Life is Strange is a powerful video game series. Each game tells a story in such a profound way that it stays with you. To this day, even six years on, Max Caulfield and Chloe Price are two of my favourite characters ever – perhaps the latter is just in front. So, you can imagine my excitement when earlier this year, Square Enix dropped a trailer for a new title, Life is Strange: True Colors. The first time I saw that trailer, I couldn’t wait to play.
Everything about the announcement was perfect, from what was visually shown to the music accompanying it. Perhaps I should say immediately, that while I was looking forward to following Alex Cheng on her journey, I was also dreading it, as it’s a story about loss, losing someone so precious to you, and learning to go on without them. I haven’t lost a sibling, but I have lost my mum, and believe me, when I say there’s a particular scene in the game that nearly ruins me – watching Alex revisit her memories, seeing her mother in the hospital, it brought back memories.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The Life is Strange series is perhaps one of the best out there for narrative design – I’m struggling to think of many other games that have that sort of impact. In addition, True Colors tackles a subject that most people have experience with, and everybody must face at some point in their lives – grief.
Since she was a tween, Alex Cheng has been in the care system, meaning she hasn’t seen her older brother Gabe in eight years. All that changes when she turns 21, and can leave the home she was in. However, due to her unique gift, her doctor has concerns about Alex finding her way in the world. It looks like things are on the up for the protagonist, as she arrives in a beautiful town known as Haven Springs to live with her brother, reconnecting, and reforging their bond. However, this happiness is to be short-lived, as Gabe dies in a tragic accident. But was it really an accident?
That’s what Alex hopes to uncover. Not only is she dealing with her grief, but she’s seeking justice, or even just the truth, of what happened to her brother, her last remaining family member. It’s a journey that rolls with the weeks, Alex and her friends tackling different obstacles in each chapter of the game, as well as enjoying the good moments. There’s certainly a few surprises along the way, and some twists that you might not see coming. It’s emotionally exhausting, but you know what? It teaches you that it’s okay to find fun, and happiness, even in a time of grief.
The gameplay features what you would expect, with the protagonist possessing supernatural powers. I have to say, as cool as Max’s power to turn back time is, I think Alex’s ability is on another level – she can feel people’s emotions, sadness, anger, fear, joy, she experiences them all just as intensely as the person in front of her. This is a mechanic that features in the game heavily. Haven Springs is full of people, some of which you have the choice to help with your gift.
There are some genuinely touching moments should you thoroughly explore the side stories, and these are worth doing if you want the best outcome when the end of chapter five arrives. Each person in Haven Springs has their own worries and troubles, but Alex can help them, despite dealing with her own problems. More than that, throughout the chapters, there are memories to find, moments from these people’s past. Some of these are very easy to miss, as are the opportunities to offer help, so keep your eyes peeled while exploring this quaint mountain town. I also suggest keeping an eye on your mobile phone, as with previous entries in the series. There’s more to learn by reading text messages.
Speaking of characters, Haven Springs is full of colourful personalities, and long time fans of the series are in for a treat as Before the Storm’s Steph Gingrich is here, and serves as one of the titular characters. She’s even one of two romance options, alongside Ryan. You might decide that now isn’t the time for Alex to find love, but Steph is an interesting character, one whose personality seems to match Alex’s pretty well. If you take a deeper look into their relationship throughout the game, it becomes clear that Steph plays a pivotal role in reigniting Alex’s love of music, and that’s truly beautiful to watch. Cheng is a gifted musician, and it would be a shame to see such talent go to waste.
Grief is a tragic thing, one that we all deal with in different ways. Some people, like myself, choose to bury it deep inside until it consumes you. Not the healthiest coping mechanism, and I owe a thank you to Life is Strange: True Colors, as it continues to help me face my own grief. It teaches you that you don’t have to be okay, that all emotions are valid. But most importantly, this story encourages empathy.
That’s one of the most powerful tools any human can have, and Life is Strange handles it beautifully. Yes, Alex has these powers, she can see and feel how others are feeling, but as the player, you get to decide how she reacts to it. More than that, each time you respond to a situation, Alex writes it down in her journal. This offers a deeper look, and sometimes, a more profound understanding of recent events. On occasion, it’s not even anything grand. You can do small things to help those around you, something as simple as changing the music on the jukebox can help the studying college student. Or, spotting a bird, then letting the bird watcher know where it is, the small things matter just as much as major life events. Life is Strange has always been good at teaching this lesson.
Life is Strange: True Colors features multiple endings, and your choices throughout the game directly impact how the end of chapter five plays out, including how Alex’s story can end. Overall there are six endings, and each reflects the path you’ve taken up to this point. Without giving too much away, I chose to end Alex’s story with the direction I believe I would follow – every decision I made up to this point, for the most part, is how I would act, so why stop now. For me, life is an adventure, a journey. It’s crucial to find excitement where you can. This doesn’t mean forgetting about those you lost. It means moving forward, but taking the memories with you.
I also need to mention the soundtrack, because from the start menu, and all the way through, True Colors has stunning music that captures the essence of the story, and what’s happening around you. Numerous times I found myself simply listening to the music, which includes tracks from artists such as Novo Amor. As Alex sat on the dock, taking in her surroundings, the music captured me, bringing me into the moment alongside her. I may as well have been sitting next to Alex while she was on that pier, lost deep in thought, thinking about her lost loved one.
All in all, I’d recommend Life is Strange to anyone. While it has its difficult parts – as does any game in the series – it’s also full of joyous moments, with a wonderful narrative that deserves to be experienced. The team at Deck Nine not only wrote a great story, but the characters are excellent, and the town of Haven Springs is welcoming. They achieve this despite there being a mystery that needs to be solved, with the answers you find having long-lasting consequences, not just for Alex, but for the people around her.
The characters are excellent, and the town of Haven Springs is welcoming
I think from everything I’ve said so far, it’s clear that I hold this game in high regard. However, it pains me to say that its performance on Switch isn’t great. Yes, you can play it with little hindrance if you’re able to ignore questionable frame rates, and graphics that tend to blur the world around you. To be honest, the latter is what I have the biggest problem with. True Colors is a stunning game that looks incredible on other consoles, and given its art style, there’s no reason it shouldn’t look beautiful on Switch too. It’s pretty when it’s not a blur, but in an environment such as this, any hint of blurriness tarnishes it.
Within minutes, I also found Alex stuttering as she walked, granted, this began to fade as I got further into the game, but it might be annoying to a new player who doesn’t know what awaits them after getting over the speed bumps. Not only that, but there’s a small pixelated line along the bottom of my screen, and I know it’s not my Switch or TV playing silly buggers. Yes, this is a small thing, but as soon as you notice this line, that’s it, the emotional turmoil you were feeling is likely gone, and in its place is annoyance. Every so often, you’ll keep looking at this line, breaking the immersion.
Still, Life is Strange: True Colors is a beautiful game, and while it may have teething issues on Nintendo Switch, it’s still a game I strongly suggest you play, just not on Switch. If narrative-driven stories where your choices matter is your thing, this is the game for you. Build relationships, change lives, discover more about yourself. This isn’t just Alex Cheng’s story. It’s your story. Haven Springs transforms you just as much as you change it.
My closing message is that this game is full of a deeper philosophy. It’s so thought-provoking, and when it comes to your decisions, just think about how you perceive life. Is it about playing it safe, living a peaceful but predictable existence, or is it about going into the unknown, and taking risks? Either way, life is strange.