by C. Nuan
To be frank (and/or Pompidou), I’m not the biggest fan of Life is Strange; but, I am a fan of what it stands for in terms of Dontnod and game development. When the game first came out, friends tried to sell it to me as the latest, greatest, hippest piece on the street (eat your heart out, Dontnod). Sure, LiS had a unique art style, beautiful graphics, and introduced some interesting concepts; but, a few ominous narrative hiccups left me wary. These same hiccups and more had me absolutely salty halfway into episode two until a friend pointed out that the game was produced by the same studio that made Remember Me (that dystopian, cyberpunk French action game with the pretty scenery).
And, suddenly, it was all so clear: Life is Strange is an elaborate visual novel, and the narrative is primarily a vehicle for its gameplay mechanics. The concept of time manipulation then acts as something of a deus ex machina to compensate for plot holes that result from building a story around mechanics rather than integrating mechanics into the story, an accidental format evidenced in Remember Me. It sounds bad, but this revelation actually provided a new perspective of the game and renewed my affinity for Dontnod as a developing… well, developer.
Time manipulation is no stranger to Dontnod; and, if you were a fan of the aforementioned Remember Me, then it wasn’t exactly a dazzling new selling point for Life is Strange. In fact, the studio seemed to have taken the more popular concept of its earlier game and expanded upon it, ditching an innovative but flawed combat system for the choices mechanic. Max’s “rewind” power works about the same as Nilin’s “rewrite” ability–from speeding up jumps into the past to altering situations to be more favorable. However, RM limited its time manipulation to people’s memories while LiS bounced blithefully unawares into the paradoxical sunset.
On the one hand, the time travel aspects of both games are phenomenally visualized and really fun to interact with; on the other, RM bumbles over major plot holes (origin story prequel, pls) to maintain the mechanic, and LiS attempts to purposely paint itself into corners to avoid dealing with the enormity of the concept. The studio basically ran into a “Sorceror’s Apprentice” situation in which time travel turned out to be a ridiculously more powerful magic wand than anticipated. For RM, this issue wasn’t such a big deal because its time manipulation was constrained by memory; and, human memory is often fallible. Any related narrative inconsistencies could be chalked up to a bad memory or a skewed perception. However, the same excuse doesn’t quite work for LiS… or does it?