Alex Chen has a unique power — she’s an empath in the most literal sense of the word. Life is Strange: True Colors follows Alex as she leaves the foster-care system and moves to Haven Springs to live with her estranged brother, whom she’s been separated from because of that system.
The game itself begins on Alex’s first day in Haven Springs, reuniting with Gabe after eight years and setting up shop in a space that she just might be able to call home. She’s trying to live a normal life — one balanced by freedom and connection — unhindered by her empathic abilities that allow her to feel (and sometimes overcome by) other people’s strong emotions.
I wasn’t necessarily convinced by the power of empathy when the game was first announced; it felt a bit cheesy, and I couldn’t really place how it could be used in an interesting way in Life is Strange: True Colors. But I was wrong. Empathy absolutely works in a way that showcases Alex’s story and fleshes out this quaint mining town. Because of that power, we’re privy to hard choices and unanswerable questions that we the players are forced to answer: Is it OK to tap into someone’s fears? Does that change if it’s to help them? Should you take away someone’s fear or anger? Where is that line?
Life is Strange: True Colors deals with grief and anger, but also pure joy. Though there are tough moments, it feels natural that the characters can still, of course, experience complicated joy. But there was one detail that I couldn’t let go of, something that made me question how much I really liked the game. As it turns out, that question does have an answer. It was just partially hidden within the game’s environmental clues, and I missed it.
[Warning: This story contains full spoilers for Life is Strange: True Colors.]
This part isn’t really a spoiler, because it’s in the trailer and most marketing around the game, but Gabe dies on Alex’s first day in Haven Springs. A group of friends, Alex and Gabe included, are in the mountains looking for a lost child on the night of a corporate mining company’s planned blast. The mining company says it will delay the blast, but goes ahead with it during the search anyway, killing Gabe.
Over the course of the game, Alex and friends find out that the blast that killed Gabe was a cover-up for a second, secret blast meant to hide evidence of an accident: A different mine collapsed many years ago, killing a few miners. The mine owner was trying to hide the truth of that accident.
Here’s the big spoiler and huge twist: One of those miners was Alex and Gabe’s dad, who presumably ended up in Haven Springs looking for work after leaving the family all those years ago. (Earlier in the story, it’s revealed that their mother died of cancer and their father abandoned the family shortly after her death, leaving Alex and Gabe alone.)
This reveal didn’t really hit right with me; instead of feeling shocked, I just felt confused. What are the chances that Alex and Gabe both would end up in the same small town, several states away, as their now-dead father? Did Alex’s power lead her there? It just didn’t make sense. But I let this go and eventually finished the game and then started investigating. Was I the only person confused? Bewildered? Rolling my eyes?
But it turns out that I missed a key part of that story that tied everything together. At the beginning of Life is Strange: True Colors, Alex moves into Gabe’s apartment, and she’s able to inspect and feel memories from a bunch of items around the place. There’s a crack in the wall Alex can investigate in the first chapter, and that’s when you learn that Gabe came to Haven Springs looking for his dad, and confirmed that he did indeed pass through here. The crack in the wall was a result of Gabe kicking it out of frustration.
“He’d been in town for a week, and all his free time went into finding Dad,” Alex writes in a journal entry after experiencing the memory. “It was useless, of course. Dad had disappeared from here years before.”
Yes, maybe I could have inferred that Gabe was looking for his dad, but none of the evidence had pointed to that before. I’m glad to have found out after finishing the game that it wasn’t some mystical power that led Gabe and Alex to the small town; it was a key beat in Gabe’s emotional narrative that I found easy to miss, and a detail that let me accept Life is Strange: True Colors’ big reveal.