LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM Chloe in front of train

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR LIFE IS STRANGE

At the 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo at the beginning of June, Deck Nine Games announced that the first episode of LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM would be released on August 31, 2017. The announcement also featured a 20-minute preview of the game.

The prequel will be set three years before the events in the original LIFE IS STRANGE and will focus on 16-year-old Chloe Price. Also, unlike the first game, BEFORE THE STORM doesn’t include time rewind powers; players will not have the chance to take back their decisions. This is one of the reasons fans are divided over the prequel. The time rewind powers made LIFE IS STRANGE unique. Without them, what sets the prequel apart from other angsty teen coming-of-age games? Furthermore, what makes this a LIFE IS STRANGE game?

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Well, while time powers are a great addition to a game of choice and consequence, they don’t need to be in the prequel. Players will constantly remember the choices they made in the original game because they can’t rewind. One of the best parts of playing BEFORE THE STORM will probably be the mental experience players have while remembering what the future holds for everyone in the prequel. In short, this feeling of irony is what connects the two games together and is arguably what makes the prequel worth playing if nothing else.

Fans Divided

When a developer at Dontnod Entertainment confirmed a second LIFE IS STRANGE game back in 2015, fans definitely expected a sequel. Instead, Deck Nine Games, not Dontnod, announced BEFORE THE STORM, a prequel seemingly stripped of everything that made the original game great. Some fans feel that the lack of time powers and the focus on Chloe were bad calls. They argue that Chloe is the least likable character and say they are uninterested in following more of her angst-fueled decision making. For many, the prequel seems like an unnecessary addition to the LIFE IS STRANGE universe.

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Fans are also concerned that Ashly Burch, Chloe’s original voice actor, will not voice Chloe in the prequel. While the new actress sounds “close enough” to Chloe, fans will definitely be able to detect the differences. It seems like one more thing that is going to detract from the prequel. Still, there are many fans who are excited to see what the prequel has in store. There are plenty of reasons why the game is still worthwhile, one of them being that the prequel in itself does capture the essence of the original LIFE IS STRANGE through irony.

Dramatic Irony in LIFE IS STRANGE

The overarching theme and device used in both LIFE IS STRANGE games is irony, specifically dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is when the audience (or in this case, player) knows something that the characters do not, producing an amusing feeling. Max Caufield’s powers created an incredible amount of dramatic irony in the first game. Since players could rewind, they would often know what would happen or what actually happened to other characters. Take the first time Max learns to rewind time, for example. In this scene, she takes a selfie, prompting Mr. Jefferson to ask her who popularized self-portraiture. When Max can’t answer, Victoria Chase snobbishly gives the correct answer. After rewinding, Max answers the question perfectly and Mr. Jefferson praises her while Victoria sneers.

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This is just one satisfying moment of many. The player feels great because not only are they able to know things ahead of time, they are able to do things with that information. Another example is when Victoria again snubs Max, telling her to “go fuck her selfie.” Using time powers, Max is able to make paint fall on Victoria and also choose to either insult or comfort her. Even if the player chooses to be nice to Victoria, they still know that Victoria is only in that situation because of their choice. This can produce feelings of self-righteousness or guilt. This use of dramatic irony is what really elevates a player’s emotional response to choices in the game.

Tragic Irony of BEFORE THE STORM

This sense of irony caused by going back in time is why a LIFE IS STRANGE prequel arguably makes more sense than a sequel. A prequel is basically one big rewind. Although no time powers are involved, the ironic quality of BEFORE THE STORM is inherent. Players will already know what is going to happen to the characters in the future. Not only that, they will know what they caused to happen. The entire prequel will have a sense of tragic irony because of this.

Tragic irony is a special subcategory of dramatic irony. It’s when characters’ words or actions contradict the reality of the situation. An example from LIFE IS STRANGE would be if the player chose to save Arcadia Bay instead of Chloe. In the end, Chloe dies without ever rebuilding her relationship with Max. She doesn’t know anything that happened in the week that Max rewound. She dies alone.

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Similarly, players will get to know Rachel Amber in the prequel. So, for the whole time the player interacts with Rachel, they know that Rachel will die. As a result, there will be this constant feeling of tragic irony with whatever Rachel says or does. For example, the gameplay demonstration at the E3 conference shows a tense scene between Chloe and Rachel. The player can choose whether the relationship between the two girls is an intimate friendship, or “something more.”

The irony here is that no matter what players choose to pursue, Rachel will still die. The choice here influences the weight of what Chloe says in the original game. After finding Rachel’s dead body, Chloe sobs, “I loved her so much.” Not that finding a dead best friend is less meaningful than finding a dead love interest, but what players choose in the prequel will affect the tone of Chloe’s statement.

It’s Worth a Shot

Personally, I believe that the prequel is definitely worth checking out. No matter how disappointing the lack of powers may be, or how unlikable Chloe is, learning about Chloe and Rachel’s past is inherently interesting. One of the driving forces behind the plot of LIFE IS STRANGE was finding Rachel Amber. So naturally, she becomes a person of interest to the player. The chance to get to know Rachel while she is alive is incredibly compelling. Plus, anything we learn about her will affect how we feel about her inevitable death due to tragic irony. Similarly, anything we learn about Chloe will affect how we feel about the choice we made for her in the end.

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