Life Is Strange: Episode 1 Chrysalis - Review

Life is Strange, you've got that right. After the release of the mostly forgotten "Remember Me," Dontnod Entertainment decided to give it another go, but this time in a completely new way. Rather than following their previous release up with a sequel, the company shifted their focus to a brand new IP, and did away with the "action platforming" gameplay for a graphic adventure/interactive drama style of play instead. The result of these changes is an episodic game called "Life Is Strange," and man... Is it ever. While interactive dramas aren't anything new, Life Is Strange does quite a few things that are unique, but in general it's the story which will draw people to this--or possibly even push them away. So, just what is the story? How is this game unique? Well, well know. Let's get on with the review and find out!

The Story:

Without giving too much away (considering this game is purely story based), Life Is Strange is about an 18 year old girl named Max who returns to her home town after being gone for years. When she was only around 13 years old, she left behind the life she once knew, and the friends she once had to attend a new school to pursue her dreams, but in the end things didn't quite work out. During this time, she lost contact with her best friend (a girl named Chloe), and became somewhat of a loner in her new school--a shy outcast who never quite fit in. So, finally after five years, she made her way back, and began attending one of the best private schools around for those who are interested in photography. Of course she hoped things would be better for her once she returned home, but sadly that wasn't the case. Even in her home town, Max continues to be a loner--one who doesn't fit in with the others, one who is bullied by some, and one who is too shy to really get to know the people around her. Sure she talks to some of them, and gets along with a few, but for the most part she's all alone. She puts on her headphones, and walks through the halls of her school as she tries to shut out the world. Her world ends with her.

Shortly after her photography class, Max makes her way to the bathroom where she tries to avoid having a meltdown. School is getting to her, and she's scared she can't take it anymore. She has a love for taking pictures, but she lacks the confidence in herself to even turn in her photo for her class assignment. So, as she stands there in the bathroom, all alone, she rips apart the photo, and tries to hold herself together--but then, it happens. A strange blue butterfly lands on a bucket in the corner of the bathroom. Where did it come from? Why does it glow blue? Who knows, but it's a photo chance Max can't miss, so she takes it. And that's when her life changes forever.

After snapping the photo, a boy rushes into the girl's bathroom, with a blue haired girly following shortly after--a girl Max knows all too well. The two argue, something about drugs is mentioned, and then the boy pulls a gun and shoots the poor girl dead. Max, who was originally hiding in the corner of the bathroom panics, and reaches her hand out as she watches the girl die in front of her. It was Chloe, her best friend, the one she hadn't seen in five years, and the one who is now dead in front of her--or is she? As Max looks at her friend in horror, there's a strange flash, and the next thing she knows she's sitting at her desk again, listening to the same lecture by her famous photographer teacher. Did, she just rewind time? Max is confused, and scared, but she slowly experiments with what she had just done. She confirms that for whatever reason she can in fact reverse time (up to an extent), and she quickly races to try and change her friend's fate. She blows through class, answering the right questions this time, and quickly makes her way to the bathroom where she attempts to change fate. This, is when the game truly begins.

From that point on, Max slowly learns about how her town has changed, and she begins diving into the lives of those around her--attempting to fix issues, and change things so that she can achieve her goals and help people in need. Warning people to move out of the way, altering events so they have different outcomes, and so on, it quickly becomes clear that she wants to help people--especially now that she has the power to do so. Even so, with every action she makes, she also realizes there may be consequences for them later on. "This didn't go so well for me, maybe I should rewind time and this time stay out of it?" She constantly questions what she's doing, but with good reason. Soon, things are about to become crazy for her, and this is just the beginning. With fliers of a missing girl covering the town, and everyone around Max being somehow connected to her, one can't help but wonder just what really happened to her--and neither can max.

The Gameplay:

Like most graphic adventure games, or interactive dramas, Life Is Strange has you taking control of the main character as you explore the world around you, interact with objects, talk to people, and choose from different dialogue options. When exploring the world, you can look at objects and listen to Max comment on them, you can actually use or pick up other objects (which are typically used to solve small scale puzzles), and you can also choose to talk to or look at and comment on most of the people around you as well. When chatting with these people you're often given different questions to ask them. You could bring up the missing girl, you could talk about what they are currently doing, or ask them some sort of other question. Different questions will have different responses, and sometimes the wrong ones will end the dialogue instantly. Good thing you can rewind time, right?

The time mechanic is really what stands out here. Just like in the company's other game "Remember Me" where you could rewind time in people's memories to create different outcomes, Max has the power to do this in real life and actually change the events around her. If you say or do something you're not sure of, you can simply rewind the event. If you talk to someone and don't know the answer to their question, you can simply wait for them to give you the answer and then rewind and use the new dialogue options. This feature can also be used in other ways, for example, at one point you can look at some files which then get dropped in water. Of course Max was trying to be discreet about looking at them (unless you don't want her to be that is), so after seeing them you can always rewind time and put them back where they were. While in the timeline these files were never touched, and there's no evidence to suggest that anyone had seen them, in reality Max had seen them and she'll remember that. Again she rewinds time, and remembers everything that she sees and learns. At first the game doesn't make this clear as some of the dialogue will repeat itself, but as soon as you realize it's just Max recreating the timeline up to the point of change, it becomes clear that you can do more things with this rewind ability than at first glance. Go ahead, look at everything, mess everything up, make the wrong choices--you're free to do so and you'll learn more about the story which can actually help Max. Simply rewind time once you're done "messing things up," and do what you feel is right. (Or you can just leave things messed up, that's your choice, and it does change the story.) Of course there is a limit to this power, but that limit is actually very unnoticeable. While you're running around each area of the game you're free to undo as much as you'd like, but upon finishing each part of the story there is a cut off point on how far you can go back. Luckily the game will warn you stating that once you leave the area, or move on with an objective you'll be unable to go back (unless you use chapter select and replay from that point), so you can always take the time to really think your actions over before moving on. Again, it's a limit on Max's powers, but it's one that also really doesn't matter.

Besides rewinding time and talking to people, there's also collectibles hidden around the world in the form of extra photos. By doing specific things Max can create photo opportunities which she can take and then put into her collection. These photos are how you unlock achievements/trophies in the game, but outside of that they are simply nice extra scenes which can sometimes be pretty funny (or strange). Along with the extra photos though, are also other little extras you can read or look at. There's a diary where you can read what Max was doing before the game started, there's text messages which you can read (and watch Max reply to every once in awhile), there's character profiles which give you a bit more of an inside look at who these different people are, and there's also a spot where all signs, posters, Facebook pages (yes, Facebook), and other objects you've searched show up as well. It's your standard collection gallery you might expect from a game like this, but it's really a nice feature, and adds a lot to the overall game.

Another thing that really stands out as you explore the world and play the game is it's style, and overall tone. The graphic's have a semi cartoonish hand painted look to them, people around you will have conversations you can listen in on (making the world feel more alive), there's a mix of real world product placement and creative made up brand names scattered around, and the game also works in references to other video games. Despite being on everything besides Nintendo consoles, the game mentions Super Mario by name in one spot, and there's even a joke about how Final Fantasy The Spirits Within is one of the "greatest" movies ever. Seeing things like this will put a smile on your face, but some of the slang used by the characters can seem a bit odd--then again, Max is a little odd. It's not everyday a young girl runs around saying "for reals?" or a version of "this is cereal," but it does add to her character. Of course other slang from this day in age made it in as well (chillax for example), and as much as it may make older players cringe, it does capture the spirit of this high school. Max is a girl who wishes everyone around her would grow up and stop acting like kids, and this is clear even as you're just walking around playing the game. You can understand her, you see what she's talking about, and you know how she feels. It's a seamless mix between story and gameplay, and it really really is executed very well.

The Good and the Bad:

Life Is Strange is not a game that will appeal to everyone. For those of you who enjoy interactive dramas, or graphic adventure games, there's a very good chance you'll enjoy it. While the story starts out a little bit slow, it's actually really a good thing. The game gives you time to learn about this world, and slowly get into it, but at the same time it also throws you into the main story pretty fast, and quickly brings in the questions. It's a perfect balance in pacing, and at no point does it really feel like things aren't moving fast enough, or that they are going so fast you can't keep up. The game allows you to take as much time as you need, and the fact that you can rewind time really lifts the pressure of possibly making a mistake. You get to actually see what happens when you pick a dialogue option, and you don't have to worry about making alternate saves, or reloading checkpoints. You can try out all of the different options and see the short term effects of your choices before deciding, and you can also use the ability to solve some pretty unique puzzles and find out extra useful information. It's a unique system, and one that may make this game much more enjoyable to those who stress about every little thing in games with branching storylines like this. On top of that, the game's story in general is pretty interesting, and Max herself is a character a lot of people out there may be able to relate to.

Those of you who have ever moved away from home only to return to find it changed, anyone who may have had trouble going through school, those of you who grew apart from friends as time went on, or anyone who just had a hard time fitting in in general--Max is a character who you'll be able to connect with. The things she goes through, you can understand her, and you will know just how she feels. Of course those of you who have never faced issues such as these will be able to connect with her character as well, but those who went through something like she has themselves are the ones this character may really click with. This is something the game developers really did well with her character, and once again a lot of people may like Max because of this alone. Still, this game isn't for everyone, and Max herself won't be universally liked by players.

The only real issue with Life Is Strange is mostly from nit picking. There are times where character lips don't perfectly sync with the dialogue, the zoomed in camera may be a bit too close for some, and the slang heard around the school campus can be a bit cringe worthy, but still, this is a high school so that sort of thing should be expected. None of these issues really damper the game overall, but they are noticeable. Other than that there's the fact that this is an episodic game, so Episode 1 has no real ending. The final scene sets us up with a future, but other than that there's no closure. This episode is meant to raise questions, bring us into the world, and make us wait months to see what happens next. The issue is those of you who like the game won't be able to wait to see what happens next, and the wait for Episode 2 will seem longer than it really is. Of course, this isn't a bad thing, it's just that you have to wait...

Overall Life Is Strange seems like it'll be a great game. It's too early to tell what the overall game will be like, but Episode 1: Chrysalis was a lot of fun. The game has a bright future, and you can already tell how fun it'll be to try out different options once all of the episodes are out, just to see how the game's story changes. It's a game players may come back to time and time again, even after they have completed it. So, with that being said, I'll be giving Episode 1 a super cereal rating of 9/10. Looking forward to that second episode... March can't come soon enough!

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