I never played a Life is Strange game, so my interest wasn’t piqued when True Colors was announced, that is, until I saw the trailer. I did a double take when I saw that the protagonist, Alex Chen, had the singing voice of mxmtoon, a pop artist who I happen to be a fan of. Then I was introduced to Haven Springs, an adorable small town in Colorado, and boy, am I a sucker for small towns. But I took the plunge only after meeting Alex.
I can say now that Alex is a beautifully written character. I connected with her on a level I couldn’t come close to with most real people. What initially drew me in was her power as an empath. Recently, I have begun regarding myself as an “empath,” someone who strongly feels the emotions of those around them. In other words, I consider myself emotionally intuitive. I’ve spent a long time walking on the eggshells of those around me, so I can tell when they crack -- I know when people are hurt inside. When I first saw Alex’s power visualized on screen, and how another person’s emotions affected her, a thread was immediately formed between her and me.
Life is Strange: True Colors feels as if it was made for me. I love the characters, the story, the choices and everything in between. I fully immersed myself in this world, and became Alex Chen when I made each of those choices. I was ruthless when I had to be, kind when I could be, and badass 100% of the time. Life is Strange: True Colors is hands down one of the best PC games.
Welcome to Haven Springs
Life is Strange: True Colors follows Alex Chen, a young woman who moves to small-town Colorado to reunite with her brother, Gabe Chen, after eight years of separation. Alex had a rough life, bouncing between foster homes, abusive people, and toxic relationships all the while struggling to control her supernatural power. But Haven Springs was a fresh start — a place where Alex could settle down and build a new life with her long-lost brother.
However, tragedy strikes, and Alex is thrust into a crusade for justice and vengeance. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what happens, but I won’t talk about it because it shouldn't be spoiled for the audience. If you’re interested in this game and have avoided the trailer thus far, keep at it. It’s better to go in not knowing what happens because it’ll further invest you during the first chapter. Nothing is worse than constantly anticipating when a spoiled moment will strike.
There are quite a few twists and turns in the story that are too narratively convenient. And the entire plot hinges on a ridiculously avoidable event. However, I can forgive that because the characters later recognized and expressed how avoidable it was. The aftermath of those emotions, the anger and hatred, were powerful and so damn human that the writing deserves credit for addressing the issue.
The choices we make
I struggle with anxiety, and with that comes indecisiveness. Playing Life is Strange is all about making decisions. This game forced me to make choices and live with them. There are no save points and no retries. There are choices that I regret, but I would do it all again because I believed that they made for excellent narrative moments.
True Colors is one of the few decision-making games that didn’t leave me staring at a dialogue choice screen for more than an hour. That’s because the casual dialogue prompts as well as the critical decisions were clear and reasonable. There are plenty of games with decision-making mechanics that don’t make it clear what your character is about to say. There might be a one-word prompt unrelated to the conversation and the next thing you know your character is saying a “yo mama” joke spiraling into a military coup.
True Colors doesn’t do that to you. Every choice I made was my own. There are a few times where I wish Alex had done something differently, but overall, her decisions and methods lined up with my own.
Connecting with people
Life is Strange: True Colors is a mystery game where you navigate as Alex Chen to not only help people but to gather information for a case you’re building up against the big bad. It’s a character-centric game, and it dives deep into the good and bad emotions of everyone around the protagonist.
As I explored Haven Springs, I ran into many main and side characters and could get an empathic read on most of them, feeling their grief, anger or frustration. Their emotions were triggered by events as deep as the loss of a friend or as trivial as getting a boot on a car. With the important characters, Alex has the opportunity to dig deeper and see the world through their eyes. I’ve seen fantastical worlds and nightmarish ones. I’ve even seen through the eyes of someone with dementia, which is haunting because it’s so real. True Colors tackles some pretty tough subjects, but it adds to the authenticity.
A big part of this game is the emotional growth of Alex’s character, and how deeply she’s affected by the people around her. You can draw comparisons to Alex being a sensitive person in real life. Every time she feels someone’s sadness, you can feel the depression seeping through. When the negative thoughts sink in, you can feel the toxic environment closing in around you. If Alex feels someone’s spark, a glimmer of joy, it’s as contagious as laughter. Erika Mori nailed her performance as Alex, capturing the character and how deeply human she could be.
When you’re not focusing on the main plot, you’re helping people. I love that the most about True Colors. You could ditch the conspiracy and there would still be a fantastic game here because anyone who has ever struggled with grief, anxiety or depression can relate to the story.
For Alex, it’s easy to connect with people because she fights to feel what they feel as her method to help them. I admire her because of how hard she fights. Like Alex, I can’t sit by when someone is hurting; I want to help them even if it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
There are a bunch of great characters in the game apart from Alex. There’s Ryan and Steph, the former is a hunky mountain cop and the latter is a nerdy radio host. Ryan is brave and ridiculously nice, while Steph is free-spirited and adventurous. I fell for the hunky mountain man, but in my defense, that’s before I knew Steph was a Critter (more on that later). Of course, there’s Gabe, who is the classic loving brother who is just trying to get his life together and do the best he can for the people around him. And then there’s his girlfriend Charlotte, who is a fiery hot wave of emotions. For most of the game, Charlotte seemed like a lifeless character, but once you get to know what’s going on in that head, you realize how human she is.
Haven Springs also felt like a living and breathing character thanks to the power of smartphones. Alex’s smartphone is filled with texts from the citizens of Haven Springs and an app that’s the equivalent of a town’s Facebook group, filled with posts from on screen and off-screen characters.
I’ve already said this game was made for me, but goddamn, there’s even a whole chapter dedicated to a Dungeons & Dragons-esque scenario. One of the two major love interests, Steph, is a Critter -- a fan of Critical Role, one of the most popular D&D shows. Steph runs a LARP (Live-Action-Role-Play) session for the town, and Alex Chen plays the Bard.
I loved this whole chapter. The entire town of Haven Springs came together to roleplay and, for a moment, escape the real world of tragedy. The chapter was set up like a turn-based JRPG, where you casted spells and commanded a small party. There are some fun puzzles and cute mysteries to solve during the LARP.
My only complaint about the chapter is that I wish there were more combat encounters. You can get past most of the combat encounters with special items you can pick up, which I couldn't help but use. However, that leaves only two battles, which sucks because there are so many abilities and scrolls that you pick up during the chapter. It definitely needed some more unavoidable fights.
The final stretch
Without spoiling anything, I want to talk about the last chapter a bit and how the game almost lost me. There’s a long stretch where you don’t make any decisions and you’re basically in one cutscene after another to the point where it feels as if you're watching a film. I didn’t mind it at first, but then I wondered what the point was of rehashing stuff that was already implied.
Some scenes are better off referenced or talked about in the background. There’s no need to visualize everything on screen, especially past traumas. However, experiencing Alex’s life in retrospect and challenging her beliefs were powerful moments. You can only help so many people before you realize that the person you need to help the most is yourself. It’s not the intense, action-packed finale that I wanted, but it’s the finale Alex needed, and the game is better for it.
When the credits rolled on Life is Strange: True Colors, I sat in my chair, wanting so much more. There are only a few games that can knock me down with a wave of depression once the escapism is officially over, and True Colors is now on that list.
I was enamored by Alex Chen’s remarkable character, the beautiful soundtrack, the lovely art, and the overall world design that sunk its teeth into me. I don’t know if I would feel the same way about any Life is Strange game, only because this particular one spoke to me in many ways, and the others seem so different.
I loved True Colors. I know that it is over now, but I just hope we get to see more of Alex Chen in the future. I am excited to see Steph’s journey in Wavelengths, a prequel DLC launching on September 30.