At the end of every year Paste’s games contributors write about their favorite game of the year that didn’t make our best-of-the-year list. Natalie Flores starts it off this year by explaining what makes Life Is Strange 2 so powerful.
One of the most annoying things about depression is that it makes you forget. Overwhelmed with school, my part-time job and personal matters, I forgot to nominate Life is Strange 2 for our fantastic 30 best videogames of 2019 list. This, reader, might have been my biggest regret of 2019, so I’m here to rectify that.
Or maybe I just wanted to write an entire end of the year piece on Life is Strange 2. Who knows? What I do know, and what you need to know, is that you should play it.
If you enjoyed the beautiful yet flawed first season, chances are you’ll enjoy this one. You’ll likely appreciate it even more, since there’s a noticeable elevation of quality here. The writing isn’t endearingly clumsy as it finds its footing; it’s witty, sharp, rich, and poignant in all the ways a game ultimately about empathy needs to be from the start. While the first season starred two white women and potential lovers, this season stars two Latino brothers. Max and Chloe joined forces to find a missing friend, whereas Sean and Daniel are forced on the road following the death of their father due to police brutality. Life is Strange’s story is crafted around Arcadia Bay—a town so small that it makes Max constantly reflect on her past and future, that makes one wonder how one of its most popular citizens has gone missing without a trace; Life is Strange 2’s story is more ambitious, with each episode taking place in an entirely different location, always on the move with the brothers—two children who must constantly wonder if they have a future at all.
But Life is Strange 2 is, on its own, fantastic, without needing comparisons to its predecessor. It is a heartbreaking game about community; about how, at the end of everything, we hold onto our loved ones—dead and alive—to keep going forward. It’s focused deeply on loss—not just the earth-shattering physical loss of a loved one, but also the loss of innocence; the loss of a childhood that will never be because it was robbed by adults with too much unchecked power; the loss of a future unaffected by trauma. It’s about peace—about those for whom peacefully navigating society is easier than others; about searching for peace while knowing it can bring turmoil and pain to those you care about; about how we individually define peace, and what we do with the fact that our individual definition of peace may—and often does—differ from those of our loved ones. It’s about anger at the world we live in today—one that feels like it has grown in empathy as much as it has lost it.
There are some things Life is Strange 2 isn’t about. It isn’t about cowardice, for it’s unafraid to look at the world we live in today and mirror its ugliness. It’s not about being comfortable; it’s as fearless and unhesitating in making white players uncomfortable for their racism and prejudices as it is in making a Latinx person like myself uncomfortable—a harrowing scene in the fourth episode might be the most uncomfortable a game has ever made me feel (which I’m thankful for). It isn’t about how your choices affect you; it’s much more about how they affect others—for, whether it’s your family member or a stranger, we live in a chaotic world and should try to take care of each other.
Life is Strange is beautiful. It’s visually beautiful, with character animations that often convey as much as the dialogue, like the way two family members who haven’t seen each other in almost a decade share a cigarette pack but can’t bring themselves to turn their bodies to each other while talking. It is audibly beautiful in both its original music, which captures longing and loneliness, and the quiet sounds of nature that envelop you while you sit down, sketch, and take a moment to reflect. It’s a beautiful game with beautiful, empathetic messages to confidently tell. In a world full of cowardice—by governments, by companies, by billionaires, by videogame developers and publishers who insist their games aren’t political, by everyday people who don’t do even if a small part to combat all the injustice in the world—Life is Strange 2 is a beautiful blessing that makes me a little more proud of who I am, a little more empathetic, and a little braver.
Natalie Flores is a freelance writer who loves to talk about games, K-pop and too many other things.