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Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 25 Jun 2016, 14:46
by Amake
I just finished Life is Strange, and now I need to talk to someone about it. This seems like the best way to do it. Maybe there's a discussion to be had, maybe just some general gushing.

To start with, I love this game. It's got the best written, most believable, most dysfunctional but still likeable characters of any game I've seen. Maybe in my top 20 of any work of fiction. The world it presents is heartbreaking in its authenticity. There was a moment where nothing in particular was going on, and I looked out a window in my friend's late-bills-laden, graffitied, badly-aged little house to see a billboard overlooking a quintessential suburban landscape riddled with dying trees, cracking roads and houses just like this one, and I felt like I was living a whole lifetime of quiet despair trapped in this place in the space of five seconds. And that was one of the less interesting moments in the 18 hours I've spent with the game.

That is, the player character saw these things at her friend's house. You slip so easily under the skin of these characters. Such is the strength of this exquisite character writing, their relationships, their darkly painful imperfect lives, the worldbuilding, the implied strorytelling, the pacing, the impressionistic art direction. The basic plot pulled me along mercilessly, although the ending to me felt sloppy. Here starts the spoilers.

For one thing, you spend a large part of Episode 5 in a pre-doomed timeline, trying to get to a picture you can use to go back and save Chloe. I, at this point, did not care about a world without Chloe in it, so the fact that I would get to the picture and make this reality not exist or die trying really undercut the drama of watching people die in the storm. Plus learning my time traveling probably has debilitating effects on both my body and the space-time continuum made me really not eager to go around talking to everyone and puzzle out ways to save them from mortal danger and/or relationship troubles since none of this was going to have happened anyway.

And then there's the final, terrible choice: Waste Chloe or waste Arcadia Bay. I took less than two seconds to choose the latter option, riding into the sunrise hand in hand with Chloe leaving behind a blood-soaked ruin. It was scary how easy that choice was to me, but thinking it through carefully I see several good reasons for it.

1. I have no way of knowing, as a character in this story or as a player, if going back to let Chloe die is actually going to fix anything or just make it worse. As far as I've seen the storm and the nosebleeds keep gets bigger because I keep going back in time, not because I change things. In fact, the storm already happens five days in the future before I ever use my power.

And from what I've seen in the diner in the lost timeline, the storm might not kill everyone. If I go back one more time, it might kill more. The enormous, destructive side effects of my power is now clear to me, I've learned my lesson, this is my Hiroshima, and I'm going to live with it, and probably never turn back time again if I can help it.

(Okay, maybe some small-scale experiments in an isolated place, just to uphold a minimum of scientific rigor.)

2. I've learned something about myself here: I'm the kind of person who really would ruin a city to save my friend. I think I can only be so sure about that in this game, though. If that's because the game presents binary choices with a clarity and purposefulness you never see in real life or because the game presents friendship with an intimacy and loyalty I've never seen in real life, I can't say. Maybe a little of both.

3. As a storyteller, I hate the "Wizard of Oz" ending. When the entire conceit of your story rests upon introducing a magical element to a realistic world, you need to have the guts to follow through. If the "let Chloe die" ending does fix everything as the game indicates (I may never try to find out), it reduces all that happened into a moral about how you should be happy where you are, and you shouldn't try things no one's tried before, and you should trust the higher powers that really run the universe to do everything right for you. It offends me. Indeed, it ruined my immersion, got me thinking like an author instead of a character and instinctively grasp for the less conventional ending so I could have a chance to get back in the story.

Well, that's all I've got.

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 26 Jun 2016, 02:56
by MagisterMystax
When I first played it on stream, I immediately felt that saving Chloe was the right choice, but I wasn't sure why. Part of that was definitely that the game had in no way established that the tornado was the result of the time travel powers, or that using the time travel to change the past even more egregiously would somehow fix it. At one point, an NPC goes 'Something something chaos theory???' and that's supposed to be a convincing argument. If there was any causal relationship between the two, I felt it more likely the freak megatornado was the cause and my powers manifesting somehow a side-effect.

But far more so, I realised as I thought back to the ending, I picked saving Chloe because, like you, I hated the sloppy writing of the other ending. After such a fantastic story with so many choices that impacted all kinds of little things, it all comes down to a binary choice between the cliché reset button ending, with added uncomfortably conservative implicit aesop, or a barebones dialogue-less 'bad ending' cutscene they couldn't be arsed to flesh out? Seriously, I went back to watch the reset button ending, and seeing just how much more work they'd done on it (none of which actually made it any better) was just adding insult to injury.

In short, I agree with you.

PS: For those who haven't played the game, it's actually really really good, and you should go buy it. Especially now that it's only 10 bucks on the Steam sale. Just don't expect too much out of the ending.

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 26 Jun 2016, 10:24
by My pseudonym is Ix
I actually enjoyed the ending, and the ending act.

Tying off a branching storytelling game in such a way as to take into account ALL of the choices the player has made up to that point is something that no game I've ever played or heard of has yet managed to do. In the end, they all have to try and bring it down to a relatively simple climax- Mass Effect 3 tried and, to a greater or lesser extent, failed (mostly due to it expecting a different mindset of its audience than it actually got). I rather think the first game to finally 'fix' the axiom of choice may well be the 'Citizen Kane' of gaming that Alex so frequently refers to. The last act of Life is Strange was almost an homage to the difficulty of that- it was heavily scripted, and pretty much entirely existed to show you how fuppin' weird the whole 'messing with timelines' thing can get, and to essentially work it down to a simple choice- Town vs Chloe. Give in to nature's signs that she does not want you messing with this power (or, at least, are intended to portray as such), or stand up for your friend and all you have done for her over the previous act.

For the record, I went with Chloe. It took me a full two minutes to make the choice, and it finally came down to: I've spent this goddamn long saving this girl, I ain't letting her go now. I haven't seen the other end, so can't comment on it's writing style, but from what you've said it sounds to me like a Spec Ops: The Line situation where they realised they'd completely run out of money before they got the final scene done.

However, I also have absolutely no desire to see the other ending. Right now, I never want to replay that game again- I want to remember it as the pure, wonderful first time experience I had of it, to keep it preserved and special. I loved Life is Strange something awful, and I'm happy to keep it that way.

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 26 Jun 2016, 11:29
by MagisterMystax
While I don't mind that the ending is less branching than the rest of the game (because, as you say, making a separate ending for every choice would be very hard), I do think they went too far with that. Take Undertale's approach, for example: there are only three endings, but the neutral ending's post-credits cutscene/dialogue is very varied and based on the choices you made through the story. As far as I know, the only reference to any choices you made prior in the ending of Life is Strange is whether or not Max and Chloe kiss in the reset button ending. Incidentally, that felt a bit off to me too. The only time when the story can go to a romantic path for the two of them is when you've already made the choice to sacrifice Chloe? Hmm. I don't think it's intentional here, but it's kind of an awful trope.

As for the whole 'nature doesn't want you using your power' thing... I really don't like that trope. The main reason for that is what kind of message this translates into in the real world. 'Powers' in fiction represent in many ways more ordinary talents and skills, as well as simply the increased power over others and our world that comes with adulthood. With this in mind, 'nature doesn't want you using your power' very much comes off as 'keep your head down, don't try to change things, just do what you're told.' That message gets even more unfortunate when you consider this story is about two young women who encounter a non-zero amount of misogyny.

And if you think I'm reading too much into it, let me tell you what the final cutscene is like in the reset button ending. After Chloe dies, Max keeps her head down, not only not using her power, but not getting involved in any of the things she knows about now at all. As a result... Everything goes better. Nathan gets caught and tells the cops about Jefferson's fuckery, so he gets arrested. As a result, Kate never tries to kill herself. The tornado doesn't show up. Is the message intentional? Given the rest of the story, I don't think so, but that only makes the ending's writing poorer.

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 26 Jun 2016, 12:10
by Amake
I don't know, given the several characters who at various points talk about "there has to be a meaning" the authors may very well have been putting these fatalist themes in on purpose. Like, when Max asks "why was I chosen for this power" in a pivotal scene and Chloe goes along with that as if it was by universal law a more important question than, say "What am I going to do", that probably tells us something about the mindset of the writers.

And if you watch the behind the scenes DLC, they make it rather explicit the key aspect of Max's character is her tendency to linger in the past and be unable to move forward. So I suppose the reason for her powers, in their mind, is so she will be forced to learn to let go of the past. Where Chloe apparently belongs.

Good thing the player choices make it so easy to go Death of the Author on them, I suppose.

Not playing it again may be a good idea. I started another game, partly to fix some decisions I regretted, mostly to see what different things may happen with some decisions I was ambivalent about, but I find myself trying to recreate my path from the first time exactly and yet not that excited to do it all again. Maybe the ideal thing is to record yourself playing through the game in the manner that makes the story most to your liking and cut it into a movie.

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 26 Jun 2016, 12:57
by My pseudonym is Ix
MagisterMystax wrote:As for the whole 'nature doesn't want you using your power' thing... I really don't like that trope. The main reason for that is what kind of message this translates into in the real world. 'Powers' in fiction represent in many ways more ordinary talents and skills, as well as simply the increased power over others and our world that comes with adulthood. With this in mind, 'nature doesn't want you using your power' very much comes off as 'keep your head down, don't try to change things, just do what you're told.' That message gets even more unfortunate when you consider this story is about two young women who encounter a non-zero amount of misogyny.

I'm more ambivalent towards it as a trope and idea. The two usages I'm reminded of are in Cloud Atlas and Lord Of The Rings.

One of the most compelling scenes in Cloud Atlas features a slave trader giving a speech to his abolitionist son-in-law about the Natural Order of the world and about how their contribution to this movement can be nought but a drop in a limitless ocean... played over a sequence showing the execution of a genetically engineered disposable servant. It carries more weight in the context of the film, but the idea is obvious- the regime in both cases has its own idea of 'the way things should be', and is showing both protagonists fighting against the system at their vary nadir. And yet we have historical context- we DID abolish slavery, and the drops DID change the course of the ocean. This is a valuable example of fighting against the idea of 'don't fight the current', showing how valuable it can be, how much standing up against the system can really do.

And then we get to LOTR, and the presentation of The One Ring. The Ring is perhaps the very spirit of corrupting power- on two occasions it is presented to powerful wizards, giving the opportunity to use this vast and near-limitless power for good, to throw back Sauron. And both reject it, knowing that they would replace Sauron with a lord who, though righteous in his first intentions, would only become corrupted by the power bestowed upon them, becoming 'beautiful and terrible as the storm'. By contrast, those who would seek to use the Ring's power, even for the boldest of intentions (Boromir, Denethor) both end up breaking their alliances and dying in a fit of catharsis. The idea of the natural triumphing against the industrial is a constant theme in LOTR, and so it is with the ring- peace only comes when this unnatural object, crafted artificially apart from the other rings, is destroyed and the world is allowed to return to its peaceful, arboreal, 'ideal' state. In many ways, Max's tornado is a copy of this idea; of restoring the world to how it was, knowing the dangers of exploiting the power offered to her.

Now, it's easy to argue that the former presentation is more valuable to a modern audience- ours is a flawed world and I agree that people should be encouraged to fix what is broken. But I still feel there is a place for presenting the fatalistic view, of the corruption that comes with all power, as much as anything as a temper to the revolutionary outlook. After all, are not many of the problems we now face products of the attempted 'fixes' to problems the world encountered at the turn of the twentieth century and beyond?

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 26 Jun 2016, 13:07
by Amake
It's a conundrum: Should one seek power to change things, knowing throughout history power has often led to corruption for those who wield it, or allow power to remain the domain of the powerful, changing nothing? Okay, not really much of a conundrum, in my opinion. :P

Nah, I'm always in favor of more stories challenging prevailing power structures. As long as said structures prevail, we clearly haven't had enough stories to learn.

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 26 Jun 2016, 13:49
by MagisterMystax
I understand where you're coming from, and I actually do think it would've been interesting if Max had become corrupted by or overdependent on her powers. I'm completely fine with there being consequences to using one's powers, in fact it'd be a fairly boring if the time travel powers were just a good thing. My problem is that the consequences in this case make absolutely no logical sense. Rather than the consequences being something that might naturally arise from using this power (say, Max becoming desensitised to death since she can so easily reverse it, ending up seeing others as 'NPCs', conducting dangerously ambitious experiments in changing the past (though to be fair we did see a little of this one when she went back to save Chloe's dad), perfectionistically trying to 'minmax' every situation, etc), we instead get a giant tornado that's somehow her fault. And to solve this, she needs to press the reset button and not get involved at all. After which, the entirity of the story basically amounts to 'Max went to the bathroom, had a vivid bad dream, and then the final cutscene happened.'

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 07 Jul 2016, 02:22
by Amake
Two more bullshit things about the "good" ending just occurred to me. The first is a minor contriveance, but, why not wait until after the storm to see what kind of damage it does and then decide if it's worth Chloe's life to maybe fix it? You've still got the photo. If you do everything right when you're in the storm, I believe you only see one person actually die. No wait, you destroyed the photo for drama. How convenient.

But the other really hammers home how the characters assume to know the universe wants Chloe, specifically, dead. When you go back to stop stopping Chloe's murder, you don't change nothing. In the original timeline, you jump out and scream "no" and raise your hand at Nathan with a gun in his hand a second after he killed someone. Then you reverse time. Now, instead you just hide and cry. See where I'm going with this?

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 20 Jul 2016, 01:05
by Kapol
Just finished the game, and I really enjoyed the first four episodes. The first half of the last episode was also pretty good. I hated the last half of the final episode. And since we don't seem to mind having spoilers clear in the thread, I'll just go.

First off, the ending. I actually didn't mind the choice. The entire game was made of (largely) binary choices. So the final choice being as such didn't really bother me as much. I do think the fact the outcome was so set in stone was disappointing. In fact, that's a problem I have with the entire last episode. It made me feel like my choices throughout the entire series hadn't actually mattered. Which was disappointing in a game that had helped bring back the 'choices matter' feel that Telltale has lost for me.

My personal choice was to sacrifice Chloe. Don't get me wrong, I really like her. But it was an easy choice for me to make. Mostly thanks to the fact she told you that it's the correct choice to make. She was the one to make that choice. And I'd already let her go once because she wanted me to. I feel that, by choosing to sacrifice the town, you're forcing her to live with the knowledge that every person who dies in the storm has died to keep her alive. Including likely her mother. Even if not saving her wouldn't have stopped the storm, she seemed sure that doing so would have stopped it.

If she had not wanted it to happen that way, it would have been a much harder choice. I don't know for sure what I'd have done. Likely still made the same choice. I did like quite a few people in the game. Some more than her, frankly. As a note, I was confident that the tornado was going to destroy the city. It seemed to be moving closer and closer. And given the damage it caused just by being even close, I'd hate to see it actually move over the town.

On the subject of one ending 'fixing' everything, I feel like it's more on the subject of destiny. The game seems to be drilling in that fate is a real force of nature that shouldn't be tampered with. It tried to 'reclaim' Chloe multiple times throughout the game. And when it was messed with, the natural world just started to go wrong. The tornado and such didn't feel so much like a punishment to me as much as things breaking. I wasn't a huge fan of the justification myself, but I'm not entirely sure what else they could have done that wouldn't feel like a forced happy ending.

Honestly, the ending might have been the best part of the last episode for me. Who thought it was a good idea to take a game about seeing how your choices affect those around you over time, take out almost all of the actual character interaction, and then make it so that none of your decisions actually affect the outcome of the world? Assuming the 'save your friend' ending didn't just leave everyone you met alive anyways, that is.

The dark room was interesting. But it felt more like a time-travel puzzle rather than a story thing. Then you go through the destroyed town, barely interact with people beyond helping them, all of which you know won't matter due to your goal. Once you started jumping far back in time, the decisions I made felt much less impactful.

And then there was the 'nightmare' segment. What the hell was that? Why was that there? What was the point? Weird stealth gameplay, a kind of weird horror tone, trying to drill in that "You're totally BFFs with this person," it all just felt so pointless. It felt like there was a malevolent force behind it given a lot of the details. But if there was, you never saw it. It was just a bunch of weirdness for no real reason to me. I was waiting for some kind of payoff. But it didn't really feel like any came. Hell, I was waiting to 'meet' Rachel like her text mentioned. But that didn't happen either, a fact that kind of left me disappointed.

Honestly, anything beyond the start of the dark room itself felt like it existed for two purposes. To explain all of the tornado stuff from the first couple episodes or to fill time. The nightmare felt mostly like time-filler as getting to the diner for the picture. Hell, even the return to the dark room after tearing the photo felt pointless to me. But it felt like the entire thing was just build-up to have a finish rather than a natural end.

Speaking of things that don't get explained... why did Max get powers in the first place? Narratively, there doesn't seem to be a reason. I hate the 'it just happened' excuse. I'm not sure exactly sure what they should have done. But just acknowledging they didn't really have a reason didn't feel fulfilling.

I guess I'm like Adam with wrestling. I just need a reason for things happening.

But yeah, overall a lot of fun. I liked the first four episodes a lot. The last episode just felt clumsy to me.

Re: Life is Strange, and There's This Game Too

Posted: 24 Nov 2016, 14:54
by eostby
Anyone who hasn't gotten the full set of episodes yet, they're on Steam sale for the weekend. $5 for the bunch.