Life is Strange is one of my favorite games and one that I still play to this day. The Indie music, simplistic art style, and exciting story of the girl who can rewind time keeps me entertained. As much as I enjoy it, it has some faults. And I was about to stomach those faults again when DONTNOD came out with Tell Me Why a choice-based game about two siblings searching for answers after their mother threatened their life one tragic night. This game surprised me with its storytelling and I thought I would share what I liked… and what could have been done better…
Liked- Dialogue and Character Interactions.
Life is Strange is great, but the dialogue is laughable. It’s known to be cringy, edgy, and unrealistic to say the least. On top of the horrendous dialogue, you had a good amount of unlikeable characters that you had to shift through, including some of the main protagonists.
When playing Tell Me Why the protagonists immediately come off as genuine, Tyler especially.
In the game, Alyson and Tyler are close siblings until the murder of their mother would separate them for years. The game doesn’t shy away from how awkward a meeting can be when you haven’t seen someone in years. And it’s not just the main characters, but the side characters as well. No one comes off as immediately unlikeable. The game has you dive further in before you can sympathize and hate the characters you have, which is something I feel DONTNOD tends to miss out on in their other works.
Could Be Better- Game Play
In Tell Me Why Alyson and Tyler have a bond so great that they can not only read each other’s minds, they can also watch each other’s memories. A big part of the game is piecing the memories throughout the story so you can fully understand what happened that night. I enjoyed that part the most. I’ll also give the game praise for being aesthetically pleasing, with likable characters, and its handling of social issues
Overall... the gameplay could be better. One of the first things I noticed was how stiff the movements were. At first glance, it looks like a copy and paste of the Life is Strange format, with small open-world opportunities, simple movements, and puzzles you had to solve using your powers. And yet whenever I tried to move characters, they were sluggish and seemed to look boxed up in open areas. Another issue was how the characters would sit together in what could be a half cutscene. I say half cut scene because you couldn’t move the characters but you could choose the dialogue depending on who you are playing at the time. It seems jarring and out of place as it’s also not shot like a normal cutscene. It looks like you're still in game mode and I could maybe chalk it up to the budget cost, but it still seems slightly off-putting and can also make the story drag at times.
Where I feel it went wrong the most was when it tried to add extra parts. For example, you would get stuck playing minigames whenever you played as Tyler in certain situations. That and the goblin puzzles their mother, Mary Ann, had left for them are what I felt made the game drag. Mainly because to solve them, you had to read A LOT of the stories to figure out the puzzles. I’ll admit, I wasn’t patient enough to read through a lot of it, so this is more of a personal complaint. That being said, it came with a really good payoff as you learned more and more about Mary Ann as time went on.
Liked- One Social Issue at a Time
Something I noticed in many mediums nowadays is that shows want to tackle social issues, but they fall flat because they’re trying to tackle them all at once.
In Tell Me Why you get a message before you play that talks about how medical professionals were brought in when talking about mental health and people who identify as transgender helped with the creation of Tyler and the issues that could surround him during his transition from female to male. And in my opinion, they nailed it. They show that mental health doesn't always have a clear cut answer. When our protagonists ask about their mother's mental state, the majority if not all of the people in town don't simply say she's crazy. In fact, they said she was happy, but near the end, she was beginning to fall. Even in the ending, there's still no clear idea of what could have gone on in her mind just like anyone in the real world who has had a family member struggle with their mental health. They also run through the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks with a more realistic idea of what someone might suffer though.
As for handling the character of Tyler, I think they actually handled it with care. Tyler is funny, charming and gives a good idea of what people transitioning may face in their home communities. Overall all think they did what many in media want to do and should do when portraying mental health and the transgender community.
Could be Better- Events Before the Ending
The events leading up to the end seemed really anticlimactic. It seems like nothing really happens. You find out some truths to the lies you're told but nothing is really done with it, aside from a shouting match (which I guess could be seen as the final boss battle). On top of that, it throws a lot of what you find out into question and you wonder if a lot of your choices even mattered.
Liked- The Ending
In my opinion there really is one decent ending. The others will still have one of your siblings stuck in their hometown, depending on how strong you left the bond. Unlike many other choice-based games made by Square Enix, I would argue that this is one of the few games where the outcome is still fairly positive. No one is dead, no one is arrested. To put it simply, no ending is extreme.
This game surprised me in so many ways and I encourage anyone interested to check it out! Don’t just take my word that it’s an awesome game. If you’re a huge fan of Life is Strange or choice-based games then you’ll enjoy this hidden gem.