By this point, the Life is Strange franchise is a familiar face I’ll gladly invite in for a cup of coffee regardless of the time of day. I laughed and cried when I saw the relationship between Max and Chloe develop and regretted not getting to know them sooner. I recalled my own teenage angst seeing Chloe and Amber’s friendship in prequel series Before the Storm and watching it starting to grow and thrive before tragedy dealt its hand. I’ve been with them through thick and thin, and now with Max’s time bending abilities set aside and Arcadia Bay just another blip on the map, it’s time for a new story with Life is Strange 2
This summer’s The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit set the tone for what was to come, and first episode Roads begins our new journey without missing a beat. Life is Strange 2 focuses on the relationship between two brothers, Sean and Daniel Diaz, who fall headfirst into a set of unfortunate circumstances. Sean is an average sixteen year-old who likes to stay in his own world and occasionally graces his family with his presence. Daniel Diaz is a typical nine year-old, the baby of the family and can be annoying to his older brother. He loves Minecraft and Choco Bars, and may or may not have a crush on one of his older brother’s friends. When he’s not busy making something in his room he’s usually bothering his older brother for his attention which doesn’t always pan out for the two of them.
Being an older sibling myself, I can relate strongly to Sean’s family life dealing with an annoying younger sibling who gets into everything. Despite his “I don’t need anyone but myself attitude” it’s clear he loves his father and brother. The opening scene shows him walking in on a trial for the last Choco Bar his father and brother want. It’s a cute scene with Sean’s father calling the shots and trying to win his son’s mercy over by stating he “suffers” to provide for his family. (I highly doubt that, I’ve never seen a happier father figure) Being a pushover for younger siblings due to my own experience, I granted Daniel the last chocolate bar because it’s close to Halloween and kids rule.
I got a glimpse of the everyday life Sean and Daniel live through and on a personal level I could relate to them strongly. Having grown up in a one parent household myself it’s admirable to see the lengths their father has gone to provide for his two boys. Senor Diaz works as a mechanic which has enabled him to give his boys the best life possible. He’s a loving father who obviously cares about his sons and within the first twenty minutes we see a lot about the brothers’ home life shown through their environment. Looking at every little nook and cranny shows that Sean and Daniel’s mother is absent from the picture. It’s hinted she passed away, but this is speculation on my part since there’s no pictures of her anywhere and Sean doesn’t go into much detail about why she isn’t around anymore.
One facet that left me unsure of how to approach is the topic of racist undertones outlined throughout the first episode. On the counter is a note from Senior Diaz’s neighbor complaining about him not setting up a fence between their yards and to keep his kids on “his side” of the property. The neighbor also goes on to state that certain things are “done right” in “his country”, making it out like Senior Diaz is the problem. I’ll touch back on this later because it comes into play a few times throughout the episode.
Unfortunately, not everything in the brother’s world is perfect since a neighbor’s kid who lives next to them decides to pick a fighting with Daniel after accidentally spraying fake blood over his shirt. A fight breaks out since I had Sean rush outside in defense of his baby brother and the bully from is pushed back and is hurt when he lands hard on the ground. A cop passing by notices what’s happening and shows up on the scene to deal with the situation. From there the situation spirals into tragedy with Senior Diaz dead from a shot to the chest and a supernatural event occurring from one of the boys which leaves the cop dead.
Sean figures it’s in their best interest to flee Seattle and so sets out with Daniel in tow to head to Mexico. Namely, a plot of land their father owns in Puerto Lobos, Mexico where he hopes they can rebuild their life. This is where Daniel’s true test as a big brother comes in since now he’s tasked with stepping into the shoes of his father and guiding his younger brother’s growth into a person. That’s a scary responsibility for anyone to face in my opinion, I wouldn’t know where to start in teaching a someone so young how to be a person. Thanks for raising me by the way, Mom!
While there are no time bending abilities present here, the addition of caring for Daniel does add an interesting mechanic. Throughout the time Sean is watching him there’s constant anxiety in the back of my mind of how to take care of him. Will he be warm tonight? What about food, how am I gonna provide for him? How do I teach this small person good values to live by and to be compassionate for other people? How do I teach them to be independent, but not be scared to ask for help? There are so many questions with too few answers, and it all rests on Sean’s shoulders.
When the brothers stop at a national park to find a place to rest for the night I immediately told Daniel to use the public restroom by the trail. He complained it was smelly, but followed my advice anyway. Walking deeper into the woods Sean has to show him which berries are good to eat and which ones aren’t. I did take the time to stop and play hide and go seek with Daniel instead of heading right away to the campsite. At every turn I tried to bring his attention to thing I noticed like a raccoon sitting on a rock or choosing to hide the fact I just saw bear claw marks on a tree. There are constant checks and balances involved with teaching Daniel a new lesson versus hiding the stark reality from him, or only giving it to him in small doses.
The biggest difference between Life is Strange 2 and its predecessor is budgeting the money Sean has when it comes to taking care of Daniel. After spending a night in the woods they come upon a small gas station where they can stop to clean up and get some food. Walking the aisles of the gas station is an experience I’ve done dozens of times in real life, but wincing at the prices of food items before deciding what to get added extra stress I hadn’t known was there. Not knowing when or where more money was going to be coming our way, I ultimately decided on only getting a few items, the most expensive being a sleeping bag for Daniel so he would be warm when he slept at night. That one sleeping bag along left us with little funds along with letting Sean winning a small toy from a claw machine, but I figured it was an investment for the long haul.
With nothing but the clothes on their backs and a backpack, these boys had little to no worldly possessions. I figured Sean could use at least one toy to keep him company and to play with when the boys stopped to rest.
Life is Strange 2 is definitely a story I’m glad is being told instead of the continuation of Max and Chloe. While I love Max and Chloe and feel the first installation in the series did plenty to make me laugh and grieve with these characters, it’s also a story that doesn’t need to continue. The review left by another editor struck a chord with me as they stated the story of Max and Chloe had reached its conclusion and I wholeheartedly agree with that.
Let’s return to the real issue running throughout the episode – the racist undertones presented in this story which left me with mixed feelings. Remember the gas station I mentioned? Well, there’s a scene where Sean and Daniel are walking up and there’s the option to beg for food. The father of the family just rolls his eyes and makes a comment that he was expecting Sean and Daniel to start begging. I chose not too since the boys weren’t that hard up, but again it left an impression and thinking. Coming from a family of immigrants myself, racism isn’t an unfamiliar topic, one that’s been discussed frequently around me that I’m familiar with.
To me, the topic of racism is walking into a field of landmines, as you don’t know when an explosion is coming. I will say on a personal level watching it on screen didn’t affect me much, but I’ve seen people act and be racist in real life. So it’s not a surprise to me and I find it sad that someone, virtual or not, isn’t willing to set aside stereotypes to get to know a potentially wonderful human being. Maybe it’s my naïveté talking again, but I like to think in today’s world when people look at each other they see fellow human beings, not just stereotypes.
Otherwise, the story of Sean and Daniel gave me plenty to ponder after I’d made my final decision, to the point I wanted to go back and replay this initial episode to make better decisions and weighing the well-being of another person compared to my own. Life is Strange 2 seems to have this effect on me, and first episode Roads makes it clear that fans are in for something special. Speaking of choices, I never felt I was making a “wrong” choice when it came to Daniel’s well-being, but to me that’s really the most terrifying part of all; not knowing how the decisions I make with him today will affect him tomorrow. We shall see.