Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to take a moment to apologize for the delay on our platinum article or podcast for The Witcher. I completed that platinum almost two weeks ago now and the void that it left in my heart has just grown so large that I don’t even know how to talk about the game. Okay, that’s a lie. I do miss it, but after going at it so hard, some time away from it was greatly needed. I’ll get to that soon enough, I promise. Anyway, after I finished up that task, Far Cry Primal was released. Primal is the third game in our platinum challenge, so I was obligated to pick it up. I wasn’t blown away by it, but it’s fun in smaller doses.
I had been planning on stepping away from the hardcore gaming after finishing The Witcher platinum and trying out Primal, but something unexpected happened. Unexpected things are often really good or really bad. This one happened to be the former. I caught some Twitter traffic between Kyle and another guy talking about a game called Life Is Strange. (Note: I have Twitter notifications turned on for Kyle so I can stalk his every tweet. Ain’t nothing getting by me.) I heard that the game was only $10 on the PlayStation Store. I didn’t even know a whole lot about it, but the Twitter conversation made it seem like it was easily worth that kind of money. I bought it, played it, and this one did blow me away.
Life Is Strange
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Episodic Graphic Adventure
Platforms: Windows, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Release Date: January 30, 2015 (Episode One)
Okay, so here’s the deal. This is technically a Platinum Diaries post, since I did platinum Life Is Strange, but it’s such an easy platinum that there’s really not much to talk about as far as that goes. I just had so much fun playing this game that I want to talk about it. Hell, I need to talk about it. Unfortunately, I don’t personally know anybody who has finished the story. That makes it hard to discuss it because I REFUSE to spoil anything that happens in this game for anybody. The story is everything here. Okay, enough preamble. Let’s get to it.
Life Is Strange was developed by Dontnod Entertainment, a French outfit that has only one other game under its belt: Remember Me, a 2013 Sci-Fi action/adventure game that I have to admit I have never heard of. It was published by Square Enix, famous for the timeless Final Fantasy series, as well as Kingdom Hearts.
This is an episodic interactive storytelling game, much like anything that Telltale Games does. I have only played one game from Telltale, that being Game of Thrones, and I have to say that I enjoyed Life Is Strange a lot more. And I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan.
Life Is Strange tells the fascinating story of eighteen year old Max Caulfield, a girl who stumbles upon her ability to manipulate time during a photography class at Blackwell Academy in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Her discovery unravels a series of events that can be described as shocking, disturbing, and wildly entertaining. Max reunites with her childhood best friend, Chloe Price, after five years, and they team up to attempt to solve the mystery of Chloe’s friend Rachel’s disappearance. Arcadia Bay, and more specifically, Blackwell Academy, holds some very dark secrets. The story also deals with subjects such as bullying and suicide, which will likely make you feel something even if you haven’t been affected by these issues in your own life.
I’ll get the trophies out of the way quickly. Like I said, the platinum for this game is so absurdly easy. There really is no hardest trophy, since all the trophies involve either completing episodes or taking optional photographs that appear throughout each episode. There are ten photo opportunities in each episode. If you follow a guide for these photos, the platinum is a cakewalk. The game’s menu also gives you hints to finding the optional photos if you prefer to tough it out on your own. Either way, it’s not that difficult. If you miss any photos on your first playthrough, there is a collectible mode that allows you to jump in at various checkpoints in each episode and try to find the photos. In this mode, the choices that you make won’t affect the story of your main playthrough. Life Is Strange is probably a bit longer than your typical episodic game, but it depends on how you play it. If you take the time to explore the environment and inspect every available item like I did, it could take close to twenty hours. It seemed like the first few episodes took me around three hours each to complete, but the last one felt significantly longer. Playing through the entire game was probably the hardest part of the platinum, and it wasn’t hard at all. There’s not a whole lot of skill involved, outside of pretty basic memory and deduction skills in the later episodes.
Like most episodic story based games, decision making is the main focus of Life Is Strange. Every decision that you make in the game and every dialogue option that you choose has the potential to influence minor and major events later on in the game. This is often the case for these types of games, but it’s a bit different this time around. Due to the time travel aspect of Life Is Strange, you have the option to rewind time after making a decision if you are worried that it might lead to something horrible happening. I think this makes the premise a bit more interesting, because it allows you to explore multiple options before picking the one you have to live with for the rest of the game. After every major decision, Max makes a brief comment to herself about the choice that she (you) made. These comments are designed to hint at possible ramifications, but they don’t always mean a whole lot. Regardless of the decisions you make, the game still plows ahead toward an inevitable conclusion that only has two possible outcomes. That is one of the things that annoyed me the most about the game. With all of the emphasis on the possibility that your choices can seriously affect the game’s story, it really doesn’t matter for the endgame. I can’t even say that I have an actual problem with that though, because it totally makes sense. The writers were dedicated to creating a great story, and while some people weren’t satisfied with the ending at all (there’s always those people), I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more logical conclusion to the story given all that went on in Arcadia Bay over that fateful week.
If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I prioritize a good story over most other things in a video game. Life Is Strange is a phenomenal story, which it pretty much had to be in order to be successful. Props to Dontnod for the job they did in creating this game, though. The story carries the game beautifully, and the hand painted visuals are exquisite. Regarding the choice to go with the hand painted style over a more realistic one, co-director Michel Koch had this to say: “We really wanted to have this slow paced and intimate feeling with the game, and we thought that having this hand painted feeling would really allow the player to put some of their own imagination and their own feeling to what they are looking for.” I’m glad they decided to go this route. I usually love games with ultra realistic graphics, but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the environment that these developers created.
One of the other things I enjoy in games is a good soundtrack. The game’s soundtrack was curated by Jonathan Morali of the French band Syd Matters. He included two of his own songs on the tracklist: Obstacles and To All of You, both of which I have been listening to pretty regularly this week. There’s a playlist on Spotify for Life Is Strange’s soundtrack and it’s awesome. I’m listening to it as I type this, actually. It’s all indie music, and a few of the songs are haunting once you associate them with the game, but it’s nice to be able to revisit the story through the songs that you heard while playing it. That’s especially true if the game resonates with you like it did with me. I did not want to leave this world. I didn’t want the game to end. It was so interesting and the characters were all so well developed that I became emotionally attached to them. It was insane. It’s been over a day now since I finished the game, but I haven’t gone a waking hour without thinking about it. Either I’m insane, or Life Is Strange is a damn good game. I might be insane. The point still stands, though!
You probably noticed that I don’t have a whole lot of bad things to say about Life Is Strange. There were a few small bugs that I noticed, mostly lip syncing issues at times, but these weren’t frequent enough to have an adverse effect on my experience. There was one scene where Max’s lips just stopped moving as she carried on with her conversation, and that was a little disconcerting, but once the conversation switched to a new dialogue option, the issue worked itself out. I’ve seen people complain about the slang that the characters used, but I thought it was fun. Although I do have to agree with a certain character in that I am not particularly fond of the word “hella”. I really can’t think of many more negative things to say about it. I enjoyed the hell out of this game. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I mentioned the Life Is Strange’s $10 price tag in the introduction. At that price, I can not recommend it enough. I liked it so much that I would probably pay the cost of a full game for it, but at just ten dollars it should be a no brainer. There are five episodes and they are all included in that price, as well as nine videos of developer commentary. I recently paid $20 for Firewatch. I liked that game too, but the ending was atrocious and it only lasted like three hours. So again, $10 for Life Is Strange is nothing short of master thievery. I feel like I robbed Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix. Buy this game. Just do it.
So there you have it. My whirlwind romance with Life Is Strange has unfortunately drawn to a close. My time with it may have been brief, but it sure was a hell of a lot of fun. If I had played it last year, it definitely would have found its way into my top five games of the year. Damn, it might have even been second… Am I that crazy? Yeah. Yeah, I am. In this reality, at least.