Life is Strange - Square Enix, Remember Me, rewinding time


#101

Wait, so an Xbox owner, I get the Director’s Commentary free soon? Though I’m on Episode 3, so I’d probably want to finish the game before dwelling into any commentary.


#102

Hm yeah, may need to play through it again and check out this commentary. Though probably best to wait a bit so I can forget some of the details.


#103

I played through all five episodes in about four days while battling a hard sinus infection. I don’t know if it was the infection or the game, but it was a pretty mind blowing experience for me. I didn’t play another video game for over a week after finishing LiS, and I’m still trawling through the rather large amount of fanfiction the game has generated (don’t judge me). Anyway, since everyone’s talking about endings…

Ending stuff

[spoiler]When I first finished the game I was quite upset about the ending. I let the bay die because, screw that, I’d done everything in the world to save this girl. I moved heaven and earth for her, and no heavy handed force of fate or nature was going to tear her away from me. If I did that, all the pain I suffered to that point would have been pointless. All the things I’d done would have lost their meaning. Yeah, I know. I’m saying “I” a lot in that. This game had me that sucked into the protagonist. I didn’t want to sacrifice Chloe because I felt like it was me giving up and that, somehow, I’d failed. That’s a hell of a thing for a game to pull off.

What actually annoyed me, though, was how they clearly ran out of money and only made that about a quarter of an ending. It doesn’t really do anything except showing you riding off into the sunset because, greedy person that you are, you chose to defy fate or something. Also, all of those people you went through saving in Episode 5? Well, since you never went to the dinner in that timeline (because you changed things after getting that photo), all those people you went out of your way to save also died. Joyce totally blew up, along with Warren, Frank, etc. Alyssa was finally put out of her misery, as was the guy with the stupid haircut that was taking photos in a tornado.

I eventually went back and replayed that choice and went the other way… which had a much more fleshed out ending to it. However, it also doesn’t make sense. There’s no real reason why Chloe has to die, unless you’re buying in to some sort of Fate or God concept as a part of the game. How does a person living instead of dying create a tornado? It doesn’t.

What would have made more sense is a second decision after you go back to the bathroom and for the goal to be that Max doesn’t start screwing with time. The game has some pretty clear rules for how time travel works, including the photo travel, and I’d totally buy that her casually rewinding time was what caused the storm. I mean, you rewind time just to take photos of squirrels several times. If there’s ever been a trivial use of earthshaking powers, that’s it. So, if you go back to the bathroom with no ability to rewind time, anything makes sense. The game should have had a third ending (or possibly a forth) that would have involved speech checks using some of the choices and info you gathered in the previous episodes. Maybe you talk Nathan down. Maybe Max dies, instead. Regardless, the two endings thing was BS. It didn’t sour me on the rest of the game because, damn, but still…[/spoiler]


#104

Regarding your last paragraph of the ending spoiler stuff …

even more spoilers!

It isn’t necessarily Chloe living that creates the storm, it’s Max’s using time powers to keep Chloe alive. That’s why she has to go back to the time she first used her power, to prevent herself from keeping Chloe from getting shot in the bathroom. I kind of think of all the other deaths Chloe suffers (that you subsequently fix) as atttempted “corrections” to the timeline - the whole thing that kicked everything off was preventing Chloe’s death, therefore Chloe must die. That’s just me though, the game doesn’t actually say that.


#105

Another brother! No judging on the fanfiction /looks around guiltily. ;)

The Arc of Recovery

[spoiler]I felt just as you did, more or less, by the ending(s). And you’re right they don’t make sense and that they’re framed for dramatic purposes only and also probably suffered from budget cuts. However after listening to some of the Director’s Commentaries it’s clear that narrative and gameplay came before consistency in the world building. They describe how Max appears back in her classroom the first time she learns to travel backwards despite later learning a ‘rule’ that she remains physically in the same spot when rewinding, because they wanted a tutorial and an experience of going through the same event again with foreknowledge which a lecture during a class was perfect for.

Getting angry at the logic of the ending is like Step 1 on some sort of multi-step post-LiS recovery program. Pogue is right about Max’s use of time travel being the cause of the supernatural events. It’s tricky to navigate why Chloe dies linguistically because when you start using words like “fate” it seems like the game has some ontological philosophy hiding behind the curtains, and I question if that’s true. So I like to phrase it as not saying that Chloe has to die, but that Chloe did die, and her dying is a fact about the past, not a fate about her future, if that makes any sense.

However like a Zen master I think I’ve finally solved the koan and got the goose out of the bottle; saved Max and Chloe, and the town. They’re running into the sunset down the railroad and into a thousand fan fictions together. The secret is actually Kate. And breaking the fourth wall.[/spoiler]


#106

Clearly, this game inspires a lot of text…

The Healing Hasn’t Begun

[spoiler]

The thing is, that’s not internally consistent with the world. William was supposed to die and she saved him without fate trying to re-murder him every five minutes. I felt like Chloe getting hurt in that timeline was more to warn Max that when she changed things, she had no control over anything until her “real” time hit again. In that one, Chloe died, but if she managed to change the past so that she died… well, there’d be no one to fix things. It’s a very important part of the “rules” of her ability (and I cried like a giant baby over that whole scenario), but it kind of indicates that saving someone’s life isn’t going to get fate/God/the timelords after you.

If you apply just a light amount of BS Time-Space Theory to it (emphasis on the BS), the only logical cause for the storm is the fact that Max keeps winding and rewinding time. She’s putting stresses in space-time with her constant back and forth. Like I was bitching earlier… she rewound time to take better pictures of squirrels. Multiple times. They gave you achievements for it.

It was also shown that “real” Max only existed in linear time or the short window of time when she could rewind everything. So, if she was at 10:05 am on Tuesday and went back via a photograph, she wouldn’t be aware of changes until 10:05 am on Tuesday (or later, depending on how long that takes in “real” time). Which actually means that Sacrifice Chloe ending kind of runs like this: “real” Max goes back in time via photograph and lets it happen only to have “native” Max resume control after she’s shot and live the week with no knowledge of anything outside of her timeline, which lasts until sometime Friday evening when “real” Max reappears. There’s no storm, because that whole week “native” Max had no idea that she could control time. It’s not because she let Chloe die so much as that she didn’t bend space-time into a pretzel repeatedly.

In my head-canon, she figures that out later and then has to struggle with the danger of going back and saving Chloe in the photo with no rewind and the subsequent risk that other disasters come to pass while “native” Max is in control and facing all that crazy stuff without power of time-space. She goes back and saves Chloe but doesn’t also manage to get Nathan to turn in Jefferson? Max dies. She goes back and saves Chloe by jumping in front of the bullet? Max dies. She goes back without having made certain choices that let her learn critical information? Max dies.

I guess it comes down to whether you’re okay with there being some sort of intelligence directing things to ensure that it’s Chloe of the town. Personally, I’m not.

I think that’s the ultimate tragedy of this. The narrative of the game is amazing, and the gameplay is good enough to support it (though some of the blocks on when and how far you can go back are clearly arbitrary allowances clearly have to be made). If they’d had just a little more budget and a little more time, they could have gotten the world building and consistency right, with more endings that made more of your choices matter, and it’d have been perfect. The game was definitely one of the best of 2015, but I just don’t feel like it reached the full potential it could have.

I was on the store page for the game earlier today and even now, they still promise "Multiple endings depending on the choices you make. " which is only technically true if “multiple” means two and “depending on the choices you make” means “you can literally choose between the two endings”. I suppose the variation of hug/kiss in the Sacrifice Chloe ending might count as something, but… no.[/spoiler]


#107

World Logic

I don’t think there’s any question that Max’s use of her time powers is meant to be dangerous and stressful and destabilizing. She gets hurt if you try and push it too much and things get progressively weirder as she changes more and more stuff until things straight up break at the very end there. But she sees the storm in a dream before she ever gets her powers, so it’s not clear to me that the storm is necessarily the result of anything Max did, including saving Chloe.


#108

not sure how this works yet


#109

keeping it brief

[spoiler]you have to choose the save the bay end because:

  1. larry david at the funeral (lololol)
  2. the butterfly at the end … omg, couldn’t keep it together any longer after that
    [/spoiler]

#110

Errant Signal had a good episode that sort of talked about the ending issues (along with the rest of the series) – spoilers, obviously: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ_tCpNobac


#111

Thanks for the link Black Isis! Here’s my thoughts.

Rejoinder

[spoiler] I don’t have any specific disagreements with him, all of his points are basically valid, but his need for a more literal exposition is probably counter to the intent of the narrative. More than that though, I think the real fault line in the game lies between the amazing characters and a plot who’s overarching moral isn’t clear to the player by the end, and players desires to find these characters a satisfying conclusion, when it appears that DONTNOD is simply using the characters (and the very serious issues they encounter) to further the themes of the game. There is at the end potentially significant friction between this theme of denying agency and using the power selfishly to the characters around Max and the developers not particularly caring about the circumstances during which the player is using those powers. So for example it’s hard to take the developer seriously when during the nightmare sequence the game seems to genuinely be asking whether saving Kate was the right decision, when we know that Kate is the victim of sexual assault and bullying which pushes her to attempt suicide. Are players seriously supposed to wonder if saving Kate was wrong? Because the games narrative takes precedence over consistency it’s probably fruitless to try for example to understand the relationship between the storm and Max and Chloe.

Reviewers are going to see the Sacrifice Chloe ending as the ‘true ending’; and there is a lot of reason to believe this. I wrote above more or less the same. But the thing is that there really are two endings, and to a certain extent they exist simultaneously. LiS is not a movie or TV show despite following those conventions, and while it is true that Sacrificing Chloe would absolutely be the ending were this a film it’s still up to the player to decide what the journey was really about. I imagine there are thousands of players who got to the end, where it asks [I]“You fucked up time and space for your precious punk Chloe. You really think she’s worth all that?”[/I], and going “YES!” and sending the town to its doom without a second thought. And that’s great (imo)! It’s not just a rejection of the apparently dreary existential plot but a validating twist that a “fucked up” girl who has had a shitty life has someone in her corner willing to fight for her. Of course… you can also argue that rejecting her desire to sacrifice herself for the town is a bit of a “Princess in the Castle” wish fulfillment. Just because Max went though hell and back again to save her doesn’t mean Chloe should be obligated to go along with what Max wants.

On the other hand I disagree that the games environmental storytelling is somehow inferior. The concise dialogue feels more realistic despite perhaps being linguistically anachronistic, and is certain superior imo to the heavy-handed expositions typical of Bioware games. DONTNOD is able with a few lines of dialogue to create far more memorable characters than the majority of video games today. And even something as simple as understanding Chloe’s perspective requires the player to empathize with her past experiences. I also don’t think Max is that much of a cipher although I do find it ironic that she seems maybe not really androgynous but eschewing outward signs of femininity (including her name) when the developers apparently fought so hard to maintain a female protagonist. OTOH, i think we live in a different time than when i grew up, and Max’s ‘non-feminizing’ style isn’t at all unrelatable to girls today; and she certainly never comes off as a boy (imo). Taking selfies with a Polaroid does seem culturally unique in media - it’s an interesting twist that i haven’t seen elsewhere, and gives her something to hang her personality on.[/spoiler]


#112

No problem! If you’ve never watched any of his other videos, they’re all pretty good – I got pointed to him because he also is one of the folks on Spoiler Warning (which is…much less serious). I really liked his point about how the ending choice seemed like it was mostly there for the sake of being there, since one path was clearly less developed and undercut a lot of the earlier themes.


#113

stuff

That’s true - the point of the game is building up to that choice. Did we “learn the lesson” of the game and choose not to do what we selfishly want? At that moment the only person who wants to save Chloe is Max. OTOH, if the theme of the game includes seriously questioning whether rescuing a suicidal victim of sexual assault is the ‘right’ thing to do, maybe we we should rescue all the characters from the game and its metaphysical drama and questionable morals? Fans who save Chloe see her as being forced into the logic of sacrificing herself even though she doesn’t want to do it - the virgin sacrifice has to want to be sacrificed in order for it to work. Which if you’re already unhappy with the game’s treatment of certain issues may seem like a deal breaker.


#114

Kate

I feel like I missed something. I don’t remember the game ever suggesting that saving Kate was the wrong move.


#115

This is what i was referencing.

link

[spoiler]Kate’s scene in Nightmare
Only need to watch for about 30 seconds.

At first the whole sequence is so weird it sort of flies past you, and because the scene just before with Jefferson is so obviously a nightmare, i think players tend to blow past this. But in retrospect it’s clear the diner sequence is supposed to be something like the game’s “true” morality speaking. So it’s actually not clear in retrospect if this scene is supposed to be some inverse nightmare or is actually conveying a real dilemma. But as I’ve asserted above, i’m afraid the devs might actually be going for this being a real moral conflict.[/spoiler]


#117

So I finished this on… Thursday evening and have been chewing it over since then and wanted to spill my thoughts here.

Wall of text and spoilers inbound:

[spoiler]
For the most part I thought Life is Strange was brilliant. I love the look of it, the soundtrack and sound design, the writing and acting were great, the story was super intriguing and a lot of the decisions were really tough to make. I thought the rewind feature was great for feeling out any immediate consequences but obviously not so good at seeing the longer term effect of a given choice. Despite the rewind being snappy there were sections where it took quite a while to explore a few different dialogue threads (I doubt I’ll ever play it again so I was keen to hear what people had to say on various subjects). There were also a few instances where I rewound too many times and overwrote one of my actions with inaction but it didn’t seem like they amounted to much (like scribbling graffiti on the Price’s mantelpiece).

Where I think the game falls down however, is how laboured or overwrought it felt at times. Sometimes the dialogue went on and on, repetitiously so, like when you see Kate in hospital or when you see Warren in the Two Whales diner (that conversation could have been so much sharper). The alarm bells started ringing at the end of episode 3 when Chloe was clearly not going to be okay. She wasn’t just not okay, she was paralysed from the neck down and slowly dying. And Max had to choose whether to mercy kill her or not. That was really grim, but if you thought that was a contrived emotional moment then get ready for the finale!

When Max roles up to the Everyday Heroes exhibition, it’s all sunshine and happiness at that moment. My first thought was ‘Yeah, this ain’t going to last’. And sure enough she ends up back in the Dark Room after tearing her selfie up. Eventually she gets back down to the diner, gets back to Chloe before the Vortex Club party and spills her heart out, then ends up back at the beach in front of the tornado where the game just loses the plot. We have a bunch of crazy sequences and a tedious stealth section topped off with a recap of the main story beats between Max and Chloe in the form of still ‘moments’. I played Life is Strange in one go so this section felt all too familiar to me but I guess if you’d played the episodes as they were released this might have been a welcome reminder of their moments together before the expected humdinger of a choice.

Chloe or Arcadia Bay. Didn’t see [I]that[/I] coming… I sat there for a while and thought about how fate had killed Chloe numerous times and how hard Max had tried to stop that from happening. (I couldn’t help but think it was the [I]writers[/I] that were hell bent on killing Chloe, not fate or the universe or God or whatever.) Then I thought about saving Kate, helping Alyssa, Warren, Joyce and David and various others, and how killing them all for Chloe’s life would effect Max and Chloe in the long term. I remembered Chloe’s plea to kill her for the sake of herself and others and of course she was now asking Max to let her die. I sacrificed her and ‘reset’ the timeline. I wanted to save Chloe but… yeah. Just your everyday hero.

So I’m guessing that saving Chloe is the butterfly effect that fucks with the cosmos because Max could have hit the fire alarm but didn’t, and yet, perversely, doing all the other things that you rewound your way through are fine and dandy. That irked me. But what really irked me was the ending being a funeral sequence with a powerful (and brilliant and perfect) piece of music over the top. I could almost see the director, Ed Harris-style from The Truman Show, laying on the heavy for maximum emotional effect. I dunno. It just felt too heavy handed and… manipulative, I suppose, like the final choice, like the end of episode 3, like the end sequence. They even threw in an unexpected kiss to up the loss even more. It’s like the cart came before the horse or something, like the emotional ‘intent’ informed or guided the direction of the story, “We want to make people cry, how can we do that?”

I know all media manipulates the viewer, and I think Life is Strange earned that sort of ending because the game has real heart, but I think it was just too much, and weirdly, not enough. I’d love to have seen what happened to everyone else, I mean, they were the ones you saved. We got a nice Donnie Darko-esque montage of all the characters at the end of episode 1 (that gave me major feels) but the finale couldn’t muster up a similar denouement for everyone you just sacrificed Chloe for? Really? I feel like they ran out of time or money or something.

For contrast: I much preferred the subtlety of Gone Home which has a few similarities with Life is Strange. It felt more organic.

On Steam it seems most of the negative reviews about the game are because your choices are made ‘irrelevant’ but… they’re missing the point: spending time with Chloe that you otherwise wouldn’t have had was the point. The journey was the point.

A few other things:
Some of the voice acting is jarringly off, like a few of the folk in the Everyday Heroes exhibition and every time Samuel opened his mouth. Being able to focus on photos somewhat undermined the severity of certain situations and moments (like the end of episode 3 and even when in Jefferson’s chair). It was pretty amazing that she could do that but a lot of weight was taken out of decisions when I knew that they would probably be overwritten in various ways. I mean, trying to save Kate and choosing who to ‘blame’ was super tough because at that point I thought my choice was permanent. I can see The Walking Dead tearing me up because… no rewind. Also, Final Fantasy: Spirits Within is one of the best sci-fi films ever made, ha!

Just to round this off though: I really enjoyed Life is Strange but have my issues with the ending and how it was handled.[/spoiler]


#118

One thing that really bothered me was the unskippable previews at the end of each episode. I’m going to play the next episode right away, so I would appreciate the ability to skip these scenes. Telltale games have these previews too but I don’t remember if they allow you to skip them.


#119

That’s a good point actually. I kept forgetting about them until the end of episode 4 where I muted the sound and looked away from the screen. The previews spoiled a couple of scenes for me ‘Oh so they’re going to end up here somehow’.


#120

I could have sworn I skipped the one at the end of Ep 4 on PC. Could be wrong, though.


#121

Do you ship Max and Kate? Do you think the idea of Max dating Warren wasn’t just ridiculous but [I]out of character?[/I] Have you been pining away for the opportunity to date Rachel? Well, your wish has been granted!

In what can only be the most purest manifestation of what the hardcore Tumblr fans saw in LiS and why they were so disappointed in the ending, the fan made dating game Love is Strange was recently released to the public. With a custom soundtrack and 150,000? words of fandom to chew through, you can finally give Arcadia Bay the No-Warren happy ending you thought it deserved.

IE. You play as Max. You only date girls. Chloe lives. LiS dating sim made by fans on Tumblr.