How Not to Make Episodic Adventure Games

A few days ago, I decided to play the first episode of Life Is Strange, an episodic adventure game NOT from Telltale, but from relatively new developer Dontnod Entertainment (the guys behind Remember Me). I heard decent things, and I liked the art style, so I decided it’d be worth a shot. The instant I started the game, I felt iffy. Why? SQUARE-ENIX. Sure, they only published, but damn. Sure, Tomb Raider 2013 was good, but one good game does not make up for the crap they’ve put out. Anyway, just playing Life Is Strange for a couple of hours, I came across several problems that might not be obvious to others, and I’ll share them with you now:

1. I feel sad

The protagonist, Max, inexplicably voices every single fucking thought she has! This is a big problem I have with Japanese games, and amateur games in general. Show, don’t tell. If Max has a crush on her teacher, just show me through her actions!

2. I feel SAD

This is a subtle problem that not everyone will notice, but as someone who really likes Adventure games, here’s something that’s a problem for me – Max states how SHE feels about various things. E.g., She is super duper excited to read a book and is nervous because shit happens. In The Wolf Among Us, Bigby never did this. He gave brief descriptions and backstory on items, he didn’t give OPINIONS. And he didn’t react that much to actual events in ways that weren’t up tot he player. Games should never tell you how you feel. This isn’t like with games like Assassin’s Creed, a strictly linear narrative, where the player is essentially just along for the journey, so it didn’t matter if I didn’t like Elise (which I did, because she was awesome and a million times more interesting than Arno). This game is an adventure game, and encourages you to make YOUR choices. Max is supposed to be ME, but she’s voicing opinions I don’t agree with. That’s not how this works. Sure, she has her own character, just like Bigby did, but his core character came across when the player wasn’t in control, and the rest was up to the player to determine.

Maybe it’s just bad writing, because I think Dragon Age: Inquisition had the Inquisitor voice opinions while looking at random stuff as well, but it came across better. Or maybe I just can’t relate to the socially awkward teenage girl, but I don’t think so, because I’ve done so before, and it was never this hard.

3. I feel sad… Shit fuck bitch

Just reading Max’s journal, it becomes obvious that the writer does not know how teenagers talk. You’ll get normal speech for a few sentences, then the writer becomes worried they didn’t make Max sound ‘young’ enough and inserts teenage slang or internet speak for a sentence… then goes right back to what they were writing. Hell, the swearing in general comes off badly written. This all makes Max come off incredibly annoying, and I end up hating her.

While I haven’t played Remember Me, I didn’t hear good things about the writing, and heard it kinda thought it was smarter than ti actually was. I don’t know if this is just how Dontnod is, but overall, I’m not really on board the Life Is Strange train at all.

While the game overall is still interesting, particularly rewind mechanic, these issues are really problematic, and a reason I’ll probably not end up finishing Life Is Strange. That’s not even getting into the more issues with the dialogue. Hell, Tales from the Borderlands ended up being pretty fucking awesome, so I’m set for an episodic adventure game to follow. I haven’t even tried Game of Thrones, though I don’t really want to (universe never really interested me, the actual narrative did), and I haven’t heard that much good things. Eh. Still holding out hope for The Wolf Among Us Season 2, but apparently that’s happening in 2017… Twenty fucking seventeen! Ugh… Guess Walking Dead is getting priority, but since I ended up watching people play it, I’m not really into it myself.

I’d say to people on the fence about Life Is Strange to give it a go. It’s about $7 in Australia, and has interesting ideas and a nice art style. Just go in there prepared to deal with some iffy writing.

Originally published here on the 17th of February, 2015

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