The time has come, the photographer said, to speak of many things.
The sound of thunder filled my ears. Rain danced a complex tap routine on the ground. A storm swirled before me, Like a potion brewing in an endless, transparent cauldron. The lighthouse blinked, and the lighthouse fell. I allowed myself to be guided safely out of harms way.
I knew to expect all of this, of course. After all, Life is Strange is a game all about deja vu. And deja vu is, similarly, the running theme I signed up for when I decided to write about the game for a second time. After reviewing Life is Strange episode-by-episode over most of the last year, I found myself missing the game once it was over and done. When I heard that a special physical edition of the game would be coming out a year after its initial launch, I knew I had to get it for two reasons. One was so that I could get a platinum trophy for the thing, and the other was to write this very series. Life Twice Lived will be my collection of weekly episodic reflections on Life is Strange, and what the experience is like going through for a second time. Fair warning: full Life is Strange spoilers will follow.
When I woke up from my chaotic dream and into the classroom where the stage is really set, things immediately took on a very different tone for me than they first had. The once-innocent actions of Victoria, harassing Kate in class, now felt charged with a bit of extra malice. Max’s reaction to her own events felt more tragic, knowing now what the storm in her dream really meant. Most importantly, though, Mark Jefferson became cast in a glow that I had never seen before.
In his class lecture, Jefferson delivers the line “seriously though, I could frame any one of you in a dark corner, and capture you in a moment of desperation.” Right off the bat, we have a subtlety frightening hint of what is to come, one that almost nobody suspected when first playing through the game. Jefferson comes off as intelligent and edgy – enough so that we understand why Max, and just about everyone else at Blackwell, has a celebrity crush on him – without revealing his true, sinister nature underneath. This continues as he hounds Max for her entry into the Everyday Heroes contest. He’s calm and supportive, but knowing his true intentions towards Max gives his words a double-meaning. It’s not just her photo he wants; it’s her.
After the opening credits danced around me as I walked down the hall to the tune of Syd Matters, it came time for the bathroom scene where Max would see her old friend Chloe for the first (and possibly last, in a roundabout sort of way) time in years. The rewind powers were gained, and Max saved the blue-haired girl she would later realize to be an old friend. Not a lot of wiggle room here.
When it came to the big, truly plot-affecting choices in Life is Strange, I didn’t particularly plan to either deviate or stay the course from what I had chosen on my first time around. On this second playthrough, the option to make different choices based on what I knew was coming made me pause at a few points. This isn’t to say that I plan to point all fingers at Mark Jefferson just yet (although I suppose I’ll have the chance to at the end of the second episode), because as of yet, who would believe me?
Okay, I’m going off on a tangent. The point is, the first big choice came in the alcoholic footsteps of Principal Wells, who asked me if I knew who had pulled the fire alarm. The first time I played through Life is Strange, I was quick to pin all the blame on Nathan Prescott, but this time I chose to take another track. I knew that Nathan was dangerous, but I also knew that he was being manipulated. One way or another, there would be plenty of time for him to get angry at me over the course of five temporally-displaced days, so I decided to avoid fanning the flames for a while. The alternative that I chose ended in the principal developing some new suspicions about Max herself that I hadn’t anticipated. At first, I got angry at this, but then I realized how easy it can be to jump to conclusions. Principal Wells being guilty of something like that doesn’t feel too far-fetched to me.
Now let’s fast-forward a bit. Victoria got a well-deserved paint bucket dumped on her, but I still chose to be nice to her about it. The first time it had been because, after pinning blame on Nathan, I didn’t want to be on anyone else’s shit list. This time, it was because I came in with a better understanding of who Victoria is as a person; I may not like her very much, but she deserves a break. Then, a few minutes later, I used my powers to help reveal the truth about Victoria flirting with someone else’s boyfriend, and immediately regretted my decision to be nice to her. We’ll talk about Victoria more in later episodes.
What continued to strike me in my second playthrough of this first episode was how much more timid Max was at this point. Her progression into the courageous figure she becomes was so gradual, when each episode took 2 months to release, that it was easy to forget her beginnings. I think her first real test of courage comes early on, though, halfway this very first episode. It comes not in the plot-agent Chloe Price, nor the overly-friendly Warren, but the scene between David Madsen and Kate Marsh.
Here was my split. On one hand, David Madsen is one of my favorite characters in Life is Strange, because I think he exemplifies the best of the game’s writing (see also: Victoria Chase). Madsen is first presented as a mean security guard, and is later revealed to be overprotective and extremely paranoid. Despite that, and despite the numerous opportunities the game gives to blame him for what’s wrong in Arcadia Bay, Madsen turns out to be a good person in the end, going so far as to save Max’s life in the finale. Madsen is not just a flawed-but-good person, but one whose flaws are taken just as seriously as the things he does right. He’s one of the most utterly human characters in the whole game, all while reminding us that being human isn’t always entirely pretty; neither is it entirely evil.
On the other hand, Kate Marsh sits at the center of my single biggest regret from my first playthrough of the game. To put it bluntly, at the end of episode 2, she jumped. I failed to save her, and the tone and story of the game up to that point did this amazing job of making me feel like I had failed someone. The emotionally tumultuous final episode brought my failure back to haunt me, not once but twice during the nightmarish tearing of spacetime; first, when Max sits in Jefferson’s classroom again, and Kate’s desk is covered in blood; second, when Kate herself emerges, saying that she is stuck in hell forever now.
Really, what I’m driving at here is that I entered this second walk through the story with a mission in mind: save Kate Marsh at all costs.
I stood up to Madsen, despite knowing that he had no ill interests at heart. Suddenly, it didn’t matter. I found myself caring more about Kate than I possibly could about him. I would have time to defend him later; now it was time to start standing up for Kate. Later, when I encountered him in Chloe’s bedroom near the end of the episode, I took the blame for the drugs, taking a more passive route that might generate less animosity towards him. When I did that, he informed the school, saying that the drug use would go on my record. For a third time in just one episode, I actually regretted a more well-informed decision more than the one I had made in relative ignorance the first time around.
And really, that’s the interesting phenomenon I’m noticing on my second walk through Arcadia Bay. Sometimes it’s easier to do something that you think is for the best, based purely on snap judgments. What’s harder is doing what you know is best, based on facts. In a way, I felt as if the game was punishing me for knowing more. I suppose it’s almost like how Max is being punished (via the anomalies in town) for rewinding time over and over. This timeline will surely have its differences to the first, and I can’t wait to continue chronicling them.