Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Life is Strange is one of those promising series that can have you criticising everything about it yet still be playing in front of your emotionally wrecked self. We, the viewers, know when to focus on the bigger picture and when to surround ourselves within the precious little details that can go over your gaze.
As such, the series survives through a relatively small but dedicated fandom that appreciates these stories from the larger-than-life universal manipulation to the very small but meaningful relationships. I constantly hear criticism of all the three major games released so far through different lenses, being called empty corporate shells that achieve nothing. I care to disagree.
While it is easy to spot where the corners were cut to make the games cost effective, they did a brilliant job keeping the charm that allures the players back after a while and brings a nostalgic smile when remembering a small wholesome moment that we are glad to have experienced, even through someone else’s eyes.
Every single one of the three games provides us with fairly different tones which define this series. Through their similarities, stories about supernatural abilities given to people who might be seen as unremarkable living in the west-coast, they try to give unto us, experiences. Memories, a set of lenses to allow us to travel into the world of another.
The first game’s thematic tone is tied very much to Max herself. A highly relatable combination of optimism towards the world and pessimism towards her own abilities, Max seeks to make her own little paradise wherever she is. Now, the places she is at are the elitist Blackwell Academy, The Price homestead that has seen a lot of pain and abuse, and a dormitory that is (possibly) marked with the vigil of Kate Marsh.
The story attempts to disillusion Max as she discovers uglier and uglier sites around her. Being contrasted against the highly pessimistic Chloe who, as we discover, is lost without Rachel, which drives Max’s “abandonment” even harder. When Chloe looks over Arcadia Bay from the lighthouse, the beauty is mesmerising.
But it really isn’t. The game, through its comforting and soothing music, a false premise about high school drama and a confident Chloe, lures us into a sense of comfort, of familiarity. We must not forget that the first two things we witness are a town-ending tornado and a girl getting shot. As each episode progresses, we, through Max, get to see the world as detestable as it has been for Chloe for the past five years.
When I think about this game, the image that pops up is Max, guitar in hand, sitting against a mighty tree surrounded by green landscape while Chloe stands against the hood of her truck, smoking a cigarette, hoping it would burn down the town. Max’s photo-perfect outlook on Arcadia Bay allows her the luxury Chloe does not experience.
The prequel game is unfairly compared to the mighty original, especially considering that it was going for a vastly different tone. The protagonist is no longer Max, it is Chloe, and to get it clear from the start, she seems clinically depressed. Instead of a beautiful Bay that rears its ugly head, we get to see the same worlds, Chloe’s home, Blackwell Academy, as bland and tasteless from the start. Almost every comment Chloe makes is about how much she dislikes their mere existence. These dialogues will feel off when compared to Max’s optimistic comments accompanied by delightful curiosity and a gentle and comforting voice.
Of course, once Chloe is with Rachel, essentially everything changes. The music becomes cheerful, the environments become brighter and Chloe’s comments are no longer so hateful. It is not to say that there is a golden miracle cure for depression, but relatability is the key to having someone facing it opening up. Rachel, who is trying to keep her life together so as to not face the reality she despises also ends up breaking down in front of Chloe who wears her bitterness on her sleeve.
This game provides a sense of interdependence. The idea of emotional independence, that we can all sort our pain and trauma out ourselves is an idea present in climaxes. Bojack Horseman, Community, How I Met Your Mother and many modern sitcoms that try to prove their maturity deal with the idea of emotional independence and how the characters have grown and will continue growing without the most important people in their lives. This coming-of-age game, however, deals with becoming reliant on someone in a positive light, as a privilege that may become the most important experience of your life.
Too many people view Rachel as the girl who got Chloe suspended/expelled, but not enough consider her to be the one who saved her, who might have led her out of the forsaken town of Arcadia, where, if you are to believe the comics, she would become a highly-skilled mechanic, rather than a hustler who gets shot trying to extort the most dangerous kid in Blackwell due to her financial troubles relating to her drug use.
Before the Storm sets the image of two girls, who love each other, whether platonically or romantically, head over shoulder, waiting in front of a road which will lead them out of Arcadia Bay, never able to take the first step to outrun the storm behind them.
Life is Strange 2 gets too much flack for what it is. The game is, at times, too slow and vary, but what it is, above all, is a story about loss and reevaluation of what you have. The only thing Sean has left after the tragic incident in Seattle is his little brother, whom he never considered to even be an important part of his life.
Unlike Max or Chloe, Sean starts out a fairly generic character. His issues revolve around school, parties and boredom. We are also led to believe that this is what we have to care about as the opening gives us choices that seem to be about what to choose to maximise your popularity relating to snacks and drinks. In reality, these are the decisions that end up deciding what you and your brother get to live off of for the first few days of your journey.
Life is Strange 2, the road trip that it is, keeps giving and taking things from us, and the only constant in your journey is your little brother. Sean is not the one who possesses the seemingly infinite power, Daniel is, but what Sean has is far more powerful. He has the power to instil the values Daniel will hold throughout his life. He can make a Clark Kent or a Darth Vader, where Daniel idolises Sean, whether he acts in self-interest or self-sacrifice, where the tragic origin naturally sets up either option for both brothers.
Life is Strange 2 is a sketched out one-eyed Sean howling alongside the little wolf in the woods, with their whole journey clouded ahead of them, where they will face the best and the worst of humanity.
Life is Strange: True Colors is an interesting evolution for this series. So far, we have been given high stakes abilities like telekinesis and time control for personal stories. True Colors promises an ability that gives you a lot of emotional strength and a strong ability to relate and to connect. It does not want to be associated with any one colour or picture, but promises to be a vast ocean of emotional experiences that will tie you in to the end. This series has showed great promise and I hope it continues to do so.