Life is Strange: True Colors - Emotional Devastation by Video Game
By: L. Sahara McGirt
Developer: Deck Nine Games
Publisher: Square Enix Ltd.
Available on: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Playstation 5, Playstation 4, PC, Stadia, Nintendo Switch
Review platform: Xbox Series X
Have you ever been emotionally devastated by a video game? Well, if you plan to play Life is Strange: True Colors, prepare to be emotionally ruined.
In a good way.
The Nitty Gritty
But, before we get into the emotional carnage, the game opens with accessibility settings, which already placed it in my good graces. Whether you need a cleaned-up sans font for the captions (great for folks who don't like the default font) or to use filters that help those with different types of color blindness differentiate auras in the game.
There are also options to skip gameplay that requires quick reflexes, slow down decision-making with a longer choice timer, and provide you with major choice prompts that make you confirm game-changing decisions. I took advantage of the latter because my ADHD often means I will sometimes just hit buttons impatiently. I have often been screwed by this tendency, especially in games where decisions are involved. The ability to give myself extra time to make decisions is also great for my anxiety because I tend to overthink my choices, which has had the added effect of not getting to make the decision I want to because I didn't react fast enough. Basically, I either react too quickly or too slowly, and I have no in-between. Having these options is really helpful.
Warnings for intense audio and visuals also exist as a setting, so if you have anything that might be affected by that, you have the option to receive a prompt to adjust the game's brightness and audio settings.
Meet Alex Chen, She's a Weirdo
The protagonist of Life is Strange is one Alex Chen. She's had the ability to read other people's emotions as colored "auras" for a while now. More than that, if she gets close enough, sometimes she can know what other people are thinking. Her power includes the ability to access people's memories from objects that hold heavy emotional significance to someone. The downside? Intense emotions can be crippling to Alex, causing her to lose control of herself. Which has caused people to think she has major psychological problems.
We've all been there. I think. Who can blame her when she can feel what other people feel without any kind of control or ability to filter it out?
Having the power of empathy seems like it would be cheesy when utilized badly as an ability in a video game. Especially in a series of games such as Life is Strange, where our protagonists develop mysterious powers and then go on to live through some pretty harrowing stuff that is already rife with the emotional reactions of the LiS series characters. It's also a power that could be invasive and emotionally manipulative, depending on how players use it. However, True Colors somehow avoids making Alex's power any of those things most of the time. No spoilers, but when Alex does use her powers in a potentially shady way, the game does the work to keep it from being too invasive.
Alex as a protagonist is deeply relatable and likable. Unlike our previous angsty young protagonists, Alex is mature, and the choices you have to make are much more reasonable. As a foster kid, she's been through some stuff, and while tragic, she wants to make the best of her entry into the town of Haven, where she's meeting back up with her brother Gabe for the first time in 8 years.
The Life is Strange series itself seems to have matured with the introduction of Alex Chen's story. The dialogue is better, the motivations and emotions of the characters more real, and grappling with the events of the game are more grounded through Alex.
Buckle Up, This Story is an Intense Tear-Jerker
I won't dig into the details of Life is Strange: True Colors' plot outside of Chapter 1 too much because, once again, *no spoilers* but this game had me harshly invested, to the point where once I started, I had to keep going, which caused me to finish the game in two days. The plot overall was emotional impact after emotional impact to the point where I often had to stop and pause to process the game and whatever just happened.
Chapter 1 of the game is about Alex coming to Haven Springs to reconnect with her brother Gabe. Expectedly, if you've been watching the trailers, Gabe dies by the end of the chapter. Unexpectedly, the moment he died left me an emotional wreck because I was heavily invested in Gabe and Alex's siblingship. As someone with five siblings that I think of as my bonus best friends, Gabe and Alex's relationships felt incredibly real, hitting those beats that strong sibling relationships have. Despite 8 years apart, rather than resent each other, the two siblings are excited and pick up on old interactions somewhat hesitantly, but once they get going, it's almost easy, as if they were never apart. Even when conflict does arise, Gabe and Alex take the time to communicate and understand one another.
By the end of Chapter 1, I was heavily invested in the game's plot, the town of Haven Springs, and Alex. Chapter 2 furthers the story and the characters by digging into their grief, making True Colors all the more real-feeling and impactful. It took me a while to get through Chapter 2 because I had to take breaks to cry. I am not afraid to admit that.
It didn't help that my cat, Lightning, recently died, and after 20 years with him as a major part of my life, I am still learning how to live without him. Grief was a major part of True Colors, and since I am still grieving, it was a lot to handle and process. While the Life is Strange series has always dealt with grief in some way, True Colors takes the impact of grief much further. Through Alex, we experience and process the grief of the various townspeople, which, oddly enough, helped Alex process her grief and then me process my own. There was a point where a character mentions that the person she would go to for comfort at that very moment is the one person who is no longer there: Gabe. A hard hit because that was Lightning for me.
The characters of Haven Springs had some of the realest emotional reactions I think I have seen toward grief in any of the Life is Strange games, possibly any game, really. You meet up with various characters and find them hurting, confused, sad, and angry all in varying stages and degrees of intense emotions. Meanwhile, Alex's grief isn't exactly handed to us on a platter but earned through her interactions with other people.
The subsequent chapters include processing grief through LARPing, and then after that, major plot twists that are catastrophic to Alex and the townspeople and what they know about each other and the history of Haven Springs. Some of these plot twists left me a little shattered because of how unexpected they were, especially in the face of how Alex perceived events and the characters of the town.
True Colors digs into the emotional depths of the characters in ways I have never witnessed before in any game. The internal worlds of the townspeople are incredibly varied, painfully real, & utterly devastating even in the happiest of moments. I would dig further into the townspeople of Haven Springs, but I really don't want to spoil anything about them, as the outcomes of your decisions in Life is Strange by the end are heavily dependent on how you interact with the other characters. Make your choices wisely and empathetically.
True Colors is not without its moments of joy. While the plot is often heavy and the emotions of the characters are interwoven with the events of the game, there are moments where we get to savor the moment with Alex and the other characters. Joy in the game is, as it often is in real life, something to give us a brief break from all the hardballs life throws at us.
To Woo, or Not to Woo?
Which, brings us to the possibility of finding joy for Alex by forming a romance with someone in the town of Haven Springs. There are two romance options for Alex: Steph and Ryan. Alex's preference is up to the player. Both options are pretty great people, so while I won't assume, bisexual players might have a crisis trying to pick one over the other.
I chose Steph and found her to be a fantastic love interest for Alex. Steph is actually one of the characters from one of the previous Life is Strange titles, Before the Storm. She's nerdy, enjoying D&D and a good LARP, plays the drums, and is obnoxiously confident in a charming way.
Ryan, on the other hand, is a total nature nerd which works because he is a state park ranger. He's kind, funny, and caring. Regardless of who you choose or not, Steph and Ryan are well worth getting to know.
I wish there were more scenes building up the relationships with both Steph and Ryan, even as friends. More interactions would have made their interest in Alex seem more organic. Though, with how heavy the plot of True Colors is, perhaps that would have felt out of place.
Savor the Scenery and the Soundtrack
The Life is Strange series has always had great soundtracks. True Colors continues that tradition. As a series, LiS is an emotionally sensory experience, where the soundtrack often plays into the emotional beats of the game. However, the ways in which sound and visuals tie into the emotional are extra emphasized in True Colors with Alex's connection to music through guitar playing. Whenever she sings and plays the guitar, the song has to do with how she is feeling, giving us further insight into Alex's internal world. There are also moments where Alex can stop and listen to music while checking out the magnificent scenery of Haven Springs. Stopping to savor music and the scenery gives players the ability to hear Alex's thoughts about the townspeople and the game's events. Those moments are well worth pausing the plot of the game to sit for the length of a song as Haven Springs is ridiculously beautiful to look at.
Check out the Spotify playlist if you want to get a little bit of a preview of the soundtrack.
Sometimes Closure is Messy as Hell
The true power at the core of Life is Strange: True Colors is emotional truth and vulnerability. Both of which are sometimes messy. As is the ending of the game. While LiS: True Colors hit intense emotional beats in incredibly deep and devastatingly satisfactory ways, closure is not always, as is said in the launch trailer, "not the kind we are looking for."
For that, True Colors is almost perfect. I give it a 9.5/10.
**Life is Strange: True Colors deals with a lot of heavy themes with plot points that are, at times, incredibly traumatic for Alex and can be such for players. If you are playing or do play Life is Strange: True Colors and find the game to be too much or triggering, please reach out to Stack Up's Overwatch Program.* *