Life Is Strange Episode 1: Chrysalis Review – In Time

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It’s not just how the difficulty of choice is handled that makes Life Is Strange unique. What I found most refreshing is its antiquated approach to setting the mood. Max’s livelyhood in Arcadia Bay is decidedly ripped from that of an independent film. Dontnod made the correct choice in using licensed music, featuring tracks from the likes of alt-J, Mogwai, Bright Eyes and others. Combined with an enigmatic score, the game’s music strikes the exact mood necessary of a contemporary Bildungsroman tale set mostly in a West Coast town.

The world Max lives in is a liberal arts college student’s wet dream.

The dedication towards authenticity bleeds through the game’s dialogue. The way characters go fully into depth about the history of photography, including deep-cut terminology, concepts and historical figures shows the amount of pure adoration the writing team poured into this project. There is a deep appreciation for high art that’s clearly demonstrated throughout “Chrysalis.”

Minutes into the game, there’s an opportunity provided where disobeying progressions prompts lets Max’s teacher go on and on about art theory for minutes, including discussing the works of Diane Arbus and Robert Cornelius. Later, minor character students may ask you pop trivia questions about art history in order for you to advance their (minor) side-stories. The world Max lives in is a liberal arts college student’s wet dream.

Eventually, though, it gets to the point where Life Is Strange molds the lives of these students around art and photography so one-dimensionally on these concepts to the point of being both self-important. As much as I’d like to believe that these 18 year-olds know as much about college-level theory in their first month of (presumably) Grade 12 schooling, it’s jarring to hear all these factoids popped off casually by teenagers in one moment and then flip the script back to acting like Mean Girls characters in the other.

The intentions of the script are fair and true, but the overall interactions don’t feel authentic. At times, it’s as if someone in their late-20’s wrote for the mindset of a teenager in 2013 (the year the game is set in) while using the language of the day back when they were teens. Using “kidz” unironically in subtitles, paired with outdated slang, is an alienating experience. The art-minded skew Life Is Strange takes leads one to believe this is a passion project for Dontnod, but because of how heavy-handed it progresses, it’s hard to feel immersed if you don’t share that passion as much as they do.

In which Max turns into a tree.

Speaking of ruining the immersion, Life Is Strange has some glaring technical hiccups that need addressing. For one, the lip syncing in this game is absolutely dreadful. For a studio headed up in France that is intended for a mostly Anglophonic audience, characters’ mouths move in an archaic way that resembles neither language. Not only are they delayed reactions, but more resemble a student’s first attempt at learning how to animate mouths in Flash back in the mid-2000’s than the efforts of a Square Enix-published game.

Furthermore, sometimes the game world can completely break in hilarious (but mood-shattering) ways. For example, I took the above screenshot during gameplay, showing the game’s inability to render a duplicate of the room I was in. Instead, it took the stock photo asset of the background and presupposed its location depending where I looked. It’s a shame that this happened, as mirrors I encountered before actually managed to capture a near-identical-quality recreation of my character model and her place within the room.

You can feel a distinct vibe flow throughout the game’s adventure…

Finally, going back to some of the references made by characters, I have to condemn the search to include as many memes as possible into character speech and dialogue. We’re not talking about Borderland levels of dreadful conversations, but the use of “kek” in texts and image macros used incorrectly extends to the idea that this was written by grownups who think they know young adults like they did when they were young adults.

All of that said, the investment in the series is earned too early in the game for those nitpicks to chip away at my interest. Yes, the classic clique archetypes are clear and present (Victoria and the Vortex Club as rich, elite antagonists, best friend protagonist Chloe as the downtrodden working class), but within the context of this vibrant, Indie art house cinematic world, it clicks. You can feel a distinct vibe flow throughout the game’s adventure that no amount of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within shilling can overshadow.

The town of Arcadia Bay has character. You feel as though it’s an authentic recreation of a liberal city somewhere in Oregon, even if it is a bit overbearing. It makes the clash with conservative-minded characters and their ideologies memorable, especially when they come from a place of authority. I’m not quite sure what can be thrown Max’s way to stop her in her tracks, but the consequences of her actions are at least hinted in present dissent. That’s how the urgency of choice can be represented in a game where rewinding time may not always give you the correct answer.


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Life Is Strange is a promising first step in a new direction taken for choice-driven narrative adventure gaming. It sets you on a journey with no foregone conclusions, rife with opportunity and despair throughout your interactions with the town’s citizens. The overall package might need some polishing in future episodes, yet the core gameplay and story elements at play are too intriguing not to pay attention to. This series looks to spread its message over a standard 5 episodes, updated every 6 weeks.

It’s that concrete gap of time that will leave players second guessing each and every choice leading up to the end of Episode 1. Going forward, it’s up to the developers to make sure our deliberation was worth the effort.

A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.

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