- Evan Laslo
The Little Things in Life is Strange, by Ilsa Miller
If there’s one genre of games that I will never grow tired of, it’s storyline games. Be it in board game format or on PC, they’re the greatest. In a lot of story based games, you assume the role of a character who has access to great abilities in order to answer a near prophetic call. However the reason why I love Life is Strange so much is because it doesn’t solely focus on the larger than life elements.
By having a story based game that incorporates supernatural aspects while remaining grounded to the trivialities of real life, the perfect escapist game is born. The main character’s ability to manipulate time serves as a device to move the plot along, but the real fun of the game is focusing on the slice of life components. Moments like these, that the game builds itself around, aren’t all pleasant experiences either. The balance Life is Strange achieves by incorporating realistic tragedy and simple enjoyments mimics real life so beautifully in a way no other game I’ve played has.
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You play as Max Caufield, a senior in high school who discovers she has the ability to reverse or pause time. Initially, she is shocked by this development, unsure if it’s truly real. But as soon as she gets a hold on her newfound abilities, they essentially get tucked away for later use; there is no grand scheme or objective to fulfill simply because Max discovers these powers.
Instead, the game tasks you to go through the motions of everyday life. In order for certain scenes to occur in the game, you must choose to walk through the motions of everyday life. Playthrough is set up in such a way that the little choices in Max’s life carry over and have consequences in the following episodes. One such sequence occurs if you make the choice to explore Max’s dorm room in episode one. By doing so, you’ll find the option to water her plant, Lisa. In the second episode, Lisa is alive and you have the option to water her again. If you choose to do this both times, Lisa will die from overwatering in a future episode. If you do not water Lisa in either episode, the plant will die from dehydration. If you make the correct choices to keep the plant alive, Max will comment on it when you pass by the plant. Small details like this are what brings the game to life.
Another wonderful feature of the game is that the developers inserted places where you can have Max sit and reflect on all that has happened in the game up to that point. Although they aren’t the most captivating scenes, it shifts everything into perspective. By choosing to search out these reflective scenes, it further connects the player with Max because it humanizes all of the characters. In addition, Max will at times reflect on something that the player may have overlooked or introduce a new piece of information. This benefits the player if they are actively trying to puzzle together the mysteries of the game before the answers are presented. Such revelations don’t occur at every optional cutscene, but these scenes serve to slow down the game. Both by making you invest time in searching for them and then choosing to listen through the entirety of the cutscene. By bringing to light Max’s internal thoughts to further connect the player to her, these little checkpoints bring the series that much closer to real life.
It’s also really sweet how the game allows you to interact with Max’s classmates on personal levels. The choices you make in episode one, when you’re still figuring out the game and the plot, all carry through into the proceeding episodes. So, if you choose to take the time to explore the setting around you and consistently initiate conversation with the other characters, they’ll bring it up later in the game. Sometimes the easily missable conversations will affect the arc of an entire character. One simple conversation can change the whole route of a character’s side-plot, and I find this mechanism to be such a wonderful part of the game. Just like in real life, taking the time to say hello to a shy classmate or complement another’s artwork makes a huge impact on their life that you don’t always realize until way down the line, if ever. Most of the time, too, Max’s supernatural ability has nothing to do with these conversations. You can choose to rewind time and apply learned information to the conversation, if the prompt is indicated, but most of the time, I forget that Max has this ability. Even then, the application of Max’s powers in these interactions doesn’t happen frequently. The fact that you can forget that the main character can manipulate time while still enjoying the game is wonderful.
I think the game does an amazing job of balancing an overarching apocalyptic plot, which occurs due to a supernatural butterfly effect, with everyday real life high school shenanigans. Figuring out time control is just as important (if not less so) then reconnecting with Max’s childhood best friend. Checking in on your depressed friend is emphasized just as much as figuring out what is causing all the strange weather anomalies. But even outside of plotlines, there are consequences to writing messages on surfaces or rearranging someone’s room decorations. Sometimes these small interactions, most of which you have to seek out and some of which are actually difficult to come across, will result in a larger consequence than something that happens for plot reasons.
The game developers want you to put energy into having Max search around the settings. To analyze and interact with as much of a scene as possible yields a superior experience of the game. At the expense of a longer runthrough time, you can influence Max to learn most of the side characters’ backstories. By choosing to put in time to interact with Max’s classmates and the townies, you’ll better understand character motives. If you choose to only follow the mandatory plot prompts, many characters’ involvements in the plot appear to lack substance, fostering a shallower experience of the overall game.
The sweet, simple actions of day to day life are what sets this game apart and makes it beautiful. Every interaction with the Life is Strange world, whether positive or negative, serves to instill a fulfilling experience for the player. At the end of every episode, a statistics page for the choices made by every player is shown. This two-page summary contains first, the data for all of the plot decisions, but on the second page provides the data for optional interactions. This draws attention to the choices that you as the player must seek out, but may still have repercussions somewhere along the line in the game.
At the end of the day, when I make another runthrough of the game, I always try to look for an interaction I haven’t found yet. The longer it takes to complete a runthrough, the more fulfilling it seems because I’ve taken the time to focus on the little details. Reading every flier on the bulletin boards and talking to every stranger on the street somehow isn’t as boring in the game as it seems. Instead, I feel more immersed within the setting of the game and more connected with the events that occur.
Paying attention to these little things and opportunities to slow down and reflect in-game begin to point out how the little things in real life matter. In the days following another Life is Strange binge, I find myself paying closer attention to the seemingly inconsequential details in my day to day life. I think more about how the easily overlooked interactions really do have an impact on the world around me.
I’ll never get over just how wonderful this game makes me feel. Such simple actions really do have the ability to change the direction of someone’s life and this game shows that beautifully. But, it’s done through the overlooked, underappreciated actions. So go sit down and play through episode one if you haven’t yet, or if it’s been a while. Search out things to interact with and characters to check in with. Find the chances for reflection cutscenes and listen to them. I guarantee the game gets hundreds of times better. And if you haven’t played the game yet, get a move on! Steam has all of the games if you fall in love with the first one just like I did. So go forth, and enjoy the little things in this strange life.