Life Is Strange

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Life Is Strange
LiS--series-logo.png
Genre(s)Graphic adventure
Developer(s)
Publisher(s)Square Enix
First releaseLife Is Strange
30 January 2015
Latest releaseLife Is Strange Remastered Collection
1 February 2022

Life Is Strange (abbreviated LIS)[1] is a series of primarily episodic graphic adventure games published by Square Enix's European subsidiary. Created by Dontnod Entertainment, the series debuted with the eponymous first installment, which released episodically in five chapters across 2015. It was followed by a prequel, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, which was developed by Deck Nine and released in three episodes across 2017, with a Downloadable Content (DLC) bonus episode released in early 2018. A third installment, Life Is Strange 2, and its spin-off The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit were once again developed by Dontnod and released between 2018 and 2019. A fifth installment, Life Is Strange: True Colors, released in its entirety on 10 September 2021. Additionally, a remastered collection of the original game and its prequel was released in February 2022.

The series has spawned a comic series set after one of the original game's possible endings, and an in-universe book detailing life at the fictional Blackwell Academy.

History[edit]

Following the critical and commercial failure of their 2013 action-adventure game Remember Me, French game developer Dontnod Entertainment was forced to restructure and reinvent themselves. Dontnod CEO Oskar Guilbert explained "Before, what we wanted to do was make big games with large teams and long production cycles... So we had to change that, do something smaller with smaller teams. We didn’t want to do just a small game; we also wanted to bring something new to the market."[2]

Life Is Strange was conceived around the rewind mechanic, a concept which had already been briefly explored in Remember Me. The protagonist of the first game, Max Caulfield, was created with the ability to rewind time to supplement this mechanism. Development began in April 2013 with a team of 15 people, with further people added as the collaboration with Square Enix began.[3] Before signing with Square Enix, Dontnod imagined Life Is Strange as a full-length video game similar to Remember Me that Dontnod would self-publish; however, Square Enix realised it would be more successful as an episodic title, both for creative reasons, financial restrictions[4] and marketing purposes.[5] This allowed them to tell the story at a slower pace.[6]

Development began under the working title What If, before being retitled to avoid confusion with the film of the same name.[7] It was Dontnod's second title with a female protagonist, and most prospective publishers were unwilling to publish a game unless it had a male protagonist. Guilbert also challenged the idea at the start. Dontnod Creative Director Jean-Maxime Moris explained that Square Enix was the only publisher with no intention to change this. "Square [Enix] is basically the only publisher who didn't want to change anything about the game... we had other publishers telling us to make it a male lead character, and Square didn't even question that once."[8][9]

For the first game, the Pacific Northwest was chosen for the setting to convey a nostalgic and autumnal feel, with the team eventually settling on Oregon as the location of the fictional town of Arcadia Bay.[10] It was decided early on that most of the budget be spent on the writing and voice actors.[11] The story was originally written in French by Jean-Luc Cano, and converted into a game script by the game's co-directors and design team. This was then handed over to Christian Divine and Cano to be fine tuned in English.[12][13] Recording sessions were done in Los Angeles, California, with the French developer brought in via Skype.[14][15] The textures seen in the game were entirely hand painted, adapted to achieve what art director Michel Koch called "impressionistic rendering".[16] Sources of inspiration include the visual novel Danganronpa, in terms of balancing gameplay and story, and the novel The Catcher in the Rye, whose protagonist Holden Caulfield shares a surname with Max, the first game's lead character.[17] For the sake of realism, the supernatural elements were designed as a metaphor for the characters' inner conflict,[18] and experts were consulted to tackle difficult subjects such as teen suicide.[19]

Following the release and rapid success of the first Life is Strange, publisher Square Enix chose American developer Deck Nine to develop a prequel game focusing on the life of Chloe Price,[20] while the Dontnod team began developing a direct sequel. Development on the project began in 2016 with assistance from Square Enix' London Studios.[21] Ashly Burch, who voiced Chloe in Life Is Strange, was replaced by Rhianna DeVries due to the SAG-AFTRA strike.[22] However, Burch and Hannah Telle, who voiced Max Caulfield, both reprised their roles for the bonus episode Farewell.[23] The project went under various working titles during development.[24] The writers researched memoirs and psychology to understand Chloe's grieving process,[25] and the script for the game was over 1,500 pages, written by lead writer Zak Garriss and a writers' room. Prior to its official announcement, images had leaked online indicating that a prequel to Life Is Strange was in development.[26] Square Enix revealed Life Is Strange: Before the Storm on 11 June during Microsoft's E3 2017 presentation.[27]

Dontnod had decided early on that prospective follow-ups to Life Is Strange would feature new characters and locations to the original, with the developers feeling that Max and Chloe's story had run its course over the first two games.[28][29] Game Co-Director Raoul Barbet explained that "It’s a question we asked ourselves at the beginning. Is it Max and Chloe, Arcadia Bay? No, it’s about everyday characters, relatable characters with stories you can involve yourself in, because it reflects your own experiences. With some supernatural stuff on the top." Michel Koch added that "everyone loved Max, Chloe, Rachel... But [their story]...it's done. We have nothing more to tell. We don't want to. Other people will do it, and it's okay... But for us, we have nothing more to do. Take [them] and do whatever you want."[30]

Development on Life Is Strange 2 began in early 2016 as the first game shipped its physical edition.[31][32] Michel Koch and Raoul Barbet returned to direct the sequel,[33] with Christian Divine and Jean-Luc Cano reprising their roles as co-writers.[34][35][36] The concept was influenced by the photography of Mike Brodie, who would freighthop across the United States and take pictures of drifters.[37] The game is structured like a road movie, inspired by the film Into the Wild and novella Of Mice and Men. Dontnod conducted field research on the West Coast of the United States, meeting people and taking pictures there.[35][38] The two primary themes of the game are education and brotherhood.[39] Using the Unreal Engine 4, they upgraded the animation system, physics, and shaders. According to Dontnod, one of the biggest challenges of development was the artificial intelligence of the character Daniel.[35]

Deck Nine began work on True Colors after completing Before the Storm in 2017.[40] A common theme of the Life is Strange series has been based on characters with a type of super-human ability, though not like superheroes, that the developers can then provide "meditations on real experiences that regular people go through", according to Felice Kuan, senior writer at Deck Nine.[41] For True Colors, they had determined early on they wanted their protagonist to be based on a power around empathy, not only to be able to sense what others were experiencing but to be vulnerable herself and would be able to grow past this as the story progressed, "giving her a path to greater self-acceptance and greater trust in her own abilities" according to Kuan.[41] This led to creating the story around Alex losing her brother early in the game as a driver for her to explore her empathy powers and reveal more about her past as she uses them.[41] Erika Mori portrays Alex through full performance capture, which Mori said was "instrumental in successfully creating this game about empathy because it allowed us to get really high-fidelity facial expressions that were organically connected to whatever was going on with my voice and body in a particular scene."[42]

Gameplay[edit]

The Life Is Strange games are graphic adventures played from a third-person view. The player can examine and interact with objects, which enables puzzle solving in the form of fetch quests and making changes to the environment. The player can explore locations and communicate with non-playable characters. Dialogue exchanges feature branching options in conversation. In some instances, choices in dialogue will alter and affect the story through short- or long-term consequences. For each one of the choices, something good in the short term could turn out worse later.

Each individual game in the series features a central mechanic unique to that game. In Life is Strange, the player (as Max) has access to a "rewind" ability, which allows them to rewind time and alter the course of events. The rewind mechanic is accessible in conversation, allowing players to navigate branching dialogue options and change the outcome of a conversation to be beneficial to the player. Items picked up are kept in the inventory after a rewind, and changes in the environment remain in place. In Before the Storm, Chloe has a "backtalk" mechanic that allows her to persuade and intimidate other characters through conversation, with either positive or negative effects. In Life is Strange 2, the player (as Sean) must guide Daniel, who has the power of telekinesis, through various moral and ethical choices that will influence how he will use his powers to help or hinder the player as the game progresses. In True Colors, the player (as Alex) has psychic empathy powers that allow her to read and manipulate emotions, which she perceives as colorful auras, to physically see how others feel around her at the cost of being "infected" by their emotions. Some of the non-player characters will have more intense auras indicating trauma or hardship they may be going through. When Alex interacts with them, this creates a "nova" that appears to transform the world around Alex and the character to reflect elements of this trauma, giving the opportunity for the player to figure out what caused their emotions and to opt to guide Alex in helping to comfort the character.

Games[edit]

Release timeline
2015Life Is Strange
2016
2017Life Is Strange: Before the Storm
2018The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit
Life Is Strange 2
(Episode 1)
2019Life Is Strange 2
(Episodes 2–5)
2020
2021Life Is Strange: True Colors

Life Is Strange[edit]

Maxine "Max" Caulfield returns to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, where she witnesses childhood friend Chloe Price being shot in the school bathroom. The incident triggers Max's abilities to rewind time, allowing her to save Chloe from the gunman. As the two friends begin to reconnect, Max has visions of a violent storm approaching Arcadia Bay, and uses her newfound powers to help Chloe track down her missing friend Rachel Amber.

The game was released in five episodes across 2015 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows, with iOS, Android and MacOS, Linux versions released later on. Episode 1: Chrysalis was released on 30 January,[43] Episode 2: Out Of Time on 24 March,[44] Episode 3: Chaos Theory on 19 May,[45] Episode 4: Dark Room on 28 July,[46] and Episode 5: Polarized on 20 October.[47] Retail editions of the complete season for Xbox One, PS4 and PC were released on 22 January 2016 in Europe, and 19 January 2016 in North America.[48][49]

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm[edit]

Three years before the events of Life Is Strange, Chloe Price is struggling with the death of her father when she meets and befriends popular student Rachel Amber. As the two develop an intense relationship, they uncover long-buried secrets within the Amber family that lead Rachel on a search for her birth mother.

The game was released in three episodes across 2017 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Microsoft Windows, with iOS, Android and MacOS, Linux versions released later on. Episode 1: Awake was released on 31 August, Episode 2: Brave New World on 19 October,[50] and Episode 3: Hell Is Empty on 20 December.[51] The Deluxe Edition included the DLC bonus episode Farewell, released on 6 March 2018.[52] In it, Max struggles to tell Chloe of her imminent move to Seattle. To distract herself, she lets Chloe take them on a pirate treasure hunt in search of "treasure" buried by Chloe's father, William. Their day is ultimately cut short by the news of William's death.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit[edit]

Christopher "Chris" Eriksen fashions himself into the superhero Captain Spirit to help his alcoholic father set up the house for Christmas. He imagines his various chores as supervillains to be defeated - including his arch-nemesis Mantroid, an embodiment of his feelings surrounding the death of his mother in a hit-and-run. After an argument with his father, Chris falls from his treehouse, but mysteriously levitates instead of hitting the ground, and spots two boys watching from afar (who appear in Life Is Strange 2).

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit was released on 25 June 2018 as a free demo for Life Is Strange 2, and takes place during the events of that game's second episode.[53]

Life Is Strange 2[edit]

Sean Diaz and his younger brother Daniel flee their home in Seattle following their father's death at the hands of a police officer. An explosion damages the environment and following the incident, Daniel develops telekenetic abilities. Now fugitives, the brothers embark on a cross-country roadtrip down the American West Coast toward their father's homeland of Puerto Lobos, Mexico, as Sean struggles to step up as a father figure for Daniel and guide him through the moral implications of his new-found powers. As they meet friends and foes along the road, including their estranged mother, the decisions Sean makes shape who Daniel will become, and eventually the ultimate outcome of their journey.

The game was released in five episodes for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Microsoft Windows, with MacOS and Linux versions released shortly after the final episode. Episode 1: Roads was released on 27 September 2018.[54][55] Episode 2: Rules was released on 24 January 2019.[56] Episode 3: Wastelands was released on 9 May 2019. Episode 4: Faith was released on 22 August 2019. Episode 5: Wolves was released on 3 December 2019.[57] Retail editions of the complete season were released on 3 December 2019 in Europe, and 4 February 2020 in North America.[58]

Life Is Strange: True Colors[edit]

Alex Chen hides her "curse": the psychic power of Empathy, the ability to absorb the emotions of others. When her brother dies in a so-called accident, Alex must embrace her power to find the truth.

The game was released on 10 September 2021 for Stadia, Xbox One and Series X/S, PlayStation 4 and PS5 and Microsoft Windows.[59][60] Announced as the third mainline game of the series, it was released entirely while still being structured in five chapters. It released on Nintendo Switch on 7 December that year.[61] The Deluxe Edition includes the DLC story Wavelengths.[62]

Life Is Strange Remastered Collection[edit]

Life Is Strange Remastered Collection is a remastered collection of Life Is Strange and Life Is Strange: Before the Storm developed by Deck Nine and Black Tower Studios. It was released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia in February 2022 and will release for Nintendo Switch later that year. The collection is said to include all previously released content with remastered visuals, improved character animation using full facial motion capture, refined gameplay puzzles, and engine and lighting upgrades. It was available as part of the Ultimate Edition of Life Is Strange: True Colors, or as a stand-alone release.

The collection was announced alongside Life Is Strange: True Colors on 21 March 2021. On 15 June 2021, it was then announced to release on 30 September 2021, on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S backwards-compatible).[63][64][65] The Nintendo Switch version was announced during the Nintendo Direct E3 2021 presentation, then for release later this year.[60] On 11 August, the collection was delayed to early 2022, alongside an announcement of the Life Is Strange: True Colors DLC, Wavelengths, releasing on 30 September.[62] On 24 September, it was said to release on 1 February 2022.[66] On 21 January 2022, it was announced that the Switch version was delayed to later in 2022.[67] The Windows version received "mixed or average reviews" with a score of 70 based on 7 reviews on Metacritic.[68]

Future[edit]

In a 2019 interview, Dontnod Entertainment, the developer of the first two mainline games in the series, expressed interest in the future of the franchise while noting they would opt for new characters again, but explained that the rights belong to Square Enix and that decisions on the future of the franchise lay with them.[69] Dontnod has shifted their focus to develop their own intellectual properties in recent years.[70] With the announcement of Life Is Strange: True Colors, Eurogamer reported that Dontnod's time with the franchise was over and that the Life Is Strange series have been passed to Deck Nine.[71]

Other media[edit]

Comics[edit]

Following the events of Life is Strange's "Sacrifice Arcadia Bay" ending, the comic follows Max and Chloe as they come to terms with the aftermath of the storm and letting Arcadia Bay be destroyed. Originally a four-part miniseries, it became an ongoing series published by Titan Comics beginning in November 2018.[72][73] The comic is written by Emma Vieceli, with interior and cover art by Claudia Leonardi, and colours by Andrea Izzo.[74] The series act concluded with Life Is Strange: Settling Dust.[75]

Issue Release Date Collection
1 14 November 2018 Life Is Strange – Volume 1:
Dust


RELEASED: 22 May 2019
ISBN 9781785866456
2 19 December 2018
3 16 January 2019
4 20 February 2019
5 29 May 2019 Life Is Strange – Volume 2:
Waves


RELEASED: 20 November 2019
ISBN 9781787730885
6 26 June 2019
7 24 July 2019
8 21 August 2019
9 16 October 2019 Life Is Strange – Volume 3:
Strings


RELEASED: 8 April 2020
ISBN 9781787732070
10 13 November 2019
11 11 December 2019
12 15 January 2020
Partners in Time
2.1 14 October 2020 Life Is Strange – Volume 4:
Partners in Time—Tracks


RELEASED: 7 April 2021
ISBN 9781787734739
2.2 18 November 2020
2.3 16 December 2020
2.4 20 January 2021
3.1 7 July 2021 Life Is Strange – Volume 5:
Coming Home


RELEASED: 3 November 2021
ISBN 9781787734746
3.2 1 September 2021
4.1 13 October 2021 Life Is Strange – Volume 6:
Settling Dust


RELEASED: 11 May 2022
ISBN 9781787734753
4.2 10 November 2021
4.3 29 December 2021
4.4 9 March 2022

In-universe book[edit]

In September 2018, Square Enix partnered with Titan Publishing Group on Life Is Strange: Welcome to Blackwell Academy, written by Matt Forbeck, a 160-page book exploring the Life is Strange universe through the eyes of a student guide to Blackwell Academy and Arcadia Bay. It features notes, sketches and photographs from various characters of the first game.[76]

Potential television series[edit]

In July 2016, Legendary Digital Studios and Square Enix announced that they would be adapting Life Is Strange as a digital series.[77] At the time of the announcement, they were meeting with potential writers for the series adaptation, which would be set in Arcadia Bay.[78] In 2017, dj2 Entertainment had sold the rights to the series to the streaming service Hulu.[79] In August 2021, it was announced that Shawn Mendes would serve as an executive producer on the series, in addition to overseeing the music for the series. It was also revealed that Anonymous Content would be joining as a production company for the series.[80]

Recurring cast and characters[edit]

Character Cast Life Is Strange Life Is Strange:
Before the Storm
Life Is Strange:
Before the Storm
— Farewell
The Awesome Adventures of
Captain Spirit
Life Is Strange:
Dust
Life Is Strange 2 Life Is Strange:
Waves / Strings
Life Is Strange:
Partners in Time
— Tracks
Life Is Strange:
Coming Home / Settling Dust
Life Is Strange:
True Colors
2015 2017 2018 2018 2018—9 2019 2020 2021
Max Caulfield Hannah Telle Main Mentioned Main Main Pictured Main
Chloe Price Ashly Burch / Rhianna DeVries Main Main Main Mentioned
Rachel Amber Kylie Brown Mentioned Main Main Main Mentioned
David Madsen Don McManus / Dan D.W. McCann Main Guest
Joyce Price Cissy Jones / Bootsie Park Guest Main Guest Mentioned
Frank Bowers Daniel Bonjour / Nick Apostolides Guest Main
Chris Eriksen / Captain Spirit Chandler Mantione Main Recurring
Sean Díaz Gonzalo Martin Guest Main
Daniel Díaz Roman George Guest Main
Tristan Tanaka Main
The High Seas Recurring Recurring
Steph Gingrich Katy Bentz Main Guest Main
Alex Chen Erika Mori Guest Main
Ryan Lucan Eric Emery Main
Note: A gray cell indicates character does not appear in that medium.

Reception[edit]

The series' reception has been generally positive, with all games receiving "generally favourable" reviews according to Metacritic.

Life Is Strange received generally favourable reviews, with a Metacritic score of 85/100 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Some criticised issues with the games's lip-syncing[81][82][83] and use of outdated slang,[83][84][85] but most lauded the character development[83][86][87] and time travel component.[83][88][89] Eurogamer called it "one of the best interactive story games of this generation"[90] and Hardcore Gamer said it was the sleeper hit of 2015.[83] Life Is Strange received over 75 Game of the Year awards and listings.

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm was met with generally favourable reviews, according to Metacritic.[91][92] Critics praised the characters, themes, and story, but criticised plotholes, the main relationship, and the impact of players' decisions near the end of the game.[93][94][95][96]

Life Is Strange 2 was met with generally favourable reviews, according to Metacritic.[97] Critics praised the story, the relationship between Sean and Daniel and the choice-based gameplay while reception of the portrayed political themes were divergent. The sparse episodic release schedule and the dialogue were criticized.

Life Is Strange: True Colors received "generally favorable reviews" according to review aggregator Metacritic. IGN praised the setting of Haven Springs, writing that the game has "arguably the best setting in any Life is Strange game to date". Game Informer liked the writing of the game, stating, "True Colors' writing is so strong that it didn't need a supernatural ability to tell this story." Justin Clark of GameSpot enjoyed the story's themes, feeling that some of game's interactions were "powerful" and "emotionally resonant".

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