The entire premise of Life is Strange: Before the Storm is predicated on devastation. No matter how the three-episode prequel miniseries, which wrapped earlier this month, played out at the end, fans of the original Life is Strange know that terrible things await Chloe Price and Rachel Amber on the other side.
But I wasn’t prepared for just how heartbreaking Before the Storm’s ending is. After watching the surprisingly moving story develop over the full season, I was more in love with the game’s protagonists than I expected to be. As I know well, love is pain, and my attachment to the characters made Before the Storm’s final moments painful. Just, again, not in the way I expected.
[We’re now in full-on spoiler territory for both Before the Storm and the first season of Life is Strange, so turn back now if you haven’t finished them.]
“Hell is Empty” is the ominous name of Before the Storm’s finale. The title suits it, to a point: The story kicks off with Chloe, ever-brooding, on a mission to comfort her new girlfriend Rachel after her father reveals that her mother isn’t her mother after all. Instead, her mother is a woman named Sera, who abandoned the family to deal with her drug addiction and other issues a year after Rachel was born.
It’s a crushing reality check for Rachel, and Chloe’s intense, empathetic connection to Rachel made that even more crushing for me, as the player. But Sera’s story gets more complicated and trying for everyone once Chloe starts to uncover more truths. Rachel’s dad sent a known criminal to go kill Sera off; he also refused to let her contact Rachel, even after she sobered up. Rachel and Chloe are caught in the crossfire, and Rachel endures a knife fight with Sera’s attempted assailant.
So maybe it’s a lot of drama for a short story about teen girls in love. But that’s always been the appeal of Life is Strange for me, and the stakes ramped up to a conclusion that grounded everything back in reality. That’s the key with this game: No matter how much the storm escalates, it always calms itself back down.
No matter which choice Chloe makes in the game’s final decision-making moment, things shake out the same way. I chose to tell Rachel everything Chloe had learned about her lying father and devastated biological mother, whose fate is sealed in a miserable way. I didn’t have to; I could have kept the truth from her. But that choice isn’t what matters in the end. What matters is that, together, Chloe and Rachel find happiness. Love is pain, but pain can also strengthen love.
I watched the ending montage in stunned silence, as Rachel cut class to drive to nowhere with Chloe; the girls took cutesy photobooth pics, Rachel egging Chloe on; and, in moments of uncontrollable grief, Chloe gave Rachel her shoulder to rest on. I’d already been touched by the sincerity and kindness of this queer teen relationship, but fast-forwarded through it in a series of scored scenes, I only became moreso by its sensitive portrayal.
But I knew that Rachel and Chloe’s relationship doesn’t end well. Anyone who played Life is Strange knows this. It doesn’t just cause heartbreak — natural for 16-year-olds. Their breakup indirectly leads to both of their deaths. Rachel leaves Chloe for their former drug dealer, and Chloe falls back in with her old best friend Max. (She has a thing for her friends, I guess.) Max must sacrifice Chloe in order to save their city at the very end of the original game. Before it even begins, though, Rachel is kidnapped and brutally tortured by the villain. Eventually, Chloe finds Rachel buried in the junkyard where they used to goof off.
Seeing Chloe and Rachel so happy and loving in Before the Storm’s final moments was a beautiful way to finish up the miniseries. But it was also a surprising and heartbreaking one, because it’s not the true ending. And in the very last moment, following the credits, the game reminded me of what happens to Rachel later on. A brief scene shows her tied up in the chair she was tortured in from Life is Strange, putting a final, tragic point on this love story.
Now that I know and love Chloe and Rachel because of Before the Storm, I’m not sure how I can look back on Life is Strange the same way that I once did. That’s not to say that game is now worse (or, less likely, better) because of the prequel. But I’m all broken up inside about what it does to the couple in at least one more way than I was before.