Why “Life Is Strange” will be one of the best Square Enix games
Games from Squaresoft and Enix were a big part of my childhood. I was literally hooked to my old SNES with Japanese RPGs like Terranigma, Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Trigger and so on. As I grew older, I was still crazy for the Final Fantasy games for the Playstation. I know that there are many people out there who dislike Final Fantasy 10 for its annoying protagonist. I, however, really loved that game back in 2001.
And I was delighted to hear two years later that the two big companies from my childhood were to merge in 2003, forming Square Enix. These two companies – what could possibly go wrong?
As history shows – a lot. Final Fantasy 12 was a wide step back. While it has some good ideas for side quests, stunning graphics (for that time) and an atmospheric soundtrack, the game overall failed due to its boring gameplay. The story was somewhat okay, with the only problem that it made no difference if the protagonist was there or not. The story around the hero simply was too flat. Also that fighting system sucked. Hard. Then there were a lot of remakes. Remakes after remake and then Final Fantasy 13. The battle system once again failed to entertain, however, it showed some interesting gameplay ideas again. As long as you are fine with the hack'n'slay style. The story however could not be compared to older titles. On the one hand it was woozy and full of clichés, on the other hand some parts were really well written. So 13-2 came and it was a blowout. Square Enix listened to its fans and took all the good parts from 13 and combined them with old strengths. The game was not perfect whatsoever, but it was really, really good. And then they took 13-3 and destroyed everything they had built up in 13-2 again.
In between came Bravely Default. I do not want to spoiler anything so I am just going to say that this also was a really nice game for the 3DS. Only the last part of the game was a bit… too repetitive. I will talk about this game later in a post of its own, but for the moment let’s just say that, while it was a great game, it could have been better without the big funky plot hole towards the end.
In many Square Enix games these days the story, which had always been the best thing games from Squaresoft and Enix had to offer, appears to be put in second place.
Believe me – this is not the case in "Life Is Strange". And I love it.
"Life Is Strange is a story based game that features player choice, the consequences of all your in game actions and decisions will impact the past, present and future. Choose wisely…"
Personally I am a big fan of time manipulating themes, as long as the consequences are thought through and the plot is well written. Good examples are Butterfly Effect (2004), Steins:Gate (2011) and 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (2010)/Virtue's Last Reward (2012). Life Is Strange fits perfectly in this category. But before I go any further, let me quote another part of the official Life Is Strange website, so you can better understand what the game is about:
"Life is Strange is a five part episodic game that sets out to revolutionize story based choice and consequence games by allowing the player to rewind time and affect the past, present and future."
I really dislike the separation into different episodes. This is a form of distribution that needs to vanish again as soon as possible. If I buy a game, I want to play it to the end. I do not want to wait six week for EVERY SINGLE EPISODE. I bought the game on its release day (end of January 2015) and I will not be able to finish it before the end of July. In theory, this is not acceptable for me. However, if a game is really good, I am willing to go for a compromise. At the time I write this article, I only had access to the first episode of the game. There is a chance of course that the game will screw up at some point in the future, but to be honest, I do not think so.
Back to the game itself: Life Is Strange puts you in the role of Maxine Caulfield (who is voiced by Hannah Telle), a 18-year-old photography student, who struggles with the daily problems of high school social life. However, one day she dozes off in class and has a strange dream about a catastrophic storm that destroys the whole city she lives in. As she awakes again she realizes that she has the ability so turn back time, at least for a few minutes. This gives her the opportunity to undo bad decisions she made or influence the outcome of certain events with information that she got in the future. The game lets you play through the choices you made and gives you different outcomes of the story, depending on the choices made. This makes for some really big decisions in the story early on. If you play through the first episode you soon realize that some of your decisions have severe impact on the people around you and your personal life. But to be honest, for most of those choices it is really obvious that they will have a grave impact. However, there are some small decisions that will also effect the story, but at the moment there is no way to determine what these small decisions really will trigger and what will actually carry on in the next episode.
If you look at the game you will recognize that the graphics, while looking really nice and fitting, are not the typical graphics an AAA title would be release with. The game however makes up for that. With an incredibly atmospheric soundtrack. With brilliant voice actors. And with a really well written script and story that puts other Square Enix titles to shame. And all that for less than a third of the price of a triple A title. Luc Baghadoust, Gladys Deussner and Nicolas Simmon did a really good job here. And whoever is responsible for the scenario should get a raise immediately.
Games like Life Is Strange remind me why Square Enix has become the big company it is today. It shines with the old strengths and focuses on story and atmosphere rather than on graphics, speed or remakes. These are the reasons which cause me to believe that Life Is Strange will be one of the best Square Enix games of all times.
If you want to check out the game for yourself, you can get it from here.