I hope all of you had a wonderful week and are staying healthy! The world is currently in a strange place because some countries have made it through the Covid-19 pandemic and only have a few (or none) new cases, while other countries are hitting all time highs for the number of Covid cases. I still recommend wearing a mask when out in public and social distance as much as possible. I might just wear a mask outside for the next year or so just to be sure. Anyway, I want to quickly talk about the pieces that I published this past week and then we’ll move on to this week’s topic. Last Sunday, I published a Weekly Blog Critical Role Episode 100 and how happy I am Critical Role is back. I’m just so happy that I have Critical Role in my life again and that my favorite voice actors are back to playing Dungeons and Dragons together in a safe way. If you are a fellow Critter, take a look at that Weekly Blog talking about how far The Mighty Nein have come from episode 50 to episode 100 (Lots of Spoilers!). Then, on Wednesday, I published a Haiku about Shadow Puppets. This was a kind of random poem, but it was actually inspired by watching the shadows of moths that would circle the light in the room. I’m actually pretty proud of the final line to the Haiku. I took a philosophy class in college and I’m always glad when I can drop some philosophy knowledge or reference. You want to talk about Soren Kierkegaard, because I’m all for it! Lastly, on Friday, I published the continuation of my Dungeons and Dragons inspired series “The Titan’s League Trial Part 2.” Fighting against Trav was quite a struggle for Tak and Sightyme, but when Tak erupted in dark energy, the battle ended. Now the rest of the group has to figure out what they are going to do about Tak, what this means for their status with The Titan’s League, and if this will complicate their mission to find Riffen. All great stuff! If you haven’t read any of those pieces, I highly recommend it!
Now let’s talk video games. I don’t do a lot of video game reviews, but I figured that reviewing a game I recently played would be pretty fun. It’s not like there is any toxicity around reviewing video games right now, right? Right? I can hear you asking, “Allen, are you going to talk about a relevant video game like The Last of Us Part Two?” Of course not! Do you think I’m going to talk about a game so divisive? I mean I would, but I don’t have a PS4 or The Last of US Part Two, so I can’t even cover it. All I can say is that video game nerds can be crazy and very toxic and that you should NEVER send death threats to a voice actor who played a fictional character who killed another fictional character in a video game. I shouldn’t have to write that and that statement shouldn’t be controversial, but video game discourse isn’t always the most rational. Here on my website, we support Laura Bailey not only for playing Jester on Critical Role, but also the other amazing characters she voices in video games, television shows, and anime. No, instead of covering a game that is currently in the spotlight, I want to cover a game that came out in 2016 and I played recently. I want to talk about Oxenfree.
Oxenfree is a mystery game with a strong narrative that focuses on a small group of teenagers who all go to an island together and end up discovering a mystery of the island which puts all their lives in danger. Now, I want to talk about this game in lots of details and that will mean SPOILERS! Before I get to that, however, I want to say that I highly recommend you play this game if you can. This game was on my radar for a couple of years, but I didn’t get to actually play it until recently. I played it to completion twice and enjoyed it both times. It’s a game full of mystery and excitement which emphasizes your dialogue choices and the relationship between the characters. I’ll get a little bit more into all of those points, but that’s where the spoiler free review stops. I absolutely loved it! Go play it and then you can come back and talk about it in more details.
The story of Oxenfree starts with three teenagers, Alex (the player character), Jonas (Alex’s new step-brother), and Ren (Alex’s childhood best friend) meet Nona (Ren’s crush) and Clarrisa (The mean girl who used to date Alex’s deceased brother) on an island for a party. You learn that usually teenagers from the local area would come here to party, but the tradition is dying out so it’s just you five on the island together. Things start out pretty normal until Ren convinces Alex to use her handheld radio to “tune in” to signals in the island cave. Alex uses her radio and it ends up unleashing ghosts on the island which have the power to control time and take over your friend’s bodies. Your mission as Alex is to reunite with the others and find a way off the island while you are tormented by these ghosts. Through exploring the island you figure out that these ghosts are actually the ghosts of soldiers aboard a submarine that was sunk by friendly fire. Now the ghosts want to take over the bodies of you and your friends so they can relive their lives using you as your host. Alex must take on the ghosts and seal the rift she opened initially in order to save her friends and get off the island. That’s the plot of the game, but not entirely. See this game focuses a lot on you as a player making dialogue choices which influence your relationship with the people around you. There is also a big emphasis on solving puzzles and making choices. This game actually can end several different ways depending on what choices you make or don’t make. You can make Alex be friendly or cold to her new step-brother, encourage a possible relationship between Nora and Ren, and even sacrifice Clarissa to the ghosts to guarantee your survival. The first time I played through this game, I played it blind, but got a pretty good ending. Alex and Jonas became close, Alex chose Nora over Jonas or Ren for the mission to get into town, Nora and Ren didn’t end up together, Alex forgave Clarissa, and everyone got out alive without any sacrificing.
I did end up playing through the game a second time, but I’ll get to that in a second. First I want to quickly touch on the time travel aspect of the game, because it isn’t exactly a power you control like Max in Life Is Strange. Time travel and repeating loops happen to you as the ghosts try to stop you from closing the rift. This leads to experiences where you flashes of seeing your friends die and then another flash of them being alright, or moments where Alex and Jonas have the same conversations over and over, or moments where another dimension Alex speaks to you and tries to warn you. All of these moments I found really cool and just a bit creepy. This game definitely has its supernatural and horror elements, but it’s not a horror game. Time and different dimensions also comes into play when you get to relive moments from your past. See, Alex’s brother, Michael, drowns before the events of the game and Clarissa (who was dating Michael) blames Alex for his death. In these time travel moments, you get to go back as Alex and talk to Michael and inform Michael about his relationship with Clarissa and whether or not he should stay in the area to go to college. These moments are really cool and a bit heartbreaking as Alex gets to speak to her now dead Brother and possibly impact his life.
After you beat the game, you get an option to play it again in a New Game+ style. Again, you go to the island and get to play out conversations as Alex. This time; however, things can be very different. You are free to make very different decisions and that can have major ripple affects. In my New Game + play through, I made sure to nudge Nora and Ren to start a relationship together and even though I sided with Jonas over Ren a couple of times, Alex’s friendship with both remained strong. I also thought about sacrificing Clarissa to the ghosts, but instead I tried to go for “The Best Ending.” See in New Game+ there are moments where another Alex speaks to you and you send back thoughts to the past Alex. Again, time travel is weird. Well through doing that and encouraging Alex’s brother Michael to stay in town, you can actually prevent Michael’s death. Alex has a vision brought on by the ghosts and when you snap out of it, everyone is alive including Michael and only Alex has memories of being step-siblings with Jonas. You also get a brand new scene after the credits where Alex, Jonas, and Ren are hanging out before getting on the ferry to go to the island. Alex receives a radio transmission from herself (you in another play through) that she should avoid the island. Alex takes the warning, doesn’t go to the island, and stops the time loop from happening at all. So in a way, I saw three endings 1) First Play though Ending, 2) Second Play through/”Perfect” Ending, and 3) Never go to island ending. Which one is considered cannon? I guess all of them. In three different dimensions, each ending happened.
Now, there is a lot of stuff I loved about the game, but I do have a few nitpicks that keep Oxenfree from being a perfect game. First, the controls could be a bit wonky. I played with an Xbox controller plugged into my laptop and I didn’t have a ton of problems. However a lot of the game is just you walking with your companions and talking as you go. The environments you explore aren’t exactly 2D or 3D, but somewhere in the middle, so it was sometimes hard to tell where you needed to stand to walk down the paths. I sometimes found myself getting caught on rocks or edges of paths and would have to back up and do a second time. Now I will say that in the New Game+ play through, there are time jumps where your character will just jump from one area to the other to avoid having to slowly traverse the areas you’ve already seen which is really nice. The traversal also plays into another complaint I had about the game. There is no fast-travel system. Now I understand why there isn’t fast travel. The island isn’t very big and traveling and talking are big parts of the game. Fast travel would ruin that. But on the other hand, near the end of the game, you unlock a more advanced radio which includes clues about bits of lore hidden all over the island. If you want, you can go seek out these lore bits, but they are all over the place and without fast travel, it’s a lot of walking and doubling back on paths you’ve already walked many, many times. I thought the additional lore was cool to add, but I did not spend my time tracking them all down because I didn’t want to do all that walking. One last thing I’ll add is that when you walk between locations, Alex gets a chance to chat with the other characters currently traveling with her. This was fine most of the time, but I sometimes felt like the pacing of the conversations were sometimes too short or too long. Sometimes I would walk from point A to point B and would have to stop at point B so I could continue the conversation I was having. If I ended up clicking on thing I needed to find, my conversation was cut short and I felt like I missed out. However sometimes I felt like the conversation was too short. I would walk and talk, but the conversation would end really early and I would just spend the rest of my walk between point A and point B in complete silence. I don’t know if everyone playing this game would experience things like that or if it varied from player to player.
Again, all of my complaints are really just small things and didn’t really take away from my overall experience with Oxenfree. I loved the game and it’s use of dialogue and personal relationships. I loved the supernatural and horror elements tied to the time manipulating ghosts. I loved the lore surrounding this mysterious island and the layers of history baked in. And I loved the characters! Alex is a great main character that doesn’t feel like a blank page which you control and the web of relationships between the characters feels well thought out and multi-dimensional. I do wish you got a little bit more time with all the characters because I feel like characters like Ren and Nora only feel like 90% fleshed out, but overall I think the characters are great. All of it put together with the branching paths and impactful decisions makes this a great game with a decent amount of replayability.
Thank you so much for reading that Weekly Blog. It was a bit long, but I really wanted to express how cool Oxenfree was and how much fun I had playing it. I hope all of you get the chance to play it, because it’s really good. If you have played it and want to leave your thoughts and feelings about Oxenfree, feel free to leave those down below in the comments. I’d love to know what you thought about the game! If you aren’t really a video game player or would just rather spend your time reading, you are in luck. My blog is full of stuff to read. We have Weekly Blogs, Poetry, Writing Prompt Pieces, Pokemon Fanfiction, and other creative writing pieces, so please take a look. Also you can Follow me here on WordPress. I am growing a positive and creative space here on WordPress and would love it if you were a part of it. I really appreciate all the love the support I get here from all the readers, new and old.
Thank you again for reading and I hope you have a wonderful week!
Header Photo Credit to Oxenfree’s Download Page for Nintendo Switch