Ever since I found out about visual novels, I always liked the concept and wanted to play one, but I never had the time or energy to get one going. Fortunately, VNs are now a popular medium for fan-based and indie game developers. I’ve backed one by PangoDango Games called Lovely Little Thieves, and this month I’ve become enamored with a fan-produced VN called Love is Strange, based on the popular game Life is Strange by Dontnod Entertainment.
Set in an alternate reality where Chloe never got shot, Rachel Amber never went missing, and Max never got time travel powers, the visual novel puts the player in charge of Max’s fate once again. This time, however, her goal isn’t to save the world, but to find a partner from among her circle of friends for a photo contest and pursue a deeper relationship with one of them. With enough approval points earned, true love can blossom in an atmosphere of total joy and trust in the familiar grounds of Arcadia Bay, Oregon.
The game itself lets you pick between 4 possible LGBT romance options:
- Chloe Price, your childhood best friend and current teen rebel
- Kate Marsh, a Christian with a heart of gold and a talent for art
- Victoria Chase, your snooty, ambitious rival in Photography class
- Rachel Amber, a mysterious, popular girl with striking good looks
The programmers and writers at Team Rumblebee put so much love and effort into every level of the game’s design, with plenty of homages to Life is Strange, such as collecting in-game photos and following along in Max’s journal entries. Every romance path also takes something tragic about each character from the original game and turns it into a less violent but still melancholy hurdle for Max to overcome (e.g., Chloe’s plan to leave Arcadia Bay for a while by the end of the week, as opposed to nearly dying all the time). And what would any Life is Strange game be without its choice-based mechanic? Fortunately, these choices are more about what encouraging words to offer your love interest and what kind of gift you should give her during the middle of the week.
The visual novel doesn’t use any voice acting. Instead, it relies on its text, sound effects, and background music to set the mood and create deep, emotionally powerful scenes in the player’s mind. Not to mention that every character sprite for Max and her classmates is wonderfully detailed in a soft palette that adds to each heartwarming storylines. In my opinion, this is especially well done when it comes to the Rachel Amber route, since she’s not nearly so well developed as a character in the original game.
But more than that, this is a project that was made to answer the needs of the fan community. It’s a love letter to the LGBT-friendly paths that Max could take in the original 5-episode game, especially for anyone who chose to romance Chloe. And for everyone who’s played through the heartbreak of the final episode “Polarized,” the visual novel’s light, playful atmosphere is a welcome breath of fresh air, a beautiful refuge after a year’s worth of tortured feelings.
The Love is Strange visual novel is free to play and available for download from the game’s official Tumblr page.