At E3 2017, Square Enix surprised people by announcing Dontnod Entertainment’s brilliant Life is Strange was getting a prequel, from an entirely different studio called Deck Nine Games. Set three years before the events of the original game, Life is Strange: Before the Storm follows the 16-year-old Chloe Price – the blue-haired rocker from the first game – at a time in her life just after her father’s death and her best friend Max Caulfield moves away to Seattle and, importantly for Before the Storm, just before she meets Rachel Amber.
Anyone who played the original Life is Strange will know that Rachel is a big presence in the game’s story – or her absence is anyway. Her ‘Missing’ posters are pasted all around Arcadia Bay and she’s a guiding force for the game’s heroine Max throughout the five episodes.
But interestingly, Deck Nine has chosen to tell a story that won’t end with Rachel going missing. FANDOM spoke to Lead Writer, Zak Gariss and Producer, David Hein about the game’s story and its characters at San Diego Comic-Con.
“We’ve deliberately chosen to tell a story that’s not that story,” explained Gariss. “If you played the first game you know that’s what happens to Rachel, but the story we’re exploring in Before the Storm ends long before that moment. That’s not what we’re doing, we’re exploring a different mystery.”
“So you could be the most diehard superfan – like we are – and you won’t know the ending. You’ll be confronted with choices that are intersecting with narratives that aren’t those narratives. It’s a separate story.”
Instead, Life is Strange: Before the Storm will focus on the developing relationship between Rachel and Chloe that starts in the gameplay demo shown off at E3, where Chloe has got herself into a secret gig at an abandoned mill.
“This is the story of the two girls meeting and the kind of meteoric impact that they have on each other,” explained Gariss. “And it’s also about how incredible it is when you’re trapped in the kind of place that Chloe is trapped in – which is basically being really sad and really alone – what it can be like to meet someone who has the power to pull you out of that.
“That’s kind of the core that we’re exploring and that’s really exciting for all of us because it’s really human. It’s really small in a universal way.”
And like the gameplay in the original Life is Strange, you’ll have to make some choices about how you want Chloe and Rachel’s relationship to progress. Obviously, the majority of players will want it to go down the romance route, but Gariss stressed that it won’t be a simple box-tick kind of choice.
“You don’t just decide in a moment what your relationship is and then that’s done. Because it’s constantly changing; people evolve together or away from each other. And when you’re 16, your sexuality – among every other aspect of your life – is not even yours to decide often.
“When the players are choosing how they’re relating to Rachel and what kind of relationship they’re developing with Rachel, that’s not a single, discrete moment in Before the Storm. That is Before the Storm.”
And it’s this human complexity that attracted the Deck Nine team to pitch their own version of Life is Strange. The team are fans first and foremost and that’s incredibly obvious from speaking to Hein and Gariss, who both made a different decision in those closing moments of Life is Strange.
“We’d all played it before we ever knew we were going to be working on this project and absolutely loved it,” said Hein.
“In the Dev Diary, Zak said something that resonates with me so deeply – ‘It’s okay to not be okay’. This is a game that’s exploring that idea of it being okay to cry because this is awful. Throwing it back to that final choice [in the original game], I cried. Even if it felt like the right choice it was still devastating and it was something that I couldn’t be okay with and that’s sort of a fun character territory to explore narratively speaking.
“You don’t obviously want to feel like a master puppeteer with people’s emotions but it’s fun to explore those stories and conversations that are frankly depressing.”
Gariss was particularly attracted to the fact that the characters of Arcadia Bay are flawed, imperfect beings that fans really related to.
“These are not perfect people, they’re vulnerable people, they’re angry people and wounded, and selfish and broken in a lot of ways that I think ultimately makes them incredibly relatable. Because we’re all a little broken at times, we’re all a little bit selfish, we’re all a little bit vulnerable… or not.
“For me, it’s that, it’s the kind of courage that Dontnod had to tell stories set in such a strange little place with a female character as a lead, which is sadly courageous. We need more games with women characters.”
Not only did the original game and this prequel, Before the Storm, feature a pair of female leads but it featured LGBTQ themes. But the developer did so in a way that was unpoliticised and genuinely focused on the special relationship and love between the characters. It was something that resonated incredibly well with players, who found the lack of agenda refreshing.
“I think I really admire, as a player and a fan, what Dontnod did in the LGBTQ space too. I want to see more gay characters whose gayness is maybe the least interesting thing about them and the kind of acceptance and inclusivity that comes with that territory,” said Gariss.
“The whole studio at Deck Nine and the writing team, we really see that responsibility or almost prerogative to continue telling stories with those voices as seriously as can be. That’s a huge privilege for us and we really tried to treat that carefully, thoughtfully, deliberately and gratefully, because these are issues that are important to us as a culture in our studio and the kinds of stories that we want to be telling.”
“We want to honour those communities, which are traditionally not given the microphone a lot – especially in games. It’s a huge honour to get to do that too.”
But at the end of the day, players are going to gravitate towards Life is Strange: Before the Storm because of the return of Chloe.
“To a certain extent I’m writing a story that is very much a 16-year-old girl in this time of her life, but we’re not trying to tell a story that represents 16-year-olds or girls or the lesbian community. We’re telling Chloe’s story. We’re really trying to pursue that and that’s where our vision is, not any sort of larger blanket claims about any of these identities.”
Episode One of Life is Strange: Before the Storm is available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC on August 31.