life is strange

Life is Strange 2 : Please Don’t Let It Be a Prequel

Life is Strange is important to a lot of people, myself included. I started playing it after episode three was released in May 2015, just two months after I started writing about games, and it was a superb catalyst. I wrote about how much it meant to me to see myself, an anxious queer woman, in both Max and Chloe. I wrote a defence of the bad dialogue (which, now older and wiser, I formally retract). I wrote theories about what might be coming in episodes four and five.

And eventually I wrote plenty about the crushing disappointment of the finale.

To rehash briefly, there were two fundamental problems: a complete erasure of every decision you had made in favour of a binary choice between saving deuteragonist and love interest Chloe or the town of Arcadia Bay, and the Bury Your Gays trope. And these played off each other in the worst way. There was the implication that it was futile to struggle against one’s destiny, and, if you were a queer woman, that that destiny was to die. It was taking the message from so many pieces of media – that LGBTQ+ folk don’t get happy endings – and dialling it to eleven.

When Life is Strange 2 was announced, I wasn’t sure how it would get around these issues. And now that potential leaks suggest that the game might be a prequel, I’m even more apprehensive.

The problem is Rachel

At first glance, a Life is Strange prequel makes sense. (This is one reason it’s worth discussing even if the leaks turn out to be false.) The two endings diverge so much that there’s no way a sequel will be able to build upon your personal decision. The developers would have to make one the “true” ending, and, considering how contentious the split is, that’s not an enviable prospect.

It would be possible to build an unrelated story on the same mechanics – new town, new protagonist, new problems, but the same time travel power. This option could dig into questions about the ability that were left unanswered by the first game; why it manifests and why it causes so much weather related havoc. But this would mean throwing away the setting and cast of Arcadia Bay, which was so popular, and rolling the dice on asking an audience to engage with a new ensemble.

And there’s still much to be explored in Arcadia Bay. Chief among these is Rachel, Chloe’s best friend from Max’s absence, who was missing and later found to be dead during the events of the original Life is Strange.

But therein lies the problem: we know what happened to Rachel.

Prequels have a known destination

Rachel was kidnapped, abused, killed, and buried in a shallow grave; lost for months in a scrapyard with only her devastated best friend looking for her.

A prequel could only build to this deeply unpleasant inevitability. Your choices could not matter, and there could be no happy ending for Rachel and Chloe. The key issues of Life is Strange would be baked into the foundations of its successor.

We don’t know whether Rachel was into women. Chloe was certainly romantically interested in Rachel, but as far as we know she didn’t reciprocate those feelings. And maybe she oughtn’t be attracted to ladies – Bury Your Gays (again) aside, we know that she had at least one relationship with a man, and there were rumours that she was promiscuous, so the writers would have to tread carefully around stereotypes of bisexuals as licentious.

On the other hand, after almost getting queer representation right in the first season, before throwing it away in episode five, the idea of having a season focusing on Chloe pining after her straight best friend also leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

Either way, there’s no option for a happy same-gender romance at the end of that particular story. And queer fans deserve better than yet another story telling them that their suffering is inevitable.

It’s likely that we’ll find out more about the new game at E3. Until then, I can only wait and hope that DontNod learned more from Life is Strange than how to profit from the pain of characters who are like me.

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Jay Castello

Jay is a freelance games writer specialising in intersectional feminist critique, how to improve games and use them to improve the world, and cute dogs. She loves inhabiting digital spaces in all their forms, and being constantly surprised by just how weird and wonderful games can be.


4 responses to “Life is Strange 2 : Please Don’t Let It Be a Prequel”

  1. LordCancer Kain Avatar
    LordCancer Kain

    has there ever been a good prequel? i usually check out when i hear that dirty word. i very much like the idea of a new setting and characters.

    1. Does Tomb Raider (2013) count as a prequel? Off the top of my head, that’s a fantastic game.

      1. LordCancer Kain Avatar
        LordCancer Kain

        technically, well, “Tomb Raider is the tenth title in the Tomb Raider franchise, and operates as a reboot that emphasizes the reconstructed origins of Lara Croft.” -Wikipedia

    2. Gizensha Avatar

      Cube 0, which while not as good as the original Cube, is much better than the sequel to Cube, Hypercube. (The people behind that series I think have stated that they have no plans on doing a fourth film, but are open to licensing the rights to it for a video game if a good offer comes along, since they think it would make a good video game)

      Vorkosigan Saga, depending on how we define prequels, has some – Dreamweaver’s Dilemma, Falling Free, and Shards of Honor are all prequels to everything released earlier (though Aftermaths seems to be due to a quirk of publication dates, Spring 86 versus June 86), and I’m not sure the order of Dreamweaver’s Dilemma and Falling Free’s publication dates.

      Barrayar is 5th in the series chronology, and was published 11th, so is a prequel to a lot of entries in the series, but is a direct sequel to Aftermaths, which in turn Shards of Honor was a direct prequel to (and I’m fairly sure it was intended that AFtermaths was a direct sequel to Shards of Honor but publication date quirks happened)

      Brothers in Arms being published sixth makes a whole lot of stuff prequels to it, since of those set earlier in the timeline, only Aftermaths, Shards of Honor, The Warrior’s Apprentice, Ethan of Athos, and Falling Free, so due to that January 1989 title, arguably [and these are chronological order in universe, note the jumps back and forth in publication dates] Mountains of Mourning (May 1989), The Vor Game (1990), Cetaganda (1995), Labyrinth (August 1989), and The Borders of Infinity (October 1989), are prequels to some titles in the series, in some cases – The Vor Game and Cetaganda – a fair few titles in the series.

      Then you have a run of works that the in universe chronology matches the publication order, though some of that big list of prequels above were published in between, taking us to the next prequel, the novella Winterfair Gifts which is set between A Civil Campaign (1999) and Diplomatic Immunity (2002), but published directly after those in 2004. Then 2012’s Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is set prior to 2010’s Cryoburn, with Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen being the final entry in the series both chronologically and publication date, so far at least (2016).

      I think you can find suggested reading orders for this nonsense online somewhere, but the series is very much worth reading despite the work it takes to figure out what order you should read it in, though… Some of the entries need a couple of trigger warnings, and one – Ethan of Athos needs ‘1986 was a different time, and for that time this is actually a surprisingly positive representation of a gay protagonist, but I understand if you struggle to get through this thing reading it in a modern context’ (Happily, by Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, we get positive depictions (albeit in flashbacks) of polyamorous relationships and bisexual characters.)

      Also, Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald are prequels to Gold, Silver and Crystal, being set contemporary to Red, Green, Blue and Yellow.

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