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Major, incredibly spoilery spoilers for the end of Life is Strange

Butch:

Ok, played! Did the gallery, tore up my picture, dealt with David/Jefferson, now I’m trying to find Warren at the diner.

I will say that the most terrifying part of this game was being back in that chair knowing he was going to talk more. And the moment of pure joy was when he said “Well….that’s the last lecture you’ll hear from me…..” I’m sure that was supposed to be ominous, but I cheered inside. (As a side note, when Max was telling David “Lectures are part of his motivation, his psychosis….” I felt her pain.)

The gallery bit was very well done (save for the eye rollingly self aware moment when she thinks “Life is…..” and you’re thinking, really? We get the title now? and she finishes “…..weird.” Dudes.). I especially liked her trying to go back in time with her picture, only to have people keep interrupting her.

But the end of that sequence exposed a major, MAJOR problem with video games with this much player choice. EVERY game with this much player choice.

See, when Max goes back in time to the point where she takes her winning picture, she’s facing the biggest choice of her life. She can either take the life she’s always dreamed of (which we know, as she spent the entire gallery scene telling us this) at the expense of Chloe’s life, or she could give it all up for her friend. Dude, that’s a CHOICE. But if she DOESN’T go back for Chloe, then the whole ending of the story like….doesn’t happen. Eventually games have to say “players, dudes, this is just gonna happen,” and, if that’s going to lead to the climax (if not the specific ending) they want, that thing that’s just gonna happen has to be a big choice, near the end. So you can have a game that’s all about player choice, but baked into the whole story telling mechanism is something that undermines that. Has to. I mean, I GUESS you could have pulled a “We happy few” and just had it be possible to end in San Francisco, but that would’ve felt odd, too. For all these story lines to resolve with something more than blurry pictures and texts, they had to take the controller out of our hands at the most crucial choice in the game.

So while I get WHY they did that, it was frustrating.

So I didn’t tell David. And I immediately regretted it. I told him at first, but I couldn’t leave him there, a murderer himself, crying. And I’m going to regret it, aren’t I? I am.

And I thought the voice mail from Nathan apologizing was REALLY good.

Which was a cool way to play with tropes, which this game didn’t always do. I mean, I HATED those guys, and now I’m trying to protect their feelings, and really feeling bad for Nathan. Well done.

Ok, this is a long one, but I just read our amazingly titled post about Kate and you should too, right now…go ahead…I’ll wait….. done? Ok.

So we were talking about Max being an awkward teenager. Looking that that first picture of her looking at other pictures. In that post.

Well, now we see Jefferson talking about the moment that innocence turns to knowledge. Growing up, etc. And we have Max tearing up that picture.

We buying the metaphor here? I’m not sure I’m buying it. I mean, I see what they’re doing there, but…what’s their point? Adulthood is about making hard choices? That we have to give up our superpowers to really grow? I mean, the first one…duh. The second one, what? I’m not sure what they really want me to take away from this metaphor other than “Teenager saw some heavy shit and is now less innocent,” which, well, duh.

Ok, that’s a good hefty start on a Wednesday.

Feminina:

It’s true (as we’ve sometimes discussed before) that there’s a line choice-based games have to walk between letting you make decisions that shape the story, and NOT letting you make decisions that don’t go where the predetermined story goes. And not letting you choose whether or not you want to go back and save the town from the storm, or stick with your life as a recognized young artist and local hero (it’s not as if anyone would blame you for the storm–only you know or would even believe that you could have prevented it), did feel a bit heavy-handed.

“Wait a minute, what if I decide this is the time I DON’T want to save everyone?”

Especially because…well, never mind, we’ll talk later, but basically, why do I have to automatically go back NOW? (Because story…but as you say, this is very important outside the story itself, but within it that’s not a good reason.)

I didn’t tell David, and I didn’t feel guilty about it at all. After all, I had every intention of changing reality so that Chloe didn’t die anyway, so why burden him with the knowledge that at one point she had?

And yes, Nathan’s message made me feel a little more bad for him. It’s not all his fault he was terrible.

As for her tearing up the picture of innocence turning to knowledge…mm. I felt kind of that she was rejecting the moment of knowledge, refusing to ‘grow up’ if it meant making that choice. So it’s kind of about whether or not you want to accept the grown-up’s version of adulthood (more shades of Catcher), or hang onto these aspects of your childhood.

Butch:

Nope, ‘because story’ reasons that don’t make internal sense don’t count. And it’s one thing to have a story go somewhere that either is a “choice” that the character would SO do anyway (Like, it’s ok that you’re not given the choice for Geralt to say “Hey, this wild hunt isn’t so bad, I’m gonna leave them alone”) or if it’s something that’s going to have emotional impact, but is not going to change that the story is SO going there (whoever leads Skellege, we’re fighting the wild hunt). But to have a choice like this, where there damn well could be reasons for Max to stay and to NOT have that choice, that’s not so cool. It would be ridiculous for Geralt not to fight the hunt, but Max staying? I’m not sure that’s ridiculous. Jefferson is in jail, Max is living her dream….it’s a tough choice, but still. It would still make some narrative sense, so not letting the player go there is annoying.

And you’re right: she’d still be a hero. Not only would they NOT blame her for the storm, but they don’t KNOW she has powers. No one would say “Hey, you know? Max could have fucked with time here and saved us all….” So it’s not like she would raise the ire of anyone.

I also don’t buy that she’d care much about saving Arcadia Bay. Chloe? Sure. The town? No way.

And yes, I’m sure there’s more shit that’s going to affect my thinking on this. And twists. Because game.

I must be getting pretty damn close to done though, yes?

True, why burden David, I suppose. But still. He was so sad there. I suppose my possible regret is not telling David means Jefferson is alive. Tied up, sure, but alive. He shoots him dead if you tell him Chloe’s dead. Not that I WANT Jefferson dead; he’d be fine in prison. But I’ve played enough video games to know that if you have the chance to kill the big baddie, kill the big baddie. And I didn’t. Hmm.

And Nathan was scared. Rare that you see the baddie actually scared at the end. I thought that was effective in DAI when Corypheous was desperately praying as you come up to kill him. Shows a side you never really see. Also, baddies never say they’re sorry. That’s a neat wrinkle.

I can see that take on it… “My crazy, psycho murdering teacher thought he knew what adulthood was, but screw that.” Yeah, a rather messed up version of catcher, but makes sense.

Feminina:

It’s true, the bad guys usually stay defiant to the end, chortling wickedly and making threats and generally saying “I regret nothing, I’d do it all again, and if you let me escape I totally will!!!!”

Just like how randits, no matter how stupid it is to attack you in the first place and how badly things are going for them, never stop fighting and try to run off.

It COMPLICATES things when the villain is sad or scared or sorry or begging for mercy. Makes you maybe feel not totally great about murdering them (unless they’re Junior), and we can’t have that.

Mr. Jefferson was closer to the “defiant to the end” model, but even so I didn’t feel he had to be dead. I trusted David to guard him, and wanted him to face justice and all that (and, I hope, realize that he was a huge loser, which is probably the worst punishment he could imagine). And, perhaps more to the point, I hated to see David so miserable (again, complicated baddish guy making you not want him to feel bad).

You are quite close to the end, but there’s some…let’s just say weird stuff, that comes first.

Butch:

GAAAAAAAAAAAA I played when Baby McP was at school, and I did the scene where you are talking to Chloe all happy by the tornado and now I’m back in class, and Jefferson lectured and I’m all “Is this hell?” (gotta agree) and I HAD TO STOP TO GET the baby!

I’m two minutes from the end, aren’t I? I’ve done it again, haven’t I?

But Yup. Defiant to the end. Or even “While I know my deeds sealed my terrible fate, no regrets! It was a blast!”

Also, “They incinerated all 27 of my companions! But I have this trusty wooden bow….I’m cool.”

Geralt’s line you told me about “why do they keep attacking?” is priceless.*

And Hey, I didn’t kill Nathan, so it’s cool.

*Refers to a line from Blood and Wine where Geralt wonders why bandits take their life in their hands attacking an armed witcher. We’ve all wondered the same thing, Geralt. Perhaps we shall never know the answer.]

Feminina:

No, not two minutes, you’re…I mean, unless you’ve gone through this surreal…thing…you’re not minutes from the end.

Do the surreal thing. It’s weird.

Butch [later]:

Uh….yeah. That wasn’t two minutes at all. Was it? No it was not. And surreal. Yes. Surreal.

So done. I saved Chloe. So did you, and my heart kinda sank when I saw that cuz I was gonna ask what happened if we didn’t.

I’m…well….

I have a feeling the more I ponder this ending the more annoyed I’m gonna be. Trapping them all there was a bit contrived. They could just leave? They just sat there? And the END end, with Chloe just kinda putting her hand on your shoulder….her mom just died. So did her step father. What? She was pretty cool with all that, all things considered. Yeah, I felt the choice, but, interestingly, for Warren, not for anyone else, because it was more “You care because I TELL you so” more than anything.

So, for me, it was a no brainer, which takes the punch out of having to choose.

Indeed, my thoughts for saving Arcadia Bay were just as selfish as saving Chloe. In my head, I thought “I did ALL this work saving people, making people happy, and now I’m just gonna chuck MY WORK.” Not “these poor people.” Now, maybe that’s me. Maybe that’s something inherent to games: you’re the one PLAYING, working to get the outcome, so of COURSE you’re gonna care about your work. But I think it was also a failure of the game to connect us to any characters except Max and Chloe. Save the people I’m told to care about instead of the person I DO care about? No.

I think, and I’ve been wondering this the whole game, they were hurt by their slavishness to Catcher, in that Max being an outsider hurt the end. She’s NEW. She has NO FRIENDS save Warren. Indeed, these people who she’s supposed to care about saving treat her like shit most of the game. Sure, they redeem themselves….some…at the end, but by forcing you NOT to care about them for three and a half episodes, you’re not gonna change.

That said…..53% of players SAVED Arcadia Bay. We’re in the minority. Weird. What’s that say about us?

As for the surreal……..

Anticipated, and annoying. Especially the stealth bits. Talk about a robot vampire. That. Took. Forever. Controller throwing rage. NO, game, NO NO NO. BAD place to put that. And it added nothing. It was weird to be weird. Which games/shows/whatever with weird seem to think they need.

Remember me talking on Lost? They did the same thing. They said “Damn. So very many characters and loose ends. Let’s be WEIRD for a while, then try to tie up every character quickly and…scene.” And I was worried that was gonna happen here. And I called it, without having to rewind time.

Glad I played it. Good game, but flawed, in all the same ways games that are mostly normal but with some weird always are.

Feminina:

What about Kate, man? You saved Kate’s life, and yet you’re not close enough to her to feel bad when she dies?

As I keep saying: everyone is expendable. It’s all about saving Chloe.

Again, possibly because I waited a lot of time in between episodes, and so I was accustomed to the rationalization of “I care about these people because Max cares, not because I feel a personal connection,” I did actually feel bad about letting the town be destroyed.

I mean, I liked Joyce, I kind of even liked David by the end, Warren was a pal, the other kids weren’t my best friends but they didn’t deserve to DIE…I mentioned at the time that what kind of put me over the edge was everyone TALKING at me about how I needed to save them.

It was this sort of rebellion for me, not making the “good” choice–because the heroic choice is to sacrifice one for the sake of many, right? Chloe herself makes the heroic choice, she’s ready to die so that everyone else can live, and you know that’s what you SHOULD do, but I felt that I was tired of all this pressure from everyone TELLING me I should do it, all the visions of people in the diner saying “you’re the only one who can save us” or whatever.

I’m not going to do the right thing! Screw that! I’m doing the selfish thing for once! (I reject the grown-up version of adulthood and all its rational cost-benefit analyses, damn it!)

It wasn’t really a no-brainer, though…I definitely felt torn about it, especially since even Chloe thought I should save the town. Although as you say, she didn’t seem very upset about it when you didn’t. (I kind of imagined they were both sort of in shock at that point, and that emotional reactions and possibly recriminations would follow.)

Based on your notes, I really wonder if in some ways playing it in pieces separated by weeks didn’t actually improve the experience–it seems as if it may have smoothed over some jarring bits that really stood out when the game was played with all the episodes back to back.

If I ever play it again, I’ll do it that way, and I’ll have to take notes.

Butch:

Kate got out, man! She was at a hospital far away! Boom!

Except, is “everyone is expendable” an exaggeration? Max herself keeps saying “I can’t let Chloe die…I won’t….” and NOW we’re supposed to say fuck it? She’s already thrown away her dreams to save Chloe (see the way today started), and now she’s going to take it back? Makes me even more frustrated that I didn’t have a choice THERE.

The told-not-shown of “Max cares so I care” was much more evident when you played in sequence. You’d talk to someone and Max would say “She is SO nice, and went through SO much” and you’d have to say “Yeah….ok….if you say so…..” and it reminded you they didn’t flesh anything out in the last episode either.

And everyone talking at you was the only point of that whole surreal bit. The diner, they all mocking you, and even you pointing out that Chloe might just be using you all along. THAT gave me some degree of pause. Shit, I was even thinking until the end that Chloe was a bad guy all along.

But it was undermined by the rest of the surreal shit. Watching Chloe get with Warren and Victoria and all sorts of stuff you KNEW was fake made you think everything was, which made it easy to dismiss. Having a long sequence of these very people you’re trying to save chase you with frustrating flashlights…NOW I have to save them? Huh? Dude, I just got controller throwing mad at them. Fuck them.

I mean, this game was ambitious. I give it that. But maybe too much so. A superhero story AND a serial killer AND teen angst? Having a realistic hero in a realistic setting AND that weird bit? I think the whole thing would be better off, have more focus if it had tried to do less. It just couldn’t help itself sometimes.

Also in terms of making the ‘right’ heroic choice, you touch on another thing: CHLOE is willing to make the heroic choice. Max is all THIS IS MY FAULT so CHLOE says “Yeah, it is, kill me?” Wouldn’t it be more heroic if Max went back and jumped off the roof? There’s a disconnect. I mean, we’re good friends. If you said “Butch, I’m gonna make a real heroic choice here, and kill you,” I’d be all “Uh….WHAT?”

I reject your heroism.

Do take notes if you play again. And, as I said, eventually I’ll play one of these the way it was meant to be played.

So I went and watched what WOULD have happened had we done it the other way. It’s….disappointing. It’s a montage. You see the pictures all melting and changing, as they do, and it ends with everyone at Chloe’s funeral, being very sad. Everyone is very sad. There’s no “Here’s all that good that did” short of the requisite “people standing in a line so you can see that they’re alive” thing games do. “Yup. Not dead. There they are.” And then a smile from Max, who is….what? Ok with all this?

I dunno, watch: Life is Strange Episode 5 Sacrifice Chloe Ending

So neither ending made a whole lot of sense. But we expected that, right? Yes, we did.

I don’t mean to harsh on the game. It was good, I liked it. I could tell about halfway through episode 4 that there was no way they were gonna get to a decent ending in one more episode. It was the same feeling I had halfway through season six of lost. But I’m still glad I watched Lost, and still glad I played this.

Feminina:

Ah, so Kate and Chloe are the only ones you care about. Fair. At least that’s one more than the number of people I cared about!

I think we can generally agree that this game did a lot of interesting things, and even if it wasn’t perfect, we will definitely be keeping an eye on DontNod’s next game. They’re doing interesting, imperfect things, these folks.

Butch:

Completely agree.

Can’t wait for senseless slaughter and tight pants.

On to Tomb Raider!

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