Before the Sequel
Originally published September 27, 2018 on Doublejump.co
As much as I loved it, I never want to touch the original Life Is Strange again – or maybe I’m just afraid to. For myself at least, Dontnod Entertainment achieved something that’s rare and difficult to do in a video game: crafted a journey that genuinely felt like my own, where the choices I made were mine. It’s the reason I didn’t touch its prequel, Before the Storm: for me, the story was over.
The ‘interactive drama’ already existed with the Quantic Dream games and post-The Walking Dead Telltale Games releases – the format that Life Is Strange is built on – but Life Is Strange did two things that helped it stand out from the crowd.
First off is the writing, the obvious trait an ‘interactive drama’ lives or dies on (aside from Quantic Dream’s, arguably). Life Is Strange relies on teen stereotypes and although it doesn’t capture the ‘modern teen’ perfectly, there’s a refreshing maturity in its approach that gives the game and its characters unexpected dimension. It takes some time to sink in, for the characters to take root, for the sincerity and heart to break through the surface of its initially awkward dialogue, to stop noticing the word ‘hella’ as much – though once it does, the game flourishes.
Life Is Strange is a game about relationships, loneliness, expression, and all those larger and smaller moments that make up life, and it comes together into such a strong, cohesive title. Even if you can have quibbles with the plot or anything else (it’s been a while so I forget the specific criticisms), it’s still an extremely well-realized game that focuses on the emotional character drama and really delivers.
The time travelling, though. At some point during the first episode, I realised that it’s by far the smartest and most impressive aspect of Life Is Strange, especially when it comes to the young adult genre. It’s a mechanic that iterates on Telltale’s distinct episodic format and improves on it in a totally integrated, contextualized way. Although time travel is arguably just a version of a visual novel’s save system, Life Is Strange gives it new dimension and pushes this ability right to the forefront as both a central theme and mechanic.
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