This post will contain spoilers – you have been warned.
It’s rather rare that fictional material can have a noteworthy impact on myself, but it’s easy to be devoted to a game when the storytelling is at its absolute finest. I’ve always loved the ability to witness the impact that decisions can have on the past, present, and future, even if there are occasions where the consequences leave me feeling betrayed or miserable due to the choices that I have made.
For some reason, I never really got invested in the Life is Strange franchise when it was originally introduced in 2015 despite my love for episodic adventure games. After experiencing the thrills and emotions of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: The Final Season last month, I knew I had to properly try Dontnod Entertainment’s franchise once again.
Life is Strange is set in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, with the story told through the perspective of the protagonist Max Caulfield, an eighteen-year-old photography student. As we soon find out, she realises that she has the power to rewind time after seeing a girl fatally shot in the toilets of Blackwell Academy. It is then revealed that the girl who she saves is actually Chloe Price, Max’s former best friend who she has not connected with in five years. Over the course of the game, the two grow closer than ever before as they investigate the disappearance of Chloe’s friend, Rachel Amber. However, as a result of the choices that we, as Max, make throughout the episodes with her powers a version of the butterfly effect is enacted in the form of an apocalyptic storm, heading towards Arcadia Bay.
The other two games in the franchise, Before the Storm and Farewell, respectively, were introduced to add more context to the main game. The former tells the story through the perspective of Chloe Price about her relationship with the later-abducted Rachel Amber. In addition, the latter gives the player their opportunity to say farewell to the characters of Max and Chloe as they play through the unfortunate day, from five years ago, in which Chloe’s father dies in a car crash and Max is forced to move with her family to Seattle.
After completing the main story along with the bonus ‘Before the Storm’ season and ‘Farewell’ episode, it’s fair to say that my previous thoughts towards the franchise were completely ignorant. If anything, Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange (as a whole) has quickly become one of my favourite video games of all time.
When I look back to what I said about Telltale’s The Walking Dead (you can read about that here), it’s pretty easy to see why I adore Life is Strange. Personally, I thought the story was interesting and unique, quite a few of the characters were well-developed and easy to engage with, and also I thought some of the minor details like the soundtrack and voice actors were outstanding.
Out of all of the compelling features added, the inclusion of the rewind feature makes the entire game feel a lot more distinctive and special. There are some occasions in which the rewind feature can be utilised as part of a puzzle and other times where it allows you to change a minor choice or dialogue option. It’s the use of the rewind feature that helps Life is Strange standout and makes the entire narrative much more fascinating.
Furthermore, I also love how the game chooses to address a variety of key themes that are present in today’s society. From the likes of dealing with mental health and betrayal to other themes like homosexuality, I think Dontnod Entertainment (as well as Deck Nine, the developer of the Before the Storm season) does a fantastic job of treating all of these themes respectfully.
Through the use of branching choices and scripting, I also adore the fact that the aforementioned themes are treated carefully by the game developers. For example, in regards to the potential LGBT relationships within the game, the developers never force this idea throughout the episodes. Instead, I applaud the developers for instead allowing the player themselves to decide whether or not any of these relationships come to fruition. Also, I think it’s rather beneficial that some of these actions, like choosing to kiss Chloe in episode three, are never treated as a big deal.
Elsewhere, I thought the way in which the theme of mental health was developed through the character of Kate Marsh was another intriguing element to the overall game. In the first two episodes, it is revealed that Kate is a devout Christian but is currently suffering from serious mental health issues after a viral video emerges of her kissing various people at a party – but she has no memory of the event. The abuse that she receives leaves her feeling traumatized and suicidal, with the finale of the second episode concluding with a desperate Max trying to prevent Kate from taking her life.
Across the entire game, it’s this scene in particular that stands out so much to me. The number of emotions the game forced me to go through added to the tension of the situation and the exclusion of the rewind feature made it that much more stressful. While some players were able to save Kate and see her slowly overcome her problems, I was awarded the unfortunate conclusion of Kate committing suicide. There have been many occasions where crucial events in games have left me feeling shocked or downhearted, but it was this particular scene that forced me to take a break and regret the choices I made. Considering this franchise is built on the fundamental that choices have consequences, the exclusion of rewind and forcing the player to accept their outcome added so much more to the scene.
Throughout each episode, there are constant reminders about the horrifying storm that is slowly approaching Arcadia Bay along with the consequences Max’s choices are having on her well-being. Given how the entire story unravelled, it’s no surprise that the game concluded with one last gruelling decision to make – sacrifice Arcadia Bay to save Chloe’s life and end her curse or sacrifice Chloe, rewind time once more, and save the residents from the catastrophic storm.
The only real downside I have about the game as a whole is the fact that neither option presents the player with a happy ending. If you choose to let Chloe die by Nathan, she’ll die thinking that no one cared about her, without the knowledge of what happened to Rachel and also the fact that Max came back for her. Also, making this decision will force her mother, Joyce, to cope with the death of her own daughter after dealing with the death of her husband for years. Also, it would likely force a lot of trauma onto other characters like Max, David, and many students of Blackwell.
If you instead choose to sacrifice Arcadia Bay, the entire town is wiped out by the storm and it’s insinuated that there were no survivors. Chloe is forced to cope with the likely death of her mother and step-father while Max lives on with the knowledge that her choice resulted in the deaths of hundreds upon thousands of people.
While many thought the final choice was an arduous one to make, I instead thought the contrary. Obviously, it was difficult, but I personally believed that sacrificing the town and sparing Chloe was the right decision to make. While it did result in the deaths of many people, Arcadia Bay was always presented as a town with a large number of problems with a lot of suffering residents. Also, I’ll admit I was a bit confused too. I wasn’t entirely sure how sacrificing Chloe would save everyone considering Max had her first vision of the storm before that incident. If Max never gained these powers, she would have likely been killed along with Chloe at the very start. Finally, making this decision finally gave Chloe something to live for after enduring years of pain and hurt.
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Life is Strange is a well-developed and incredible game featuring many shocks and surprises. If you haven’t played the game before, I fully encourage you to do so. With the second game in the franchise being released later in the month, I’m excited to see what Dontnod Entertainment has in store for a brand new set of characters.
If you’d like to see my reactions to episodes 3-5 you can do so here: