The “subconscious journey” theory also suits the overall impression of a visual novel. Choices are less about beating a game so much as achieving an ending, and there are concretely a “good end” and a “bad end.” For the most part, there’s only two romance routes–next time Stella or Evan, next tiiiime–and, at least one tends to influence which ending you get. Not to mention, Max nails the obligatory transfer student trope.
While the fan theory is fun, it also feels necessary to account for the imbalances in the game’s design. Life is Strange doesn’t do much for me because its strong contemporaries did a lot with just as much or less. Until Dawn’s a bit camp about the butterfly effect, but the majority of player choices are pleasantly (or sadly, depending on your boppers’ fates) evident in the ending. And, any clunky dialogue is intentional. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a significantly slower game, but it demonstrates a keen familiarity with its environment; something Dontnod does beautifully with Paris in Remember Me. Yet, Life is Strange’s Arcadia Bay as a landscape feels more like a series of stage sets than a place in the world. And, the release of Oxenfree in January 2016 was the final nail in the head (killing blow or something; totally didn’t just mix my idioms).
With a simple but appealing art style, Oxenfree features rich characterization, surprisingly functional horror and suspense elements, and a similar rewind mechanic. Even more importantly, it masters the time paradox plotline. The game embraces the ambiguity inherent in the concept instead of running from it.
Life is Strange demonstrated Dontnod’s capability once again, but it shows little growth from the developer’s debut. Although LiS draws out warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia and affection for the French studio, it doesn’t leave a sense of anticipation for their next project. The prequel Before the Storm isn’t likely to be a great departure from the interactive visual novel format, especially as it already has a clearly established ending; but, players are anticipating that this time around. Hopefully, BTS will be an engaging lore expansion to flesh out the backdrop of Arcadia Bay. However, Dontnod’s future projects, Vampyr and Life is Strange 2, will ideally manifest a significantly better balance of mechanics and narrative.
The emphasis on mechanics might be a result of Dontnod pursuing investors and players as a smaller studio. Mechanics and aesthetics make great convention presentations, but such previews rarely reflect the broader story or its quality. So, I began to wonder what would happen if Dontnod didn’t have to worry about their marketing or building a story around their mechanics, but could integrate their mechanics into an existing story instead. With the release of Vampyr in November, we’ll soon find out. The game is rooted in conventional vampire lore, set during an iconic historic event, and focuses on a single character; so, Dontnod has the freedom to flesh out the world and integrate mechanics without being too concerned about resolving plot around these specific features. However, with precedents like Vampire: The Masquerade and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, players will be expecting a lot from Vampyr regardless of the size of the dev team or studio.
As for Life is Strange 2, it will be an interesting testament to how developers and the consumer community interact. If Dontnod takes the critique of LiS to heart and seeks to improve upon it, LiS 2 would be more of an adventure game that respects the player’s capability, if not their agency. Returning to Max or Chloe would risk a retcon of the endings and yet another snub of the player. So, my best prediction is that the sequel will be set in the same universe but focus on other characters, leaving the opportunity for some familiar faces to pop up. In the coming months, I look forward to watching Dontnod grow alongside its games.
Anticipating Before the Storm or Vampyr? Any speculation or hopes as to what Life is Strange 2 will look like? What do you look forward to seeing from any up’n’coming game studios? Leave a comment below to keep the theories boilin’!