Review | Life is Strange: True Colors
Move over Inside Out, you’re not the only masterful manifestation of our emotions in town. The Life is Strange franchise continues to grow, and thanks to Deck Nine Games, we get the latest entry with Life is Strange: True Colors. After making a prequel story with Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Deck Nine really gets a chance to spread their wings with an all new original story, further showing that the beloved series remains in capable hands. While this is a narrative heavy title, we’ll do our best to avoid spoilers.
Life is Strange: True Colors puts us in the role of Alex Chen, a young Asian-American woman who leaves foster care to join her brother Gabe in the fictional Haven Springs, Colorado. Alex is an introvert that’s constantly seeking her place in the world, and for the first time, she feels she has a chance to find it. Things have been rough for Alex, as she has been struggling through life with a powerful secret: she’s an empath. Much like Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy, Alex can channel the strong emotions of those around her, allowing her to read their inner thoughts and providing her insight into their views. She can even channel the past emotions from objects. Unfortunately, she can’t really control it, and this power has gotten her into trouble countless times. To Alex, it’s a curse.
This power makes Alex a very different protagonist for the Life is Strange series. Everyone else discovers their powers during the story, but Alex has been living with it most of her life. She feels isolated, like an outcast that nobody can understand. She’s put on medication and put under surveillance by psychiatrists. Even though Alex is a good person on the inside, that isn’t how many see her. Haven Springs is her chance to start fresh. Building new relationships, reconnecting with her brother, and creating a home. Of course, being a Life is Strange game, things become a roller coaster of emotions real quick, and since emotions are now the primary focus, it puts them in a new light.
Alex’s powers basically present themselves with different colored auras, each color representing a different emotion. Blue represents sadness, purple embodies fear, and red harbors anger. As we play as Alex, we start to experience these emotions with her, and it’s up to us on how we handle them. While we can mind our business, in classic Life is Strange fashion, we have the opportunity to make a choice. We can help many of the citizens of Haven Springs with their problems. It could be something simple like cheering up a sad friend, or even motivating two people to admit their love for each other. Over time, we even unlock a fourth emotion for Alex to sense, as yellow radiates joy.
Unfortunately for Alex, her new world quickly crumbles, quite literally, before her very eyes. After a tragic accident, Alex loses the one she holds most dear just when things were starting to look up for her. Life is Strange: True Colors is a story that has the player deal with grief, going through the many stages of it. Of course, there’s more to this “accident” than it seems, and Alex is soon investigating the mystery lying at the heart of Haven Springs. Despite her own trauma, she summons her courage and strength to seek justice, not just for her benefit, but for the good of the town. Her character is rather inspiring, and provides a great perspective on those dealing with grief. It makes Alex’s new life in Haven Springs more meaningful.
Speaking of Haven Springs, it’s a beautiful place full of colorful characters. It gives off the small town vibe perfectly and really provides a unique setting for Life is Strange: True Colors. While most of the people will be new faces, Deck Nine couldn’t help themselves in bringing Steph from Before the Storm into the game. Honestly, it was the right call, as she was a major highlight from that game, and that continues here. Not only does she provide a close bond to Alex, but she even brings her tabletop roleplaying expertise to the fold in a bigger way than ever before. Those into Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs are definitely in for a treat. Fans of Steph can even purchase a mini-prequel that gives more context on her arrival to Haven Springs.
One thing I really enjoyed about this entry is just how imaginative it is. Taking a cue from The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, Alex’s power allows her to manifest the imagination of multiple characters. In some cases, this projects the emotion with a metaphor, like a storm or paranoia. In the most extreme cases though, it transforms the world and those within it, allowing the game to truly show off. The Life is Strange series already oozes style, but True Colors definitely elevates the series higher. Even when the world doesn’t transform, these moments have the potential to be the most heartwarming segments of the game.
While Life is Strange: True Colors is definitely a treat for the eyes, it does have it’s fair share of issues. The game is easily the most visually impressive entry in the franchise, with detailed environments, great character animation, and wonderful effects. Unfortunately, that does seem to impact performance. The consoles from the previous generation tend to struggle with the frame rate while load times are lengthy. Those playing on higher end platforms like PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X will have a smoother experience overall. They’ll even gain access to ray tracing, among other improvements. Even with these platforms though, bugs may still show their ugly head from time to time.
Despite these small performance issues, they’re a small price to pay for the many improvements to the game. Those that stream will probably be happy to see one of the newer features too: Crowd Choice. This allows users on Twitch to collectively vote for choices in real time in the game. It’s obviously not a feature everyone will use, but it shows an openness to make the game better for all audiences. Ironically, this is also the entry with the most licensed music, so streamers make sure mute it before broadcasting. On top of this, the game provides a lot of new accessibility options. Players that might have trouble seeing the colorful auras can make adjustments to cater to their needs.
Honestly, the Life is Strange series should get props for being such a welcoming franchise to those who simply love games. The game normalizes several things in the world without batting an eye, and that’s how it should be. Things like mental illness, LGBTQ+ representation, and even diversity make True Colors a hallmark in the industry. The series continues to evolve, getting so much bigger than I would’ve imagined from the humble beginnings in 2015.
One big change to Life is Strange: True Colors is the fact that the game is no longer on an episodic release schedule. All previous games in the series were released over time. True Colors breaks the pattern by giving users the entire game at once. No longer does one have to wait weeks for the next part of the story after completing an episode. While the game still has five episodes (and a bonus one for Deluxe Edition owners), this new format works well. Each episode takes roughly up to two hours, so expect to spend about 10 hours here. If you miss something in an episode, you can always go back to replay it at any time too. You can even kill some time with a couple retro inspired arcade games.
As mentioned earlier, this entry in the series has the most licensed music in the series to date. Throughout the game, you’ll hear music from Dido, Novo Amor, Kings of Leon, and many more. You’ll also get several new songs from Angus & Julia Stone, who were influenced by the story and themes of the game. On top of that, mxmtoon performs the singing voice of Alex, providing her own emotions through the power of song. Music has always been an important part of Life is Strange, and True Colors highlights it splendidly. The spirit of the series always spotlights the indie scene, and it makes the beautiful zen moments feel extra special.
When it comes to the actual cast, Erika Mori delivers a sincere and beautiful performance as Alex. Her ability to show range across the emotional spectrum makes her feel like a perfect casting for our empathetic lead. Katy Bentz returns as Steph, making an even bigger impact with her new roles in the story. Gabe’s actor Han Soto also shows many of the big brother traits through his performance, having great chemistry with Erika. While Steph stole my heart, Eric Emery’s Ryan put up quite a fight with a strong performance as well. Other standouts include Jim Hunt’s “Duckie,” Ignacio Garcia-Canteli’s Ethan, Karen Slack’s Eleanor, and Stephen F. Austin’s Jed. Overall, the entire cast deserves a round of applause for their performances.
For some, a game like Life is Strange: True Colors will be just that: a game. For many others, it’ll hit different, tapping into our deepest emotions and perfectly displaying our feelings in a relatable portrayal. It will peer into our very soul and reveal our own true colors, making our choices that much more impactful. With beautiful visuals, wonderful performances and animation, and an out of this world soundtrack, this is one game that will sit with me for a long time. If any of that sounds interesting to you, then you’ll likely enjoy this game. If you happen to be a fan of Life is Strange in general, then you’ll love True Colors.