*There will be spoilers for both Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm below.*
As a huge fan of the original game released back in 2015, the announcement of a prequel series with a different voice cast and developer gave me pause. But, after playing through developer Deck Nine’s prequel series, I’ve experienced both highs and lows within the self-contained game itself as well as how it ties into the original series.
Let’s start off with what worked 100 % for me: the relationship between Chloe and Rachel Amber. Rachel was the macguffin of the first game for the first half or so of the adventure, discovering whether she went missing or worse. And seeing Chloe’s reaction to finding her body in the junkyard that they had spent so much time in was heartbreaking without the context that BtS provided. Going back to the original series now, I don’t see myself not tearing up at that moment.
Some have said that Rachel comes off as manipulative in BtS and, while I think she may be just a bit, I genuinely believe that she cares about Chloe as much as she says. It is also compounded by the fact that reading through Chloe’s journal goes to show how alone and abandoned she felt after her dad’s death and Max’s move to Seattle.
This happenstance relationship between her and Rachel is filling the hole that Max left and she is all in. She’s vulnerable and needs that connection since the last person she has, her mother, has been “taken” by her new boyfriend, David. I think overall, the Chloe and Rachel Amber relationship is the best thing out of either BtS or the original series.
What also worked were most of the side characters. The North brothers were particular high points. You’re introduced to older brother, Drew as he is bullying the familiar Nathan Prescott coming off as the stereotypical jock. But later on you find out that he is dealing drugs because Nathan’s father laid off a large number of workers, Drew’s father being one of them. He is doing what he can to keep his father, himself and his little brother, Mikey, afloat and, depending on the choices you make, have consequences.
Mikey and his friend Steph are a part of one of my favorite sequences in either game as well which is a brief Dungeons and Dragons game that Chloe can decide to join in on. It’s a fun aside that made me more invested in the characters. While I feel like I missed out on opportunities to get to know Steph more, that trio of the North brothers and her were standouts for me.
The last overwhelmingly positive thing I will discuss is my number one favorite moment of the series and it comes in episode two. After being forced into Blackwell Academy’s theatrical production of The Tempest, Chloe and Rachel are walking down the street high off of the performances they just gave. They talk about wanting to get out of Arcadia Bay committing to escaping in the truck that Chloe has tuned up in the junkyard (the same one she drives in the original series) needing to only stop by Rachel’s house to pick up some clothes for the trip. However, Chloe quickly becomes skeptical of Rachel’s commitment to the idea thinking she may just be excited and not ready to commit to the idea. She asks Chloe what it would take to prove it. You then have the option of Rachel’s bracelet which is very dear to her, getting a tattoo or a kiss. Moreso than playing as Max, I was immersed and felt like I was Chloe making these decisions, so I went with the kiss. She’s found someone who loves her for who she is, and she doesn’t want to let go. Honestly, with the music in the background, it is one of the best love scenes that I can remember seeing in a game.
However, the game is by no means perfect. While not as inconsequential as the Finn and Rose subplot in Star Wars Episode VIII, the story behind Rachel’s father as a shady district attorney and Rachel’s birth mother was interesting . . . until it became the sole focus in the final episode. I don’t understand what the thought process was with Deck Nine deciding to not only make that the major plot of the final episode but basically keep Rachel and Chloe apart for the entirety of it as well, which had been the best part of the series by far. There are even more pointless events along the way such as Eliot, who I would have forgotten existed if he wasn’t the creepy Warren equivalent for BtS. It feels like his scene where he confronts Chloe comes across not only in a stalker-y way but also a forced one for an opposing point of view regarding Rachel Amber to be inserted into the story.
Last and definitely least is Damon Merrick. The local drug lord and enforcer of Arcadia Bay. Frank from the first game reports to him and Merrick is a one-note, evil character. There are zero redeeming qualities to his character making him quite boring overall. The most interesting thing about him is the fact that Rachel’s father was using him to scare away her biological mother. He was an entirely throw away character that saw far too much screen time.
The ending of the game is largely happy with a montage showing Chloe and Rachel spending time together, getting tattoos and loving life. However, I forgot about this until watching some video discussions on YouTube, but at the beginning of the original Life is Strange, Rachel had been in a relationship with Frank. That is not hinted at or communicated at all throughout the entirety of this story. Granted, a lot can happen in three years (which is when BtS takes place) but still. The beginning of the original makes it feel like there had been some sort of schism between Chloe and Rachel which is not indicated in the slightest.
I’ll end this talking about the post-credits scene. I’m genuinely surprised as to how many people seem to dislike it if I’m being honest. Once the credits have rolled, a cell phone is phone vibrating on a glass desk with 17 missed calls and Chloe currently calling it. In the background, you hear the shutter sound and see the flash of taking photos as the camera slowly pans up from the phone toward the ceiling keeping focus on the device the entire time and you realize that you are in the Dark Room during Rachel Amber’s final hours. I thought this was a very effective punch in the gut to remind you what her ultimate fate was which leads me into what I wish would have happened: BtS as a separate timeline from the original game.
Obviously Max’s powers to affect the timeline created alternate realities and I wish that the BtS reality was disconnected from the original game. Jefferson never shows up, Max potentially never comes back and Chloe and Rachel get out of the Bay and have a happy life together. But the end credits scene does put a damper on that dream. Regardless, I’m so happy that I finally played through this and think that it lives up to the Life is Strange name. I have yet to play through the bonus episode “Farewell” which takes place even further back to when Max and her family leave Arcadia Bay to head to Seattle, but it is on my list of games to complete. I attempted to start it once I finished episode three, but I needed an emotional break. If you are a fan of modern adventure games, play Life is Strange: Before the Storm.