Games; it was a way to add depth to the game’s setting by drawing directly from the culture of the Philippines. Even the mini-games in Tenderhaze’s ‘Until Then’ are based on real events and day-to-day experiences of the Filipino people, from the absurdity of heavy traffic in the streets of Manila to the odd joy of skewering fish balls at a street-vendor.


Fundamentally, it wants to tell a story that anyone can relate to, and yet one that is in tune with the everyday practices of life in the Philippines. This allows for myriad references that Filipino players will recognise but still allows anyone in the world to follow what’s happening. The developers’ focus on this reveals the game’s goal to be one that delivers a story that will capture players from all walks of life, a goal that is reflected, too, in the title itself: Until Then.

GAMIFYING CULTURE: An Interactive Dive into Filipino Life

Mini-games, another game-defining element, incorporate Filipino culture into some of the gameplay loops. Timing the skewer of fish balls for the perfect char, getting on the local train at the right station – one doesn’t even have to play the game to recognise the value of what its creator has achieved here. ‘Until Then’ is a love letter, not just to Filipino games, but also to the people who enjoy them.


‘Until Then’ comes at a time when Filipino representation in AAA games is practically nonexistent, and gives players a story that is Filipino, and Filipino only – including an untokenised cast of characters. This full embrace of Filipino culture that is usually commoditised in American media – and yet here is a game that uses an emotionally resonant story as its centrepiece – is a new baseline for cultural representation in games.

INNOVATIVE STORYTELLING: Beyond the Conventional

Taking its cue from titles such as Night in the Woods, Until Then stretches the boundaries of narrative-driven gaming by combining the story-driven depth of visual novels with interactive mechanics to create a more immersive narrative experience for the player. The scenario allows for a unique level of engagement with the world and its characters that increases the narrative gravity. Until Then is not just a game that I played, but rather a story that I experienced.


Try-and-care beneath the surface of ‘Until Then’ is an ethos of understanding and communication, which its story and mechanics explore through the subject matter. The designers have crafted a story based on a tangle of human quandaries that they hope is palpably human and universal: communication-free testimony to the resonances of the human experience. This is worth celebrating – to focus attention on the difficulty of understanding one another is to focus on the difficulty of understanding at all. With luck, it will leave a positive mark on some of those who take the time to play through the story.

"Until Then": A Cultural Gateway and an Emotional Odyssey

And as ‘Until Then’ nears its release in the coming months, it holds the promise of what that kind of cultural representation in video games could be: the chance for Filipino players to see themselves in a medium that is often dismissive of their culture and identity, and the chance for the rest of the world’s audience to experience a story, deeply grounded in distinct cultural experiences, that is at its core universal – a story that speaks to the experience of growing up and learning about the world and finding one’s place in it.


This deep sense of cultural (and emotional) accuracy guided the developers as they wove this rich tapestry for Until Then, from the mini-games to the narrative details. They manage to capture what I would call cultural fidelity and narrative depth, and that is what makes Until Then more than a game for me: it is an experience. Filipino culture, human emotions and the impact of understanding – for me, UnderTheSea-Studio’s Until Then captures all of these on a level that makes it possible for me to feel them.

May 29, 2024
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