And now we get to the good and the bad. I was absolutely smitten with episode one, and do still really love this game. But when you deal with something that’s episodic things can get a little uneven. If episode one was all about establishing character, setting, and tone then episode two is all about escalation.
The first story that takes center stage is Kate. She was briefly bullied by a school staff member in the first episode, and has been having some issues. She seemed depressed before, she’s clearly distraught due to a video of her that’s been circulating among students. You start out by talking to her and she latches on to the positive attention pretty quickly. In fact, there are many interactions in episode two that control Kate’s fate, and I actually missed a couple that made for trouble at the end of this part. But I’ll get back to her in a bit.
The other part of the story that is ramped up is your friendship with Chloe, your friend from before you moved away from this town. Though bitter about you never contacting her after moving away, she too locks back onto you. After you prove your time travel powers to her, she takes you to one of her private spaces to practice, but things turn bad. She owes money to a local drug dealer and eventually he’s holding a knife on Chloe while you hold a gun on him.
In episode one your big issues seemed to be avoiding fights and keeping your head down from the administration. Suddenly there’s drug deals gone south and a Mexican standoff. The developments with Chloe felt odd at first, but are actually a more accurate measure of pacing and things to come. I thought that there was enough going on with her at home, between her missing girlfriend and her abusive step-father. This may have felt a bit more natural, but this is a fantasy/science fiction game after all. I should have realized that a high school drama with time travel was a little narrow in scope, and this chapter shocks you out of that comfort zone.
The big finale is when Kate climbs on the roof of the dormitories and kills herself. While rewinding time you have some sort of attack and are stuck with the following situation:
- you stop time in order to make it to the roof before she jumps
- you are in so much distress that you won’t be able to rewind time for a bit
That means whether you can talk her down off the roof or not, Max has to live with that decision. While the Kate story seemed to almost explode out of nowhere at the start of this episode, it felt perfect at the end. Throughout this whole segment of the game, you’ve made Max react to (or ignore) Kate. Each of those comes back at the end in giving weight to what you say to her. Those moments felt moderately important in the moment because you were essentially balancing your attention between Chloe (your childhood friend) and Kate (someone you don’t know as well but also clearly needs help). The fact that you’re stuck with however it turns out added a really touching gravity to the whole situation. Yes, you can go back in the save files and restart the episode, but you’d have to replay the entire thing. As the game progresses, Max can only rewind time during a scene. Once you make your choices and move on you can no longer rewind back. The reveal that you are now locked into the actions of the entire episode for this finale felt true.
A much smaller storyline (or is it? You never know with LiS) has been dealing with a guy in school. Warren clearly likes you and attempts to ask you out in this episode. I felt a bit torn on this, and replayed his conversation a few times through. Warren is a bit clingy. He’s a nice enough character, but he’s so far removed from the intensifying plot-lines Max is dealing with that there’s not much of a connection with him. He sort of just shows up and makes me feel guilty when I don’t act super interested in what he has to say, or if I turn him down for a date. It’s a nice, though frustrating, touch that keeps the high school element grounded. And while the dialogue in this episode clearly felt clunky due to the writing, I can’t help but think that the plotting is spot on. After all, I’m feeling pressure to be really nice to a guy and go on a date just so I won’t feel mean. I’d wager that this is a pretty realistic conflict that girls and women deal with on a regular basis.
Another aspect of this game that keeps shining is the composition. Max is a photographer, and the game is directed with that in mind. I’m constantly taking screen caps, even when Max doesn’t have the option to snap a photo. There are a few spots where Max can sit and talk to herself while the camera moves around. These moments have no interactivity but look great. The graphics themselves aren’t top notch (as I said, this is very similar to TellTale games) but the scenes are composed and lit wonderfully, and a shallow depth of field is used to great effect. It’s hard not to have that feeling of “this would make a great photo”, which is how Max sees the world.