Wow. I have not put that much thought into it. For me a story is often just a story.
I agree with you that the game is emotionally manipulative. I did not get much of that in the first two episodes but the third one where you go back and Chloe is in a wheelchair was a bit excessive. That whole sequence is obviously manipulative and the story almost lost me. It works in the end because the player gets to see the bond you shared with Chloe when you were younger.
I am not sure I subscribe to some of your theories about Max being selfish or the game condemning her. Nor am I sure the message is that passivity works. In almost every instance Max has to take direct action to make things better. If you hide in the closet your friend gets slapped. If you take a picture of the confrontation instead of speaking up, the girl jumps off the roof. Thus Max’s choice to do nothing to save Chloe seems to me to be the indication that is the wrong choice. While Chloe lives I wonder what happens to Max’s mental state after letting the town die.
Though you could very well be right since I struggled with the last episode. To be entirely candid I did not understand much of it. The diner scene, the stealth scene in the dark and other scenes I simply do not understand what was going on. Maybe you can better explain those sequences.
As for the final choice the game struck a nerve due to a death a few years ago where that person and I had not done a good job of keeping in touch. I did not get the chance in the real world to rewind time to save my best friend. Thus when presented that chance in the game there was no way I could not do so. :( [/spoiler]
Personally I thought the final choice was pretty clear cut.
If you save the town, you’ve just negated the entire narrative up to that point and virtually nothing you’ve done meant anything. Sure, Max might retain enough memory to address one or two other ills, but none of it ever happened. Saving Chloe might be “selfish”, but it’s also the only approach that preserves the integrity of the story and the consequences of your decisions. I also didn’t think it made any sense to conclude that the entire town would be wiped out by a storm, apocalyptic-looking or not, although you are certainly committing to some people having died in that ending that could have lived if you pressed rewind.
Even after Chloe’s death Max has the opportunity to fix most everything and can do so easily. By letting Chloe die Max sees Prescott and Jefferson both jailed and solve the mystery of the death of Rachel. She can easily help Kate with a hug and a kind word. She knows that there is proof that Kate was drugged. She knows about the sick Mom of one of the school girls, she knows how to get through to Frank, she knows David loves Chloe’s Mom and so on. I assume that Max goes ahead and does these things even after Chloe dies if she makes that choice. The problem is while she can fix all of these things she cannot do these and save her friend.
It’s always amusing watching foreign media creators conceive of what Americana looks like from their own culture. It always tends to be 10-20 years behind the times. They tried hard to establish Max as this blushing, wallflower, smart art-geek type, and sometimes it rubs off a bit if you stare.
[spoiler]Both interpretations are correct imo. They clearly wanted to the sacrifice of Chloe to be the point of the game (after all, it’s a game about loss and death) but also wanted the player the option of saving Chloe. They weren’t going to let the player save Chloe and save the town; this is clear almost from the beginning. In one way resetting the game lets you ‘correct’ mistakes you made. If Kate, Frank or Victoria died in your playthrough, they get a chance to live again by sacrificing Chloe. If OTOH you’re happy with your decisions and are willing to move forward in time, you have that option as well.
Lots of players think the animals in the ruined town they drive through in the Sacrifice Arcadia Bay ending represent nature taking back the town, and that it also shows the disaster to not be absolutely fatal to everything around it. But it’s possible these are “spirit animals” off all the dead residents, since the game has established spirit animals do exist in its world. [/spoiler]
That’s not the point, though. Sure, she could potentially fix her mistakes (although there’s no guarantee whatever she tried would work - see when she tries saving Chloe’s dad - and presumably she would no longer have her power for a reset), but the story of the game, the one where you made decisions and they had consequences, is erased. To me, that would be a tremendously unsatisfying ending, and although it seems pretty clearly the way the developers intended things to go, I am very glad they let me choose otherwise. (I did enjoy it when the Witchblade television series reset after the first season and did season two with the protagonist in full knowledge of what had happened before, thus veering off the ultimately catastrophic path of that first go-round, but if they hadn’t -had- season two, it would have been complete bullshit.)
Of course, in general I didn’t rewind to check the consequences of the big decision points, I just went with my gut unless there was some immediate horribly unintended followup. (E.g. the confrontation with Frank.) Often they had some unfortunate result down the line that you couldn’t necessarily predict at the time anyway. I saved rewinding for puzzles and such primarily.
[spoiler]The game basically followed a sort of pseudo-TV narrative arc, setting up the problems Max will face. Episode 1 introduces the main themes - time travel, Chloe, Rachel Amber, supernatural omens, Prescotts and Blackwell. Episode 2 further explores the high school/college drama, shows how Max can use time travel to save a girl, but also shows some of the limitations of that time travel. Episode 3 ends with Max’s attempt to do something dramatic and life changing with her powers, but as the “hump” episode it ends on a melodramatic cliffhanger that shows unintended consequences of the butterfly effect the game has been warning about, and the series takes a darker turn. Episode 4 is solving the mystery of Rachel Amber and showing Max’s power starting to spin out of control. Instead of fixing everything at the end, Chloe ends up dead and Max kidnapped and about to be murdered.
So Episode 5 has a lot of ground to cover. Because it seems like these sorts of French existential works like to telegraph their themes with parallel plot lines, Episode 5 is clearly themed about powers being used for evil instead of good. Max is a photographer who loves people and the world but she’s kidnapped and nearly killed by a photographer who abuses the power of photography to make violating, immoral, and wicked images. Likewise we start to see the true limits of Max’s powers as she’s stretched harder and harder to save Chloe. The moment Max has to decided to save Chloe yet again at the cost of her own success and long-held dreams - artistic recognition at the art gallery - is the moment she uses the very award-winning photograph that she’s worked the whole game to rewind, tying the themes together since on some level this photograph represents a kind of selfishness and use of her power for personal gain. It’s also the moment when the attentive player should now know if there were still lingering doubts that things aren’t going to end well for our protagonists. When she goes back to the dark room for the final time she finds all her photographs destroyed and no means of escape, and she’s saved only by fortuitous intervention by David and a hell of a lot of rewinding. Her final quest to save Chloe “for the last time” takes her into the path of the storm itself to find the last photograph that she can use to save Chloe and also face what the storm is doing to the town. After all this, she finally rewinds and manages to keep Chloe alive but awakens on the beach just as the storm is about to destroy the town. And it’s that moment that the nightmare happens.
Most players think, and I do as well, that at least superficially the nightmare is Max having a mental breakdown at all the events she’s just experienced, all the time travel she’s done, and her weighing the consequences of the One True Decision she’s about to be forced to make. In the school she’s having a breakdown from all the experiences. In the dorm she’s starting to question whether she was actually doing the right thing the whole game. The diner represents Max foreshadowing the cost of sacrificing Arcadia Bay if she chooses to do this by forcing her to confront what that choice actually means on a personal level (look at all the people outside the diner as well). It also, confusingly, seems to accuse her of selfishness, stupidity, and naivety and so undermines itself to some extent (which could partly be explained by some of the cut dialog). Then the “Pricefield” museum (Max Cau[B]field[/B] and Chloe [B]Price[/B]) is a last trip through memory lane of her experiences with Chloe before finally letting Chloe go / accepting that saving Chloe is her destiny. The stealth section, everyone seems to agree, doesn’t make much sense; i’ve actually read some claim that it represents Max’s latent queerness, since the only people she’s afraid of are men. That’s a stretch, but it does evoke a “fight or flight” response finally bursting out into this manifestation of nightmarish feeling of being constantly chased, judged and hated.
So the nightmare is about reliving and doubting the decisions Max has made throughout the game; but also, facing the fact that all the decisions she’s made are impermanent and perishable. Every choice she’s made she’s had/still has the opportunity to rewind and change that decision. To a certain extent none of the decisions she’s made so far have ever had much meaning because they can always be changed. Now Max is confronted with the brutal reality of her power; since Chloe and the Storm are linked (we can argue the logic of that, but just let that one go now since that’s what the game insists) all the decisions she’s made simply don’t matter anymore. Sacrifice Chloe, and all the decisions made in the game disappear, since Max rewinds to the start. But SAVE Chloe… and all the decisions made in the game disappear since everyone you helped and influenced in the game, apart from Chloe, are dead. Sacrifice Chloe and sacrifice the girl that Chloe could have been but never was; save Chloe and sacrifice all the future lives the people of the town could have had but never will.
Yea, letting someone go with whose death you’re unreconciled is the hardest thing. The game, if you read between the lines, is surprisingly unsympathetic about this. I guess that’s one reason it is emotionally affecting. It doesn’t seem fair to blame the girls for not doing the right thing when they are only 15-16 years old, but the reason Chloe is shot and killed in front of her childhood friend is in part because her childhood friend didn’t support Chloe when she most needed it (for whatever reasons). It’s part of the game’s fearless narrative that it takes this principled but hard to bear lesson.[/spoiler]
I finished Episode 1 last night after a marathon session. What a strange note to end on. In all the episode took me 3 h 16 min, but I’m tempted to start over since I missed a lot of optional photos. I think I only managed to find 3 out of 8 or 9. Looking at the achievement photo, you can actually see the photo you need, so I think I know where to find most of them now. Or perhaps I should just press on and not care about the photos and missing a bunch of optional stuff.
Played the first episode today myself, and I am intrigued. I liked the slice of life feel with hints of something dark underneath - that and the PNW setting were so very Twin Peaks. Also got a Gone Home feel, slightly, just with the added touch of the supernatural. Anyway, I’m in.
I had to play most of Episode 1 before I was hooked. There was one particular scene…
The shock of Choe’s stepdad slapping her while I had Max remain in hiding in the closet made me actually question my value as a friend in real life, just a little bit, even though these scenarios of teenage transgressions are far in the past. After that I was eager to see where the rest of the series went.