Adventure Corner: Life Is Strange: True Colors
Welcome to Adventure Corner, a column where members of the RPGamer staff can give their thoughts, impressions, and pseudo-reviews for various adventure titles that don’t come under our usual coverage. Adventure Corner is aimed at delivering opinions on a wide range of titles including visual novels, point-and-click adventures, investigative mysteries, and so forth.
In this edition of the column, we take a look at Life Is Strange: True Colors, an emotional adventure that is available on most platforms.
Life Is Strange: True Colors
If you’ve ever lost someone or something important to you, it can change your entire well-being. Grief is an all-encompassing emotion that can start small and quiet, then transform into something explosive at the drop of a hat. Grief is such a messy emotion, and it’s because you’re cycling through every emotion without any sense of control. Life Is Strange: True Colors is an exploration of grief and found family, and it expresses these themes through the eyes of twenty-one-year-old Alex Chen, who has just left the foster care system to be reunited with her older brother Gabe in the mining town of Haven Springs, Colorado.
Haven Springs is the kind of small town many of us idealize — friendly residents and scenic views. When Alex meets Gabe for the first time, he says to her that “family is something you build,” and that statement rings true through all the relationships Alex creates. Alex comes to Haven Springs to be with her brother and to start a new life. However, that new life is put on pause when Gabe dies the same day in a tragic accident to save the life of a resident who went to the mines unsupervised. This death is the catalyst for Alex’s story, as she questions whether Gabe’s death was preventable, and who should be accountable for it. With her empathic abilities, Alex begins her journey to seek justice for the death of her brother, even if it means reading emotions or potentially manipulating people for information.
Life Is Strange: True Colors is a supremely compelling emotional experience. Players learn that Alex Chen possesses the ability to read people’s emotions, and when an emotion is heightened, she can take it into herself, relieving the other person of their pain. The core emotions that appear are anger, fear, joy, and sadness, and are triggered by human interaction, and objects as well. Exploring Alex’s surroundings allows the player to learn more about the residents and the potential secrets they are hiding. Depending on the secret, Alex can choose to do nothing, or potentially exploit someone for information. Since True Colors is a choice-driven game, it’s important to recognize that all the decisions have different outcomes and potential consequences, so players must weigh their options carefully throughout.
The first decisions are tough to make, and the choices thereafter do not get any easier. Playing through True Colors was a difficult experience for me as I could relate to Alex on such a personal level. Being empathic means being in tune with people’s emotions, but the core issue that comes about is the struggle to balance helping others and taking care of yourself. Alex wants to help every single person she meets and gives herself wholeheartedly, but that is also detrimental to how she views herself and how she believes others perceive her.
Being empathic means being vulnerable, and this is where Alex’s character shines. Alex Chen is a reminder that mentally we can all only take on so much before we implode, but she also reminds us how important it is to care about those around you, especially when you’re learning to rebuild your life and your family. This is all the more reason why chosen family is such an important theme in the story, as it reminds us that any of us who have come from hardship can and will always find people who love and have our best interests at heart. Playing through Alex’s story of finding a new home and family is a beautiful and emotional experience that I couldn’t stop thinking about, even after I rolled credits.
The game’s presentation is stunning, with facial captures providing incredibly expressive characters. It’s amazing to see how far games have come in terms of facial and motion capture, and this is on top of how beautiful Haven Springs is to explore. There are so many little details and storylines constantly flowing through the game, from helping a simple birdwatcher to a man looking at breakup records all because he lost his dog. The game even has a full LARP storyline in it that has interesting details to uncover, and it’s just such a fun and magical moment in Alex’s story as well. At this point during this event when the game shifts to a simple turn-based RPG, wherein Alex and Ethan must slay an evil overlord and retrieve three magical jewels. This moment is funny, heartfelt, and the change in gameplay fits the overall tone of the ongoing event. These moments capture so much joy and are great reminders that even when we are grieving, these instances are valid and important.
Although the facial and motion capture is stunning, there are the odd graphical hiccups that occur on the PlayStation 4 version, with the occasional element incorrectly loading. Many of the backgrounds in the game, especially in somber moments, look like watercolor paintings, and a lot of the background environments are gorgeous to look at. There is also a lot of attention to detail in terms of how Haven Springs is presented to the player as being an idyllic mining town. The graphical presentation does a great of immersing the player in Alex’s story. Meanwhile, True Colors audio is perfect. Erika Mori’s performance as Alex Chen is unforgettable. She is backed by a cast of strong performances who truly give it their all to make Haven Springs bustle with life. On top of the strong acting, the game features tons of song covers such as Radiohead’s “Creep” and the Violent Femmes “Blister in the Sun,” sung by the talented mxmtoon. The original music throughout is welcome ear-candy, as it’s easy to lose oneself to the music during the more subtle moments in the game’s narrative.
As a longtime fan of Life Is Strange, I continue to be impressed with the direction that the series is moving in and how it tackles tough subject matters, and True Colors now stands as my favourite game in the series. I don’t think I have ever felt so seen while playing a game before. Alex’s story mirrors so much of my own life experience that sometimes it made me feel uncomfortable. Even as I hit the last chapter, my connection to her and her life grew further, and her struggles reminded me of my vulnerabilities. True Colors offers a story that hits a multitude of emotions and it does it wearing its heart on its sleeve. Everything about the game is compelling, from its wonderfully amazing cast of characters to the difficult decisions, to even the unfolding mystery. Life Is Strange: True Colors stands as being one of the best narrative-driven games in 2021, and I urge anyone who loves deep storytelling rooted in the real world to check this game out. You will not be disappointed.