For those of us greatly affected by the first series, that is to say that the first series had a great effect on us, it has been with equally great anticipation that we have awaited Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Episode 1: Awake.
SquareEnix, you are still holding on to that spark that first made you wonderful, at the very least by providing resources for others who continue to make wonderful things… and so I still don’t know what I feel about you. I will always love you for FF7 but always hate you for FF8. You have never lived up to the same greatness, but I again commend you for perpetuating this particular non-traditional adventure.
You see that image above? That’s how our high school hero begins her journey, or one of the initial frames of the beginning of her journey anyway. I was tempted to make flipbook snapshots through the whole thing, documenting maybe every sixty frames. Yes, you might see something cliché here. Rebelliousness is a pervading theme throughout the game, to the core of its mechanics.
Some of the gameplay is rather familiar. You can walk around and click on things to interact with them in at most four different ways. Instead of manipulating time, you can engage in what is called Backtalk during conversations, where you insult your adversary until you get what you want. As far as I can tell, you don’t have an opportunity to undo previous decisions, although there’s a chance you could go to the escape menu and restart to the last checkpoint? I have been fortunate to succeed in any such dialog challenges, or at least progress through them in a way I found satisfying to recount to you now, although only in partial detail. Still, expect a few spoilers here and there.
As in the previous game, you can still occasionally sit or sometimes stand next to a thing and idle inappropriately despite a sense of urgency, however false, that compels you to proceed. Especially if you played the previous game, you know where things are going, how doomed some of the people you meet are, heck how doomed your own character is for that matter. Your encounter with Nathan Prescott where you have an opportunity to save him is dramatically ironic, to say the least. There is a darkness of sorts pervading every scene, indeed in the Unity sense.
Oh my… there she is. There you were mindlessly following objectives when she came in… or out, at which point you are immediately thwarted from your tasks. You need not look at your hand again upon running into to her. Or surely you can, but the directives from here on out are all very… impulsive perhaps? Either Rachel is running the show or your heightened emotions are, I’ll put it that way.
How can you say no to anything she demands? The game here on out really feels like a dating game. There is no question that the overarching objective is to get into Rachel’s pants… or leotards or whatever. Or to forge some kind of bond with her. A strong one, at that. There are scenes shortly following this part that I feel would give too much away… of Rachel. But the last section of images has a preview of what is revealed.
The events that occurred during this footage require the most analysis. I wouldn’t even begin to do that here, but I will say this…
Rachel and Chloe are separately coping with significant trauma. You don’t get the whole sense of Rachel’s story, but a big turning point, in which it turns out you are in the middle of, occurs for her in this episode. They both have different ways of dealing with what happened and with what’s going on. There’s a very specific reason Rachel brought Chloe out here at this hour to this particular spot to play this particular game, as spontaneous at it all seems to Chloe at the time. As immensely expressive as Rachel is, she has a hard time communicating something like this directly. Chloe has a similar way of expressing herself and dealing with really tough events, the details of which you experience as you progress through the story.
There is some real pain for anyone who knows what happens to Rachel Amber. There are a lot of games that depict the deaths of characters, as SquareEnix is no stranger to this concept, but there are not so many out there that do such an effective job of making everyone in the game so real and deal with life and death so directly at the same time.
Rachel is struggling to make sense of life. As loose of a cannon as she appears to be, there are some things she expects strict order in. Certain commitments, let’s say. Rachel does not like broken commitments.
And what exactly does Chloe want? Rachel, of course. As a friend? Something more? You will have the opportunity to make such a decision given that all through the episode you were either trying to get directly in her pants or just keep her pants close by, as a friend. Any way you look at it, this feels very much like a Japanese-style visual novel game where you are trying to get with a girl and can either succeed or fail based on what you choose. I didn’t quite get everything I wanted, but there’s something special going on between these two. And Rachel could use your companionship, of any kind.
This game has an even less traditional heroic feel to it, that is for sure. It is very much meant to convey a story. It is almost like one major side story because the more traditional video game scenario was with the time-traveling Max. That really feels like the main story. In Chloe’s episode, you are still getting some interesting history that gives very useful perspective on the people featured in the first adventure. Is there any real satisfaction in knowing more about Rachel? Why do we need to feel even worse about her fate? Or is this just meant to be a celebration of life? The strangeness of it? Surely they wanted you to think about that.