Review – Life is Strange: True Colors (Xbox One)

Life is Strange: True Colors brings back old elements painted with a fresh coat of a paint

Overview

Developer Deck Nine
Publisher Square Enix
Genre Graphic Adventure
Platforms Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One (reviewed), Xbox Series X/S, Stadia
Release Date September 10, 2021

Ever since its initial release in 2015, the Life is Strange series has been on my radar as a franchise that encapsulates all that’s wonderful when playing an episodic adventure. The first Life is Strange game, the second game developed by Dontnod, enchanted me with its nostalgic setting, warm colors, soft music, and a personable story. While there were admittedly several things about the first game that irked many players, such as poor attempts at creating teen slang, the weak motivations of the main villain, and a generic binary choice ending, it still won the hearts of many players who were surprised by the serious topics Life is Strange wasn’t afraid to explore, such as abuse and the consequences of bullying.

Flash forward to September 2021, and there have been three additional entries in this franchise, each with its own unique setting and cast of characters. They include the prequel to the first game, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, released in 2017, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, released as a free preview in 2018, Life is Strange 2, released in 2018, and now Life is Strange: True Colors. Each title, much like its respective cast, is each unique and different, as are the player reactions to them. How does Life is Strange: True Colors stack up in comparison to them?

Content Guide

The three protagonists of Life is Strange: True Colors
  • Spiritual Content – There isn’t a huge spiritual presence in the game. The main character has a special ability, called an ‘aura’, that allows her to sense the emotions other people are going through. The stronger the emotion is, the more she will have access to that emotion and can even unlock key memories through them that will allow the player to solve puzzles and progress in the story. Shrines are created in the vein of Chinese shrines to honor loved ones who have passed away.

  • ViolenceLife is Strange is a franchise that is not ubiquitously known for its violence, but it can become very violent at times. A fist fight breaks out at one point between two characters over a misunderstanding, and a main character steps in and uses violence to break up the fight, leading her to injure them. One character points a gun at one character and shoots her, causing her to fall and become severely injured. Blood and serious injuries are shown on her at another point after the fall.

  • Language/Crude humor – Just like its predecessors, Life is Strange: True Colors does not mince its words. Strong language is liberally sprinkled throughout the course of the game by multiple characters, usually done very casually. This is one of the main factors in cementing its M rated, and players should be aware of the game’s strong use of language in case that would factor in playing it.

  • Sexual content – The main character is openly bisexual, with the player having the option of pursuing a romance with either Ryan, her male friend, or Steph, her female friend. Some texts and dialogue reveal conversations and events off-screen that involve a sexual nature, but no sexual content is shown in action throughout the game, aside from a chaste kiss from one of the two love interests pursued.

  • Drug/Alcohol use – The main character works and lives in a pub, and drinks are regularly shown throughout the course of the game. Casual drinking is shown, but nothing excessive as showing drunken characters. The town in which the game is located in is home to a dispensary, where marijuana and CBD items are sold, as well as bongs. The main character is given CBD dummies at one point, and mentions that she had accidentally taken too many at one point off-screen.

  • Negative themes – The main characters pursue their own detective work in the hopes of uncovering what they suspect is a conspiracy in the town, and one of their actions lead to stealing a flash drive from another character that may hold a clue. The player is called out on this later on, revealing that their actions are harmful and could result in federal consequences.

  • Positive content – The main character, Alex Chen, is a character who has overcome a lot of pain and tribulation that the story explores. As the game begins, the player learns that she had just exited the foster care system in the hope of living together with her brother and creating a new life for themselves. The player is given the freedom to do just that, helping Alex grow and overcome her trauma, build relationships, and help others while also finding a new home in the community of Haven Springs.

Main Review

“Gnome problem.”

As Alex Chen, you spend much of the early game becoming acquainted with the small Colorado mining town of Haven Springs. Pivotal characters are introduced that will become key players throughout the course of the story, and the way the player interacts with them will determine their relationship with Alex, as well as their interactions later in the story. Alex is shy and nervous in her new surroundings; this is understandable, as she has just been exited out of the foster care system, failing to find a family and build meaningful relationships of her own. She has come to Haven Springs after finding her brother, who she has not seen for many years, and is looking forward to building a new chapter in her life. The residents of Haven Springs appear warm and hospitable, which makes her more comfortable. She finds that she is able to finally be herself here in Haven Springs, playing guitar and making music, making long-lasting friendships, finding a full-time job, and finally being with her brother whom she as missed for so many years. Then tragedy strikes…

The aftermath of the tragedy changes the dynamic of the town of Haven Springs and its residents. It obviously affects Alex too, but not just in the way that you may think. She shares with her brother early on that she has powers that draw on empathy; she is able to feel strong emotions that another character may be having, such as severe anger, fear, sadness, and even joy. These feelings can be overwhelming for her sometimes and cause her to lose control. With her brother’s encouragement, Alex finally begins to use her gift differently, but focusing on the causes of these emotions and finding ways to connect with them so that she may be able to help these people. By honing in on a character’s aura, Alex will be able to hear their thoughts and desires, and be able to find items or unlock dialogue that may help them. In some cases, the aura may even change, as characters may be able to change from feeling afraid to feeling joy, thanks to Alex.

One thing that stood out to me when I first booted up Life is Strange: True Colors for first time was how vibrant and alive the game felt to me. The colors just make you feel like you actually are visiting a small Colorado town, and I loved the opportunity to be able to explore the town of Haven Springs as Alex, visiting the park and surrounding locales, as well as interacting with the local residents and hear their thoughts on events. All these details help bring a new dimension to the franchise that I hope they continue to develop with future titles. The more engaging the game’s location is, the more heavy the story will feel to us as we play along.

Haven Springs, Colorado

Speaking of residents, I enjoyed seeing the reoccurring minor characters that populate Haven Springs. They have no real importance to the story aside from giving Alex other perspectives on events that are taking place, and having her use her powers to help them. Sometimes she is able to learn more about key characters through these interactions, which can help have a better understanding of what one of the main characters may be feeling or experiencing throughout the course of the game. Another element related to this is the journal and phone tools Alex has that allows her to see current events that are happening in the town. I especially loved the phone and messaging elements, as they felt like real texts from people I would actually know in real life. I know I spent quite a bit of time reading through all of them before actually continuing the game.

Life is Strange as a franchise is known for its multi-layered characters, and True Colors is no exception. From the gregarious and funny Steph, to the sweet and engaging Duckie, to the humble mentor Jed, to the conflicted artisan Charlotte, there is no shortage of interesting and and engaging characters. As the plot progresses and new revelations are brought to light, some of these dynamics and personalities will change, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. By the conclusion of the game, the player will have seen if their actions will be enough to cement these new relationships into long-lasting friendships, or if they will further break the hearts of this already hurting town following the conclusion of the game’s first episode.

I can’t talk about this review without sharing my fondness for the episodes focusing on the LARP and the Spring Festival. The LARP itself is worth mentioning because of what a wonderful homage it is to classic table-top and traditional role-playing games that many of us have grown up on. The entire event is wholesome and imaginative from start to finish, with the goal of cheering a young boy who is broken-hearted and grieving following the accident in episode one. Most of the town becomes involved, with many in costumes acting out jesters, serpents, trolls, and blacksmiths. It had me smiling from beginning to end, and I honestly didn’t want it to end. The Spring Festival played very much to a similar effect, as it finally showed Alex becoming relaxed and at home enough to find herself celebrating at the Festival as well. These touches are what help stand this entry out the most from its predecessors, and it’s clear that the developers had a lot of fun crafting these episodes.

The LARP episode was by far my favorite to play in the game

There were some things that ended up hurting the game’s overall enjoyment for me, though, and the biggest one was the game’s conclusion. Without spoilers, the game sets up a mystery that Alex and her friends feel they need to solve, and they look for clues to find them. What they do discover, though, is something so underwhelming and overall inconsequential that I’m not sure how it led to the final scenes of the game. I was expecting something bigger, something grander with this third game for all this talk about a conspiracy, and found that the revelation was abrupt and undeveloped, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.

I think one of the causes what led to this sudden conclusion would be the episode lengths. This time around, all of the episodes are available on-hand for the player to go through at their own leisure. While I enjoyed this convenience, I think the game suffered in that it meant that some episodes may have been rushed and not as polished as it could have been. I think with a bit more content and more careful planning, the story as a whole could have been a whole lot tighter, and its conclusion more satisfactory.

In conclusion, it’s obvious to say that I really enjoyed Life is Strange: True Colors. It took a lot of elements that I loved from the first game and expanded on it, making it feel bigger and better before. The music and graphics are vibrant and it’s clear that a lot of love and care was placed on the development for this game. I do feel that the game suffers a bit for its lackluster conclusion and the revelation of the mystery at the end, but the ride before there I think is well worth the price of admission. If you’re a fan of Life is Strange, or this has been a style of game that has caught your eye for quite a while, True Colors is definitely worth your time to invest in.

The Bottom Line

 

Life is Strange: True Colors is charming, inviting, and contemplates how one can overcome hurts from the past and grow from them, which just falls short by its abrupt and not very well-developed conclusion.

 

8.7

Andrea Racoti

Born in a Romanian-immigrant family and brought up in Central Texas, Andrea loves the art and importance of story-telling, especially when it comes to video games. Her favorite games include rich world-building and character growth, and it's a joy for her share her passion with other gamers.

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