Life is Strange, Episode 1: Chrysalis - Review

Life is Strange. The name is totes appropro, as the swag that just melts from this interactive experience, also dubbed as a "video game" for you new blood types, and is like absolut interstellar.

I'm kidding, I won't actually talk like that the entire way through, but this game is a bit Strange. Funky. And surreal in a supernaturally positive way.

You see, Max has a gift. She can reverse time. No, of course, she doesn't know where she gets it from. And yes, it's all on you to figure it out. But it's not just any soulless protagonist that's just running with the flow, but an 18-year-old photography student who's twisting through the awkward motions of her morality, coupled by her fellow intelligent, yet self-absorbed classmates. And teachers. And everybody else. Everyone has their problems, from one trying to sleep with the world-renowned photography teacher, to a boy-next-door getting friendzoned by the new chick. Actually, I'm doing a disservice to the characters. Yes, their trials and tribulations seem basic. But there's depth in the secrets and ambitions that lie in each character. And with Max, the all-powerful Maxine who can manipulate each and every student, teacher, and official by regulating time to her whim, the game is more than just strange. It's fascinating. In a kind of villainous "ho ho ho!" bad guy kind of way.

The main thing that may draw you away for playing, however, is the dialogue. I won't lie - in my first playthrough, I sat in an awkward state, continuously reminding myself that the students of Blackhill Academy are 18-19 years old. Though they face adult decisions like pregnancy and drugs, the very middle school-esque dialect and mannerisms they exude feels awkwardly mismatched, such as spelling azz instead of ass and the snooty tonality of perusing someone's portfolio.

But at the same time, I think the dialogue is endearing to the story that Dontnod is trying to pursue. The fact that it has such a flamboyant choice of words makes it more fun to play. I don't think I would have been compelled to this game if it sat in normalcy with the standard bitchy rich kids. Or perhaps I've played one too many of these games growing up, and the allure has escaped me. Rockett's New School, anyone?

In any case, while the script is cringy at times, I have to admit choice lines like "go fuck your selfie" are actually pretty good. I wonder whether the developers will continue the lingo going into future episodes, or if Chrysalis is simply just first impressions hype and they'll tone it down for later episodes. Personally, I hope they keep it. I want to see how many they can come up with for Max and co without the script sounding dry. Although, I'd appreciate her not saying "Oh my Lord" anymore. That sounded weird to the ear. 

It's difficult for me to review this game without knowing the outstanding decisions for Episodes 2-5, but since the next one doesn't even come until March, I have to say this episode was a very good start for grabbing interest. The game did set up these interesting parallels between Maxine and Rachel, the girl that's been missing for six months. Max sits in a fascinating position where she is absorbing the presence Rachel left behind. That's what fascinates me in this game - Max seems like this replacement for what's been lost, and she has the ability to fill the role. She chooses either to be the voyeur and the eye behind the lens, or the active party who doesn't just observe but is the object of action. The center of attention. The muse. That's what Rachel was to people, and in learning about her, the player is given the opportunity to even be her. Not to be just the shy bystander, but the front-facing attraction. That's what compels me to Max.

Bind this with the reversal of time, and the ability to manipulate the choices at will? This is where the game is an absolute hook and sinker. It preys on those of us who have Quicksave Syndrome, where the time mechanic is both a blessing and a curse. Max can be kind. Max can be malicious. And both sides are pretty awesome. I'm excited for how wrong Max's decisions will be...and which ones will end up completely under her control to make right.

Life is Strange.