We Are OFK is sort of a visual novel that presents itself like you’re watching Netflix. The story is good, the voice acting is great, the characters are excellently flawed, and the cast is effortlessly varied. However, performance issues, tacked-on gameplay elements, and the weirdly indifferent emptiness I was left with at the end made it struggle on a fundamental level.
Developed by Team OFK and published by Kowloon Nights, We Are OFK is a quiet story, revolving around little conversations, inconsequential vignettes, and a slow-and-steady narrative. The characters make music, work on videogames, go to parties. They wake up and check their phones, text each other with loud emojis and stickers. They call their mothers. They text their fathers. They want to break into the music industry.
I make music not for a living. I’ve been doing it for a decade. The most insufferable people I’ve ever met are in the music industry. So I can sympathise. Still, with all that experience, even I struggled with We Are OFK at first. Its story revolves around a group of twenty-somethings trying to get by in LA… but by ”get by“ I don’t mean that they’re penniless or clueless. They spend most of their time eating out, drinking in bars, and talking about themselves. At least at first. (They talk about sage-ing the house! They say words like ‘tenure’! They use Gucci as an adjective! I’ve only ever done two of those things…).
Anyway, different strokes don’t matter unless you struggle with this little thing called empathy. It would be easy for someone to find these characters a little too raw, but I think that mainly works in the game’s favour. None of these people are sanded down to make them easy to swallow. They’re very much themselves, and we’re getting a window into the ups and downs of their lives. The irritation I felt at certain characters’ selfishness gives them a chance to learn and-or other characters a chance to say what I was already thinking. It often feels genuinely earned (at least for the most part).
Still, if you have a special disdain for West Coast parlance and queer people, maybe you should go to a psychiatrist instead of playing this game. If you’re chill with hanging out though, come on over, take a seat, and enjoy the show.
Taking a seat is key, as this game is basically a limited TV series. It’s a self-described interactive EP, almost working as a music biopic for each of the songs that end the game’s five episodes. And that’s all with excellent voice acting, charmingly angular artwork, and believable characters.
It’s a cast made up with effortless inclusivity, too. There’s a wide variety of different people all a part of this world naturally. There are no loud shouts of “hey look, we did the right thing, we made a character gay” as you find in bigger budget, more committee-decided videogames. This is how it should be, and I want more of it.
The way these characters talk about sex is similarly effortless. We see a character who clearly struggles to connect to others, reaching for her phone at a time of crisis to text someone they’ve been casually sleeping with. The way these two talk about sex is the same as how real people talk about it (which I have never seen in a videogame), yet also wonderfully tied into the characters’ own struggles. I like it, though it’s only a brief moment.
It’s a game made up of brief moments, I guess. Itsumi, the sorta-main character, works on the social side at a Santa Monica-based game dev. She just wants to make music. She just wants to play RPGs. She just wants to watch anime. She just wants to get over her ex. And she drinks too much. She’s a wonderfully messy character characterised in a clear way. This kinda applies to all the messy characters, but not everyone gets fleshed out in the same way, while others can occasionally feel a little unnatural, which isn’t always enjoyable.
When it comes to the unenjoyable, let’s start with the easy stuff, the stuff I don’t have to overexplain. I had some technical issues in the first episode. There was an invisible character talking, visible characters who were meant to be talking only giving me subtitles, and a software crash just before an interactive music video started. That’s all within a 52-minute episode. The only other issue I had was at the end of episode four and required a restart. I’ve been reassured that the game will be supported following release, so fingers-crossed you have a smoother time.
I can get down with music more than anything else in most games, and that’s the same here at first. The opening titles have big crunchy synth arpeggios rising over gorgeous visuals before a beautifully janky beat revs everything up, then the scene settles down into chill nighttime vibes. It’s neat. There’s also a restaurant scene that has an almost nauseating (in a good way) Sims-esque jingle in the background, which then turns all steamy when a saucy daydream starts. That’s cool, and the score is similarly flexible throughout. (There’s one gorgeously triggered track in the game’s best episode, number four, but it feels likely that the only reason I love it so much is due to the lack of lyrics—for more, see the next paragraph).
The music videos with extended full-length songs are a little harder for me to vibe with. I sincerely and deeply love pop music, but the five tracks of this interactive EP, while produced gorgeously, don’t really hit right. The lyrics (e.g. “Looks like the real thing / Once more with feeling”) feel almost laughably vapid, especially for a game that talks about artistic authenticity without a hint of irony. I dunno, I’m not a music critic, but these aren’t great. They’re all a little too over-obvious or over-meaningless, throwing in throwaway lines just because they rhyme, rather than actually complementing much in-game. That could just be me, though. (But for real, I can’t get down with “Every time I cancel, every time I cancel you / I just wanna dance, oh, I just wanna dance with you”… as they say on Twitter, this ain’t it, chief).
These music videos don’t just struggle aurally, however. This is where the interactive game-engine movie (moving visual novel? no that doesn’t work… motion picture novel? I think I prefer the original…) gives you more than just the occasionally inconsequential dialogue choice. The first sticks you in a clunky WarioWare roulette of mini-games, the second is an airy and dull bit of walking around and moving a cursor to destroy some blocks. The third repeats this block-destroying and lets you control the angle of the camera on the singer, the fourth is a sorta terraforming nightmare with a skateboarding section that forces an unflattering comparison to Sayonara Wild Hearts, and the fifth just involves choosing dance moves. They’re just not very good, wonky and floaty, kinda slippery and frictionless. They’re just not fun. It’d be better if they weren’t interactive.
So, uhh, I don’t know how to reconcile all of this, to be honest. In some ways, We Are OFK is much like its characters: earnest, interesting, and stylish. It has a lot to say even though there’s not much underneath the story by the time it comes to a close. It has an excellent concept, winsome visuals, and some really well-written characters throughout, but still left me empty by the time my five-or-so hours were up.
I dunno. I just want to make music. I just want to play Final Fantasy VIII. I just want to watch Evangelion. I just want to get over my ex. And I drink too much. Uhh… maybe I’m literally the same as at least one of these characters? Failing to love and wanting to be loved.
I mean, I make music not for a living. I’ve been doing it for a decade. The most insufferable people I have ever met are in the music industry. Maybe I’m just looking in a mirror, hating myself. Maybe my own failures to make it as a musician being in my brain while these characters powerfully fight for what they want even if they may not seem like super chill people to just hang out with makes me feel like even more of a failure. Maybe I don’t like this game that much because I’m insecure. I don’t know, but it’s pretty cool that it made me consider it in the first place. Still, I just didn’t have the best time.