Polarized: Life is Strange Finale Review

Well, I guess this is growing up. That’s Blink 182’s original single from their debut album Dude Ranch. Incidentally, it was this feeling I was evoked with by playing this odd, yet very interesting final episode of Life is Strange. While operating under the guise of a time-traveling mystery thriller, Dontnod’s flawed but beautiful tale is really just a big metaphor for growing up.

WARNING: This is a review discussion about the end of Life is Strange. There will definitely be massive spoilers. Scroll down to “Final thoughts” for a brief summation.

Previously on Life is Strange, we were left on a cliffhanger of epic proportions. We watched in terror as our mentor and role model Mr. Jefferson gunned down our blue-haired pseudo love interest Chloe. Things didn’t seem like they were going to turnout well for our heroine.

Interestingly, the whole missing girl subplot of the game — one of the main narrative driving forces up until this point — turned out to be kind of an afterthought. The stuff with Mr. Jefferson is really brief and kind of confusing, mostly resolving in the first 20 minutes of gameplay. If you were looking for some kind of deep motivation for Jefferson’s insidious schemes, you’re going to be a little bit disappointed. Other than capturing honest moments out of his subjects, Mark Jefferson had really no reason to do much of anything, which made a whole lot of the game seem kind of pointless.

If everything in Life is Strange were cut and dry, then this would’ve made for a boring finale. Luckily for the audience, the shit hits the proverbial fan pretty quickly.

Things seem to be going Max’s way completely. She’s caught the monster behind the disappearance of Rachel Amber, while putting away Jefferson’s sniveling accomplice Nathan. Max even rigged the Everyday Heroes contest to come out the winner. We experience a nice fulfilling section of the game where we see what it would have been like had everything turned out okay for her, and it’s nice…while it lasts.

Moments after arriving at the art gallery, Max receives a call from Chloe; warning her about the oncoming storm we just knew was going to be addressed. This is the main climactic push for the rest of the game. With little options, Max uses her old polaroid to travel back to when the game first began.

Unfortunately, Max had been hopping and bopping through time too many times, curbstomping butterflies and altering universes to the point she began to lose her touch with the fabric of reality. Things become a nightmare-scape of all of the decisions that Max has had to face, the figments of her fractured psyche taunting her at every corner.

There is a sense of absolution to it all, as Max desperately tries to have her cake and eat it too. My version of Max finally decided not to keep friend-zoning Warren and offered him a kiss. David Madsen got his chance to be the hero he so longingly desired to be. We even got to save Alyssa from pain and embarrassment (maybe even death) one final time.

That’s not what the game is about, though. With all of the times Max tries to save her friends and loved ones, she fails to realize the purpose of it all. Mostly because it’s a message to the player. Max was never meant to save everybody.

In a surprisingly riveting final sequence, Chloe and Max realize that they have to make a tough decision. It is a decision that has heavy consequences, and massive repercussions depending on what you choose. Basically, you have two options: let Arcadia Bay get swallowed up by a devastating time tornado, or sacrifice your best friend by letting her get shot the way she was always meant to.

This is a pivotal moment, and I actually really wish Dontnod would have taken the reins on it and not made it a choice at all. Go take the time to watch both endings play out. It’s clear that the developer wanted you to sacrifice Chloe. The ending is so much more profound and impactful. Sacrificing the town provides you with a hollow montage as you and your best friend leave all of the devastation behind, but flipping it around provides Max with a tragic lesson about life, and to cherish the time you are given.

I’m going to get a little existential here, so bear with me. It’s entirely possible that Max Caulfield never had time travel abilities at all. What if this whole game is her replaying her guilt at the loss of her friend? It’s clear Max felt guilty for abandoning her best friend years ago, and I imagine that once Chloe is gunned down that feeling probably intensifies. As we grow up and take the branching paths that our life leads us through, we often make life changing decisions. This is immensely prevalent in high school, when we first begin to discover how to have complex emotions and love things. We all have had times where we wonder what might have been, and it’s this nostalgic feeling of uncertainty that is the true heart of this story.

Even if Max did have time control powers, she realizes ultimately that no good comes from trying to erase the past. You can’t write every wrong you’ve ever done. It’s our mistakes and regrets that define us just as much as our success. There comes a point when you grow up that you have to accept the choices you’ve made and live with the consequences, for better or worse. After everything they go through, Max decides to accept what happens and move on with her life.

So many elements of growing up are explored. Infatuation, jealousy, betrayal, abandonment. These are all things that every high school student or young adult has faced. I just wish that Dontnod would have had the initiative to remove that final choice from us. It should have been out of our hands. Max, as well as the player should’ve come to the conclusion that it was futile and foolish to meddle with time, and that some things in life are just out of our control.

I have no idea what the global stats are for the game, but at the time I completed it, I was surprised to see that the decision to save or sacrifice Chloe was split almost completely down the middle. Sacrificing her just seems like the right option, but feel free to watch both and tell me your thoughts if you think I’m wrong.

All in all, Dontnod/SquareEnix managed to provide us with an engrossing tale about a young girl finding herself in the context of an episodic video game. Like most trips through high school, Life is Strange had its fair share of problems and speed bumps throughout the journey, but the emotional payoff of the conclusion helped to make the journey feel worthwhile.

Final thoughts…
Life is Strange’s final episode had a great deal of issues. The awkward pacing did little to help the overarching message, and the main focus got lost along the way. Still, it was a unique experience, one I will remember for quite some time. The symbolism was heavy, and the emotional payoff made the whole journey much more complex than I initially thought.

What’s Good: A satisfactory ending to Max’s story, which really makes you think about those forks in the road throughout your life.
What’s Not-so-good: The message of the game often got bogged down by awkward pacing and unnecessary narrative baggage it should’ve dropped episodes ago.

What are your thoughts on Life is Strange? Were you satisfied with your choices? How did you deal with Arcadia Bay? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

 

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