Tell Me Why is from Dontnod Studios. After their success with Life Is Strange, I was curious what other realms Dontnod would explore, and it seems the apple hasn’t fallen that far from the tree.
Dontnod’s newest game is once again an episodic narrative game with characters who have special powers, deal with heavy issues, and feels almost like it could have been titled Life is Strange 3.
The story revolves around a pair of twins Alyson and Tyler who are given a special power to share memories. Yet again, this power is neither explored nor explained. It’s just a storytelling element for the game to explore previous events.
It’s probably important to mention that Tyler is transgender, being born a female, and is now a male in the story. Yet the only reason I feel compelled to bring it up is due to how often the game pushes the issue as if it wants people to notice how progressive this is. Dontnod even released a FAQ regarding this, and the fact is they handled the topic well, exactly how I hope other studios treat transgender characters.
Though, much of the marketing material for Tell Me Why focuses heavily on the fact that this is the first transgender character to lead a AAA game, and while that might be officially true, I’m not sure if I would categorize this as a traditional AAA game. I’d almost definitely say it was not due to the size and scale of the game. It almost feels like something done to garner attention more than a necessary part of the story.
It doesn’t help that while Tyler is transgender, so much of the game pretty fails to do anything that interesting with it. I’ve seen a few opinions saying this is just pushing an agenda, or forcing the character on players, and it feels like those opinions come from people who haven’t played the game. Tyler’s transition or gender play a rather small part in the story and maybe isn’t necessary at all. It feels like it’s brought up more than necessary. While the topic is treated well when discussed, it’s mostly left unexplored.
The core of the story revolves around Alyson and Tyler’s mother who Tyler killed years ago when she attacked him. Of course, not everything is as it seems, and with the game focused so heavily on memories, there is much for the twins to discover.
However, this brings me to an issue I had with Tell Me Why. While there is a good story, the story in Tell Me Why feels like it takes a two or three-hour tale, and stretches it out so players will see ten hours of playtime. The major issues at the core of the game could be interesting, and the reveals are good, but for a majority of the playtime, I found I had to sit through predictable dialogue or discussion that feel like repetitions of earlier pieces where characters hem and haw but never really discuss anything important to the plot for hours at a time. The other main gamble is where players are forced to wander around dull locations until they figure out which item they were supposed to interact with.
A large part of the story focuses on a fantasy world that may make players feel that a larger more interesting story will be found here with potential magic and mysticism, but I feel that I have to caution readers that, ultimately the fantasy elements are there for flavor text. A point that I find annoying because those stories could have been a more interesting and deep experience.
At the end of the day, Tell Me Why is unable to come up with a compelling reason for its elongated run time, but also feels abusive with the way it spends the player’s time or where it focuses the story. Searching for a candle, or trying to find that last object that has to be sorted between keep, trash, or charity just feels like busywork, and the few scenes that deliver the important dialogue are surrounded with enough filler that the player is beaten into submission before the game will reveal it’s small secrets.
The gameplay in Tell Me Why is the same as the previous two Dontnod’s Life Is Strange titles, but with the weaker writing and storytelling, it’s more noticeable. Players will mostly be able to put down the controller and let the story play out, only answering a few prompts or making a few choices.
If the writing was able to insert a little more life into the writing or characters, this could be a compelling story, but almost every dialog or discussion is two or three characters standing around and just staring at each other.
The rest of the game is exploring locations but the locations in Tell Me Why feels as if they are lacking a spark that could make them exciting to explore. While there are a couple of rooms that feel like major plot points, walking around a living room, or a convenience store is just not able to generate any feeling of interest.
Tell Me Why tries to do something major. Creating a representation for transgender people in a game is a noble aspiration, and if you were to choose a game only based on that, Tell Me Why won’t disappoint. However, the story and experience in Tell Me Why are unable to rise to a level worthy of that effort due to a slow predictable tale that struggles to find something new to discuss, but ends up being a story that struggles to fill its allotted time.
I give Tell Me Why an arbitrary
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