Life Is Strange: A Review of Square Enix's Episodic Adventure
I have been a gamer for almost a decade now, and it is a rare occurrence for me to play a video game that evokes true, genuine emotion to the point at which I am still thinking about the content days after I've completed a single episode. The games that succeed in engaging their players to this degree are truly gems, and their endings culminate in an almost kind of closure for those who have invested in the journeys they offer. "Life is Strange" is such a game, and it is almost entirely driven by the choices that you, the player, choose to make.
The main character is Max Caulfield, a quirky teen trying to survive her high school school experience at the Blackwell Academy. Max is an aspiring photographer with an eye for life's little moments, and her passion for the art shines through in the photos she produces. After witnessing what appears to be a premonition of great destruction, she suddenly finds herself in possession of an incredible gift- the ability to rewind time- and struggles to comprehend the duplicity of her new ability. It is both a terrible and magnificent ability, and Max gradually discovers both of these facets through the decisions she makes. She is such a memorable character that I have dedicated an entire section to her below.
Max's best friend Chloe is a trouble-maker by nature, and has recently suffered the loss of another girl to whom she had grown close in Max's absence. Chloe is convinced that this friend, Rachel, has disappeared under suspicious circumstances and is deadset on understanding what exactly happened to her. Max decides to help Chloe and, with her newly-found gift of altering time, the two teenagers begin a memorable but dangerous adventure that will hit the player dead-on in the feels time and time again.
Just like anyone, Max has the ability to demonstrate two distinct sides to her personality. In "Life is Strange", the player has control over her reactions to the way people treat and interact with her. Some of these people are heartless and cruel, and depending on how you want Max to react she can either return the snark or choose to take the moral high road.
The Max in my play-through almost always chooses the latter, and she has surprised me with the depth of her character every step of the way. She has very quickly become one of my favorite video game heroines of all time because of her down-to-earth nature and sweet disposition that is streaked with a little spontaneous rebellion. Max can be so kindhearted and understanding towards even the most vicious of her bullies, but on the other hand she can stand up for herself and for friends with a fury that is almost unrecognizable. Throughout this experience, she is also coping with her ability to rewind time and the implications that this spells for her. Her life has been turned upside down, yet she takes the time to invest in a classmate who is struggling with some pretty serious issues of her own, showing us the depth of her compassion for her fellow students. In fact, she has the ability to elicit so much emotion that at times I both cheered her on and had to grapple with the desire to give her a hug.
The writers of "Life is Strange" did an incredible feat with Max's character development, and voice actress Hannah Telle brings her gentle but strong personality to life.
The Butterfly Effect
If you've ever seen the Ashton Kutcher film, you have a basic understanding of the Butterfly Effect. Also known as the Chaos Theory, this involves a single, seemingly-innocent change and its potential significant consequences. "Life is Strange" illustrates this theory and brings all of its painful implications to life.
Since Max has the ability to manipulate and alter time, she can often go back and change certain events that have already occurred. Once she changes these events, the consequences of those events change as well, a sobering reality that she has borne witness to on several occasions. It is a cause-and-effect dynamic that results in both positive and negative consequences, many of which Max experiences immediately following the change. The staggering weight of this ability haunts Max, especially because there are times throughout the game in which her gift has literally saved a life, but at the cost of another. She demonstrates a fairly consistent desire to use this gift for good purposes, but there are times when she cannot use it at all due to the overwhelming effects it has on her. Rewinding time appears to be a great physical undertaking and it sometimes fatigues Max to the point at which she can no longer utilize this ability. Unfortunately, on a few occasions this has placed her into an even more troubling situation, and Max struggles to cope with the permanency of these actions.
"Life is Strange" truly forces you to look at the permanency of your decisions. You must contend with the consequences that your choices have, and it is a sobering experience indeed to see the manifestations of these behaviors appear right in front of you.
A Journey Back in Time
One of the most realistic aspects of the game is the environment. Max is a high school student, and together you'll walk down busy hallways filled with eccentric groups of people participating in a variety of activities. You have the ability to look at the posters and pictures hanging on the bulletin boards, walk into classrooms, and check out what other students are doing. At one point, you can even visit a friend in the science lab and help him conduct an experiment. Max can converse with most of the students and teachers, and even have a conversation or two with the principal. This journey back in time definitely brought back some memories, and thankfully most of them were positive ones.
You'll also be able to identify with Max's insecurities as she tries to survive everyday encounters with the Academy's popular kids, who seem to thrive on treating some of their fellow students like trash. These interactions as well as others cause Max to reflect inward and question herself, mainly about whether or not she's "cool" enough to fly under the radar of notorious oppressors Victoria and Nathan. These encounters seem to have been written by current high school students, who realistically crafted the experience of suffering mercilessly at the hand of bullies. It is deeply painful to witness Max enduring some of these more disturbing encounters, but she suffers through the vast majority of them with her chin up.
Throughout the five episodes of "Life is Strange", one will learn about the significance of sacrifice. Max is faced with difficult challenges and often struggles visibly to make the choice that results in the smallest amount of sacrifice; however, towards the end of the game, she finds that this is no longer possible. In fact, the greatest decision awaits Max in the finale, and it is entirely unavoidable.
I won't go into detail what the decision is because it is best experienced firsthand by the player. But the impact of Max's story- and the culmination of everything the two of you have been through together- comes to a disturbing conclusion that is irreversible. "Life is Strange" remains true to form up until the very last minute, and you will either be elated or devastated depending on the choice you decide to make.
This coming-of-age journey is one of such twists and turns and characters that are truly memorable that you will genuinely struggle to put the entire experience behind you. In fact, even after you've completed all five episodes, you might find yourself wondering (like I did!) if perhaps you might have done something different, or made a different decision that could have resulted in a more positive consequence for everyone. Thankfully, you have the ability to rewind time- or do you?
Episode One is free on Xbox Live right now, and additional episodes are $4.99 apiece. A small price to pay for such an overwhelming experience!
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© 2017 Jennifer