IMPORTANT NOTE: This post will reveal crucial plot details from Life is Strange: True Colors because I feel it's necessary to seriously discuss the game and it would be silly to spoiler tag practically the entire post. It's intended for those who have already completed the game or else just don't mind knowing what will happen in advance. If that doesn't describe you, this is your chance to click away.
Don't think I've actually discussed any installment of the Life is Strange franchise before at any kind of length here, so I figured since I just wrapped up my second playthrough of True Colors, playing according to my instincts the first time and as differently as possible the second to see how different I could make the experience.
Those who follow my posts I guess may not necessarily suspect this, but Life is Strange actually hasn't been among my favorite gaming franchises. You might notice that Gone Home, which LiS borrows some game play and thematic elements from, routinely ranks among my top 5 all-time favorites, yet, if paying close attention, notice conversely the conspicuous absence of this franchise from my annual top 50 lists and wonder why. Well it's because, to me, Life is Strange as a franchise has felt comparatively half-hearted all in all. Enough resources go into the graphics and play length for sure and certain thematic elements that have been rare in mainstream gaming are staple features of LiS, but the more essential things like the near absolutist and intensely cliched portrayals of cliques, rampant overacting (as though saying everything louder makes it more convincing), and especially the hella bad writing in general make it evident to me that the people behind these games have made only a superficial effort to understand how young adults (especially today's) actually talk and think and live because it just doesn't matter, apparently. True Colors has proven an exception to this rule for me, representing a VAST improvement in the basic quality of writing, voice acting, and often of character arcs as well, to state the obvious. Clearly far more genuine effort has been put into this title than preceding entries. I definitely think this the best game in the franchise to date. Overall, I enjoyed my time with True Colors! But at the same time, I still have a very mixed opinion.
My three favorite scenes were...
#3: The LARP. Just about everyone seems to like this part of the game. I was genuinely surprised at the expansiveness of the LARP and the level of interactivity present within that framework! I especially enjoyed playing out classic Final Fantasy-style turn-based battles (that made me laugh), Steph's EPIC transformation of her record store into a magic shop, and the concluding encounter with Jed, but also really everything. It was so sweet how all the residents chipped in to try and help out this one young boy heal just a little from the trauma of losing Gabe. The charming dorkiness of it all made me smile. A lot. It's an experience that's genuinely unique to this game. Nothing like it can be found in any other video game (at least to my knowledge anyway). I've never done a LARP before IRL, but it sure the hell seems like fun! Might have to find a way of trying it sometime.
#2: The spring festival. Okay, this was just fun. Festivals like these are how small towns tend to get most of their incomes. That's just a reality that I'm intimately familiar with. They're absolutely crucial cultural events for those sorts of places and this game really captured the spirit of them pretty well with it's bean-counting challenges and folk type music and town lore and distinct rituals (like in this case the rose) and just everything. It was sweet! I felt the love for small town America in the spring festival. The best part though IMO, obviously, was meeting Steph afterward and the kiss. That beam of light spreading out over the land I think really raises the bar for lesbian kisses in this medium. In case you're wondering what destination I chose, of course it was Salem; was I seriously going to choose anything else after getting to meet witch Steph in the LARP??
#1: The trippy dreams guided by Gabe. This is the point where the game really had me the most. For Gabe to act as Alex's subconscious here and make you correct your own memories of these traumatic events that can't help but feel like a cumulative rejection by the world was just something especially powerful. Your family are supposed to be the people who love you the most. What happens when they leave you? Well I kind of know what that's like, but not what it is to lose everyone at such a young age. Yet you know these things happen. What must that be like? There was just something about the format here, even the sort of metaphor of different levels of pain concentrated in Alex's second fall midway through, that really made me connect emotionally to Alex herself on a level that I just hadn't quite up to that point. While reading her exchanges online (especially the older ones) helped me get a certain, evocative sense of who she was (including some painfully familiar experiences around feeling fetishized and so forth), all in all Alex herself had mostly felt like just a hollow stand-in for me as the player. This was the scene that really established her as a person in her own right with a lived experience of her own. I appreciated the inclusion of that a lot.
I also really love lots and lots of characters in this game. Steph and Duckie are definitely my favorites, but Charlotte is also an especially interesting character to me. I thought the inclusion of Charlotte's character arc, including the fact that there's nothing Alex can do to genuinely help her and that she ultimately has to conquer her own pain and anger, was an especially honest and mature inclusion. Matter-of-factly, I kind of wish there more truly life-like character arcs like that and somewhat fewer simple video gamey solutions to everyone's problems. But anyway, Pike and Eleanor were great characters, even Jed really. And Diane is the perfect corporate PR drone for her role. I also enjoyed most of the online exchanges people have, which smack of a lot of realism. As something of an internet politico myself, Ashley and Aaron's online political quarrels made me chuckle every time because, let's face it, that's exactly how it is and we all know it! Also of course the option to play arcade games and stuff in-game. Always like that sorta thing! Really though it's the music that's a particular strong suit here. I'm 100% with the very alternative kinda vibe thereof and the game's unabashed celebration of vinyl and cassette tapes and just being of a counter-cultural spirit.
HOWEVER! Let me be honest and frank in saying that really the main quest -- the murder mystery here -- is overall kind of a weak element that I just didn't find that emotionally compelling or plausible. Night in the Woods is another choose-your-own-adventure type game that's set in a small, American mining town, narratively centers a female bisexual character around the same age, features in-game video games (well okay, one, but you get the point of comparison I'm making), and also features a mine-related murder mystery of sorts. One struggles not to reach the conclusion that the one game might have in some way influenced the other even. But Night in the Woods backgrounds the murder mystery stuff as a secondary aspect of one's playthrough in favor of primarily focusing on character development, whereas True Colors foregrounds its version of murder mystery and I feel suffers a lot from doing so. It also suffers from being a fully voiced choose-your-own adventure rather than one that relies on text-based dialogue like Night in the Woods because the constant interruption of conversations with mostly pointless dialogue choices really reduces the immersiveness of the experience for me a good amount. Convos quickly come to feel unnaturally choppy in a way that they just don't in text form. I couldn't help often wishing that basically only the most meaningful dialogue choices -- the ones you have to confirm before going through with -- were left and that the rest of the dialogue was just decided by the developers because when I compare the general flow of conversations here to that in say The Last of Us or The Last of Us Part II, I...just can't help feeling like the plain old cinematic format, because it flows so much more smoothly, is actually more genuinely involving than constantly making narrative choices that only alter one line of dialogue anyway. This is a genre challenge. The AI technology needed to have sophisticated, life-like conversations with machines just isn't there yet. We have to face this reality.
My final thought is that also Ryan...just doesn't belong in this game. He's a sweet guy, but he consistently feels out of place in every scenario he's placed in. He's the type of impossibly ideal guy who seems as though he just stepped out of a Hallmark Christmas movie and just doesn't seem like the type of person you'd meet at Steph's counter-cultural record store or participate in a geeky LARP with or find in the same friendship circle as Steph, and least of all romance after he wound up being the one who cut the rope that saw your own brother plunge to his death. And he's conveniently Jed's son for some additional soap oper-y melodrama? Come on now! Behind his unnatural, clearly forced presence in this game, I sense publisher pressure to include a heterosexual romance option for Alex despite the fact that the average LiS player is almost certainly there for something else. (I know I am.)
Okay, those are my thoughts! How'd you feel about this game (anyone)?Last edited by Jaicee - on 09 October 2021