What keeps you loving Life is Strange, Flaws and all

If you return to Life is Strange after a while, you'll notice two things. First, its writing is... not very good. The story is prone to poor pacing, strange decisions, weightless choices, and a hundred things that have been pointed out by as many critics. A lot of it you can justify, of course. Like... "The ending makes my previous decisions redundant" Yes, you're right. But the story never lied to us. We knew the storm to wipe out the bay was impending and the only thing Max (and maybe Chloe) are left with is the truth. Truth about Rachel, about Prescotts, all of it. And that's the weight of the story. What affects your decision. If you had the same decision at any of the earlier points in the story, you wouldn't have the same train of thoughts. The inevitability is an intentional mechanic that serves the story, not harm it.


But... some criticisms, you have to either accept or act apathetic towards. Like Max not being able to take the photo of David harassing Kate, turn back time and still have it. She has been able to take objects through time throughout the game, so why not this one? The simple answer is that the writers probably didn't consider it when they wrote down the scene. Coming up with any explanation in retrospect is cheating.


Still, if you play the game today, you'll fall for it all over again. You weren't oblivious, you knew the first time around about the contrivances, the inconsistencies, and the lack of depth in some of the side characters. Yet you, the target audience for this article, people like me, love this series so much. For a lot of them, it is even hard to put a finger on it. Many just found themselves some LGBTQIA+ representation in gaming, but the first game is pretty light on that. Some music lovers were in it for the West Coast Acoustics. But few can ever find themselves wondering what it was about the story itself that evoked such catharsis from them. The voice acting, the songs, the quirky aesthetics?


I'd say, it is the one aspect of a story not dependent on the plot itself. What makes Life is Strange something you keep jumping back to is the tone. You can't write a set of events and expect the tone in your head to always be translated appropriately. We've seen comedic death scenes, painful confessions, and heart-wrenching jokes. A storyteller must work even harder to set an appropriate tone for the story. That is why children prefer to tell horror stories under a blanket with a flashlight under their faces. Why comedians need to set an environment where their punch-downs cannot be construed as opinions. If you can convey to your audience what the content you're providing them is all about, they will know if they want to stick around or opt-out.


The heart-throbs, lovers of romanticism, and people who appreciate the cringe of the mid-2010s high-schoolers stuck around past the walk to the bathroom of Blackwell. Here on, you... always kind of knew what you were getting. Life is Strange was rarely ever about surprising you, it wanted you to walk through the game slowly. Kill the pace if need be. It likes it when you examine every item in the area or sigh at Max's pushover and underconfident attitude but couldn't help find a little cute. That's you spending time with the world they built, the characters they wrote.


The main story, the one about the disappearance of Rachel Amber, doesn't start till the THIRD episode. And once it starts, it goes on at a pretty good pace. Most people have noted how every episode of this game tends to be better than the previous one. I believe that's because it dedicated a LOT of the opening to building up both Arcadia Bay and Chloe Price, one of which you can get some closure on in the end. You're not at a place where you want to scoff at the story's shortcomings.

How else could a cheesy exchange like,

"My powers might not last, Chloe."
"That's okay- We will. Forever."

still hit so hard? You're not here to have your tropes picked apart by a metanarrative God like in Community, nor do you want to rush to the thrilling mystery like in Holmes's stories. Your stakes in the case aren't related to you as a detective, but as a friend who can't see another friend in so much pain. Of course, Jonathan Morali's Max & Chloe theme playing over the scene helps it too. So does the voice acting, the blue butterfly that's starting to be a... bit scary, and the railway tracks, your place of comfort.


Place of comfort? This is where a drug dealer threatened us... where Chloe almost got crushed by a train... where we later find Rachel! Bet you didn't think of all that when this exchange happened. No, because... that's how this game moves. One of the tools it has for building tone. The distinctions between a comfortable area and a dangerous one become arbitrary as the villains corrupt your sense of security. They have Nathan paint a threat on your dorm room wall, have David patrolling Chloe's house, and bury Rachel in your junkyard.


This is why, in the end, when you return to the lighthouse in your nth playthrough, you don't remember Victoria's awful "sad face" comeback, you think... she deserved a chance at redemption too. She could have gotten it. You don't think about Max's inconsistent power with David and Kate, you think... how small and petty David must've felt after Kate tried to jump. When he learned just the previous night how he failed Chloe too, and let Jefferson kill her. You don't think about how Chloe hasn't been showing remorse over her shittier actions, you think... how she hasn't been showing remorse over her shittier actions... but she doesn't like being like this... she really wants to apologize... and she does exactly that at the lighthouse, hoping once it ends, the least she would leave behind is a good memory of herself for Max. Because this game can have you set aside your gripes as need be and leave you emotionally vulnerable. I believe in consistent writing in all forms of media that don't require you to shrug at them too often, but... I don't regret falling for Life is Strange, flaws and all.

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