Life is Strange: True Colors succeeds by thinking smaller.
The third game in Square Enix’s narrative adventure series doesn’t reinvent the formula for the genre. Instead, it shows why it’s great for telling more intimate, personal stories.
Life is Strange has always been a series that places young people with superpowers at the center of emotional coming-of-age stories. True Colors isn’t as concerned with world-ending stakes or political commentary as previous games in the series. Instead, it tells a purposeful, emotional story in the fictional Colorado town of Haven Springs.
Alex Chen comes to the town to live with her brother, eight years after traumatic events separated them and Alex entered the foster care system. Alex is an empath, able to see and alter the emotions of others. However, doing so can also impact her own emotional state.
The death of her brother, Gabe, kicks off a massive conspiracy engulfing Alex’s family and the local mining company known as Typhon. All the while, Alex is just trying to fit into Haven Springs and make some lasting friendships and memories.
While there aren’t any significant shake-ups or revelations that will make you think differently about this style of game, True Colors features an engaging story with relatable characters — and a superpower that’s much cooler than you’d expect.
Color Me Impressed
Compared to Max’s time-travel abilities in the first game and Daniel’s telekinesis in Life is Strange 2, empathy might seem like a boring superpower. True Colors debunks that assumption by the end of the first chapter, with satisfying and surprising gameplay elements that allow emotions to become a dynamic part of Alex’s world.
Colors symbolize emotions from Alex's perspective — red is anger, blue indicates sadness, purple represents fear, and gold signifies joy. As Alex, you’ll identify these emotions in objects and people and use them to tap into specific memories and thoughts.
Like Psychonauts 2, True Colors is a game about the battles with mental health that we all experience and shows how we can work with others to better ourselves. Psychonauts 2 infuses more comedy and positivity into those situations, so there’s some sweetness to go with the sour. True Colors is a heavier, more realistic portrayal of these issues, showing the positive and negative effects of messing with someone's emotions in their battles with mental health.
Both games tell relatable and poignant stories about mental health in dramatically different ways. It’s a theme that video games should continue to tackle, as these two games only touch the tip of the iceberg in what the gaming medium could potentially explore.
This story is supported by the strongest cast in a Life is Strange game yet, with woodsman Ryan and dorky musician Steph the clear standouts. It’s also not afraid to slow things down and have fun — as is the case with a LARP in Chapter 3 goes full Final Fantasy in visuals and sound effects. Sure, it doesn’t do much to push the conspiracy narrative forward, but it’s a memorable moment that nonetheless draws you closer to the game’s characters.
The fantastic facial animations on most characters also sell these moments, though the game occasionally suffers from the janky background characters and invisible walls typical of the genre. However, True Colors is still a step above previous Life is Strange games visually. The series has come very far since its humble beginnings in 2015.
Life is Strange has aged with its player base. Those who related to the teens of the 2015 game will likely resonate with the twentysomething cast of True Colors, many of whom are preoccupied with deciding what you want to do with your life once you’re free of whatever held you back as a child.
Alex is a cool person with an incredible superpower. But she also struggles with creating meaningful relationships because her powers cause her to lash out, and she was rejected constantly in foster care.
In Haven Springs, she finally has a chance to be herself, create meaningful friendships, and help people with her powers. Her story leaves a lasting impression, even if the choices don’t feel especially weighty in the moment.
The first Life is Strange features much harder moral decisions. Early in the game, players have to take someone down from committing suicide, and the final decision has players choosing between their friend’s life or a town of people. True Colors keeps things more ambiguous — if less dramatic — and the strong writing ensures the ending still delivers something more satisfying than previous finales in the series.
The first Life is Strange featured the aforementioned final choice where players had to choose between Chloe and Arcadia Bay. While it was a tough decision, it also boiled down the entire adventure into a single question.
Conversely, True Colors’ climax incorporates many more perspectives on Alex’s choices and actions. Depending on the decisions you make throughout the game, each character will respond differently. While the stakes of the ending aren’t as high, that personal connection makes the branching narrative feel more satisfying this time around.
Overall, Square Enix says the game features six endings. While Inverse only saw two, we’re excited to hop back in and discover more.
While Telltale has shut down and Life is Strange isn’t the surprise hipster hit it was in 2015, True Colors shows that there are plenty of themes, characters, and superpowers for developers to explore in the future.
Inverse reviewed Life is Strange: True Colors on PS5 ahead of its September 10, 2021 release.
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