When dealing with teen-centric dramas, too many works have their point-of-view centered around the naive shy one who is drawn into the orbit of the nefarious, corrupting burr on society. The initial five chapters of LIFE IS STRANGE certainly took that approach; Max is the POV character, a smart, upright, mostly meek and non-rebellious person who just wants to pursue her art but is drawn back into the orbit of her prior best-friend Chloe, a fried drop-out, and calamity ensues, literally brewing a storm that entangles everyone.
Rewind a bit.
LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM (BEFORE THE STORM from here on out) examines the other side of the coin by placing the focus on Chloe and how she (poorly) navigates life after Max moves from Arcadia Bay to Seattle with her family and — in more ways than one — writes Chloe out of her life for five years. In the meantime, Chloe — utterly floundering due to the sudden death of her father and the departure of her best friend — falls apart. She finds herself rudderless during a dark time at Blackwood Academy, Arcadia Bay’s school for gifted burgeoning artists and scientists.
Then Blackwood’s star student, a picture-perfect young woman named Rachel Amber, takes Chloe by her hand, saves her from a terribly shitty situation at a dirtbag club night, and everything changes; they become inseparable. They also get entangled in a lot of shit for, well, being out-spoken and for standing up for themselves, and if you’ve played the initial game you know where that gets them.
However, this game is about shining a spotlight on the time Chloe and Rachel had together, about them finding each other, trusting each other, and figuring out the world and what they want.
While you can play BEFORE THE STORM as straight, that’s not the Chloe I know; my Chloe is queer as hell and gives no shits, so that’s the tact I took, and the game doesn’t disappoint if you go down that route. It feels poignant in the way that few games do.
BEFORE THE STORM is far smaller-scale than the first game in more ways than one. It’s focused on characters and fleshing out the events that lead to the tragedy (or tragedies) of LIFE IS STRANGE. Chloe doesn’t have superpowers; she has barbed quips and a Sharpie. You just spend three episodes living through Chloe’s often-banal life.
Yet, it’s my favorite of the series. (At least, so far.) It’s not a love story per se, but it is a romance of sorts between two people who aren’t exactly good for each other, but they ultimately find themselves drawn to each other, then find the same frequency, and they ride that for as long as they can. Also, Chloe’s general trajectory is something I certainly relate to in many ways. (I was a real shitheel of a teen. Gave my parents a lot of grief. Lived a duplicitous life. Not that anyone asked, but we’re on better terms now.)
BEFORE THE STORM also features my favorite bonus episode — which has become a staple of the series — and rewinds even further back: LIFE IS STRANGE: FAREWELL. However, I’ll table that for tomorrow.
“Don’t be surprised if one day, I’m just out of here.”