The Life is Strange franchise is set out to revolutionize story-based choice and consequences games. While incorporating supernatural elements such as powers, the core elements of the franchise, are the presentation of authentic, relatable characters and relationships as well as tackling real world social issues or complicated subjects (such as loss, grief, depression, bullying, drug use and suicide) and raising awareness for these.
The original game, Life is Strange, was developed by the French studio Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square Enix, released in 2015. The first episode, "Chrysalis", was released on January 29, 2015. The final episode, "Polarized", was released on October 20, 2015. The game's protagonist is Maxine Caulfield, better known as Max, a shy 18-year-old photography senior who discovers she can rewind time to change the course of events. Back in her hometown Arcadia Bay, a picturesque seaside town in Oregon, Max is reunited with her old friend, Chloe Price, and they start to uncover the truth behind fellow student, Rachel Amber's mysterious disappearance, and soon they find themselves exposed to the darker side of Arcadia Bay.Development on this game actually began in April 2013 with a small team of fifteen people. This increased to a staff of forty after a year when Square Enix stepped in to support production in June 2014. On March 6, 2016, the game released in Japan, fully dubbed.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm, the prequel to the events of the first game, was developed by the Denver-based studio Deck Nine Games in collaboration with Square Enix, released in 2017. The first episode, "Awake" was released on August 31, 2017. The prequel introduces Chloe as the playable protagonist and tells the story of Chloe and Rachel's friendship three years prior to the original game's events.
Life is Strange 2 is in development with a new story and new characters by the same team from Dontnod Entertainment that already worked on the first game. It was announced on May 18, 2017, then primarily referred to as a "new Life is Strange game." The first episode, "Roads", was released on September 27, 2018. It follows the two brothers Sean and Daniel Diaz, age 16 and 9, who are forced to run away from home after a tragic incident in Seattle. In fear of the police, they head to Mexico while attempting to conceal a sudden and mysterious supernatural power.
A free self-contained spin-off game that functions as a prequel to the events of the second episode of Life is Strange 2, called The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, was announced during the Microsoft Conference at E3 2018 on June 10, 2018, and released on June 26, 2018. It follows Chris Eriksen, a 9-year-old boy who dreams of adventure. Chris is a character Dontnod came up with while working on Life is Strange 2, but they wanted to do something more in-depth with him.
The announcement blog post for Captain Spirit from June 10, 2018, showed Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment's interest in further expanding the Life is Strange universe:
"For us, Life is Strange is so much more than a single set of characters, places, themes or scenarios - Life is Strange is an entire universe of storytelling founded upon relatable characters facing real world issues, but always with "a twist of the strange" and we have many more stories we want to tell.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is the first step towards showing you the true potential of Life is Strange, and the possibilities of a diverse universe filled with interesting characters and stories to tell." On December 20, 2018, Square Enix conducted a survey about Life is Strange 2, the Life is Strange franchise in general and its direction. One of the questions asks to "imagine the future of Life is Strange" implies interest to work on a third season of the franchise. The options gave insight into some of the directions that Square Enix may take Life is Strange, including introducing totally different character types, and even considering an open-world setting. All options were as follows: new cast of characters; new story, setting and power; lead characters with a minority background; male protagonists; sci-fi settings; open-world setting; with a child as a lead character; with an older lead character; agame you can play with friends and family.
Expanding the UniverseCo-Director Michel Koch on why they decided to make an additional game set in the Life is Strange universe:
"Because Life is Strange is not a single set of characters or a single town. It's not just Max and Chloe. For three years now, we've created lots of new characters working on Life is Strange 2, and Captain Spirit is one of them. When we started working on Life is Strange 2, started talking about settings and characters, it was quite a huge story. We saw potential in a lot of characters, to find a bit more about their backstory and their side stories."
Writer Christian Divine: "We love Max and Chloe and these characters, but there are other characters, diverse characters. There’s a whole world and universe of representation we'd like to get to. What other, better way than to put it in this self-contained universe, this particular style of art and animation and performance and music?"
In an interview about Dontnod's new entries to the franchise from June 2018, Dontnod explained that the studio's goal is to keep its stories grounded in reality.
In the "The Road to Life is Strange 2" developer diary video from September 2018, it was said that the "Life is Strange series is about everyday relatable characters facing universal issues with a twist of the strange".
In an interview prior to the release of the game, Writer Christian Divine said: "This is a perfect world to explore all of these [themes]—it’s like the world of the Twilight Zone. You could explore all these different social issues along with the repercussions of your decisions, and then you frame it in this really cool Stephen King supernatural framework." Divine explained that King’s stories always combine recognizable human emotions with the supernatural and that Dontnod tries to tap into something similar by using the "Life is Strange vibe" as a guiding creative force.
In an interview with Before the Storm Lead Writer Zak Garriss, he explained that, "it's the prerogative now of the franchise to tackle social issues, to talk about issues that are difficult to talk about, and to take a game and utilize what games have that other media don’t have to explore and open a dialogue around things like bullying or depression or domestic assault or sexual assault: what it’s like to be a teenager."
Dontnod are very cautious about the nature of difficult topics addressed in their game and the way they are leading up to tough choices and events due to the responsibility the player experiences.
The supernatural abilities of Dontnod Entertainment's main characters, such as Max Caulfield, Daniel Diaz and Chris Eriksen, (from the players point of view), are specifically designed based on the characters' personalities, struggles or goals. In Life is Strange, the rewind mechanism serves
Co-Director and Writer Michel Koch explained in an interview: "We knew that we wanted to use this [rewind] mechanism as a tool, as a metaphor, to tell this coming-of-age story. To tell a story about growing up, about realizing that sometimes you need to stop looking backwards and wanting to change everything."
"The fact that [Max’s power] is a supernatural element is mostly used as a contrast to the human and real-life things we are dealing with. We are big fans of the books by Stephen King. He's so good at anchoring a real world scenario with believable characters and real-life issues, but then using one supernatural or horror element to bring chaos on top of that."
The Life is Strange games are all set in the Pacific Northwest. The setting was originally researched and established for the original game Life is Strange and later adapted for the following installments.
From early on, when working on the original Life is Strange, the developers team wanted the game's environment to be based on a small town on the coastline of Oregon. The main reference for the town of Arcadia Bay was Astoria, a city on the hillside of Oregon, but it was way too big for the setting they were aiming for. Eventually they found Garibaldi, a much smaller town which was working well with its main street running along the coast.
Creative Director Jean-Maxime Moris said that, "the Pacific Northwest was something that we determined very early in the development process as the place we wanted to set the game in. That's because we wanted to have this very nostalgic and autumnal feel to the game, and in terms of colors ... to me it's really one of those places that brings this kind of nostalgia, and I mean this in a positive way. This sense of looking inside yourself".
The game's setting took inspiration from the 90s American mystery drama television series Twin Peaks which also takes place in the Pacific Northwest and glimpses behind the seemingly pleasant curtain of small town America to reveal its darkest secrets.
"We tried our best to make sure that the game is as close to reality as possible. We searched the Internet to see what cities in Oregon looked like to figure out (in overview) what Arcadia Bay would look like. We knew that it’s a small town on the coastline of Oregon, and we know its main points of interest are the school, the diner and Chloe’s house. The main reference for the city was Astoria, a city on the hillside, but it was way too big. After that we found Garibaldi, a much smaller town which was working well with its main street being along the coast (well… almost).
Google Street View helped a whole lot since we couldn’t afford to go there. I took a ton of screenshots and based the concept art around them. If you look it up, you’ll see that it’s main street is pretty close to the one we have in-game.
The other locations (the school, diner, junkyard and even the lighthouse) are taken from various locations from around the United States. There were ample photo references to base it all off of. Typical concept art work."
The first installment of the series, Life is Strange tells the story of Max, an 18-year-old girl who returns to her hometown, Arcadia Bay, to study photography at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. Max discovers she can rewind time after having a vision of an apocalyptic tornado and witnessing a gruesome accident, and reconnects with her old childhood friend, Chloe. Together they start to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Rachel Amber, Chloe's closest friend next to Max.
The second game of the series and a prequel to Life is Strange, set three years prior to the main game's events. It tells the story of 16-year-old Chloe Price and her unlikely friendship with Blackwell's star Rachel Amber, and how both try to overcome their personal problems with the help of each other.
The third game of the series and a prologue for Life is Strange 2. The Awesome Adventures Of Captain Spirit tells the story of Chris Eriksen, a 9-year-old kid with a very active imagination, which he uses as a form of escapism from his dysfunctional home life.
Life is Strange 2 tells the story of Sean Diaz and Daniel Diaz, two brothers who are on the run from the authorities after a tragic accident in their hometown of Seattle. Life on the road is hard and Sean must take care of his little brother and make difficult choices to survive, all of which will have an impact on the impressionable Daniel.
The original Life is Strange received generally favourable reviews, with a Metacritic score of 85/100 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. While some reviewers criticised the games's lip-syncing and use of dated slang, they lauded the character development and time travel component, suggesting that there should be more games like it.
The first episode was ranked fifth among the best selling PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 video games of February 2015. Life Is Strange reached one million sales in July 2015.