First episode of ‘Life is Strange’ could’ve use some more time
It’s not enough to have to navigate today’s crazy and ever-changing world as a teenager. No, we have to have this story’s protagonist — Max Caulfield, an entirely likable shutterbug attending a well-regarded school — capable of rewinding time. How she came into this power, this strange, mystical ability to redo events that just transpired, is unknown to us, but it can be said with certainty that her newfound gift will prove central to whatever story unfolds before us.
Before we get too deep into this tale of destiny (I think) and morality (maybe?), let’s fast-forward to the end: “Chrysalis,” the first episode of Square Enix’s five-part episodic adventure, feels like a mixed bag. Its central premise, the ability for an enjoyable female lead to alter the course of her future (which may involve her fictional Pacific Northwest town being wiped out by some monstrous hurricane in the coming days), is thoroughly interesting and a joy to control. Throwing your hand in front of you, all superhero-like, proves to be a fun time, knowing you’re about to redo recent events, all with the hope of getting a better outcome.
It’s when we deviate from that premise, when we have to deal with script and dialogue and character portrayals other than Max, that we find ourselves confronted with a less-than-stellar performance.
Oddly similar to “Veronica Mars” (minus the time-rewind ability, clearly), “Life is Strange” seeks to combine the mundane (watering your dorm room plant) with the extraordinary (saving someone’s life from a crazed classmate with a gun) to create an engaging narrative. Stripped of any extras, it more or less works. Everyone can remember dealing with the trials and tribulations of high school — friendships, enemies, “frenemies,” relationships and struggles with authority — so it’s an easy way to connect with the game from the get-to.
However, it’s when everyone starts talking that the problems begin to kick off. We get deep into the stereotypical world of the teenage in “Life in Strange.” Stoners are gonna smoke, crazy rich kids are gonna wave their guns and cash around, the dopey guy who’s clearly in love with Max will forever pine for her while she remains shockingly oblivious. It’s all tedious, really, especially for a game that’s clearly built on creating a compelling story with characters you want to get to know.
But as stated earlier, our main character, Max, defies this trend of typical blandness. It’s not that she’s this amazingly interesting character with a Shakespearean backstory. It’s more that she relatable while still possessing this great power. You can see yourself interacting with her, whether you wanted to be her friend or found her as strange as most others do.
Because, in all honesty, she’s a bit of a strange one even without her ability. But once you combine that with the power to revisit almost any decision you make — all the while keeping the knowledge from the previous timeline — we have ourselves get the interesting lead.
Consequences seem to be long-term in “Chrysalis,” meaning it’s not always readily apparent what your choices mean in the greater scheme of the game. No matter how you choice to proceed, Max generally expresses some form of doubt, which then seeps into your own subconscious: Did I do the right thing? Would doing something different result in a better outcome? What will happen next? On major decisions, once you commit, you can’t go back and change your mind. (You can alter the past if you don’t like what happens before committing.) In effect, her ability only allows her to travel back so far. The reason why is unexplained at the moment.
Other than Max dealing with her powers, the other main story line involves a missing girl named Rachel Amber who seems to have some type of relationship with just about everyone Max knows. What role she plays as the story continues is up in the air, but it’s obvious it’ll be important to the rest of the story.
In the end, “Chrysalis,” the first episode of “Life is Strange,” comes to us with a truly interesting premise, even if it doesn’t always nail the landing. Voice acting, dialogue and lip-syncing issues run rampant, but the story and Max herself are engaging enough to overcome those flaws. I’m not sure what’s in store for Max, her friends and her lovely PNW town, but I do know I want to find out more. Here’s hoping a little time (and perhaps more than a dash of clairvoyance) help steer this story in the right direction.
Three “prophetic deer” stars out of five.