Genre: Graphic Adventure
Year: 2015
Developed by: Dontnod Entertainment
Published by: Square Enix
Platforms: PC
Feeling Like: Apt Description

I don’t have a good handle on where the industry is at when it comes to these types of games. I don’t even know what to call them anymore. Point and Click? Narrative Focused? Walking Simulator? Adventure? I’ve learned from the internet that the en vogue term is “Graphic Adventure” and who am I to disagree with the masses?

I also don’t have a solid foundation on my own opinion of this genre. Evidence should point to my adoration; one of my favorite games ever was a graphic adventure. I appreciate the change of pace, as I no longer have to worry myself about getting lost on a puzzle, or defeating a particularly stubborn boss, or which skills to put my experience towards. It’s an interactive movie, I remind myself. Gameplay isn’t the point. I’m perfectly happy to sit back and see where the story goes and how my interactions can impact the characters I hopefully will empathize with.

For the most part. Some of the high recommendations have fallen a bit flat. Twelve Minutes was an ambitious idea, but I was far too inept to discover how the game wanted me to unravel the mystery. Last Stop had some appealing ideas, but the visuals put me off and I never felt like I had much agency in the story. It’s a fine line to walk.

Life is Strange manages to walk the railway nicely. I was immediately invested in the two main characters, I felt like my dialogue options mattered to building Max’s character, or at least I felt I had some influence on who I wanted her to be. The Oregon backdrop felt cozy and mysterious. And who doesn’t love a school setting? Every design choice felt fresh and although the moment to moment gameplay wasn’t entirely thrilling, the story beats were fantastic. I was genuinely shocked at some of the chapter cliffhangers, forcing me to take a breather before booting up the next chapter. Great stuff.

I’m also a fan of the detail shown; every room is littered with mundane objects. You can guess what you’ll see in a classroom: coffee mugs, art supplies, calendars, signs for upcoming events, to name a few. Why are these types of additions interesting? I suppose on their own, they’re not. But much like how the Last of Us games litter the world with realistic decorations and minutia, Life is Strange reminds you that this is a living, breathing world. While there are fantastical elements, the effort put into constructing a realistic world makes the story feel that much more relatable.

The one drawback to the visual style they chose is that there’s some uncanny valley going on. When your enjoyment largely hinges on big, emotional moments, it’s risky when the human-looking characters have faces and animations that don’t quite sit right. It certainly diminished my experience by a shade, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker. You can see why As Dusk Falls went the route that they did. The choice may have been off-putting to some, but I think I prefer that to the style in Life is Strange.

I don’t have many specific memories of the game, but the fondness remains. The more I dig into the details, the more I find myself longing to return to the series. After murdering hundreds of Norse monsters in God of War: Ragnarok, I feel the need for a more relaxing adventure that plays more like a book in a coffee shop than a workout session while listening to heavy metal.

It’s unsurprising to see the series balloon from one game to six other entries, and a remastered collection recently released. There’s clearly a market for a smaller experience, a game focused on dialogue and characters more than running or jumping. These types of games aren’t for everybody, but until I see empirical evidence otherwise, they’re absolutely for me.

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