It’s hard to believe that the first episode of Life is Strange came out over a year ago, but here we are. Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix did a fantastic job of designing a realistic world in the Pacific Northwest with a cast of memorable (if somewhat tragic) characters. After the final episode came out last October, I didn’t have the heart to play the game again. But in March of this year, I did just that and it was an amazing trip seeing the entire story in one go.
Here are a few things that I’ve learned since I played through the entire game again (and be warned that, if you haven’t played any of the 5 episodes yet, there will be spoilers).
1) The Prescott family threats and Native American mythology clues are red herrings.
Back when the game first came out over the course of several months, fan speculation about the many mysteries of the plot ran rampant. I had an idea in my head that Max’s powers were the manifestation of some elemental spirit in Arcadia Bay, designed to combat the corrupting influence of the Prescotts who ruled her town and her school. And the game itself had tons of Native American symbols scattered throughout, from the Tobanga statue to quotes from a Hopi prophecy, that I figured there was some tribal influence on the course of Max’s destiny.
But no, none of that actually matters. I won’t say the game is terrible without that layer of meaning, but at the time, I felt robbed for not seeing it come to fruition. Still, replaying LiS has helped me see how personal the conflict really is, with Chloe and Nathan acting as proxies for Max and her true antagonist.
2) Chloe is, in some ways, the real hero of the story.
Perhaps it’d be better to say that Max and Chloe are co-heroes of this game. Max is our hero protagonist, who jump-starts the adventure across time and space, but Chloe has her own journey. When we first meet her, she’s a self-centered and impulsive punk rock girl who can’t seem to stop getting into trouble. But as the game progresses, her character arc does, too. Chloe learns to follow Max’s lead even while Max becomes more outspoken herself. And by the end, it’s Chloe who gives Max the final chance to fix everything, even if it means letting the storm annihilate the town and riding off into the sunset together. Without Chloe, Max would be caught in some never-ending loop of isolation and nothing would change.
3) Warren is not a total creep.
Warren is not my least favorite character in the game, but he’s close. However, that’s only because it was hard for me to reconcile his two natures. As a science geek and a guy who’s not afraid to take a few punches, Warren Graham’s a solid dude who can be helpful to Max and Chloe at the perfect time. But being male myself, I can recognize a lot of “nice guy” antics in Warren’s behavior (hell, I was even that way toward a few people myself when I was his age), and it’s not what I’d call romantic.
Chloe, at least, manages to grow and becomes a better ally to Max, but Warren loses sympathy points for me when he pursues Max early on and yet so completely ignores Brooke’s interest in him. He’s useful to the plot, but he’s not so harmless as a friend that I’d consider pairing him with Max.
4) The “Sacrifice Chloe” ending isn’t as horrible an option as it seems.
Like many players who learned to love Chloe, I felt Max’s anguish over having to choose between sacrificing her best friend (and possible love interest) and the entire town. It didn’t help that when I played the final episode last October, my mother had passed away a few weeks earlier after a sudden illness. As you can imagine, I was very emotionally raw when I watched through the first ending and so, of course, the “Sacrifice Arcadia Bay” ending was more satisfying to me.
But after seeing how this game plays through, I can say that it’s not so hopeless when you choose to let Chloe go. Because like my mother, Chloe was ready to accept her fate and go peacefully, full of love for the people that were in her life. And like me, Max had the chance to say goodbye after spending time with her. As the butterfly at the coffin proves, Chloe’s death doesn’t mean she’s gone forever. It means she lives on in spirit, no longer bound to a world of suffering and free to stay with Max wherever she goes. By accepting this loss, Max not only wins justice for people like Kate and Rachel, but she also leaves behind her anxious, isolated past self for a more mature path with friends and family. She can become the person that her best friend always knew her to be.
Whether you like or hate the ending to Life is Strange, you have to admit that it can be a powerful act of storytelling. I consider it one of my Top 5 Favorite Video Games and I can’t wait to enjoy other games that offer this same style of play.