When you blow past the plot of a story-focused game, a new kind of story emerges.
Making a mistake a few minutes into your attempt to speedrun through Ocarina of Time is one thing — you have to be beyond perfect to beat the current record of 6 minutes and 53 seconds — but blowing your chance of a record after a five-hour attempt? That’s brutal.
Most speedruns involve mercilessly memorizing platforming patterns, taking advantage of glitches to skip entire levels, or simply ignoring all other challenges and sprinting straight towards the final boss to shave the length of a game down from dozens of hours to mere minutes. And then, there’s Life is Strange.
Square Enix’s 2015 episodic narrative adventure is an emotional journey told through branching dialogue. Each choice you make alters that specific conversation, along with the story’s long-term trajectory. Speedrunning Life is Strange runs strip the stories out of a series beloved for its plots and characters. It may seem weird, but as Life is Strange’s speedrunners will tell you, it comes from a place of love.
Sydney Tabors, known online as CrispyHanako, developed a deep love for the franchise’s storytelling before taking up speedrunning.
“Two of my friends had bought Life is Strange 1 during the Steam winter sale,” Tabors says. “I went to go check out the demo. It stopped shortly after saving Chloe from Nathan in the bathroom, and I don’t think I ever reached for my debit card faster.”
The first Life is Strange sees Maxine Caulfield return to her childhood home of Arcadia Bay and reconnect with old friend Chloe Price, only to witness Chloe be gunned down in their high school bathroom. This awakens Max’s ability to “rewind” time, and marks the beginning of her visions of an apocalyptic storm. Max saves Chloe, and the pair uses her new power to investigate the cause of the visions and the disappearance of another young woman while also living out their lives. There’s a bit of an irony to skipping through a parable about the consequences of time travel, but it makes for a completely different way to experience the story.
“Staying focused is an inherent problem.”
Tabors first played Life is Strange in January 2016, a year after its release. They posted a 50-minute run of the first episode by mid-February. In June 2021, Tabors’ five-hour-and-eight-minute run of the original Life is Strange placed third in the world. Their nearly eight-hour run of Life is Strange 2 is currently the community’s second-best time.
But eight-hour hobbies aren’t especially practical.
“Honestly, the hardest thing about it is trying to find the time to speedrun,” Tabors says. “Staying focused is an inherent problem. If you lose focus at the wrong time, you could easily make a run-ending mistake, and as you approach the end of the speedrun, the more soul-crushing the mistake becomes.”
The Life is Strange games revolve around exploration, character development, and puzzle-solving, none of which lend themselves especially well to speedrunning. Dialogue choices that influence future scenes hours down the line add another layer of complexity to the mix.
“The problem with Life is Strange is that it’s not as simple as picking the fastest route,” Tabors explains. “You have to take into account the context of the scene, and the pace at which a character delivers their line.”
Tabors runs Life is Strange once or twice a year, though their knowledge of the series is still extensive enough that they routinely speak dialogue before the characters do in their Twitch and YouTube videos. The fact that it’s such a time commitment puts the series in an interesting position; despite having a hardcore fanbase, there are probably tricks and exploits no one’s discovered yet.
“I had to live with whatever mistakes I made.”
“The original release of Life is Strange has quite a few glitches,” Tabors says. “A lot of them involve going out of bounds to skip several minutes of dialogue choices. All of these aren’t something a casual player has to worry about stumbling across. Many of the time saves we have left are trying to optimize movement or find new glitches.”
Games meant to be relaxing and thoughtful will likely remain niche within the speedrunning community. But Tabors is content to have fun playing for their followers, and maybe do a little good in the world along the way.
“We raised $1,110 for the Trevor Project last year by playing Before the Storm, Life is Strange and Life is Strange 2 in one 20-hour sitting, and those were no-reset runs, meaning I had to live with whatever mistakes I made,” Tabors says. “I’m not really gunning for first place. I speedrun because I enjoy the speedrun.”