Say what you want about linear narrative experiences, but the work Dontnod has done with the Life is Strange series has been some truly captivating stuff. From the the friendship of Chloe and Max in the original series to the brotherly love between second-generation Latino-Americans in Life is Strange 2, the progressive world building and storytelling prepped by the Paris developer has been as “woke” as it gets. Now with Tell Me Why, Dontnod looks to break even more barriers, and the minority American in me is ready for the ride.
What Is It?
Tell Me Why is very much cut from the same cloth of the Life is Strange games. It’s a linear, choose-your-own-adventure type of experience much in the vain of the games Telltale made popular with titles such as The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us.
Spoiler Warning: I will mention specific instances in the first chapter, but each of them are fairly trivial and shouldn’t impact how players should progress through the story.
The game puts you in the shoes of Alyson and Tyler Ronan, twins from the fictional town in Alaska who are reunited after 10 years. Alyson works at a convenience store doing what she can to make ends meet, while her brother Tyler had just graduated from a correctional program he was put in after murdering their mother following an unfortunate instance as she tried to cope with Tyler’s transition in sexuality.
Yep, Tyler is a transgender man and this is definitely the first time a video game has put players in control of a trans protagonist, but that isn’t all that makes him interesting.
The plot shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since Dontnod is hardly a studio that backs away from telling these kinds of unique stories. The first Life is Strange featured a lot of teen angst with Max and Chloe in their Arcadia Bay adventures, all while Max had the ability to rewind time. Life is Strange 2 followed Sean Diaz and his younger brother Daniel as they tried to escape from Seattle to Mexico after being blamed for their father’s murder when it was the police that actually did it, all while Sean developed telekinesis on the journey.
What makes the Ronans different? Being the close twins that they are, they’re able to communicate telepathically as well as take in visual cues to remember various instances in their past. Obviously, Alyson and Tyler are different people, so sometimes their depictions of the same memories are also different, leading to quite the interesting core gameplay loop of decisions impacting the story.
Why Should I Care?
Though it’s about as basic it gets and it could be questioned why a tutorial is even needed, Tell Me Why does a fantastic job getting you used to how the game plays. Of course, seeing as how it’s mostly a narrative experience, you’ll spend a lot of your time in the game watching events unfold triggering cutscenes and puzzles as you examine and learn about the world around you.
The world building through the game’s exploration through both the perspectives of Alyson and Tyler is really what sets Tell Me Why apart from Dontnod’s other experiences. The game makes you perform specific tasks back and forth with each sibling, really letting players empathize with both protagonists.
Again, Alyson and Tyler were separated for over 10 years, so pretty much all the memories you’ll come across will be during their time as children. Over the course of the first chapter, players are given an inside look at the kind of playful yet jarring lives the Ronan kids lived with their mother struggling to make ends meet on top of learning about the ins and outs of her daughters’ lives.
One of their most profound memories is in the Book of Goblins, a storybook the family made that the kids really took a liking for decorating. This book, full of stories, also acts as one of the main ways to solve various puzzles sprinkled in the game. It’s kind of a drag that the puzzles revolve around context clues that could only be understood by reading the book (and there are A LOT of entries in it), but it also makes solving the puzzles a more rewarding experience.
There’s another instance in the game that takes place at the convenience store Alyson works at, where the twins uncover a memory of an argument between their mother who also worked at the store and the shopkeeper Tessa. Alyson remembered Tessa being the aggressor in the argument while Tyler remembered their mother being the difficult one, which sets up one of the big choices there is in the game–whose account of the same story seemed more realistic?
Unfortunately, neither decision really felt like it had repercussions even remotely close to what we’re used to in the genre, so it makes me wonder whether or not the writers plan on giving us the same choice anxiety we’ve had in other titles in the two upcoming chapters.
Going back to world building and the convenience store, I’d be remiss to not give a shoutout to Dontnod’s writers for including their Filipino food Easter eggs in the game, especially as one of the few proud Filipino-American people in gaming media. As you arrive at the convenience store, there’s a bulletin board outside advertising Tessa’s bible study night, and that’s when Alyson talks about how popular Tessa’s “bibingka” (Filipino coconut sponge cake) is. Not to be outdone, there’s a sign outside the store advertising salmon “lumpia” (A Filipino eggroll), and Tyler even mentions Tessa making the kids a special banana roll–he of course is referring to “turon,” a banana dessert fried inside a glazed crepe also resembling an eggroll.
Why should you care about the Filipino stuff? In the world we live in, representation matters and with this sudden onslaught of games we have depicting foreign lifestyles in experiences like Ghost of Tsushima and Raji, it’s really cool seeing a character like Tessa in Tell Me Why. (I could talk more about it, but this guy beat me to it.) Tessa’s character has some conservative Catholic values in her, and that’s very prevalent in Filipino culture, so I can’t help but feel impressed by the job Dontnod did here. This is in addition to the work Dontnod did with the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) group when it came to advice on Tyler’s character, who August Aiden (Tyler’s voice actor who identifies as a trans man) does a fantastic job with the voice role. Remember, Dontnod is based in Paris, France. How are these people so woke with the ethnic and sexual diversity in America? It’s simply fascinating.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
If you’re somebody that can’t get into this kind of game, there really isn’t much in Tell Me Why gameplay-wise that’ll change your mind about the genre, but if you’re into these types of narrative experiences that delve into profound situations, Tell Me Why could be up your alley. The attention to detail so far truly is astounding, and with the debut chapter clocking in at around less than four hours, I can’t wait until the next one.
Fortunately, after much criticism about the inconsistent releases of Life is Strange 2‘s chapters, Tell Me Why is done, and each chapter is being released every Thursday until the final one (chapter 3) comes out on September 10, so we’ll keep you updated with how each one flows since we’re unfortunately not an Xbox partner yet when it comes review coverage.
As a first party published title, Tell Me Why is available on Game Pass, and this first chapter is well worth the download.