Life is Strange

KT Samurai reviews the 2015 adventure game from Square Enix: LIFE IS STRANGE.
Average User Rating:
5/5,

  1. Platform: PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Release Year: 2015
    Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: Adventure

    Sunlight and the dull rumbling of a waking lakeside town pour through the bedroom window and Max Caulfield stirs from her sleep. The warm glow of morning light falls upon the room's vibrant, hand-painted textures, splashing pastel-like warmth throughout. At Max's side Chloe wakes, too, and after a brief conversation where they fret about their eventful past and the looming future the two fall silent the game's gentle soundtrack plays in the background. The game tells me that I can press a key to stand up and get on with the day -- with the game -- but tempts me to hold off, to stay in the moment with Max and Chloe and keep those tough choices I know I'll have to make for them at bay. And I do stay, just for a little longer.

    Life is Strange is full of things like this, moments that tempt you to linger and take in the beautifully rendered environments and the low hum and chatter of the world around you. In many games you'd be hard pressed to keep up with everything going on around you and be expected to dodge incoming fire or leap to the next precarious platform. But here you're invited to linger on the grounds of Blackwell Academy and read the posters and flyers speckled on the walls and trees, or to pick through Chloe's chaotic bedroom to examine her trinkets and evidence of her teenage uprising against her worried parents, or to find Max's dorm room and explore it for clues about what she's like to inform your future decisions in the game. Games are a medium of moments like any other media, but Life is Strange, like many adventure games, draws out its moments, tempting you to let your guard down and get comfortable so it can pull the rug out from under you later. And it will.

    The game is also remarkably well thought out. Plenty of moments early on feel like nothing more than flavor, like Max's love of photography and her penchant to snap photos when the mood strikes her, but turn out to be integral to the overall plot that hangs over your head. This is also a surprisingly heavy and thoroughly spun plot, with seemingly unrelated details coming together as the game strides to its conclusion in ways you couldn't have anticiapted when you were first exposed to them. Even Max's very first photo you help her take in the game is hugely significant, and you have no hope is knowing its significance until nearly the end of the game. Few stories are written this tightly and with this much forethought, all while tackling difficult themes like loss and grief with steady-handed confidence, making it a must for aspiring writers to experience.

    The novelty of the game's most advertised mechanic of altering time never quite overstays its welcome and often sits on the back burner as a tool at your disposal should you make a choice that you're not happy with or need to find a clever way to get from point A to point B. The real meat of the game lies in its dialogue trees and its simple puzzles. The game isn't difficult by any stretch of the imagination, but you might enter a situation without a clear path that stumps you for a moment before remembering, "Aha! I forgot I could do this!". It's a game that wants to be experienced, to challenge your emotions, not your dexterity.

    The voice work is critical and, thankfully, exceptionally well done. Characters both round and flat routinely sound as if you've just caught them in a particular moment in their otherwise busy lives, rarely stopping everything doing and acting like you're the center of the universe. There's depth to most of these people thanks to their actors, and save for a few weak performances it's mostly a home run. Ashly Burch's performance as Chloe is particularly stellar, sounding like she was born to play the part of this critical character and giving the game all the believability it needs.

    And it's a good thing, too, because some of the dialogue these teenagers are speaking sure sounds like something a middle-aged man would think that kids these days might be saying to one another 'round the old water cooler (which it is). It isn't all bad, and some of it is entertainingly out of place, but it can rear its head at some inopportune moment and undercut some of the drama. Couple that with the weak lip syncing and, for some, this could shatter the mood for some scenes completely. I would argue that the vast majority of the game makes up for this, but it's a pain point worth making clear, especially in a game where dialogue is so important.

    Overall, I can't recommend Life is Strange enough. It's thoughtful, moody, and comfortable throughout with dazzling highs and heart-wrenching lows, brimming with color and character that few titles can achieve. It can be sappy and melodramatic but that's also part of the fun if you're into this sort of thing. Give it a try if you have the opportunity, I think you'll enjoy yourself.

    About Author

    KT Samurai
    "Owner" of Sakuga City and writer of overly verbose and often times cynical articles about anime, video games, and cartoons.
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Comments

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  1. OctalKey
    "anticiapted" p.3 I believe you meant to write "anticipated"
    "you have no hope is knowing its significance" p.3 I believe you meant to say "no hope in knowing"
    "rarely stopping everything doing and acting" p.5 I believe you meant to say "rarely stopping everything they're doing"

    "The game isn't difficult by any stretch of the imagination, but you might enter a situation without a clear path that stumps you for a moment before remembering, "Aha! I forgot I could do this!". It's a game that wants to be experienced, to challenge your emotions, not your dexterity." This is exactly what it felt like! Nice!

    "Ashly Burch's performance as Chloe is particularly stellar, sounding like she was born to play the part of this critical character and giving the game all the believability it needs." Burch did an exceptional job giving Chloe a voice that matched the brilliance of her rugged heart and soul, especially in the parts of the game where Chloe is depressed at her current condition and acts much quieter than the Chloe she is supposed to be. I still do have a bias for Max's VA, Hannah Tell, though, because Max is unnffph.

    "It's thoughtful, moody, and comfortable throughout with dazzling highs and heart-wrenching lows, brimming with color and character that few titles can achieve. It can be sappy and melodramatic but that's also part of the fun if you're into this sort of thing. Give it a try if you have the opportunity, I think you'll enjoy yourself."

    This is a great conclusion, I very much agree about the occasional sappiness and melodrama, but the charm of the game lies with its great lighting, great voice-acting, and an entertaining story ripe with emotion. The wonderful color pallets are also necessary to mention because without the visual stimulation of the different environments how else would the player come to understand the complexities of Blackwell, Chloe's home, Max's mind, and the town itself? The mellow soundtrack tastefully imbues this super-indie storyline and environment with a bittersweet wind-down, especially around the end of the last couple episodes rather than the music of the first few episodes that has its own specific vibes, being simple music that inspires ideas of the curiosities to come as the game progresses while not taking away from the quaint small-town, big problems atmosphere. This game has a lot going for it, but we wary of the Feels because the heart-ache this game can produce is notorious. The lesson the game sort of implies is that the player and Max both have the capability to learn that although life is beautiful, it can be hard, and difficult decisions will only haunt you if you don't have people or things to fall back on as support, and sometimes these people aren't entirely apparent at first, and in regards to that point, Max, or you, the player, both have the capability to become that person that supports others who are going through a hard time. The second lesson is that the difficult decisions you've made that you've come to regret, like many of the characters in this videogame have done, sometimes may have the possibility of being rectified, to some degree, but only if the people involved are willing to realize the reality of their mistakes and confront them once and for all. This is work though, it takes effort to do this, it isn't easy, but as Max, the player, and the other characters discover, it brings them one step closer to healing.

    Anyways, I really liked the review!