Life is Strange: Before the Storm is the prequel follow-up to 2015’s episodic supernatural drama Life is Strange. The previous game was loaded with symbolism and allusions to other works that put some of the story’s more mysterious aspects into context. The recurring appearance of does and butterflies — and other animal symbolism — and phrases or motifs borrowed from the TV series Twin Peaks adds color and depth to the world of Arcadia Bay. These layered clues about the more otherworldly occurrences happening around protagonist Max Caulfield.
Before the Storm is no different. In the first episode, “Awake,” we already see the emblematic usage of fire and a raven, the latter of which seems to represent one of the major characters, maybe Chloe Price. But the strongest symbolism in this mini-series so far is a strong allusion to the classic Shakespearean play The Tempest. By looking at the plot and characters in The Tempest and how they are utilized in Before the Storm, we can make some educated guesses about the roles Chloe and the cast will play in the unraveling story.
Something important to remember: By the end of the original Life is Strange, we’ve learned three important things about Rachel Amber, one of the students at Blackwell Academy. She became very close with Chloe during a rough period in Chloe’s life; she was popular, respected, and her teachers and peers admired her as a model student of the academy; she is dead. The latter is particularly jarring, as we learn that she was tragically killed by Nathan Prescott, who drugged her to take provocative photos of her and in the process overdosed her. Before the Storm is a prequel telling the story of how Chloe and Rachel met, so players already go into the game knowing Rachel will die at the end or soon after it.
“What’s past is prologue”
In Before the Storm, Blackwell Academy is in rehearsals for a production of The Tempest, with Rachel playing the lead role of Prospero — or Prospera, as she’s called in the gender-swap. You can see the huge stage set up near the main campus entrance, and as you explore it you’ll find posters for the play on bulletin boards. The show will take place in the same timeframe as the remaining two episodes of Before the Storm.
First things first: a tempest is a storm, the title of this mini-series is Before the Storm, and in Life is Strange, Arcadia Bay is about to be decimated by a giant storm that Max spends the latter half of the game trying to prevent from happening. This connection is obvious. Furthermore, all three episode titles for Before the Storm are references to quotes from The Tempest:
- “Awake” references the Act I, Scene 2 call to Miranda from Prospero: “Awake, dear heart, awake! Thou hast slept well. Awake!”
- “Brave New World” is from Miranda’s speech in Act V, Scene I: “O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”
- “Hell is Empty” is from a much-quoted scene with Ariel in Act I, Scene 2: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”
Prospero is the architect of all that occurs around him, manipulating the relationship between Miranda and Ferdinand, and using the spirit Ariel and Caliban to mess with his shipwrecked enemies. He is the person who shapes the story of The Tempest, from creating the storm to treating other characters like puppets.
Rachel can be seen as manipulative in that she charms everyone around her — her teachers, her classmates, and most of all, Chloe. She is the focal point that moves the story of Before the Storm forward. Rachel is also the thing that brings Max and Chloe together in the original Life is Strange, with her absence and the mystery around it bringing the two together.
“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”
What may not seem so obvious is the connection between the characters in The Tempest’s relationships with one another, and who is playing them in Blackwell’s version. Nathan Prescott, the boy who eventually kills Rachel Amber, plays Caliban, a resident of the island who Prospero enslaves. Caliban is often described or portrayed as a wild man, human in body but inhuman in tendencies and desires, and spends much of The Tempest plotting to kill Prospero.
In “Awake,” we see Nathan bullied by his fellow students because he is into “dark” art; after stealing Nathan’s art portfolio, a fellow student is disgusted by what he sees, deriding Nathan for apparently gross desires. We see this dark desires at play in the original Life is Strange, where Nathan is revealed to be drugging girls and taking compromising photos of them in his secret dark room. This all foreshadows what will eventually happen to Rachel. But whereas Caliban is unsuccessful in overthrowing Prospero, Nathan does (whether intentionally or not) get the better of Rachel.
The strongest clue deals with the impending storm itself. Before the events of the play, Prospero’s brother overthrows him from his seat of power and strands him at sea with his daughter, Miranda. They end up on an island, where he studies a bunch of books and becomes a powerful sorcerer. He creates a magical storm to shipwreck his enemies, and they wash up on his island, kicking off the events of The Tempest proper. We haven’t seen any evidence of Rachel having magical powers, but given the many nods toward the storm in the original Life is Strange, perhaps it’s her actions that stir up the cataclysmic tempest that will wreck Arcadia Bay.
Rachel’s potential powers appear to have already shown themselves. At the end of the episode, Rachel accidentally lights a tree on fire and screams twice in each direction. Both screams are high-pitched shrieks, and as she yells, the wind rises around her in time with her yelling.
The plot of The Tempest has more parallels to the events in the original Life is Strange: Prospero starting the relationship between his daughter and the prince Ferdinand is akin to Rachel’s disappearance “orchestrating” the relationship between Max and Chloe. Nathan eventually falling in with the twisted Mark Jefferson is also like Caliban falling in with murderous drunkards.
But what happens in the Shakespeare play with these characters brings up more questions about events in Arcadia Bay. Will the character Juliet Watson, who plays Ariel, play a large role and like the spirit from Shakespeare play, thwart a plot against Rachel Amber? Will we see Rachel have some sort of power over Nathan in his current position or will we see Rachel’s powers in general? Does Chloe have a role to play in all of this? Only time will tell.