My favorite game of 2015, Life is Strange, is an emotional roller coaster. From joyous laughter to agonizing despair, developer Dontnod Entertainment played me like a damn fiddle.
As I’ve –eloquently– said in the past, it’s really hard to tell a coherent video game story, yet somehow, Life is Strange is full of believable character drama in an unbelievable world.
Consider this your spoiler warning if you’ve yet to finish the game. But if you’re all done…
CHOO CHOO, all aboard the feels train!
Shock (the good kind)
I went into Life is Strange fairly blind. I knew there was a time rewind mechanic and about the high school setting, but not much else. My only assumption was that Max would have to save the world using her time powers because game stories typically rely on the highest stake scenarios to create drama.
Boy, was I only sort of right!
Never in a million years would I have imagined this game to tastefully tackle subject matter like depression, anxiety, and suicide. I was shocked to see Kate standing on top of the school roof, and even more shocked that she could actually jump. I remember thinking, “Wow, Dontnod actually went there.”
I salute the storytellers for fully understanding their own characters, and for intelligently touching on serious topics. Life is Strange was never shocking for the sake of controversy, it knew when it needed to pull back and used shock as a way to continue character growth.
There was no fetishization of the game’s violence and dark themes, which is something you see in many games and especially in blockbuster movies.
I feel equal parts shocked by the numerous dramatic events in LiS, and by the developer’s willingness to tell an uncompromising tale.
I legitimately can’t even recall the last time a piece of fiction or entertainment media shocked me.
Seeing Chloe robbed of her life in the alternate timeline destroys me for 2 reasons.
As Max, I tried to make things better, I tried to fix the past. Instead, I wreaked havoc on my best friend’s life. If you’ve ever been hurt by someone close to you or accidentally hurt someone yourself, you know how crushing this feeling can be.
It’s a testament to the game’s characterizations that it was able to evoke this feeling in me. Almost everyone in Life is Strange feels like someone I know or have known at some point in my life. Not only did the game successfully make me feel despair, but it bypassed the virtual barrier and resulted in me thinking about the lives of those around me, as cheesy as that sounds.
The second reason alternate timeline Chloe wrecks me is because it seemingly confirmed my suspicions about the nature of the story at the time. No matter what happens, the universe wants to unfold in a specific way due to the ongoing series of immovable, intricate events.
As the player, this made me feel full of despair. I was given a gift that turned out to be a curse, I was powerless. Powerless. That’s the exact opposite of how most games want you to feel because they’re mechanics heavy.
Again, kudos to Dontnod for going all out and showcasing how emotional a video game story can be.
Life is Strange is full of blood boiling moments and characters.
I’m absolutely livid at Mark Jefferson and how he was viciously destroying the lives of so many people. I hate how Principal Wells didn’t take Max seriously in episode 1. I can’t stand how Nathan Prescott is allowed to run amok and murder Chloe. The list goes on.
But what I found most remarkable was that this time-travelling adventure had so many other, smaller, “low stake” instances of anger.
For example, I frequently felt angry at Chloe’s treatment of Max. You either make up and continue being friends (or more depending on player choice), or you don’t.
In the early episodes, Chloe is constantly biting at Max’s ankles. It’s easy to understand why Chloe would act this way when you consider what her life has been, but 18 year old Max probably doesn’t have the insight of an outsider. I see this dynamic as a clever way of expressing Max’s frustration through the actual player.
Most interestingly, I found myself angry with Max. Her moving away and losing contact with Chloe was such a “teenage thing to do.” This is the reality for a lot of kids, but I imagine that if you literally grew up with your best friend, you don’t just disappear on them. Especially when they need you the most.
By the way, I’ve referred to Max as the extension of the player except for the most recent example. If I feel angry at Max, shouldn’t I feel angry at myself as well to a degree? It’s a curious point to consider, but I don’t think it’s possible for Life is Strange to evoke that, seeing as this aspect of the story is 100% out of player control.
Also, I’m angry at anyone who sacrificed Arcadia Bay. You’re a monster ;).
I’m not one to refer to my teenage years as the best time of my life, but this game sure made me remember the fun stuff! It made me think back to puppy love, the sense of freedom and curiosity, forging new and exciting bonds, an us against the world mentality, and lots of specific events I don’t need to bore you with.
Life is Strange is so good at capturing the ups and downs of teenage life. So good.
I think it’s really powerful that the game was able to make feel nostalgic for an actual time in my life. I’d never want to go back to my teens, but reminiscing sure was nice.
Like I said at the start, Life is Strange is an emotional roller coaster. The beautiful story and fantastic characters will always stick with me, even long after games of the distant future make it feel like a relic from a bygone era.
How did Life is Strange make you feel? Share this post and let us know.