Life Is Strange 2’s Season Finale, and how Dontnod continue to challenge the system

Sean and Daniel have been through a lot, as we reach the final episode of Life is Strange 2. After the opening trauma that shattered their suburban lives and sent them on the run, trying to hitchhike their way down to Mexico, one safe haven after another that has crumbled around them. All the while, Sean and Daniel have grappled with their brotherly bonds,

The finale arrives on 3rd December, promising to bring their journey to a conclusion one way or another, and sure to tear at their brotherly bonds one last time.

Spoiler warning – it shouldn’t need saying, but there will be spoilers and discussion of some events from earlier episodes in the season beyond this point.

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It’s been a long, long time getting here. The first episode released in September of 2018, the second followed in January, and it’s now well over a year later that the fifth and final episode is upon us. It wasn’t necessarily planned like this, as Jean-Luc Cano, lead writer on the game explained.

“I think it was one of the flaws in this season not to have planned the amount of work. On the first season, it was all set in Arcadia Bay, so once we have done a location we can just reuse it episode by episode. In the second season, when we figured out the road trip story with different locations and characters, we didn’t imagine it would be this amount of work.

“That’s why we had to wait four months between episodes, because each episode of Life Is Strange 2 is like a whole game.”

While it’s soon to be a moot point, I also asked if he felt that the series would now be better for being able to experience it as a whole, to binge it like a streaming TV series.

“I think, if the first season was a TV show, like episodes where you can take a break,” Jen-Luc said, “I think Life Is Strange 2 is more like a feature film. So I think Life Is Strange 2, binge playing will be a better experience. I want it like a movie, like in episode 4 for example, when you are without Daniel during the whole episode, it can be weird playing this episode on its own, but if you are playing them together, it’s a whole like a movie.”

Episode 5 picks up with the two brothers camping out in the vast openness of Arizona’s Monument Valley. Again, they’ve found safe harbour, this time with their mother and a small community of free spirits that live on the fringes of society. For Daniel there’s also a degree of nurturing acceptance for who he is and what he can do.

He’s given the freedom to run off and play with an artist living out here, creating all sorts of weird and fantastical sculptures. Daniel’s now fully formed telekinetic abilities allow him to simply pick up and arrange the huge chunks of scrap metal to create the totemic statue, and you’re brought into the process with Sean given a smaller model by NAME to follow or ignore as you see fit.

It’s a nice moment that comes alongside indulging him with a child-like treasure hunt across the campsite, and Sean returning the telescope to Arthur & Stanley. There’s some natural depth to these new characters, such as the idle chit-chat with Arthur about how his daughter from a previous marriage, a previous life sometimes comes to visit. It also gives the opportunity to teach Daniel about the world once more. Two men kissing is super weird, right? Given the options earlier in the series to explore Sean’s own sexuality, it’s easy to set the record straight through this light, fairly off-hand chat.

“The main theme throughout Life Is Strange 2 is education,” Jean-Luc explained. “We thought that metaphorically speaking, giving the power to someone else that you have to educate and will use the power in a good way or a bad way would be a good way to express this theme.”

It’s only recently that Dontnod have talked about how that really manifests itself in the game. All decisions that impact Daniel have a morality and brotherhood impact, which shapes how Daniel will respond to situations later on. Stealing a chocolate bar for Daniel is good brotherhood, but teaches him that the morally bad act of theft is OK.

As for why Dontnod have now clarified this, Jean-Luc said, “We wanted to explain this to the players, because some of the feedback we had was that my actions… you don’t see the consequence on Daniel very soon. We tried to explain that, yeah, it’s like in real life. When you say to a child that they can’t have candy now because you are going to eat and it’s bad for them, ‘I hate you!’ they’ll go. After this, a few weeks later, they won’t ask you for candy because they know it’s bad for them.

“When you’re shaping someone, when you’re raising a kid, you don’t see the consequence that quickly. That’s what we wanted to explain to the fans and the community, that we knew from the beginning what we were going to do. It was clear for us, and now we hope it’s clear for players too.”

Life Is Strange 2 has delved into a lot of social issues through its run. The opening episode dealt with racism and ethnic profiling, later on it was the a-morality of growing weed just as it’s becoming legalised throughout large parts of the US, and there’s other fleeting touchstones as throughout.

“It’s story first, but after that we put another layer of social themes,” Jean-Luc said. “For example, in episode 4 we have the scene between Sean and Chad and Mike. The scene talked about racism, but not clever racism. We wanted to have a basic, [ignorant] racism for an everyday situation, because we think our society is more and more intolerant everywhere.

“What we want to do with Life Is Strange is put people in front of the subject, because when you face something while playing the character, it’s not like you are seeing it in a movie or a newspaper, it’s a thing to me.”

It’s refreshing, when some parts of the games industry seem allergic to the notion of politics entering video games to do with the wars in the Middle East, the downfall of the US government, religious fanaticism and beyond. Of course, when you’re dealing with billions of dollars and have shareholders, Drake meme-ing your way out of meaningful statements can take precedent.

“It would be great if a big studio like Ubisoft or EA could make more political games – I don’t like the term political, but more… dangerous stuff. […] I think that when you are independent and small, you have more freedom to do whatever you want, but when the biggest studios in the world will take risks and show more LGBT characters, talk more about society and its problems, then yeah, that will be a big step.”

In so many ways, Life Is Strange 2 has pushed those boundaries, exploring interesting character dynamics, and representing many of the issues of the modern world, even if not looking to tackle them directly. It’s taken a long time to reach its finale, but it’s a game that makes me eager to see the risks that Dontnod will take on next.

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