Shannon: So Jhaan, we’ve both played through the game, and now we’re playing through again to revisit some of our previous choices. But in broad terms, what do you think of the game?
Jhaan: My overall thoughts are mixed. In some ways, this game feels like a return to form after the radical departure the series took in the second game. And in other ways, the experience left me feeling disappointed.
For the most part, a lot of the things that made me love the franchise in the first place are back. I love the small-town setting. I love how you really get to know the place just as well as the characters. The characters themselves are really strong. The fact that there’s a small cast that recur throughout all five chapters instead of just sporadically appearing like they did in “Life Is Strange 2″ helps you connect with them more. And I really like Alex as a main character. She’s right up there with Max in terms of personality from the first game.
It’s so easy to relate to her too, particularly because of her experience with her social anxiety. The narrative’s take on social anxiety and the experience individuals go through with self-hatred and doubt is much deeper than it’s typically portrayed in other games. As someone who has social anxiety himself, this is definitely the first game I’ve played where its depiction felt very authentic.
Shannon: You put it really well in terms of the narrative’s take on anxiety. As for the characters, Alex is also really funny and witty, so she’s very enjoyable. We don’t get as much of her backstory as I would’ve wanted until much later in the game, though.
What doesn’t land for me in this game is its narrative structure. You really think the story is about one thing, and then it finally tells you what it’s actually about toward the end, and you’re really thrown for a loop.
Jhaan: Yes! That ending came out of nowhere, but we can save that more spoiler-y discussion for another day. What did you think of the overall game mechanics, the “reading people’s emotions” superpower?
Personally, I enjoyed the mechanic a lot better than I thought I would. You quickly find out that it’s not just reading one emotion; it’s more like you’re reading a person’s mind and seeing the emotion they’re feeling while reading it, which really helps tell the narrative a lot better and makes the story a lot smoother.
Shannon: Yeah, I do like all the game mechanics. This said, I just felt like her superpower is less impactful for me than being able to rewind time from the first “Life Is Strange” game. In terms of reading a person’s emotions, like, I can do that even without having superpowers. So throughout the game, I was wishing her powers would evolve more. The powers do grow a bit, for what it’s worth. But it never got to the point where I was very satisfied with it.
I’m also slightly disappointed with what they did with Alex’s character. She is clearly an Asian American woman who’s at the forefront of the game, but I felt like her heritage, or even her identity, never really mattered and never became the focal point of the story. That’s not to say that it has to be, but I just felt that, because they didn’t focus on it, she could have been anybody. The game is really generic in that way about her.
Jhaan: I completely agree. I think that in regards to Alex’s character, they very briefly touch on the cultural impacts of her being Asian American and being raised by two Asian parents, but they never really get into it other than just surface-level stuff, which is disappointing. It would have been nice to see them go a little bit further in that regard.
I also agree with you in terms of the power not being that exciting. I can’t figure out for the life of me why they didn’t just make her power mind-reading. I understand that there is a story significance to it specifically being tied to emotions, which we’ll get into later, but I still think it would have been more interesting overall if you could just straight up read people’s thoughts.
One of the coolest features of the first game and its time-rewinding was this idea the story presented of: “Is it ethical to manipulate the characters around you into liking you by hearing what they want to you to say, rewinding time and then saying it?” But the series has never capitalized on that concept, and while they sort of play around with that idea in this game, it’s not as far as they can take it.
Shannon: Yeah. I just think that the problem with reading emotions is that the characters clearly telegraph what they’re feeling on the surface, so we can kind of guess what they’re feeling anyway. In our daily lives, we also have empathy. So it just didn’t really feel like a superpower to me.
That said, there were a lot of things in this game that I loved. I really like the Zen meditation moments, where you just sit around and watch things as a great song plays. I ended up looking at the scenery of the town for a very long time, like way longer than maybe I should have.
Jhaan: The “Life Is Strange” series has always been fantastic when it comes to the aesthetics. Like, the graphics won’t blow you away, but they are definitely very stylized and cool, and the music and soundtrack selection is always spot on.
So Shannon, we’re both trying to play through the game multiple times to see how effective choices really are in this game, and if they actually do lead to drastically different outcomes. At a cursory glance from what we know about the choices, it doesn’t seem like it would change that much, other than like one final interaction at the end. Being that you are a little bit further along in your third playthrough, have you noticed any big changes?
Shannon: Something I’ll say about this game compared to the original “Life Is Strange” is that there’s not as much replay value, in my opinion, because I did go back to talk to more characters to get more of their stories and interactions. But ultimately, what happens at the end of the game is kind of like the canon. It doesn’t change very much and you’re going to get a similar outcome either way. So replaying this game more than twice almost feels like “What is the point?”
Jhaan: In the first two “Life Is Strange” games, you got drastically different outcomes depending on some of the choices that you made up to certain points. And it definitely did feel like unique experiences with each playthrough. In this game, I’m not so sure that I get that impression, other than choices regarding who you romance. What you might want to try to do instead, if you want to see other outcomes, is to go back to a specific chapter where things start ramping up, and then just start from there to see what the differences are.
Shannon: For sure. I mean, I will say that there are a couple of things I haven’t explored yet. But for the most part, I’ve changed some major choices in the middle of the game and I still get the same outcomes.
This is not a spoiler because this is actually in the trailer and everybody knows this, but when Alex comes to this town, right at the beginning, she’s mourning the death of her brother [who dies early on in the game]. And regardless of what you do, he will always die. That to me shows how immutable and unchangeable the plot is.
Jhaan: While we’re on the subject of Gabe and his death, let’s get a little bit more into the characters. How did you feel about Gabe overall? So much of the plot hinges on whether the player actually cares about him and sympathizes with the villagers after his death. So what did you think of him?
Shannon: I’ve thought about him in hindsight, knowing that he has to die. I thought the way the developers wrote him was as this “perfect” character. He’s already romanticized. And then he passes away. I felt like he wasn’t believable because there were almost no flaws about him.
Jhaan: That’s exactly how I feel. I feel like, up until the final chapter of the game, the writers very much make him a Gary Stu. Even small things, like the things that other villagers were saying about him during his funeral, seemed way too perfect. Nobody is this good of a human being! So in the final chapter when they finally start giving him some character flaws, that was a welcome relief.
Shannon: True, but by that point the game is basically over. I’ve already shaped my impression of him.
Jhaan: Definitely, plus the ending doesn’t really focus on him as a character anyway.
They did a really good job with the side characters, though. In the second “Life Is Strange,” they had the two main characters on the run, meaning you really didn’t have time to bond with any side character because you were constantly shifting the cast with each chapter. Fortunately, this game, like the first “Life Is Strange,” all takes place in one setting, so you have a cast of 10-ish side characters that you really get to know very well. And I really like a lot of them.
Shannon: I really love Eleanor! She’s the grandmother of Riley, and there’s a moment when you’re talking to her and she’s like, “Do you want to do body shots? I’m just kidding. Or am I?”
Every character is like that, which makes for a really goofy, likable cast. Both romanceable options in this game are great too.
Jhaan: First of all, Steph is the correct choice. Second of all, agree, both of them are very strong characters. This is definitely the first time in the series where I felt that both romantic lead options are strong. In “Life Is Strange” one, Warren’s kind of a weenie, so why would you ever go with him over Chloe? And then in the second game, Finn has some serious boundary issues, so there’s almost no reason to go with him either. But in this game, I felt like you can make a legitimate argument for romancing either character.
How did you feel about the overall side content of the game, Shannon?
Shannon: There are 8-bit arcade games you can play throughout the town, which I loved. At first, for one game called “Mine Haunt,” I couldn’t figure out the simple mechanic of going up or down the ladders, but I was still trying to get the highest score.
But there are also a lot of side narratives for the smaller characters that were really nice. It’s always satisfying too when you finish a chapter and the game shows you the world statistics; the percentages of players that chose certain options.
Jhaan: Agree! That’s what was missing for me in the second “Life Is Strange,” a game I love but will fully admit is fundamentally flawed. One of the things that I really miss from that game are those side quests and seeing those side characters develop. This game fortunately gets back to that, which is great because it makes the town that you’re supposed to connect with as a player feel so much more vibrant and alive.
Shannon: There are also some really interesting ethical dilemmas in this game. At one point, you learn that Alex doesn’t just have the ability to read emotions, she can take them away from people if she sees the emotion as extremely negative. So the game raises the question of, “Should you help this person get over this emotion right away, or should you let them feel it through?” And there are two different takes on that in the game — it takes a stab at whether players should let others feel a negative emotion, or if they should distract them from it.
Jhaan: So Shannon, overall final thoughts about the game?
Shannon: “Life Is Strange: True Colors” is worth playing. It is not going to be game of the year. It’s not the best story. There are other games asking deeper questions about mental health, our internal psyches and how we get along with people. But I still think that it’s a fun game. It is a lot shorter with less replayability than I would have liked. How about you?
Jhaan: I also think that it’s definitely worth playing. It’s an experience that reminded me a lot of the first “Life Is Strange” in many ways. And despite the shortcomings of the narrative at the end of the game, the journey up to that point is still worth it.
In particular, the narrative through line of “it’s important to process your emotions and actually come to terms with how you feel, as opposed to doing everything you can to avoid those feelings” was impactful to me. It’s a very important lesson for gamers of any age to experience. Not a lot of games tackle this idea as deeply as “Life Is Strange: True Colors” does.
Shannon: Yes. I also think it’s worth mentioning that there is no content warning as far as I could see for the game. Since it’s been an active debate recently with “Boyfriend Dungeon” and “12 Minutes,” that’s important to point out to players. There is a lot of dark material in this game that you’re not warned about beforehand.
Jhaan: Good point. The story tackles PTSD, emotional abuse, alcohol addiction and other potentially triggering things. The game definitely gets into more touchy subjects that the previous two games of the series, so it’d be nice if the developers could spell that out more plainly at the beginning. But all this aside, we both agree: This is a game with a rushed ending that’s still worth playing. And that you should definitely romance Steph.
Shannon: 100 percent.