Life is Strange in-depth, spoiler FREE, review

By: Joe Lomán and Damla Karadenizli

Life is Strange is a unique game. Aside from some Telltale’s inspiration, it is clear that this is a game very different from the rest. It’s been a long time since story-telling became the central focus of some games, as well as having the player be responsible for their own choices, but no game has ever addressed this the way Life is Strange does. Dontnod gives the players the ability to rewind time, but not like every game where you die and respawn. In this game, rewinding time has real long-term effects. Some good, some bad. It is a story told in an atmosphere incredibly human that feels heartwarming since the very start. Sure, it’s far from being a perfect game, because there are so many times where it loses itself, but there’s no denying the emotional experience this game offers is quite memorable. It is a very deep story about friendship that at the same time focuses on telling you that rewinding time is a great power… but it is no game either. It’s a 5 episode journey that makes you think about the real consequences of “what if I had done things differently?”

Like I said, right from the very start you’ll instantly get the vibe that this is no game you’ve played before. The main menu appears with the Life is Strange musical theme that made me think of a gentle soul that can be broken with ease, which is what we foresee of the game. Hoping into the game itself, the atmosphere is quite unique. It’s probably the strongest element of the whole game. Firstly, the music accompanies the game in a very appropriate way. The cel-shaded graphics are a very charming sight for sore eyes. The characters are very memorable and they make you get along well with them, as well as hate others for how big their role is. Perhaps the voice acting is the only polemic topic about it, but it doesn’t make the characters less appealing.

This world is seen through the eyes of a teenager, Max, who is driven by hopes and dreams and aspires to be a great photographer one day. That’s why she went back to her hometown to study Photography at prestigious Blackwell Academy, where the only thing she cares about is having a normal, yet awesome, university life. But as you can guess, it is everything but normal. After a long day of school, Max only wants to clear her head a bit in the bathroom, but ends up witnessing a girl being shot right in front of her eyes. She screams as she rises her hand in desperation and next thing she knows, she’s back at her classroom, restarting her day exactly the same as some minutes ago… She just discovered she has the ability to rewind time.

Ok, you might say “Is that it? That’s how it starts?” and you have all the right in the world to ask that kind of question, since it is, literally, how it starts. But please, don’t get disappointed just yet. Yes, the introduction feels out of place. Instead of awing us with an epic introduction to make us excited about being able to rewind time, it feels like Dontnod just said to us “Here, you can do this. Have fun”. The good thing is that most of the rest of the game makes you forget about those awkward 5 minutes.

The world is not only about teenage problems. Something weird is going on in Arcadia Bay. Max has a vision about a potentially catastrophic eco-disaster, and somehow she believes everything is related to the mystery of a missing person that apparently everyone loved or hated, as well as to the “gift” she didn’t ask for. All this journey will make you discover the truth about several different mysteries.

And it is because that power to rewind time is what this game is all about. Max finally has a chance to impress people by redoing her actions and answering the right questions, as well as help people in distress. Max is living every teenager’s dream: the opportunity to go back in time and do the right thing. Situations where Max would normally give an embarrassing answer that would make everyone think she’s a weirdo are transformed at her own will having the complete opposite effect. Previously knowing what was the right thing to say, she now is becoming popular. It’s even adorable to see her excited about helping others because she knew what was going to happen.

But like it was said before, there’s more to Life is Strange than just a teenager’s life. And this is because all this is achieved through one of the main reasons for the game to exist. Those who have already played Telltale games are familiar with this kind of gameplay mechanics: choice making. It is quite obvious where the inspirations of this mechanic came from. A la The Walking Dead, most of the dialogue will have different options for you to choose what to say, including the option to keep asking more background story to the characters or going on with your life. But Life is Strange does a remarkable job at being its own original game instead of a carbon copy of another one that follows the same philosophy.

These are the key moments where rewinding time does its job at its best. After you have chosen to mock a character for being rude to you before, Max herself will doubt and wonder if she should have chosen to comfort her, motivating you to rewind and see what that other outcome is. But guess what? There is no “good” answer. Having the ability to know different short-term outcomes leaves Max with a lot of doubts as to what the long-term consequences will be. It is an extraordinary move from Dontnod to make us realize that the fact that you can undo your actions doesn’t always mean you’ll find the answer. You finally have the “but what if…” answer, but will a choice you make always be like you thought it would?

One might think that we can have the game already solved since the beginning but, actually, once you have left an area you’ll realize you can’t undo those previous actions anymore, a clear warning that you’ll have to be responsible for what you decided to do.

Again, Walking Dead style, your choices will not be for nothing, as at the end of every episode you’ll see all of your choices in the screen and the statistics of players around the world. However, unlike Telltale’s game, something quite nice is that you have two screens that show your decisions: one for the major choices, one for the minor choices. As you can guess, the major choices are the ones that will impact further episodes, but it is a nice touch to see that minor choices also have their own importance.

In addition, even during the course of the game, you’ll easily identify which ones are the major choices because you’ll be interrupted by a time-freeze with two different answers. It really helps the suspense grow, as you instantly know that this time you really need to think things through. You will still be able to rewind and choose a different answer, but it’s quite cool to know which moments will be key for future progress.

Before we continue, I’d like to point out that I personally believe it was way more dramatic that TWD gave us always a time limit to decide something without the chance to go back. But I also believe it is kind of cool to think that the time-freeze screen is some kind of self-defense mechanism for Max to avoid choosing wrong because, you know, she can now manipulate time. Which means extra points to Life is Strange for being original on its own.

And of course, it’s not that the only times you have interaction is through the dialogue. There are many things you can do to get distracted from the story. Max is a photographer, so you will have some opportunities to photograph some trivial scenarios that Max thinks are worth photographing. You can also speak with other characters and learn more about the story behind Blackwell, Arcadia Bay, or the mysteries itself. So you do have some freedom, too.

What Dontnod didn’t exactly took advantage of was the chance to create puzzles that involve this innovative mechanic. There are a few ones every now and then, but it was a great opportunity to fully exploit the potential of Max’s new ability. Fortunately, the plot itself steals the show most of the times so it is not a real problem. Although if you are the kind of gamer who prefers puzzles over story… maybe this is not the right place for you.

Regardless, as you keep progressing in the story, even since the first episode, you’ll understand why this game feels so humanly touching. As you explore the university and talk with your classmates, Max will always have a comment that suits her teenage spirit because she struggles to understand why things are the way they are, as well as expresses why she thinks something is cool or not so cool, including her crush on her favorite teacher, Mr. Jefferson.

After playing a little bit with time, the situations she just shaped the way she wanted will make Max’s best childhood friend, Chloe, reunite with her. This is the exact moment when everything begins to have a purpose. Chloe’s life has been too hard since Max left Arcadia Bay 5 years ago and now that they are together again, with the help of Max’s new super power, they are planning to solve all of the mysteries together. Max and Chloe’s relationship is something that keeps the magic of the game going.

Nonetheless, as we mentioned before, the game doesn’t have the best start. We are now talking about Episode 1 itself. It was not a bad episode, per se, because it had its moments. For example, discovering the awesome effects that rewinding time has or the emotional moments when Max and Chloe are reunited, the first interactions with very memorable characters that will make you wonder if they have a real purpose on the story and other crazy and twisted plot points that clearly are worth playing. But we really thought it needed something more because it never stops being just an introduction instead of an episode itself. Too many questions are aroused, and not in a “wow, what will happen next?” sense of the word, but in one that confuses us as to what is going on.

As the episodes go by, however, literally everything begins to change. During the course of the second episode is where we started to understand the real purpose of the world of Life is Strange. All those warnings about “choose wisely…” before the game even starts make sense at this point. More exploration, more character development, more background story, more time travelling stuff and definitely more jaw-dropping moments will totally make you instantly fall in love with this game. And we kid you not! Everything the first episode could have done better is now present in episode two. And the first incredibly shocking ending will be there right in front of your eyes.

Moving on, as you progress in the game with further episodes, the story becomes way too engaging to be true, honestly. Now that we know what to do and where to go, and are confident enough about our time travel power, everything plot wise becomes more engaging.

However… during the course of the episodes, there will be moments that are slightly boring because some of your decisions will not be dramatic anymore, as they are strongly related to previous choices you made, so it’s like you already know what to choose without thinking too much… at least that’s what happened to us. What makes it worse, too, is that as you progress even further… decisions become a bit too linear for a choice-driven game. There will be less moments where choices have drastically different outcomes. You will see the real consequences of some of your decisions from previous episodes, which is good while it lasts. But it really feels like Dontnod forgot a little bit about the impact of your potential choices to tell the one single story.

Which is definitely not exactly bad! The story itself is what will force you to keep playing and playing. Yes, choice making will definitely lose its relevance (until some point), but that doesn’t make it a bad game at all. As you keep going and going, everything starts becoming a plot twist with many shocking moments. And one thing that is for sure is that every single episode will end with a SERIOUSLY shocking cliffhanger. The story and the mechanics might lose their charm every now and then, but if there is something Dontnod does right, is to create a wonderful ending that makes you forget about those moments and continue to the next episode.

As you proceed to the conclusion… well, we have to be honest with all of you. We honestly believed it ended right the way it started, having very little impact on us. The conclusion is probably the most tedious part of the game. Don’t get us wrong, it isn’t a bad episode, either. There are epic and extremely heartbreaking conclusions to theories that you will probably make up along the way. But we do believe that it didn’t pay proper tribute to what the rest of the game had been so far. In any way, the endings will definitely satisfy you. Yes, you heard us right: there are different endings. So, we do recommend you: choose wisely.


Verdict:

Joe

I think Life is Strange is a game that carries inspiration from other games, but does a great job at being very original on its own. The story takes its time to make sense, but once it does, it never (and I mean NEVER) stops being engaging as it has a lot heartwarming and heartbreaking moments. Plus, the ability to rewind time and undo your previous action really becomes something truly innovative in video games. I also want to give extra points to the game for not making the whole game “solved” by undoing every one of your actions. The fact that Max’s powers have their own limits helps you be responsible for every choice you make. The bad thing I’d point out is that sometimes the game loses its way and forgets about what it was supposed to be. I also believe this time travelling mechanics allowed a lot of opportunities for many puzzles. It has some, yes, but it doesn’t feel like the game took proper advantage of that. However, we know that the game’s main priority is the story. And that is performed in an amazing way. The atmosphere, I mean the music, the art style, the characters, everything reminds you of how humanly real this game feels.

Score: 8/10

8 stars

Damla

Everyone knows that if the theme is “time travelling”, chaos is inevitable. Life is Strange is a game that shows us how complicated and harmful it is to play with time even if it seems  enjoyable and amazing to have the ability to rewind time, in the first place. Like it has been said before, there is more to Life is Strange than a teenager’s life and dreams. It’s a detective story, a thriller experience and more. Another point of view is the environment that the game has. In every episode, you see new places and realize that the game really focuses on making you see how the small pieces of the environment are important, from simple graffiti that act as a warning to the posters on the walls. And this game has secret messages in the background; these are the things that make the game more wonderful. Even if it has faults, Life is Strange has heart and that’s why it’s a game that must be played!

Score: 8/10

8 stars

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword In-depth Review

Warning: Major Spoiler Alert

If there’s somebody that can keep innovating the same franchise for many generations that’s of course, Nintendo. SS is the 16th iteration of the Zelda series and comes as one of the last games that will bid farewell to the Nintendo Wii. Let me tell you, there couldn’t be a better game to do this job because it’s the perfect cherry of the cake as it takes full advantage of everything the Wii had to offer. It’s hands down the best Wii game of all time and can probably be ranked as one of the best Zelda games of all time, as well.

Story

SS’s story is special firstly because it is meant to be the very first chronological title in the official timeline and how well it serves the function of its 15 sequels but at the same time how it manages to make you feel Link in a way no other game in the series has done before. The game is set on Skyloft, a remnant town in the sky which is what is left of The Surface before the bad guys attacked and took control of the whole land. It follows the very first journey of the very first Link that made a step in Hyrule in his quest to save Zelda from his kidnapper, Ghirahim, as the latter is willing to use her as a sacrifice to resurrect his master. For this Link will have to become the very first man to return to the cursed Surface.

You can’t help growing fond of this Link in particular because, as mentioned before, he is the first hero to actually be “a chosen one”. We are used to see every new and veteran Link be so skillful with his trusted weapons from the very beginning and witness everybody praise him for the instant hope he brings to the lands. However, that’s not the case here. This Link is NOT just another incarnation, he has no hero of legend running through his veins. He might be a natural with the sword, shield and Loftwings but it seems he wasn’t definitely ready for this kind of odyssey. This is more noticeable when Impa shows her disappointment after thinking the Goddess might have made a mistake in choosing her hero after being late “again” to save Zelda. I just couldn’t avoid feeling sad for Link when I saw the look on his face after hearing those words. This Link is green as grass and his quest to be the very first Hero of Hyrule is extremely memorable, being rescuing her special one his only motivation.

Which takes us to… Zelda. In this game, she is not a princess yet, she doesn’t even plan to become one someday. She is just an ordinary pretty girl that has never been so charismatic before. Her big, happy heart and relationship with Link is the strongest we have seen to date. As it has happened in other games before it, Link and Zelda are best friends since childhood but it’s the first time we have the chance to see them both taking a more romantic approach toward each other. Even if they don’t kiss or confess their love for one another there’s no doubt how cute they look together. Link’s desperation and, later on, conviction to rescue her and that final gaze at the Bokoblins prior to the final battle with Ghirahim just reflects how Link will not let anything stop him.

All this hero’s thing is made with the help of Fi, who probably is hand in hand with Navi and Midna as one of the most memorable sidekicks Link has had. She catches everybody’s eye since the beginning for being the spirit inside the Master Sword. She has an extremely robotic personality, because that’s what she was created for, but as the story progresses, she starts learning from Link’s emotions, and starts developing her own. It was nice that the game did NOT directly make you be aware of that, but rather let you notice it by your own as Fi’s conversations begin to be more emotional every time. And her last goodbye is definitely touching.

It’s also noteworthy to mention the main villains: Ghirahim and his master, Demise. Ghirahim is portrayed as a villain we would love to hate, and it’s true. He is a unique antagonist in all Zelda games and his moves makes him a formidable rival to Link. Demise, on the other hand, resulted as an amazing way to tell Ganondorf’s REAL roots. There’s no hint in the whole game that some Ganon’s ancestor would be the bad guy (there’s always one if he is) and the fact that they kept it that way until we, by our own eyes with no in-game mention, encounter him in the final battle makes it a shocking discovery.

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The great story of the only Link destined to become a man by himself, his endearing relationship with Zelda as no other game before it, and the utterly likeable characters as a whole wins this game a perfect 10 in Story.

Gameplay

Another great factor that makes the game so immersive is the motion controllers. Thanks to this game, being a swashbuckler has never felt so real and Wii has never been more fun before. SS is the game that takes advantage of the full capabilities of the Wiimote and the Motion Plus because Link’s arm will follow every direction you swing your controller to. The best part of this comes when you find all those enemies that block your moves from, say, the right side of their bodies, so you will need to attack them from the other side. As the story progresses, more original enemies will appear and it will make you replan your strategy. But the cool thing is that not only the Master Sword is the one that takes all the glory, but also your whole arsenal. There are two ways you can control your Bow and Arrow. The casual way, to use the pointer and press A to shoot, or the “immersive” way to hold both Nunchuk and Wiimote as an actual Bow and Arrow. I called it immersive way because it is actually a lot of fun to try it that way, especially with Boss Tentallus, who requires an arrow in the eye to give you a chance to finish him.

As for how the game is structured we still have to go to dungeons and fight boss battles inside and all the stuff we know about Zelda. However, the temples were actually very original, so different. Lanayru’s Mine Facility is probably the coolest because of how you have to make use of the TimeShift Stones to travel to the past and solve puzzles that way. Still, I would have liked Nintendo to put a temple in the sky as well. I know the final temple is in the sky but it doesn’t feel… sky-ish. It would have been awesome to have one that truly made us remember we were in the sky, like City in the Sky from Twilight Princess. But it’s something minor, it definitely don’t affect the rest of the game.

The boss battles are actually quite fun to fight. I liked battling The Imprisoned every single time he has awaken again with his new limbs and ability to fly. He was totally the hardest boss in the game for me, especially with my stamina running out and having to make use of the potions to run without getting tired. Yet, my favorite boss has to be Koloktos, from Ancient Cistern. It just felt so cool to grab his own weapon and smash him to death. And the fact that you can fight all the bosses in challenging new modes with Lanayru is an exciting training mode that requires all your Zelda skills!

To finish with this, it’s true, sometimes the controllers are not that responsive and you have to hold them always in one direction. The shield also has hard times to respond. However. There’s no doubt that Skyward Sword is the game that manages to deliver everything the Wii wanted to offer since the very beginning. It is definitely what the utter successor of Twilight Princess in terms of gameplay.  For that reason and the constant fun with enemies and boss battles, Gameplay receives an outstanding score of 9.

Atmosphere

Apart from the story, what makes Skyward Sword be so immersive is its art style. There was controversy about that decision. The team behind it even admitted they had planned to make it as dark as TP, but instead drew upon this one because the story was more suitable for it. Many will complain but it is one of the great distinctive factors that makes this a beautiful sight for sore eyes. It definitely is like a painting brought to life. It definitely doesn’t have any “childish” attributes because even the music has a great a role every time a relaxing or tense situation is there. I loved the first time I saw Fi. Her theme is so beautiful and it made that situation feel like a spiritual encounter with some random entity. The Gate of Time’s theme is one of the most beautiful Zelda theme’s I have heard because it reflected the sadness and worry Impa feels regarding Demise and how we have to build up enough courage to keep fighting.

When it comes to the world itself, we still have Hyrule (although they really don’t call it Hyrule just yet) and we have the same locations that are present in the other Zelda games, but, instead of an evolved area, it’s a primitive look at them. Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano and Lanayru Desert all serve as what Hyrule was before any other time. The fun thing is that we travel in time to see everything before it became Gerudo Fortress, Lake Hylia, Death Mountain and so on, although no real connection is established in-game. However, there’s something in this category that feels it could have been better.

You see that we have two maps: the Surface and the Sky. In the Surface, once you have completed your mission there’s really nothing else to explore, and the sky feels a little empty. There were not many things that made me want to soar the skies because I had almost nothing to discover. Hyrule as a whole is quite enormous but doesn’t make you feel you can explore it. Although the coolest thing about the Sky was probably Biloctyle. That boss fight on top of my Loftwing was amazing and definitely challenging.

The number places you can visit are actually very low and there’s only one real town: Skyloft and there aren’t exactly many side quests. But, still, the story as such doesn’t demand any more things than what it has. The characters are all enjoyable, the romance between Link and Zelda is so charming and visual aspect is simply gorgeous. All these earns him another great 8.5.

Conclusion

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a remarkable game. It is definitely a true innovation in terms of gameplay, the story is more endearing than ever, the art style has an impressive beauty and the music is just gorgeous to the ear. The world doesn’t feel that developed but the story has no need of that to remain authentic. It’s true within my heart that this game can be ranked as one of the best Zelda games ever created.

Rating: 9.2

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