I do not like Tristan. (If you can see the cover, he’s the dude on the far right, next to Max.)
He’s a gothy blasé teen that immediately bonds with Max & Chloe, but feels like a fan insert, which echoes my prior gripes that the first volume of this comic book series has a whiff of fan-service. LIFE IS STRANGE’s second half features him being glad-handed by Chloe & Max and it feels abnormal; like a burr, an oddity that shouldn’t exist, and perhaps he shouldn’t, but he does.
That’s is a strange thing to say about a series that features a protagonist who shouldn’t exist where they are, but Tristan? He doesn’t fit. The work already has the holy trinity: Chloe, Max, and Rachel. (Even if I grouse about Max and Rachel meeting. Chloe can’t have two besties at the same time. She isn’t wired for that.) It feels unnecessary, and very strange (no pun intended) that they would be so quick to befriend him.
Also: I’ll note that my Max would never get a tattoo. I can’t imagine any universe in which she would. (Although I’d be lying if I said I never thought about getting a blue butterfly tattoo, because I certainly have and I’m dumb like that and love these games that much.)
I realize I’m back-tracking a bit, based on the Vol. 1 writeup but it zigged where it could have zagged.
I rationally understand that these comics are meant to portray others’ interpretation of the work, and it’s a well-meaning work, for sure! However, it doesn’t resonate for me in the same way the games have. While the intricacies of the choices are intriguing, it feels less cohesive, which is a shame because there’s a lot of great groundwork laid here. It’s still worth reading and it accomplishes what it wants to accomplish but, depending on the choices you made in the original games, it may leave you feeling slightly sour.
On one hand, did I want more Max & Chloe? Yes, always. Did I want Max to meet Rachel? No, not really, but that’s fine, totally fine.
On the other hand, I felt like FAREWELL was the perfect kiss-off for Max & Chloe.
There’s nothing wrong with the first volume of this comic book series — penned by Emma Vieceli and illustrated by a very Vertigo-esque Claudia Leonardi — but it does feel empty, it feels 100% like fan-service. Well-penned fan-service, but fan-service nonetheless.
It’s supremely well-executed, with a great high-concept hook that manages to finagle all of the possible timelines, but ugh, I can’t get behind the love story between Max & Chloe. Not my Max! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Max & Chloe are ride-or-die friends — not lovers. Shipping them is just … not an option in my book, but apparently folks want that.
This series leans hard into that, and while I’m all about queerness, that feels fundamentally different from who these characters — these people — are. I’ve previously harped on authorial intent, but this seems disingenuous.
Nonetheless, it’s a very inventive comic, one that embraces the multi-faceted nature of the series and manages to work off it, despite being a linear narrative work. It’s substantive, and worth your time if you’re into the LIFE IS STRANGE universe, despite my grousing about shipping Max & Chloe.
If you haven’t experienced any or all of the LIFE IS STRANGE works, normally I suggest experiencing the LIFE IS STRANGE universe in order of release, despite the fact that they jump backward and forward in time and place:
LIFE IS STRANGE: STEPH’S STORY (narratively predates TRUE COLORS and WAVELENGTHS)
However, I’d suggest reading STEPH’S STORY prior to playing TRUE COLORS, as you won’t have the knowledge as to how Steph’s journey plays out, and it will only enhance your enjoyment of TRUE COLORS and WAVELENGTHS. In addition, it doesn’t require any knowledge of post-LIFE IS STRANGE 2 games, and even better, it does a great job of introducing you to some of facets of the future games.
That said, there really is no wrong way to experience these works!
This post features mentions of familial death and spoilers for the first LIFE IS STRANGE game, LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM, LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS and LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS – WAVELENGTHS.
Franchise tie-in fictional novels have existed for years, probably most iconically via STAR TREK novels. Fans want more of their favorite characters, more experiences within this universe, and they allow writers a latitude that often isn’t an option with visual mediums or their purses.
I’ve played and penned a lot about the LIFE IS STRANGE series this past year, but was stunned to hear that they recently released a tie-in novel, focused on Steph of all people. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised: there was a LIFE IS STRANGE comic book series several years prior that continues exploring Max and Chloe in Arcadia Bay. (As I haven’t read them, I’m avoiding read any additional details as I’m definitely going to dive into them sooner-rather-than-later.)
LIFE IS STRANGE: STEPH’S STORY (STEPH’S STORY from here on out) — from young adult author Rosiee Thor (FIRE BECOMES HER and more) — picks up with a post-Arcadia Bay Steph, currently living in Seattle with her father.
One difficult thing about adapting an interactive work, especially one like LIFE IS STRANGE where your decisions have major ramifications, is simply laying the foundation for the text. The closing choice in the first game is that you’re given the option to save your best friend, destroying the town and killing many people, or sacrificing Chloe and allowing the town to limp along.
While Thor could have taken a CHOOSE YOUR ADVENTURE approach, instead the novel explicitly notes in the beginning that the events here take place in a world where Max saves Chloe, razing Arcadia Bay. Thor also underscores that the choices made in this book may not mirror your own if you played the first game, but urges you to keep an open mind.
As I’ve previously noted, there isn’t much Steph in the first game. You know she’s a proud lesbian who loves to run table-top RPG games with her best friend, she sells bootleg DVDs, she’s a tech nerd, and that’s about it. You don’t really even know her home situation, apart from her dad being a video editor.
If you’ve played LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS you know that Steph now lives in Haven Springs, Colorado and is still very openly queer. WAVELENGTHS sees Steph navigating her new job as the voice and DJ of Haven Springs radio throughout the timespan of a year, neatly broken up into seasons.
With STEPH’S STORY, you discover that Steph was living with her divorced mother in Arcadia Bay. Her parents had a very dysfunctional relationship and stayed together far too long. Her father moved to Seattle while her mother stayed in Arcadia Bay, effectively dooming herself and dying during Max’s tornado. (LIFE IS STRANGE does love to kill family members.)
Steph gets her college diploma from DigiPen, then after a bout of living with friends, finally moves in with her father.
Steph is still struggling with the loss of her mother when she meets Izzie, who has recently been kicked out of her band. The two become fast friends, then decide to start their own band — DRUGSTORE MAKEUP, with Steph as the drummer and Izzie fronting — and in the process they become romantically entangled. The band starts to pick up steam, matters escalate, and the next stage of Steph’s life begins.
There’s a fundamental facet to Izzie that I feel the need to mention, but also feel it could be construed as a spoiler, so you can see for yourself below:
Izzie is a gay trans woman, and rightfully isn’t as open about this as Steph is about being a lesbian.
Again, if you’ve played TRUE COLORS or WAVELENGTHS, we know ultimately where this ends up: her relationship with Izzie ends, she is no longer in a band but still loves music — although she has mostly moved along from punk — and she’s left Arcadia Bay and Seattle behind. However, as with so many stories, it’s not about the destination but the journey.
And what a journey. Even if this weren’t a LIFE IS STRANGE tie-in, I’d still seek it out. It deftly portrays the highs and lows of a tumultuous relationship and one trying to do so while attempting to struggle with prior traumatic events. The prose is crisp and witty, the characters nuanced, and it is an extremely controlled example of building out a world using pre-existing characters.
That noted: this is a LIFE IS STRANGE tie-in, and Thor exceptionally weaves in all sorts of explicit fan-service in a way that feels respectful and rarely pandering and narratively fulfilling. It also contains a lot of clever wordplay and foreshadowing and tiny riffs on LIFE IS STRANGE dialogue from the past as well as Steph’s future. (There’s a lot of talk about choices and their impact, for example. You also learn the backstory behind Steph’s rainbow PRIDE woodblock, which is not as pedestrian as you might expect. Even the summary on the back mentions “different wavelengths”.)
A few quibbles:
While I know that Thor wants us to roll with her decisions, in this world Chloe and Max are romantically involved which feels like shipping to me, as my Max would experiment, but fundamentally consider herself straight. Max — to me — has always felt like Rory Gilmore — someone who is fundamentally reserved and while they may occasionally dip their toes into unconventional behavior, often they snap right back to being rather straight-laced.
Secondly, Steph seems like she’s far more involved and invested in Chloe’s life that doesn’t align for me with LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM and how Chloe connects with Rachel Amber. There’s really no mention of them being as friendly enough before the tornado hits Arcadia Bay and obviously Steph moved right after that.
Lastly, there’s a relatively vivid description of Izzie’s entwined ring necklace, which 100% mirrors the necklace Steph brandishes in TRUE COLORS and WAVELENGTHS. I kept hoping the book would circle back to that, but it never does. So it goes.
I don’t mind these choices — after all, they’re the author’s choices — as they’ll certainly satisfy those who want more Chloe, but their friendship feels shoehorned in, even though they both overly queer. (Perhaps it’s handled in the graphic novels and, if so, I’ll note that once I inevitably write about those.)
Otherwise, this is a perfect tie-in to the LIFE IS STRANGE universe. It has personality, it’s very gay, it’s character-centric, and it will make you cry tears of joy and sadness. In other words: perfect for any LIFE IS STRANGE fan, or any fan of a young, queer, punk human drama.
While I first played LIFE IS STRANGE waaaay back in 2017, I’ve been intensely playing/replaying all of them pretty much non-stop for the last two months.
“I want to look at everything.”
I realize that’s not healthy. Emotionally, they’re absolutely brutal. My wife remarked: “Everytime I see you playing these games, someone is sobbing or you are.”
However, I’ve been going through a lot over the past year — to the point where friends have reached out and asked me: “Are you okay? Because you don’t seem like you’re okay.”
“I thought if you heard my voice, it could be a little bit like I was there.”
And no, no I’m not. Not at all. While I don’t want anyone’s sympathy, I do appreciate the outreach, and that’s exactly what LIFE IS STRANGE encapsulates.
(I will be fine. I have a quality support network. I’m just over-emotional in general.)
LIFE IS STRANGE: BEYOND THE STORM — FAREWELL [REMASTERED] (FAREWELL from here on out) supplies a short and bittersweet closure to the Arcadia Bay series. It’s simply Max and Chloe lounging around as young carefree teens until the end.
That’s all. That’s the entire game.
It’s delightful, and as someone who has lived through too much, to be able to relive the lighter moments of the past brings a smile to my face. Is it sheer nostalgia through another’s eyes? Yeah, but I’ll take it.
Two facets that I haven’t quite touched on with prior LIFE IS STRANGE entries:
1) The goddamn soundtrack. The music programming and the original scoring is absolute perfection. It encapsulates the ennui and conflict and ebulliency of being a youth. No notes.
2) Chloe’s physicality, height, and lankiness. As someone who is taller than most, often thinner than most, and prone to leap up on curbs as if they were a balance beam, I absolutely loved the animation work here.
FAREWELL sees Chloe before she literally feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. She springboards around, leaps around, bounds down stairs and jumps onto tables. She’s still slightly awkward and feeling matters out, but supremely confident in her command of her body in a way I’ve never quite seen in a video game.
I realize that may sound odd given that 90% of video games are all about physical activities, but there’s a personal exuberance here that feels fresh and makes me feel very seen.
“Even when we’re apart. We’re still Max and Chloe.”
To re-iterate: this has been an enormously exhausting but fulfilling journey; one that finally has me exhaling. At least until the next game. If you want to put yourself through the emotional interactive wringer, as opposed to mindlessly shooting dummies, I highly recommend it, but it does come at as cost, as does simply living life. There’s absolutely nothing like these games, and I’ll treasure them always.
In my prior BEFORE THE STORM write-up I noted how I relate far more to Chloe than I did to Max, which seems to be an unpopular opinion but I am who I am. I didn’t go into details so here are a few additional reasons that dovetail with my youth.
Chloe is a quintessential young punk, whereas I was a quintessential young gothling; she sneaks out of her house to attend illicit live band shows in sketchy places; she feels all alone in the world, at least until she finds a friend in Rachel Amber who presents as a perfect straight-A student but is actually a hedonistic, rebellious queer youth.
Been there, done that (although not necessarily in that order).
“It’s okay not to be okay, Chloe Price.”
BEFORE THE STORM sees Chloe trying to heal after the abandonment of Max and the death of her father, and she finds solace in Rachel’s hands. For three episodes, we get see the joy in her eyes, the wonder of discovery, a whole new queer world opening up in front of her.
Again, if you’ve played the prior games, you know how this ends, and it is not good, but goddamnit, I just love to see Chloe — as angsty as she is in this point in her life — happy, if only momentarily.
Upon replaying, I was surprised at how much foreshadowing and groundwork was laid, although I definitely suggest playing this after the first game.
Also, upon replaying, I had Chloe interact a bit more aggressively and was happy I did so; the call-and-response is far more interesting than the rather milquetoast approach I took the first time.
While the game lacks any supernatural or superpower elements, it does have spectacle with fire. Again, these are not subtle games — it’s subtext to communicate the burning urges of youth — but I can’t help but love it, and visually the billowing smoke ever-present in the background is so very striking.
And while you don’t have Max’s rewind powers, the developers have nicely added a few new features to the dialogue trees to keep matters fresh. Never at any point in time does it feel like you’re simply watching a film — you feel like you are in control, and that your decisions make a difference.
Lastly, I’ll state: this post is concerning the remaster, which … is not great. It is not polished. It has a ton of bugs and crashed several times and honestly? Doesn’t even look good enough to merit the term ‘remaster’. However: I bought it simply so I’d have a physical copy, so I could play it on my Switch on a desert island until the batteries died. That’s how much I love this game.
(PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox) One of my favorite things about LIFE IS STRANGE is its episodic fragmentation because it allows me to detail specific things I love about the series without having to write everything into one long post.
So, yes, I’m totally using the remastered version — which includes the first game and BEFORE THE STORM — to summarize everything I wasn’t able to shoehorn in before about the first game. (There will be one last post about the BEFORE THE STORE remaster!)
[Slight spoilers below!]
The fourth episode of the initial game is absolutely brutal, but also very memorable. Max’s time use inadvertently affecting her best friend is heart-rending, and the two of them reconnecting — a second time — is extremely emotional in a way that I’ve never felt in another game.
At the end, well, I’ve witnessed others going through what Max is tasked to do, and — the way I played it — goddamn, in real life I was just an observer, there for comfort, but holy hell. My face gets wet just thinking about it.
I’ve said it before: this is just life. Life is hard. Nothing and no one can prepare you for what you’re going to live through, because everyone’s journey is different. But if you can find folks that can help navigate you through, you’re very lucky, and that’s why the fourth episode is so tough for me, because of the loss, and because of the changes.
While I absolutely love this series — it’s certainly one of my all-time favorites — this remaster? It kinda sucks. Visually, sure, it’s slightly glossier — oddly, Rachel seems to have the best glow-up — but doesn’t add much except for major loading times and overly severe and distracting lighting. (I’ll note that I played it via Switch — loading times may be faster via your Xbox.) While the original was slightly janky, this feels terribly unpolished and I encountered a number of bugs and crashes, which is weird for a remaster. Frankly, I’m pleased I played the original digital copies when initially writing about this series, because that felt more natural and playable. It certainly doesn’t look as crisp or play as well as TRUE COLORS.
Nonetheless, I was very happy to see Chloe and Max together again, although watching Chloe and knowing what will happen made me constantly well-up. I kept thinking: “This isn’t fair. I just want the best for them!” Granted, that’s the sort of emotional response any writer wants to hear when they pen something, but goddamnit, as someone playing the game, it’s rough. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I did try to lighten her load.
I hope I’ve convinced you to at least try the series, no matter which way you can. It’s absolutely something special and evocative and overly emotional and I love it. This is a series of games that will most certainly inspire and influence future game designers and developers, and it’s extremely rare to know that upon initially playing a game. It’s so raw and heartfelt and, as I’ve said before, it’s hard to believe it even exists. It was a huge swing on behalf of Don’t Nod and they knocked it out of the park, and it’s something that will live with me always.
The LIFE IS STRANGE games have been incredibly difficult for me to deal with, much less write about. They’re literally manufactured to trigger grief and sadness and re-invoke lived trauma and, while I know the developers meant well, it’s still brutal to confront matters.
I’ve always hated the ascribed name ‘LIFE IS STRANGE’ because life isn’t strange at all and I feel like the game doesn’t even believe it as it has never invoked that phrase. This is just life. This is just living. Abuse and neglect and abandonment have been normalized, have been for a long time and fundamentally that’s what these games are about, as well as the coping mechanisms surrounding them. We tell ourselves it’s strange to justify the calamity of our lives, of exploitation, of unfairness and inequality, when it doesn’t need to be like this.
It is life. While I may be strange, this is not strange.
However: while these games do make me sob, they help me. There aren’t many games that are intentionally meant as therapeutic means but these are games about people feeling too hard, hurt by life and circumstance, but also about finding ways to mend and reach out. I’m shocked they even exist — because how do you even pitch that? — much less have become an actual franchise. As someone who has lived through a bit too much shit, I’m happy to see a game that portrays working through shit, and portrays people surviving it.
I love reading the YouTube comments for these games — well, 75% of the commenters, the other 25% can go fuck themselves — because they are all beaming and realizing that video games can help and heal in their own way. These games have made me feel like I’m not alone, just like those comments have made me feel like I’m not alone, and just like how I’m writing this: you are not alone.
Hey, remember Steph? No? It took me a little while to remember her as well.
I didn’t mention her in my initial write-up of LIFE IS STRANGE since she’s a very ancillary character. Hell, I didn’t even think of her being a callback character while I was playing TRUE COLORS and I was actively trying to romance her.
So much of the LIFE IS STRANGE series is about pretend and role-playing and escapism due to the trauma of reality, so it makes sense that they’d have a character who was fascinated with all of that, even if they existed on the out-skirts, and this bonus episode is all about that!
If you aren’t familiar with Steph, she’s a very queer Dungeons & Dragons role-player who will lead you through a game she penned. That’s it, that’s her only role in the first game. She usually plays with her best friend Mikey, but is always eager to share with others.
One of my favorite things about LIFE IS STRANGE is that it’s absolutely gender neutral. Everyone loves what they love, and when you see the spark in their eyes when they’re conveying why they love it, you want to love it too. That’s the best thing a game can do; to transmit their love for gameplay and their audience.
However, there’s always a downside: one of the very stupid things I have said to my therapist is: “Danger always finds me,” because it has. So I couldn’t help but wince when Mikey tells Steph “Adventure will always find you.” because I’m like “There’s a terrible side to that! And these games are completely all about that! That is not a comforting thought!”
But I digress. This is a perfect coda to the Arcadia Bay games, and it’s particularly poignant. LIFE IS STRANGE has always been exceptional with their scores and soundtracks — they’re brilliantly evocative and melancholy — and to shape one entire episode around serving up music is inspired, as WAVELENGTHS sees Steph as a local DJ, living her best life, but also realizing that it’s a transitional one.
We follow her through four seasons of a year, solely through her work and we watch her become more comfortable with her job. It also dovetails with the empathic emotions of TRUE COLORS as people reach out to her over-the-phone and she learns how to placate them.
It’s a fantastic little slice of life, one that more game developers should learn from.
While I said that LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM is my favorite of the series I, somewhat intentionally, neglected to mention that LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS (TRUE COLORS from here on forward) is the one I identify with most.
TRUE COLORS centers around Alex, a twenty-something who reunites with Gabe, her big brother, in the fictional town of Haven Springs, Oregon. Their mother died of cancer when they were teens, their father abandoned them shortly after, then her brother was locked up in juvie for carjacking, and Alex was scuttled from foster home to home, essentially until now.
(I’ll note that there’s a spoiler below, but it literally happens in the first chapter and it is a major part of Alex’s journey, and really not spoiler-y! But go forth, play it, then come back if you’re squeamish!)
Of course, LIFE IS STRANGE being LIFE IS STRANGE, her brother is killed under specious conditions.
Also, LIFE IS STRANGE being LIFE IS STRANGE, it’s revealed that Alex has superpowers: she’s an full-blown empath who can literally see how people are feeling, hurting, and intense emotions cause her to lash out.
All my life I’ve been called out as someone overly sensitive, someone overly emotional, someone too observant, and when I am emotionally overwhelmed, I too explode.
So, yeah. This hits a bit too close to home for me. When I described the game to my wife, she explicitly asked: “Are you sure you should be playing this?” and I replied “No! I definitely should not!” but proceeded to do so anyway, and proceeded to cry through the bulk of the first third of the game, and I’m a better person for doing so. For as much as the game underscores the trials and tribulations of being emotionally oversensitive, it also extolls them. Alex is not only finding the truth out about the death of her brother, but finding what she wants out of life.
It also serves as one of the best renditions of a rural town’s Main Street I’ve ever played. I’ve previously harped on how the LIFE IS STRANGE series mirrors my time growing up in Vermont and TRUE COLORS is the absolute pinnacle of that. Haven feels like I’m wandering through Church Street — downtown Burlington, Vermont — even down to the indie record store. (Shout out to Pure Pop!) The only thing missing are the gravy fries from Nectar’s.
(I’ll also note that TRUE COLORS features the following exchange: “Greatest Northwest band of all time? Go.” “Sleater-Kinney, if you were wondering.” and Sleater-Kinney is only one of my favorite bands ever, so thanks game for validating that you are solely for me.)
I’d be remiss to neglect to mention the glow-up imparted on TRUE COLORS. While the prior LIFE IS STRANGE games had striking visual character designs, TRUE COLORS is absolutely gorgeous, all rounded features, glossy and fluid animations, and even better: it imparts a sense of tactility that was lacking in the prior games. It’s not just that characters touch each other, it’s that they rub and wear and scrape against works around them. This is a world well-crafted.
This post contains mentions of familial death and psychological dissociation.
The LIFE IS STRANGE games are not what I would call a ‘fun time’ — practically every post I’ve made about the series has content warnings — but LIFE IS STRANGE 2 is especially tough. It opens with a mostly idyllic Hispanic family: two sons, one pre-teen — Daniel — one firmly a teenager — Sean — and a father. Their mother is mostly unknown to them, but the three of them have a happy life.
At least, until Daniel makes the mistake of playing zombie in their front yard.
Matters escalate. Police get involved. Their father is shot by a policeman. Daniel reacts impulsively, self-protectively, and sends out a kinetic blast, killing the policeman.
Sean grabs Daniel and they go on the run, leaving behind his teen love because he knows there’s no better option.
It may sound twisted, but my favorite part of LIFE IS STRANGE 2 simply consists of Sean and Daniel endlessly walking through the Pacific Northwest, solely because — despite the fact that I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest — it feels like I lived part of this game. As I’ve mentioned in prior LIFE IS STRANGE posts: New England is not the Pacific Northwest. (Duh.) However, they’re basically kissing cousins. Very similar landscapes and remote culture. Tall trees, lush and vibrant greenery, and folks existing peacefully on the fringes of society.
There have been times in my life where I’ve been stranded, when I had no money and I had no one I felt I could confide in (although, truth be told, I did and probably should have) and so … I’d just walk hours on end, sometimes even overnight, through New England roads which are sparsely populated but the trees …make you feel protected. Insulated. Even though the woods also are home to predators, it felt …natural.
LIFE IS STRANGE 2 is a game centered around desertion and opt-ing out of society, because sometimes, that is absolutely necessary. As you venture through the game, you meet up with folks who are off-the-grid, including one face you might not expect from LIFE IS STRANGE 1. Whereas the prior games were all born of suburban trauma and feeling penned in, LIFE IS STRANGE 2 is a wild road trip adventure.
I’ll note that LIFE IS STRANGE 2 also features a small moment regarding an older journalist — a transient, basically — who helps them out in a time of need, and that’s it, and he drives off. Again, it’s small, but it makes an impact.
It sketches out how the world is different for so many people, and that there are so many different ways to live in it, which is essentially what LIFE IS STRANGE 2 is about.