by C. Nuan
Lastly, Dontnod seems to have gotten so turned around in its own time foibles that it was no longer certain where it wanted the plot to go. In episode five, Max and Chloe babble through sorting out events; and, at one point, Max is certain her manipulation of time has caused the chaos. Yet, in the climax, Chloe claims her death (or lack thereof) as cause, and Max just… goes with the flow?? Yo. Maxine. Not the time to be less ego-centric. Dude. But, it does feel like developers couldn’t decide between a moral about hubris or the inevitability of death. Bear in mind, both morals are applicable to Max’s relationship with Kate as well (animals don’t start dying until after Kate’s ordeal actually). And, the indecision shows in the game’s endings.
The ending overall tries to determine why events transpire the way they do, particularly the significance of the storm. Although Max attempts to blame herself for the storm, it exists on some level prior to the first rewind. If the hurricane was connected to Max’s interference, wouldn’t it make more sense that the storm dream would be a transition between the first rewind and Max waking in the classroom? Ultimately, the butterfly and storm seem to be allusions to the “butterfly effect,” and the game presents its theme of ramifications well. But, again, Dontnod seems to underestimate the concept, particularly as it extends to the story theme of the “everyday hero.” In the end, Chloe’s ending is pretty obtuse, if not a bit anticlimactic for an entire five episodes of build-up. And, although the “Arcadia Bay” ending seems more complete and has gained a reputation as the “good ending,” it, too, has its flaws. However, these flaws leave room for intriguing revelations and theories.
In the “Arcadia Bay” ending, no amount of button mashing will urge Max to reach for the nearby hammer or step out from behind the stall. Despite all the teen experimentation beforehand, Max refuses to try to save her friend simplywithout using freaky providential time magic. The scenario affirms Life is Strange as more visual novel than most adventure games. There’s a defined story that ignores reasonable player inclinations because it’s got places to be. In this case, Dontnod seems to try to paint the story into a corner, into a situation in which the time mechanic cannot resolve things, in order to give the game an ending (and likely a reasonable file size and play time). Sadly, they forgot about the “everyday hero” and her natural powers, like loud noises oooor tackling. While not quite the happiest of revelations, playing the game as a visual novel can provide a greater appreciation for the cast of Arcadia Bay and the depth of their characterization. For example: The principal is just as suspicious as David and more suspect than Jefferson, but rarely suspected; and, Rachel Amber’s idolization might be more a community’s response to her loss than a reflection of her popularity, which says a lot about a lot of people (especially Victoria).
The “Arcadia Bay” ending also gives rise to a theory that possibly resolves a lot of the game’s hiccups, and it’s one that can be applied to the “Chloe” conclusion as well: All of it is in Max’s head. Well, most of it. Witnessing Chloe’s murder, Max retreats into her mind in an effort to come to terms with the situation. From the first rewind to the last, Max is on a subconscious journey to accept her friend’s death: Kate’s a dry run; Jefferson’s betrayal as a mentor (on all levels) dyes his relationships in sinister overtones; Rachel Amber’s a reflection of Chloe’s fate; and, Chloe’s theory is kinda accurate–she keeps almost dying because Max is conscious of the reality. In the “Arcadia Bay” ending, Max doesn’t reach for the hammer because she either doesn’t know it’s there or it actually doesn’t exist, being a tool of convenience created for her subconscious desires (boy, does that sound kinkier than it should).
But what about the “Chloe” ending? Driving off into the sunset’s real, right? Hey, if you want it to be, sure! No one can tell you how to interpret your French hipster games, yo! But, if you’re running with the “it’s all in Max’s head” theory, not really, no. Essentially, should you choose Chloe, the final confrontation at the lighthouse is when Max’s subconscious journey devolves (not short for “digi-volve” btw) into delusion. There is a reason we see no other survivors in Arcadia Bay; there’s a reason Chloe’s truck survives when the rest of the town’s flattened; there’s a reason the only corpse seen is nondescript; and, there’s a reason there’s no dialogue about the devastation or the survival of others.
Max fundamentally creates a world in which only she and Chloe exist. All sources of guilt (such as Joyce) and antagonism (oddly enough, this includes Warren–he’s a potential rival for Chloe’s affections as seen in “The Nightmare”) have been eliminated. In fact, Max’s withdrawn listlessness at the end might be a symptom of what’s basically a mental breakdown. The ending concludes on a picture of the past because, ultimately, there is no real present or future. At least, not for this Max in this false “reality.”