|Publisher||Xbox Game Studios|
|Platforms||Xbox One (reviewed), PC|
|Release Date||Ep. 1 August 27th, Ep.2 September 3rd, Ep. 3 September 10th|
Tell Me Why was revealed at the first Xbox game online showcase for 2020 as a Dontnod exclusive for Microsoft on Xbox Consoles and PC. The game was touted as being very inclusive as one of the main protagonists has fully transitioned into a male after having been born a female. While this undoubtedly caused some controversy with the game, Dontnod’s stellar pedigree and penchant for realistic, emotional storytelling is still here. Simply put, this is Dontnod’s best game to date. Read on to find out why!
Right off the bat, I want to mention that one of the main two playable siblings in this game is transgender. This is a key part of the game’s story and is mentioned many times throughout; however, Tell Me Why doesn’t beat you over the head with it and it does a fair job of showing how people from all sides deal with that transition. It affects more than just how family and friends perceive protagonist Tyler Ronan; it also greatly affects how he perceives himself. Beyond the obvious elements of sexuality that will be controversial for some, there are some drug references, mentions of getting high, etc., and some slight blood and violence as siblings Alyson and Tyler cope with the traumatic and violent events that tore their family apart.
As a follow up to Life Is Strange 2, Tell Me Why once again features playable characters with mysterious and often unexplained supernatural powers. Here, the siblings, born twin girls, have a power known as The Voice, where they can communicate their thoughts to one another away from the prying ears of everyone else. The pair have returned to their hometown of Delos Crossing, Alaska to sell their childhood home and hopefully do away with the painful memories of a traumatic childhood event where they lost their mother, Mary-Ann.
One of the coolest things that Dontnod does with Tell Me Why is that it incorporates the fairytale storybook that Mary-Ann creates for the kids as the notebook that you check periodically to solve puzzles and figure out where to go next. Throughout their ordeal, it becomes more and more apparent to the siblings that what Mary-Ann wrote in the book may be based on their lives as she always called them her little goblins and she wrote herself as a princess who lives alone in a forest while raising two little goblins. The final sequence of the game incorporates this storybook in the best way possible, making players sift through all the subtle clues that Mary-Ann left for her children to finally solve the game’s mystery about what really happened to Mary-Ann that fateful night and about who the pair’s father is.
This also ties into the collectibles players will find throughout the game as each figurine represents a real-life character that the siblings know and interact with on a regular basis. When tying the characteristics of the storybook characters to their real life counterparts the pair soon realize that the fairytale their mother read them is actually their own story.
Over the course of their adventure, the pair is tested both in their bond and individual spirit as Tyler Ronan is still adjusting to his transition from female to male after a ten-year stint at a group home for LGBTQ youth, known as Fireweed. His sister Alyson is excited to pick him up from Fireweed and get to work going through their memories to get the house ready for sale, but in doing so, the pair discover that they remember their childhood differently and what they thought they knew about that fateful night and their own mother, may have been a lie all along.
Players will assume the role of each sibling in certain scenarios as they work together to figure out what memories from the past are real, and what really happened the night of their mother’s death. As is standard for adventure games, players will interact with objects found in the environment and converse with friends, family, and the locals as they unravel more about their past. Shortly into their investigation, Tyler learns that there may have been more to his mother and the whereabouts of their father than they thought they knew. Meanwhile, Alyson just wants to sell the house so the pair can move to an apartment in Juneau, with her friend Michael, and escape their tragic past.
Depending on the actions of the player, some different endings are possible. One playthrough might end with the siblings hating each other and an irreparable rift forming between them. Meanwhile, in my ending, the pair reconciled their differences and sold the house finally leaving their traumatic childhood, and the questions they had about their mother, behind.
Tell Me Why is Dontnod’s best game to date. Not because they may be trying to push an agenda or appeal to a certain demographic but because of the emotional and realistic story that many people go through every single day. The game shows us that Tyler’s decision to transition was not easily made as it affects his family and community as well. Alongside themes of sexual identity and feeling comfortable in your own skin, suicide is another theme that weighs heavily over the player as they play through the game, though this isn’t made apparent until the final episode.
Speaking of episodes, Dontnod has taken the best approach to episodic stories in games by releasing each act weekly. This way players know exactly when to expect to be able to continue the story and they don’t feel left in the dark for months at a time which has been a problem with episodic games in the past.
Everyone should play Tell Me Why despite its controversial subject matter because it asks questions to get the player thinking. The overall message of the game is that family is the most important thing in the world—not just blood relatives, but those that we meet and form bonds with to the point where they become family. No one wants to be alone, and the theme of loneliness and being unaccepted, even by those closest to us, is prevalent throughout the game. Tell Me Why has a lot to say, and I think we should listen despite the subject matter. After all, as Christians we need to get to know those who are lost, hurting, or confused and love them. Not shun them. Even the one Christian character in the game realizes this and does her best to be Christlike in the face of some startling late-game revelations.
The Bottom Line
Everyone should play Tell Me Why for what it says about how we often neglect or don't recognize the love of those around us and how that can effect everyone, not just ourselves.