Life is Strange: True Colors and the Minefield of Emotions
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
In a previous article, I had declared my expectations for True Colors. “[It] promises to be a vast ocean of emotional experiences that will tie you in till the end.” Now, after a 16-hour binge of the game, I can honestly claim that it surpassed my expectations.
Now, to be fair, I never hold on to hope when it comes to sequels, especially one made by a completely different team, but if you appreciate the core of the original game: a high school drama masking its darker story about sexual assault and drug abuse, masking the even deeper story of consequentialism and destiny, this is the sequel that weathered the test and survived.
Alex provides an interesting contrast to Max. While playing as Max, you felt weak yet optimistic. Max held no physical or social power over anyone and was thus stepped upon all the time, and taking hold of that time was what allowed us to, not fight back, but kill the others with kindness. Alex, however, is an intimidating force of nature who, as we learn, is holding back a LOT of power, and gets us feeling cautious every time we even see a red aura. Both of these women use their powers to connect with people, to be their everyday hero, while also unmasking the dark conspiracy behind the quaint town façade.
Look, I do believe myself when I say that True Colors is this amazing story that kept me engaged consistently, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the last chapter felt leagues above its predecessors.
This was when the story started to get too real in an uncomfortable way. Unexpected deaths, failed romances and the feeling of inconsequentiality are pretty universal and the game depicts them as such; however, watching Alex relive the ceilings of her worst emotions cannot be taken with an optimistic asterisk.
When she finally gets shot and thrown down the mines, the game takes an approach with its final chapter that is reminiscent of Max’s nightmares. However, where Max relived the story of the game once again, through the most pessimistic and guilt-inducing eye, Alex relives her pre-narrative history truer than she remembers in an attempt to forgive herself.
With her mind trying to reboot itself back into consciousness, her guiding angel Gabe gets her to move past the greatest limitation of her power. Alex cannot experience extreme catharsis of any nature without risking the people around her. Gabe lets her do so within her own mind, where she cannot hurt anyone. Here, she takes control of the three emotions she has been analysing throughout.
Haven Spring is drowning in blue after the news of their friendly bartender's demise. Through a pattern of delayed catharsis previously used by The Last of Us Part II, Alex has to, one-by-one, read their sorrow. Sometimes, it is loss of a foosball partner. Other times, it's a kid's guilt offsetting as panic in the middle of a "cheer up" event.
No one is ever prepared to let themselves get hurt, to be seen as
As the game progressed, Alex herself always seemed incapable of letting her pain overtake her decisions, especially since one of her abilities is to experience the sorrows of others. At some of the hardest-hitting moments in the story, we brace ourselves for that sorrow-filled mourning catharsis which never comes.
Starting with the death of her mother, we see, in order, the way she has stored a long-term memory and the way it actually was. Alex didn’t steel herself at the sight of her dying mother, she cried. She cried like any ten-year old. She felt the need to forget her own weakness at the face of loss. While Alex's adult body reliving her childhood trauma attempts to highlight the incongruity caused by her own self-denial, it was not more than a few hours ago she had the most joyful experience of her life on the rooftop of her new home.
"Time to play your part, Alex." - Gabe
When the case for negative emotions is presented, fear rules the chart as the essential survival instinct that keeps us from danger. It keeps you afraid of falling down a deep ravine, and it scares you out of throwing your life away. In game, however, fear is, on almost any occasion, a major hinderance for Alex's agenda to take down Typhon.
Alex denied herself, among other emotions, the right to fear. While her brother would express anger over his dad losing another job, Alex held on to fear. She knew that this family could still lose more and more if they don't try to get their shit together and keep fighting to stay together, which was what her mom made her promise at her death. Her baby daughter was tasked with something most people can never do.
Alex's fear peaked as her dad accidentally threw a punch at her and threw in the towel. Accepting his lack of responsibility, he made the realisation that Alex and her mom were unable to get to, that staying together is not the best outcome for these kids. As she saw her father, one last time, walking out the door, her fear was defeated, taken over by the most terrifying and uncontrollable emotion.
Finally, we get to rage built up through over a decade of frustration. When the wells of blue and purple start to drain, all that is left is red. The two best empath sequences in the game are fear-oriented.
In one of my favourite opening hook in a video game, as Alex saw her brother being pummelled, her brother looks at her, disappointed that this was her first day. She fell down at the fearful sight before her. But it wasn't fear, no. This was the calm, and you can trust that the storm will be devastating. As Alex repeated Mac's own threat against him, she rushes towards him, with a fury matched by a fighter's instinct developed at an orphanage.
And this was, quite rightfully so, the final emotion that we have to work through, the one Alex has the least control over. Fear is an undesirable prediction of the future, sorrow is a great loss which will forever be your past, but anger is now. She feared that her dad would leave. Now that he has, he is just the miserable screw-up who abandoned her. What more could she be losing?
As Gabe invited Alex to finish this process and go back to sitting on that box so that she can be on display while people decide her value, something broke.
"She's been through so much, I just don't know if we're prepared for a troubled girl..."
" I wonder why she's never found a home before..."
"I'm sure she is a sweet girl, but she's not for us."
"This is the kid in all those fights, right?"
"I want to help, I really do, but... There's just something..."
"Wrong with her."
The sharp outburst here exhibits the amount of hate and aggression she was carrying, the true devastation of her abilities, as the windows separating the children on display to the ones deciding which ones will have a home, break down from the sheer force.
Despite all of this, the walk in the mines still felt empty for some reason. Something was missing. Making her way deeper into both the mines as well as the Helldivers history, Alex finds her dad’s last possession among the fallen debris burying the bodies of the miners.
"Do you have anyone waiting for you at home?"
And he didn’t lie. After dealing with the worst her life has put her through, getting shot and plunged, she now has to also burden the final decision: who is worth forgiving?
This, of course, comes to fruition at the Black Lantern where the true antagonist of it all tries his best to manipulate everyone to save his face once again. He killed your dad. He killed your brother, and he tried his best to kill you. Now, Alex utilises her abilities to the final degree, where every emotion she just mastered comes to read the mind of the old man as he is hearing the true story.
He had fed his own consciousness a fictional narrative where he was a hero, an amazing father who was being ganged up by the new Chen girl. As the story started to unpack, as Alex got straight through his head and broke down his shields of deniability, she is, once again, asked to decide if he deserves forgiveness, which adds a painful layer of tragedy to this pathetic old man who, like anyone who could have been in his place, kept pushing to defend his story.