Over seven years ago, Life Is Strange came out, and it’s fair to say that it changed my life, by a lot. It’s even weird to think that it came out so long ago because it feels like it was yesterday. I never thought a game would have such an impact on me, but it did and replaying back has only just made those impacts so much bigger in retrospect.
One of the things that originally caught my eye about this game in anticipation to its release was its setting. There’s always been games about high school teenagers and young adults, but none were never really as grounded as Life Is Strange was. It can be cringeworthy in places, but that doesn’t matter because I feel as though it perfectly encapsulates that time period of our lives – we’re just screwing around with our friends while trying to find out what we’re wanting to do with our lives, and that’s the charm of it.
The way that it’s down-to-Earth about the feelings of young adults and what they go through makes it an interesting story and relatable to a lot of people more so than it was to me when I first played it back when it released in 2015. I was thirteen then, and replaying it now at eighteen years old shifts the emotions and realisations of a lot of the topics that they talk about into very weighted obstacles. These topics were hard to think about all those years ago, but now it’s much, much heavier now that I’ve matured and grown older.
I think that’s why the game is hits home to so many people, me included: There’s a lot of sensitive topics that are covered throughout all five episodes that should be looked at and are looked at in a serious light, and aren’t just made up as a one-off joke. Not only that, but there are a lot of choices in this game, smaller and big, that can majorly effect the game in different places – choices have consequences – and that’s another lesson that presents itself much deeper when you replay the game that applies to real life.
People have a lot to say about the ending of the game, which I won’t spoil, but I’ve always looked at it differently to others. To me, the destination or the end of the game doesn’t matter as much as the topics and choices that you’re make throughout it. The game is about how your experiences and emotions effect the rationality of your actions and how you dictate your choices. You’re given the ability to interact with the environment in almost every area in the game. You can look at pointless things that don’t mean anything, or look at something that might make a difference in the long run. That’s a choice that you make. It’s about how the choices make you feel and how everything around you throughout each episode has led to you making that decision. The ending doesn’t NEED to matter – the game is about a young adult being presented with a less-than-desirable but intriguing (as we all would with the power of time travel) situation that changes the way that she sees the world around her, for better or for worse.
That leads me to the second part of what makes Life Is Strange such an impactful and emotional game aside from the topics that it covers and the multiple decisions and choices that you make that are driven based on your own experiences inside and outside the game: The characters.
It’s such a big thing that makes a massive difference to the perception of the game and if people are able to get emotionally invested within it – the portrayal of the characters, do they feel like they’re actually people or are they horribly written? They’re incredibly well written. Every main character and every side character has a purpose across the duration of all five episodes. Some side characters will shift into a main character, or some main characters will shift back into being a side character, but they will still be there and they will still have a purpose when they’re not the immediate focus of the current story arc. Victoria Chase is a very good example of this – she’s one of the center points of the first and second episodes, but becomes a side character for the remainder of the game yet her existence isn’t just ignored, she’s still an important part of the story later on. That’s why the characters work so well, they’re recurring and have a meaningful impact on the story and shift in-and-out – just like how people come in and out of our lives. Their personalities are also a big part of how someone connects to the game. Max’s feelings when she realises how Chloe changed after her father’s death, changing from an innocent girl into an outcasted punk that was entirely different to how Max remembered her.
The role of the teachers and the on-site staff in the game being depicted as useless or unhelpful, as well as the probably familiar idea of a school friend being the child of someone who works at the school is played out phenomenally, and you get a real distain for some of the parents and adults as the game carries out. And of course, the friendship between Chloe and Max. It’s genuine, it’s real. You get the impression that they’re actually real, living, breathing people and not just fictionalised characters inside a video game. Characters are so well-written that you forget they’re not real people and you actually sympathise with them and try to understand what they’re going through, which is absolutely critical for this game, and it’s perfectly done.
In addition to this, the world-building of the game is also incredibly well done. Sometimes, when you interact with things, Max (in her head) will talk about it, including context as to who a character is, what the school is like, what people are like and what different things are and how they’ve affected her personally. The world-building is also done through the journal and notebook, that has a biography of every encountered character from Max’s perspective as well as Max’s phone, which you can sometimes answer and text back and forth between other characters to interact with them when they’re not in the current area. Small things like these are what make the world so real and believable and it’s why Life Is Strange does so well in both storytelling and character design.
As a standalone game, it’s honestly one of the best narrative driven ones out there. Television shows like Girl Meets World and Sex Education have done good jobs of showing those years of being an older teenager and trying to fit in with the real world, but the way that it’s done in Life Is Strange is effortless. It may be a linear game for the most part, but it has a lot of objects and things that you an interact with and learn about, and a fair amount of Steam achievements to go with it. It set the standard for games to come after it, and sadly, I don’t think the sequels Life Is Strange 2 and Life Is Strange: True Colors have the same feel to them that the original game does, which is unfortunate – but it just goes to show how well made this game is – nothing else in its own series has been able to top it.
The soundtrack is honestly incredible, and I only have a slight bias because they used one of my favourite bands, Foals, in one of the scenes and it was worked absolutely perfectly and was in tone with the cutscene. A lot of what makes the game work is how well everything is put together to make a memorable and emotional atmosphere. The music, the world design, the characters, everything. Look at the graphics and textures, it’s unique and identifiable as being from this game. Everything feels so different, but so recognisable and that sense of familiarity while also having a sense of the unknown shines throughout all five episodes. It’s very clear that the developers had a great understanding of how and where to use specific songs and music in the soundtrack to fit the mood, a lot of the time the soundtrack fits the mood of the situation and area excellently.
Something about Life Is Strange just works. There’s still bugs and it’s not flawless in that sense, but the way it just presents itself and how it deals with important issues and topics that are faced by young adults by incorporating it into a science-fiction based story while still feeling authentic and real is a truly masterful feat. I’ve played the game about three times in full now, and I would be lying if I said this wasn’t a close contender to one of the best games with an enriching story, alongside Red Dead Redemption 2. Interestingly enough, it’s the first in the series and not a sequel, so unlike Red Dead 2, it has nothing to build on and instead establishes everything within its first instalment through five distinct episodes – something that more games are doing now – but originally set Life Is Strange apart from others and made it unique. I know that Telltale has done something similar, but the games were always self-contained as one with chapters being selectable after completion, instead of what Life Is Strange does, and strings an entire story across five smaller, and almost separate, story arcs.
Life Is Strange is a perfect example of a story-centric game done right. It gives seriousness to sensitive topics and a realistic depiction of young adults faced with circumstances they didn’t expect. Every character has a purpose, every action or movement contributes something to the overall game, whether small or big,. It’s a fantastic game to play if you can handle it mentally, even seven years after the original release of the game.