Life is Strange: Before the Storm Shows Why Not Every Game Needs Life or Death Drama
Note: This article contains slight spoilers for both Life is Strange: Before the Storm and Night in the Woods.
Anyone who read my reviews for Life is Strange: Before the Storm will know that I quite enjoyed Deck Nine Games’ take on Arcadia Bay. While I was hesitant at first, what quickly won me over was the quality of writing, and how genuine the relationship between Chloe and Rachel felt. The developer showed a knack for nailing the small moments, and the fact that tiny conversations could mean so much to the people participating in them. This type of nuanced writing made both characters feel truly human.
My love for both of the characters is exactly why it was a sizable disappointment (although not enough to actually ruin my total enjoyment) when the final episode of Before the Storm decided to focus on dramatic life-or-death scenarios rather than their relationship. There was already enough drama going on between Chloe and Rachel coming to grips with their romantic relationship to fulfill a three episode arc without any of episode three’s more ridiculous story beats. I’m not going to say that the new storylines were bad (they weren’t amazing, but they had plenty of strong points), but the series threw away what I had liked the most in order to make room for them.
In fact, the main draw of the series, Rachel, was barely in the final episode in order to make way for a complicated plot-thread that involves corruption, assassinations, and drugs. It was one of the main complaints I had in my review:
If there are a few disappointments to be had with the final episode, it’d be how little Rachel is actually in it. She gets written out (albeit not in a Telltale way) of the action rather early on, and it was disappointing to see so little of her and Chloe interacting. Their friendship, and blossoming relationship, had been my favorite part of Before the Storm, so to see it disappear was definitely a bummer.
What was even more frustrating was how Before the Storm ended with a montage of Rachel and Chloe hanging out, and having monumental moments in their friendship. That’s exactly what I wanted to experience, and instead I was left watching a compilation of fun moments that didn’t quite fit into an unneeded grand narrative. I loved the game for the characters, and Deck Nine Games’ strengths lied in creating strong authentic-feeling moments through dialogue, so I would’ve loved to have seen it flexed more.
This is far from a problem unique to Life is Strange: Before the Storm, though. Earlier this year, another one of my favorite titles, Night in the Woods, also fell into the same trap. I loved every scene that involved Mae and her misfit friends hanging out, and getting to know each other after growing apart. It was the little moments, like hanging out at the nearly abandoned mall and practicing music with the band, that made the game shine. The larger plot about the murders on the other-hand felt tacked-on in the final act, and Mae could’ve come to terms with herself without any of that happening.
Not enough games take the time to embrace the smaller moments. I really hope that changes in the future, as games continue to mature as a medium. That’s not to say that grand life-or-death moments don’t have their place in gaming, as I adore plenty of stories that do them well. It’s just that these types of risk-filled tales don’t have to be forced into every story, especially when the strengths clearly lie elsewhere.