A Second Look at the Game Life is Strange

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.

Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix
Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix

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.

Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix
Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix

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.

Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix
Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix

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.

Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix
Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix

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.

 

Lost in the Widening Gyre: Life is Strange, Episode 5: Polarized

Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix
Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix

One of my new favorite games, Life is Strange, has finally reached its end (unless Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix feel like giving us a sequel, that is). I’ve been a huge fan of characters like Max Caulfield and Chloe Price from the beginning and this game has left a huge impact on me now that we’ve seen the grand finale.

After learning the truth about Rachel Amber’s fate and the men responsible for it, Max finds herself trapped in the Dark Room, unable to free herself and mourning for Chloe’s most recent death (once again). But Max does have several chances to make things right. With her time travel powers active again, she can jump across multiple timelines and make adjustments to reality, even while the storm hits Arcadia Bay and everything goes to hell for the people she cares about. But the biggest challenge Max faces is her own guilt and dread eating her up inside.

2015-10-19_00017
Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix

So what did Episode 5: Polarized have to offer?

Multiple scenarios played out, both good and bad.

I was under the impression that this game would have multiple endings, and from a certain point of view, it does. We get to see a lot of different scenarios play out, from the Dark Room conspiracy getting busted to the storm wiping out Arcadia Bay to Max winning her school’s photo contest and going to San Francisco as promised. And we see even more scenarios play out once we take a detour through Max’s head somewhere in Act Two, with distorted memories and dream sequences coming into play.

Honestly, that latter section was my least favorite part, but I’ll give the developers credit for how creative they were in setting it up.

An amazing exploration of the use and abuse of time travel.

Remember how, in the previous episode, there was very little need for Max to rewind time? She got more accomplished through conversations and deductions, especially after the disaster of trying to save William Price’s life.

That’s not so much the case here. The finale of Life is Strange jumps across multiple timelines and branching realities, as Max tries to escape each nightmare scenario, get justice for Rachel Amber and Kate Marsh, and save Chloe’s life one last time. I honestly lost track of how many photo-jumping, time-breaking journeys I made, especially when every single choice always had a bad outcome of some sort.

It is noteworthy, however, that this episode calls out Max—and by extension, the player—for all the times they went back in time to fix something or make themselves look better. Of course, it’s sandwiched in between some very raw and emotional content.

One seriously challenging stealth puzzle.

Just…. to hell with that puzzle. Stealth missions and timed challenges are two things that can quickly kill my enjoyment of a video game. I wanted to play this game for choices and relationship-building exercises, not for skulking around a poorly-lit labyrinth.

A bittersweet ending guaranteed.

There’s no one-hundred-percent happy ending for this game. You will have to make a choice that will leave you hurting in one way or another. I knew that going in, but I felt a little cheated by the end of it. So many choices seemed insignificant by the end. I thought we might get multiple endings of varying good or bad outcomes, but instead it comes down to a grueling puzzle sequence followed by one last major decision between two unpleasant yet promising scenarios.

Even so, the choices do fit the overall theme of Life is Strange, which has to do with both Max and Chloe growing up. Chloe does grow into a more mature person because of her reunion with Max, and Max does have to step up and face a major loss one way or another. Facing death and tragedy is something that all teenagers go through, and seeing Max’s journey through to the end is a healthy sign for her becoming an adult.

On a personal note, I recently had to say goodbye to my mother, who passed away earlier this month. Throughout this whole year—and the whole time I’ve been playing this game—I’ve developed a keener sense of the choices I make in my own life, and I appreciate all my relationships a lot better now. It was difficult letting my mother go (and she was very much like Chloe in her own way), but I’m glad to know she’s at peace and a lot of my faith has been reinforced through the experience of this game, from saving Kate Marsh’s life to helping a shy photography student and a blue-haired punk find a little peace and joy.

All 5 episodes of Life is Strange are now available for purchase and download through Steam.


Bibliography: Life is Strange, Episode 5: Polarized. Developed by DONTNOD Entertainment. Published by Square Enix. Directed by Raoul Barbet and Michel Koch. Produced by Luc Baghadoust. Designed by Baptiste Moisan, Sebastien Judit, and Sebastien Gaillard. Art by Amaury Balandier. Written by Christian Divine. Unreal Engine 3 (engine). Microsoft Windows; PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4; Xbox One, Xbox 360. Original release date: October 20, 2015.