Tag Archives: Life Is Strange: Before the Storm

This Is How to Sequel!

Another shitty day at school…

Minor disappointments in gaming are easily forgotten simply by shoving something entirely different into the disc bay. This weekend has once again been all about top-notch entertainment as I found time to let Life Is Strange: Before the Storm tickle my emotional strings. A few years ago, developer Dontnod introduced us to its five-episode graphic adventure Life Is Strange, which more or less shot itself straight to the top of the genre as far as I’m concerned. While I was kind of looking forward to Before the Storm, I also had plenty of reservations about it. An entirely new dev team, just three episodes, and focus no longer on the absolutely adorable Max Caulfield but instead her rebellious and slightly unpredictable BFF, Chloe Price, and don’t even get me started on the first adventure ending in a way that doesn’t really warrant a follow-up of any kind.

Still, Deck Nine was given the reins and managed to turn impossible into reality. Before the Storm predates the original, heart-rending adventure of Max and Chloe by rewinding back to the time when Max and her family had already moved out of the little town of Arcadia Bay, leaving the now 16-year-old Chloe still trying to come to terms with the car accident that claimed the life of his father. School sucks, friends are irrelevant, and mom’s new boyfriend is about the most repulsive douchebag on earth. All this changes when the school’s prettiest and most popular girl, Rachel Amber, suddenly shows interest in Chloe, and during the three days that follow, the two of them get marinated in such potent and genuinely believable teen drama that it occasionally manages to triumph over even the game’s outstanding precursor!

If Chloe Price might once have felt a bit too reckless and rowdy for her own good, Deck Nine does a stellar job inducing her with not just attitude but cracks as well. The paranormal elements of the first game have been bravely binned, so Before the Storm is “only” about the happenstance friendship (or perhaps even more) of two teenage girls, full of fleeting slices of life that can be as absolutely awesome as they can stink to high heavens. At least from the perspective of my middle-aged, fairly unscathed male self, experiencing life with such an overflowing dose of teen angst is quite striking, especially when it has been told in such a superbly plausible and touching manner.

As usual, the gameplay elements themselves are nothing but dressing for the story. Chloe has to figure out a handful of awfully straightforward puzzles, and frequently choose her point of view from two to three dialogue choices, each slightly altering the way things will go. Whereas Max Caulfield was once all about hunting down photo opportunities, Chloe focuses on spreading her laconic world view by finding suitable targets for her snarky graffiti. That’s about all the interactivity there is, although the real challenge lies in having to pry oneself away from the game’s most lingering moments. Whenever Chloe decides to sit down for awhile, the game digs into its wide repertoire of great ambient indie songs and goes into full-on chill mode, letting each song and each wonderful scenery give the heroines some much-needed solace. Many games are beautiful on the outside but it’s moments like these when Before the Storm truly gets under your skin.

One would probably have to be pretty dead inside if the game’s strongest moments won’t manage you to get at least a little bit misty-eyed. Although the second episode is dramatically a bit weak, both the first and the third fire on all cylinders and with such intensity that it’s enough to cause goosebumps. Should all else fail, the final one-hour bonus episode, Farewell, takes the player even further into the past, making them relive that bittersweet final day when Chloe and Max, still just grade school kids, originally had to say goodbye to each other.

Short put, this is games at their finest. Narrative, harrowingly beautiful, immensely powerful, and as two separate studios have already proven themselves capable of moving the player on an emotional level, here’s hoping Square Enix as a publisher keeps supporting this in the future. I’m not crying, you’re crying!

Slow Simmer

Although the recent Japanese loot is awfully tempting, the exceptionally quiet start of the year finally turned into a veritable flood of slightly more interesting releases. Out of them, the first in line is naturally Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, the long-sought sequel to the PS3 JRPG gem Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch from almost eight years ago. The game follows the young, cat-like Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum who loses the kingdom of his recently departed father, and nearly his life, to a coup led by dastardly mice. Roland Crane, a young man mysteriously sucked into this same fantasy world from a parallel universe helps Evan to escape. Together they decide that if a kingdom is lost then the only option is to form one anew. All potential rulers first need a Kingmaker, though; a massive, magical beast tasked to defend its owner’s country. In Evan’s case, however, such beast turns out to be Lofty; just a yellow, pint-sized runt of a mascot. Even if adversities seem to follow one another, Evan is not dismayed but instead finds a piece of suitable land, sets up the foundations of his new nation, and heads off to the neighboring countries for official recognition.

I’m now about 20 hours in and at least so far, the game has failed to captivate in the same way that its absolutely marvelous precursor managed to. The story plays incredibly safe and straightforward, sending Evan and Roland from one kingdom and its related dungeon to another, making them solve conveniently appearing crises to forge new alliances and be joined by new party members. There’s a bog-standard, deliberately enigmatic bad guy dreaming of world annihilation, a ship to eventually enable traveling across vast seas, and an airship that opens up exploration even further but on whole, everything pivotal is such an overly familiar bowl of clich├ęs that it’s really hard to get genuinely excited about any of it.

Even the unique charm of Level-5 doesn’t seem to be present in full force. The world map and some of the dungeons are once again astonishingly beautiful and in general, the game thoroughly looks like high-quality anime. Still, practically all event scens are not only woefully short but done with just the game engine, carrying no sensation of awe whatsoever. The same goes for the soundtrack. The orchestral music is always there and always “pretty nice” but the only track that has left a lasting impression so far has been the bombastic main theme of the first game and even that has been arranged more poorly. Even the amount of voice acting is remarkably stingy with most of the dialogue being delivered by text accompanied with a few random grunts and other utterances. This really isn’t the valiant Ni no Kuni we have been waiting for eight years but a feebly disguised Tales of game that Bandai Namco has managed to churn out four times in the same period of time.

There’s plenty of good in the side content and even in some of the design decisions, though, so expect a bit more positive rambling in the coming days as I dwell deeper into the adventure.

Almost all the other newcomers of this year fly the flag of PS4. Dead Island: Definitive Collection remasters two of last generation’s most impressive and entertaining zombie games in ages, so I’m definitely trying to find time to experience both of them again. Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 1, Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 2, Marvel Pinball: Epic Collection Vol. 1, and Yesterday Origins were all dirt-cheap bargain bin finds that carry no notable expectations. That’s hardly the case with Life Is Strange: Before the Storm and Final Fantasy XV, the former finally having been given a physical release and the latter having been released as a Royal Edition that contains all the DLC (although it was a massive disappointment to find out it’s just the vanilla game on disc and a download code for a few dozen gigabytes of additional content). As for The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2, that’s a sequel to one of the freshest and most beloved action-JRPGs I played last gen, so having really high hopes for it, too. Lastly, on hardware side, there’s the utterly adorable C64 Mini! It even features Winter Games, more or less the first game I ever played back in 1985 when my parents pampered me with a computer. Been a gamer ever since and wouldn’t trade away a single day!

E-Threesome

Either I need a vacation or I’m just getting old (or most likely a bit of both) but this year’s E3 galloped past without leaving much of an impression. For the first time in years, I skipped the live press conferences of the Big Three and didn’t even bother to watch them afterwards. Even if that was a subconscious decision, the overall feedback seems to support it; the traditional big companies showed off their traditional big stuff, and their showpieces seemed vaguely nice but not really anything more than that.

Still, digging around the outskirts of the big budget AAA swamp wasn’t a complete waste of time, given that E3 was still courteous enough to provide something for us pathetic hipster farts, too. First, there was Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom which finally got a solid release November release date. I’m not particularly thrilled that the children of the first game got replaced with teen protagonists but since Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, back in its day, was one pretty damn solid JRPG, I’m pre-ordering its sequel the very second it becomes available. The dub in the trailer isn’t particularly impressive but here’s hoping the original audio will be included.

The second place of this year’s E3 goes to Life Is Strange: Before the Storm. The first Life Is Strange readily challenged (the sometimes equally impressive) Telltale for the crown of emotion- and story-driven adventures, and if there’s more to be experienced then I’m first in the line. Sure, it’s still an episodic adventure split into three parts, so I’ll wait until they’re all out and dressed into a physical form but I’m very much in the line nonetheless. Before the Storm kicks off at the end of August this year, so with a bit of luck it’s going to be one awfully wonderful journey by early 2018.

For now, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim doesn’t even have a western release date (not even a Japanese one for that matter) but since its trailer has been localized, we’ll probably get to enjoy this Vanillaware latest eventually. Seems like yet another harrowingly beautiful 2D action-adventure but as it’s a recipe that has worked before, I have no qualms supporting it further.