I have been at a loss for words for the past few months. Since completing the series, my mind has been in a state of stasis—frozen in uncertainty after being bombarded by an amalgam of ideas that I have encountered many times before in many other stories, histories, and re-tellings, but simply not in this manner. As always, I will provide a pure and honest response, replete with unapologetic spoilers and social commentary.
Although I cannot call the depictions of violence gratuitous in the final chapter of Life is Strange, bearing yet another apt title Polarized, they are simply too disturbing and jaunting to not find them guilty of a bit of excess. Perhaps it’s really very easy to pull at most people’s heartstrings if you tell a story of a young girl physically and mentally tortured, in any time period or setting. There was just a little too much suffering and lethal chaos portrayed at the end of this story, which makes me hope that the outcome is just a little less dark for people who made better decisions.
The images in this episode were quite disturbing, but what really prevented me from reviewing this spectacular work of art was an immense sense of guilt for going to war against the wrong person. Nate was a mere pawn. David was a hamfisted vigilante. That damn art professor of yours, the one Victoria’s friend told you about how she had sex with him, which I did find odd but not as suspicious as I was supposed to have found it, he was the one spinning a brilliant web of lies to create a force as destructive as that vortex that is completely your fault by the way.
I will stop here and applaud Don’t Nod for satisfyingly revealing the grand significance of the photograph you took of the blue butterfly the day you saved Chloe for the first time.
I must repeat that there was just way too much destruction at the very end. So many people Max knows are just killed. She herself is made to endure the most heinous and pointless kinds of physical and psychological torture. Your failures and successes don’t seem to be distinguishable at this point and all meaning is turned on its head. Usually, I like that kind of thing, but I’m on the fence as to how it all played out here.
This game gets 4.5 out of 5 stars. It may have gotten 5 if it didn’t completely freak me the hell out at the very end. Call it a judge’s bias that points might be docked for prodding at the darker areas of my mind in a way that does not seem overtly necessary, even though I can appreciate that the artists were probably trying to document our more nefarious activities like abduction, rape, murder, and how they can all be part of some personal experiment. Again, you’ve seen the trope canonized in Silence of the Lambs, abused and bastardized in Wolf Creek, parodied and lampooned in The Human Centipede, and retold in so many other ways: The sexual torture of a young (un)experienced girl who is tragically rendered through the dark underworld. If it weren’t for the rehashing of this non-essential story, I would have a lot more credit to give them.
But I don’t want to be too hard on them for such a transgression. I might be made to rethink my perception of wrongdoing given how respectfully and honestly they treated a number of difficult issues that were very boldly handled in a far-reaching genre like a video game, especially a genre for which you can typically expect a lot of young people despite age ratings. One will find hidden commentary in the recent Bioshock Remastered that speaks to what Don’t Nod may have been going for, where they discussed the theoretical merits of the two endings to Bioshock that depend on whether or not you saved all the little sisters. They spoke of how doing the right thing was meant to feel like it lacked a tangible reward and that your tireless and sacrificial efforts to do right should have felt futile at the end. Life is Strange puts a similar tinge of hopelessness to all your actions, and you really feel like everything you achieved was rather pointless, or that all of the turmoil suffered could have been resolved by doing, or more accurately not doing, a certain thing. That also may not be totally fair because you do learn the true story of what happened to Rachel Amber allowing you to stop the culprit and further chaos when you rewind for the last time, so it was not all in vain.
An Homage or Shout Out or Something
From the very first view of the lighthouse when introduced to the vortex, I could not help but to notice a strong similarity of themes between this game and To The Moon, a very moving piece of art created with RPG Maker, of all non-commercial-grade game engines to make a lasting and memorable experience with. Here is a game with that SquareSoft feeling of captivating storytelling where you play two virtual reality technicians who must help a dying man fulfill his last wish of going to the moon, even if it’s just in his mind. While traveling around in there, you find out all kinds of things he has not realized he has not yet forgotten, including one particularly daunting suppressed memory that causes more than a fair share of problems.
One of the most towering shared themes among these adventures is the omnipresence of a lighthouse throughout fractured time and space, although these planes are truly messed up in Life is Strange whereas the temporal chaos in To the Moon seems to be confined in single character’s mind, although the experience is still made to be of ultimate significance. You are always mysteriously drawn back to the lighthouse for reasons that you are unsure of.
Also, both deal with a time race of sorts where anachronistic discrepancies can have fatal consequences. The sequence of events have to be righted in some way that you must discover. There are mysterious recurring themes throughout time that are trying to communicate something to you desperately without words. The strongest parallels here are Max’s spirit animal delivering some silent and ominous warning and the paper rabbits that the old man’s wife leaves everywhere, which you know is meant to remind him of something for which he is tortured throughout the story:
I have no more quips or clever responses. I was waylaid by this one. And so, as always promised and made to happen for my hordes of adoring fans, highlights of gameplay for your perusal: