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What’s in Your Box: Week of 12-12

/ Dec 12th, 2015 No Comments

Life is Strange Episode One: Chrysalis (PS4) Review

Each week, we here at Gaming Illustrated are always playing a number of different video games. However, we may not be talking about them in reviews or editorials. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth talking about, but for any number of reasons an avenue to speak on them doesn’t come up. To remedy the issue, we’re going to ask our staff (and you, honestly) what’s in your box?

What’s in Kalvin’s Box

Christmas is rapidly approaching, a little too quick if you ask me, but it also means we’re coming to an end to 2015. It has been a pretty good year for games on the whole. The last three months have been especially killer. In the last few weeks of the year, I’m going to try and catch up on a few games I’ve missed out on with the main one being Life is Strange, Dontnod Entertainment cool take on the adventure genre. Outside of catching up on this year, I’ve been heading down memory lane a little bit by continuing Fantasy Life and re-visiting Jade Empire.

A Jaded Empire

Jade Empire is one of my favorite games of all-time. It holds a very special place in my heart even if Bioware has since made better games (and even if people think more Knights of the Old Republic when they think of Bioware’s Xbox output). I ended up buying it on Steam a few years ago, but that version of the game has some issues running on more modern PCs. Even with a work around, I never quite got back to it, but always meant to re-play such a beloved game. Recently, Origin put the game up for free as part of its “On the House” program. This seemed like a great time to get back into a game that meant so much to me when I was younger. Luckily, the game runs find on newer PCs, and the native controller mapping is pretty good (if a bit odd at times).

Jade Empire

While there are still some positives to the combat, it has aged considerably since 2005.

The game shows its age immediately. While it doesn’t look nearly as junky as early N64/PS1 polygons, there is a muddiness to the look of the game. The PC version does a decent job of cleaning up main character faces and models and smoothing the environments a bit, but it still looks dated. Combat, which was one of the brightest spots of the game in 2005, also seems dated by today’s action-RPG standards. While the actual melee combat, upgrades, and fighting styles all still have some pop. The analog movement is wonky with dodge mapped to a directional double tap it often doesn’t work. Combat isn’t untennable, but what once felt like fast-paced Wuxia martial arts now feels a bit turgid.

Where the game still shines is in the writing. Bioware nailed the chosen one Wuxia archetype. Whichever character you choose is special because they are the last Spirit Monk. After their clan was murdered by a mad Emperor, his brother escaped with you and trained you in secret. Now the time has come for you to set out on fulfilling your destiny because the spirit world has grown restless and only you can help heal it. Along your journey you’ll encounter many dangerous foes and powerful allies. Much like all Bioware games there is a memorable cast of followers for you to recruit to aid you in battle. The dialogue is sharp, often feeling straight out of an old kung fu flick, and the voice acting was top notch for 2005.

Jade Empire

Bioware has always shined when it comes to writing, and Jade Empire is no different.

While the moral choice good/bad system was all the rage in the Xbox/360 era, it has become a bit antiquated by now. Although, Jade Empire did an excellent job of making it less about outright extremes (unlike Fable). The different between the Way of the Open Palm or Closed Fist is about how you view power should be wielded, whether to aid the weak or let strength decide the way of the things. Neither is inherently good or bad. This gray area probably contributed to what made the Paragon/Renegade system in Mass Effect so effective and compelling.

People are Strange

It’s taken me quite a while to get around to Life is Strange, and it has been a huge mistake. The first episode, “Chrysalis” grabs you attention right off the bat with some striking imagery. Following this crazy scene, Max is introduced as a shy, if not talented, young girl trying to find her place at an exclusive private school. Despite the opening, Max’s life is not dissimilar to a normal high school student’s. She doesn’t want to participate in a contest even if her favorite teacher is encouraging her to do so, she feels awkward walking through the hallways preferring to drown the noise of high school out with music, and while she knows people, she isn’t too close to anyone partly because she is new and mainly because she is very introverted.

Life is Strange

“Chrysalis” kicks of with a devastating premonition.

It isn’t until a life changing event that happens in the bathroom that we learn exactly why Max is special. Witnessing an act of true horror awakens her ability to manipulate time. The trauma sends her back to earlier in the day, and she begins to experiment with rewinding time to fix tiny mistakes. If she can change things like not breaking her camera or answering a question right then maybe she can save that poor girl in the bathroom. What happens next is your decision.

Life is Strange’s first episode is extremely compelling largely due to exemplary characterization and excellent dialogue. While sometimes insufferable, the dialogue makes these characters feel like real teenagers and not what some adult think teenagers are like. Sure there is some slickness and hipness to the writing, but it never comes off as manufactured, which adds a sense of truth to inhabiting the role of Max and interacting with the numerous (and often memorable) characters.

Life is Strange

Max meets an imposing and awful antagonist early on in “Chrysalis”.

“Chrysalis” sinks its hooks into you immediately with the time rewinding powers of Max. It also threads in subtle and important plot points throughout like Rachel Amber and Chole. You want to know more about both of these characters, and there is a huge pay off when you do learn about them. The soundtrack perfectly matches the vibe, aesthetic and writing of the game. You should check out Life is Strange.

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Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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