September 10, 2021
Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, PC
Life is Strange has always been about emotions and coping with life’s challenges. Through the series, we’ve experienced different perspectives and a multitude of complex situations, from the perils of depression to the ugliness of racism. Stepping into a character’s shoes, we get to know their world and the people around them, often finding things are not always what they seem and using a superpower to change things for good measure. While Life is Strange: True Colors has all the hallmarks of past entries, like having a special power and consequences for your actions, it’s much more fueled by its emotional moments and realistic dilemmas. This is when the game is at its best, bringing a fantastic, well-written protagonist in Alex Chen, who you want to get to know and see succeed.
You can think of Alex as the new kid on the block. The journey begins with Alex leaving the group home she’s stayed at for the last eight years to live with her brother Gabe in Haven Springs. It’s a heartwarming and sometimes awkward reunion, but her and Gabe’s bond and love for each other are evident from the get-go. Unfortunately, an accident happens and Gabe dies. From here on out, Alex is on a mission to make sense of his death. Could it have been prevented?
The story has some good twists and is especially strong in how it explores Alex’s past in the foster care system and her family issues. The narrative is emotional, dealing with grief, abandonment, and self-worth, but it’s also just as much about finding your own path in life. The latter really comes together nicely in the final moments, letting you have a considerable impact on what Alex’s future holds. I enjoyed the narrative’s suspense and heartwarming moments, but it’s the characters that truly make the experience.
Alex Chen is one of the best protagonists I’ve encountered in years, and it comes down to her resilience and undying hope for the better. Being thrown into the foster system, she has led a different life, but she hasn’t let it take away her sense of humor or her desire to help people in need. Voice actress Erika Mori gives Alex an emotional depth that cannot be overstated: her delivery is spot-on for Alex’s charming sarcasm, and when Alex is at her most vulnerable during emotional scenes, Mori never overacts, keeping you right in the moment and feeling for Alex and her circumstances.
The people around Alex also made me feel connected to the town and her journey. All the denizens of Haven Springs are like a protective family, from father figure Jed who gives Alex a place to stay rent-free to the grandmotherly and overly affectionate Eleanor who just wants to see everyone happy. All the residents have their issues that you can choose to uncover more about, but what’s so touching is they’d do anything for a fellow. It works well as a contrast to Alex’s previous life, where she had to fend for herself and never felt a true belonging. Alex’s growing friendships with Steph and Ryan (either is romanceable if you like) are a highlight. Ryan is more laidback and a big dork at heart, while Steph is more sassy and independent. The three’s interactions became my favorite as their dialogue really showcases their bond, whether it’s taking silly pictures or joking around about who would be better at seducing a middle-aged lady.
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The majority of Alex’s adventure is story-based, giving you dialogue options as you explore the town and try to piece together certain clues about people and places. The game offers a lot of exploration, so you’re best to go off the beaten path to get the most out of it. I was happy that it didn’t feel like there were filler puzzles, like finding some number of bottles to move on to the next scene. Everything you do fits well into the plot, including a fun LARP romp through town, a Spring Festival, and even just taking a job as a waiter. Learning about the people is part of the fun, and making choices about how to play scenes or handle situations keeps you involved in the plot.
Some choices are mainly role-playing options, but a lot of the decisions are big and don’t come easy. Sometimes it comes down to choosing whether to reveal personal information to another party that could help the person but also jeopardizes their trust. Other times, you’ll have to decide how and if you want to support a particular character. However, the tricky decisions come with Alex’s power. Alex understands the emotions of others on a very different level. She has a supernatural ability to experience, absorb, or manipulate feelings. It’s a power of empathy, but it’s not exactly what I was expecting, and I found the power a bit disappointing in its effort to be more supernatural.
Alex can straight-up read people’s minds to learn if something deeper is going on; she can also see colored auras around them that represent their feelings, such as blue for sadness and red for anger. Issues of consent aside, using her power felt like cheating and avoiding the difficult work of trying to get someone to open up to you about their problems. I struggled the most with instances where you can decide whether to take feelings away from others. For example, if fear prevents someone from standing up for themselves, should you take it away? Or is that work they need to do for themselves?
Doing this takes a toll on Alex as a consequence, and it’s an interesting conundrum, but the ability to take away emotions feels wrong. In one case, a woman is clearly going through the stages of grief; if you take away a step in that process, aren’t you denying her the room to heal as she needs? My biggest issue is that the game gives you such a huge responsibility but shies away from taking a hard stance on the emotional ramifications at play. I tapped into the power to take away a feeling once and felt rewarded for it. It felt extra weird because I used it for Alex’s personal gain, but the game never made me feel any big consequences for it. The whole power just feels muddy in its execution, and I wish it was represented with a bit more depth.
True Colors’ writing is so strong that it didn’t need a supernatural ability to tell this story. I laughed, I cried, and the things that stick with me are the moments where Alex is tested and comes into her own. And there’s something special in how True Colors gives you the power to decide her future and what her life needs, making for a memorable ending with a highlight reel of what you envision for the character. Due to all branching choice variations, you can probably get in a few different playthroughs, but the overall message never changes: Don’t give up. It may be a well-worn saying, but it means a lot in Alex Chen’s pained life.
Summary: You’ll root for Alex Chen, and feel good about helping shape her path forward.
Concept: Step into the shoes of Alex Chen as she enters a new chapter of her life and must deal with her brother’s unexpected death while harnessing her supernatural power of empathy
Graphics: An impressive upgrade in the visual department, the characters’ realistic facial expressions and mannerisms, especially their eye movement, add to the authenticity of each moment
Sound: The soundtrack doesn’t disappoint, with fitting songs to color the world and emotional stakes. The voice acting is also spectacular; Erika Mori gives an exceptional performance, showcasing the emotional complexity of Alex
Playability: True Colors is an easy game to pick up and play, and it’s great to see accessibility options that let you decide on aspects such as longer timer choices and volume warnings
Entertainment: Life is Strange: True Colors is a powerful adventure, full of twists and thoughtful yet heartbreaking subject matter. You’ll root for Alex Chen, and feel good about helping shape her path forward