Coming of age stories usually feature teenagers as they grapple with taking the step from being a child to an adult. It’s a time of great uncertainty for so many of us, from deciding what you want to do in later life to young love amidst a rush of hormones from puberty, not to mention the greater burden that society puts upon you and all the things you’re rapidly legally allowed to now do. Your whole life can be completely upended in a matter of days or weeks.
Except that’s not the only time that your life can turn and change. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is a “coming of age” story just like the first, at a turning point in Riley’s life, but as she returns to her hometown of Camena with realisations and decisions about her future to make, she’s years beyond high school.
Of course, the reason for her return home is nothing in the realms of the ordinary. A few years on from the first game, weird radio signals and disturbances are now affecting this town just a little bit up the coast from the first game’s setting of Edwards Island. It quickly transpires that, while the weird rifts into ghostly realms of the first game were closed, a new group known as the Parentage has found a way to start opening them back up again in Camena.
Much of the game will remain the same, with Riley exploring a coastal setting that’s full of caves and little routes with a buddy in tow. That’s Jacob, a local who went to the same high school as Riley and was even in the same year, but ran in different social circles. Your relationship and some of your history, just as in the first game, is determined by how the two of you chat back and forth. The naturalistic conversation system that plays out as you walk, giving you quick little window to choose between a few dialogue options. It’s through this that, as Jacob asks if you knew a particular teacher from school, you can blank on it or ‘remember’ and engage more.
He’s a nice enough fellow, but clearly feels in over his head with some of the crazy things happening around him – Riley by contrast seems to be more of a stoic kind. There’s a nervousness to him that you’ll have to manage at times through the conversations, but he’s also nowhere near as nimble as Riley is at getting through the tricky terrain. With a little climbing gear to hand, you can now rappel down from cliff edges, and Riley seems confident enough to leap across big chasms that Jacob simply wouldn’t dare to even attempt. You can leave Jacob behind at times by choosing to take the riskier route – he’ll try to find another way around, in true video game fashion. Of course, that all plays into the micro-decisions that affects your relationship by the end of the game.
A bit of rope is far from the only new idea that Night School is bringing to Oxenfree II, though. Riley has a walkie-talkie that forms an integral new side to the story. If you leave Jacob behind, he’ll still chat to you on the walkie, for example, but so too will people from Camena, who might know that you’re out and about that night and ask you to run a few errands as you go. Then there’s the creepier side to things, with an unnamed stranger getting in touch and giving you some cryptic clues for who they might be. You don’t have to pick up and answer all these walkie-talkie calls though. I’d leave that cold caller hanging, personally – by the way, I asked, and right now there’s no plans for a ‘no talking’ achievement or trophy.
Night School want to make exploring the many paths through Camena something that’s much more in your hands than in the first game. You can choose where Riley places her transmitters, determining the route that you take across the map. That can also have an impact on the way the story unfolds, as you might encounter someone at one point in time, but miss them if you pass through the same area later on, potentially getting a call from them instead.
The exceptionally creepy otherworldly moments and puzzles from the first game will return, but with a new twist. Coming to a dead end in an abandoned mine, Riley and Jacob find a glowing rift that can be opened up so wide that they can step back in time to when the mine was still working. Now you can work back up, use an elevator to create a new ledge to get across a gap. It’s a straightforward puzzle, though it comes with interesting questions of cause and effect. Was it Riley and Jacob who broke the lift over a century ago and caused the disaster that shut it down, or was it already being abandoned because of the dead canary they found? I’m sure there’s going to be much bigger time travel conundrums through the game.
On a surface level, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals might appear to be more of the same, weaving a new story in the same vein as the original game. Night School are creating a more ambitious sequel, though. There’s more ways to work your way through the story, more places and variations you can end up at, and likely a more mature tone from the characters you meet. It should make your journey through the story feel all the more personal and unique, and I can’t wait to experience mine.