Life Is Strange’s Mundane Moments Are Its Most Magical

Square Enix has announced a new Direct style presentation coming next week – since I guess everybody is doing those now – where its big hitter will be the reveal of a new Life is Strange game. Rather than a continuation of LiS or LiS 2, it’ll instead be a brand new character with brand new powers. When I read this, it confused me a little, because it’s not like Square Enix was revealing a new hero for the Avengers game – although they likely will do that too. What does new powers mean? Then I remembered that both games were magical; I just always associated them with a very different kind of magic.

In Life is Strange, we play as Max Caulfield, a high school student with the ability to reverse time. In the sequel, we play as another high school student in a different part of the USA, Sean Diaz. He has no powers, but his little brother Daniel has telekinesis. Much like Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian, Daniel’s powers start off either very weak or too strong for him to control, and he slowly gets a firmer grip on them. Max, for the record, always has control apart from the very first time, but the more she uses it, the more consequences she faces later on. These powers are a major part of the game, they are used in the gameplay to remove obstacles and in the narrative to set up key events, and specific decisions around both Max’s and Daniel’s powers shapes the ending you get.

Square Enix is right to lead with the ‘new power’ angle. It’s crucial to what makes Life is Strange tick. Yet for a moment, I’d forgotten it was even a thing. It’s not like that’s anything to do with me forgetting bits of Life is Strange either; I’m a huge fan of the series, with the first one probably in my top five games in the last decade, and even now I’m having to look up what other games were announced because… who cares? Life is Strange 3, baby!

The reason I think it slipped my mind is because Life is Strange has a magic that goes so much deeper. The magic comes from Max and Chloe swimming in the pool. From Max talking Kate down off the roof. From David turning out to be a character with deep nuance, saving Max from Jefferson. True, at least two of these scenes do explicitly rely on Max’s powers, but they’re so much more than a vehicle for time reversal, they’re vital character moments bursting with heart.

In Life is Strange 2, the magic is significantly darker. The Diaz boys are on the run after a racist police officer overreacted and shot their Mexican father, with Daniel’s uncontrollable power then wreaking havoc at the scene. The game still has time for joy, whether that be Sean and Daniel’s ever evolving wolf story, Captain Spirit, or Sean kiss with either Finn or Cassidy. However, because the boys are constantly forced to move around and because the game is so unflinching in its portrayal of racism, the magic comes from the bright spots of hope in between. The commune of outsiders – including a more well rounded David from the first game – is Life is Strange 2’s most mundane setting, but also its most magical.

The first Life is Strange is not all sunshine and rainbows of course. It revolves around the abduction, grooming, implied sexual assault and in one case, murder, of teenage girls. But Max for the most part is an outsider to this, an investigator trying to uncover the mystery. The Diaz boys do not have the luxury of being outsiders, at least not to the game’s central trauma. American citizens their whole life, they suddenly find themselves looked upon as outsiders within their own country, as job stealing, lawless immigrants – all because the police shot their father because somebody else had paint on his shirt.

This evolution in the games’ depictions of magic both real and metaphorical is evident in their endings. While I personally prefer the first outing, I recognise that Life is Strange 2 is braver and more secure in its construction of its story, and the way the endings present themselves show this. Max is left with a binary choice: Bay or Bae. Aside from how they make you as a player feel, none of the other choices matter in this moment – everyone gets the same ending. With Life is Strange 2, your job is to teach Daniel morality, respect for others, and control over his power throughout the game. Each decision that you make here shapes how he feels about his power, and that influences the ultimate ending rather than just letting you choose it in a single moment.

We even see this character driven magic in Life is Strange’s cousin, Tell Me Why. There, the twins can communicate using only their thoughts, and can occasionally cause astral projection, but the most magical moment is Tyler and Michael ice fishing on the lake. Tell Me Why also had more even subtle choices to make, something Life is Strange 3 will hopefully take influence from.

I think it’s also worth giving Square Enix credit for how it’s putting this Direct together. While it’s clearly not an original idea to do a showcase like this, telling us upfront exactly what games are going to be mentioned seems like a smart move. The fans of the games listed can get hyped up, and nobody will be disappointed when it turns out there’s no Final Fantasy news, because they’ve told us in advance it’s not happening. There will still probably be someone calling out for Chloe Price in Smash, but gaming fan bases can be ravenous beasts and being so upfront about what will happen is a great way to counteract that.

Life is Strange is a magical game in that the plots are literally built around magic realism, but that’s never the magic I remember.

Next: I’m Still Hoping For A Sunset Overdrive Sequel

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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey

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