“HELLO. DEAR. TELL EVERYONE. HELLO.” Oxenfree’s Overlooked Details, by Ilsa Miller
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As is tradition, the Camena High Junior Class travels to the nearby Edwards Island for an overnight rager full of illegal activities. A ferry is your only way to or from the island, and they don’t run past 8 p.m. since no one allegedly lives on the island. Be sure to pick up a disposable radio; the island is full of “ghost frequencies” you can’t tune into anywhere else. (I’m sure there’s an explanation, right?)
For anyone who hasn’t played or heard of the game, you play as a teenager named Alex. She, along with her childhood best friend, Ren, and her new stepbrother, Jonas, have taken the last ferry to the island. Expecting to arrive at the beach to join the rest of their high school class, they come to find that only their classmate, Nona, and her friend, Clarissa, are in attendance. As the story goes, most of the junior class got caught TP-ing the school the weekend prior and, as a result, were unable to attend the traditional outing.
Like any other unsupervised high school trip, anywhere you can gain access to is free to explore. Unlike any old high school trip, Edwards Island is home to a decommissioned military base halfway converted into a museum. On the island, you’ll find many plaques and memorials dedicated to the USS Kanaloa, a submarine sunk by enemy fire during WWII. You’ll also keep an eye out for signs that indicate when to tune into the park’s radio frequency. (You’ll learn some fun facts about the island’s history!)
But, that’s not why you’re here. It’s a night for illegal stuff—no supervision! Just make your way to the beach where everyone who showed up is waiting. Skip some rocks, have a beer, play some Truth or Slap around the fire.
But remember those “ghost frequencies”? Just hop a fence and the maw of a cave awaits with three anomaly markers. Turn the radio dial to the correct frequency and you’ll hear… something. Morse code can be picked up along with a distorted static, but that isn’t the most concerning part. Inside the cave, something flickers.
Jonas goes in. You run after. There are some odd things in the cave. Somewhere, it sounds like someone is speaking? In any case, there are some unusual items in the cave, and the walls don’t look how you’d expect regular cave walls to look.
See a man about a dog
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Saw the man but not the dog
It is at this point that the actual game begins.
Mild spoilers are ahead. You’ve been warned.
The group is divided. Alex and Jonas are stranded in the middle of the island with no means of getting back to the mainland. With the map unlocked, it is up to the player to decide how exactly to play the game. The most obvious way to play through is to just focus on the dialogue. As you’d anticipate, your choice in dialogue, or lack thereof, will influence the outcome of each character’s ending.
Taking this path cuts right to the chase and is a fulfilling, enjoyable route of the game. But, with all the odd things going on in the meantime, there are definitely secrets abound if you choose to look for them. (As they say, the devil's in the details.) The closer you listen, the more you’ll start to hear. And I’m not talking about just listening to everyone’s conversations. There’s just enough to gain from tuning into the soundtrack as there is from listening to the banter.
As Ren will reference a few times throughout the game, the radio has the ability to dial into anomalies on the island. These “ghost frequencies” are marked similarly to the stone piles at the cave maw, though not all of them are obvious to the eye. That little radio Ren wanted to use as a simple party trick becomes awfully important in more ways than one. With the increasingly concerning behaviours of your friends, it becomes apparent that something else is on the island. Especially when the lights turn red…
Since the military base was primarily housing the radio communications school, there are several doors on the island still using a radio-lock system. It isn’t necessary to visit these locations to further the narrative. However, they do add to the increasingly complex plot if investigated. Indicated differently, these “ghost frequencies” are marked similarly to the stone piles at the cave maw, though not all of them are obvious to the eye. That little radio Ren wanted to use as a simple party trick becomes awfully important—“TIME. JUST. TIME. DON’T. PANIC. SEE YOU.”—in more ways than one.
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Another secret to investigate are the notes scattered around the island, left by the only former resident. With no obvious markers as to where exactly the letters are hidden, it’s more of a challenge to see through. But, Old Woman Adler may know more about what’s on this island than at first thought. Having apparently worked closely with the radio equipment on the island, it’s possible she’s had some involvement in the morse code messages that appear on certain frequencies.
Oddly though, these codes are broadcasted over a radio frequency different from the one that Adler claims to have commandeered. If she isn’t sending the messages, regardless of the source, they're there for a reason. Simply uncovering who broadcasted these messages may be useful, but decoding them will give further clues as to what exactly is on this island and why everyone begins to act with growing oddity as the sunrise approaches. As long as the lights stay yellow and the music is audible, everything should be just fine… right?
For lovers of music, the soundtrack alone contains a trove of these hidden messages if you know where, and how, to look. Each location, or location groupings, in the game has its own soundtrack. And, as in other games, certain soundtracks are provoked when specific interactive events occur in the game. (Some music being more integral to the plot than others.)
Regardless of its ties in game, the soundtrack is a lot of fun to listen to. Even if storyline games aren’t your speed, I highly recommend giving it a listen. You’ll still be able to hear elements of the game in some of these tracks, such as radio static or dial chimes, but these effects only add to the mystifying atmosphere embodied by the music. As I previously brought up, many of the tracks contain hidden messages if you listen closely. (Or listen backwards, time isn’t always conventional on nights like these.)
Spending time on these hidden scavenger hunts fosters an in-depth immersion into the game. The full story is there, if you care enough to search for it. If it didn’t matter to the story, the developers wouldn’t have included many different hooks into sleuthing it all out. Exploring the different dialogue options and configurations of character relationships are still very rewarding to try. But, taking the extra time to retrace your steps, explore the locked buildings, and go on the letter scavenger hunt all enlighten the player to a network of hidden lore.
Night School Studio’s Oxenfree, a complex story as is, has hidden layers oceans deep if the desire to search possesses you. Who knows, maybe you’ll find something sunken deep beneath the surface that even I’ve yet to uncover?
But enough about hidden lore and history. There’s a ferry to catch and your friends are waiting!
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