My luck with love interests in the Life is Strange series has been uh, nonexistent, I guess we’ll call it. Not because I’ve gotten through Dontnod and Deck Nine’s teen dramas without letting my versions of its various protagonists have some love in their lives, but because the relationships I’ve initiated in these games have ultimately been toxic and destructive. But with Life is Strange: True Colors, I think I’ve finally found a love interest that is boring and unproblematic. And after the emotional roller coaster of the game’s first chapter, protagonist Alex Chen could use a modicum of stability in her life.
In True Colors’ first ten minutes or so, Alex heads into a record store in the small town of Haven Springs. The store also doubles as a radio station, which is the basis of the game’s upcoming prequel DLC Life is Strange: Wavelengths. Here, we’re introduced to both characters Alex can romantically pursue in the game: Steph Gingrich, the DJ in the booth, and Ryan Lucan, a patron here at the record store to buy…a CD of bird calls. In just this short time, True Colors has established Alex as the indie alternative sort, so Steph already seems like a natural fit for her edgy sensibilities. But I can’t lie, my heart fluttered like a bird’s wings when Ryan, this absolute dweeb, was in a record store not to peruse the selection of vinyl for the latest hotness, but to pick up the sounds of nature copied onto a disc. What a nerd.
And yeah, he might be the best friend of Alex’s brother Gabe, whose death serves as the primary mystery of True Colors. But don’t make it weird. Not like Gabe’s gonna be around to make it weird anyway.
Spoilers for Life is Strange, Before the Storm, and Life is Strange 2 follow:
Before True Colors, the love stories I pursued in Life is Strange were probably inadvisable. While I avoided romantic subplots entirely in the first game, the prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm allowed Chloe Price to define a relationship that was mostly kept ambiguous in the original. The relationship between Chloe and Rachel Amber, the subject of the first game’s missing person mystery, could have been read as platonic or romantic prior to Before the Storm’s release, but when I was actually playing it, I was drawn to the story of two queer girls coming together with big dreams of leaving their hometown behind, throwing up middle fingers in the air to everyone else. Chloe was the punk with no friends, Rachel was the popular girl who everyone wanted to be with. The way these two diametrically opposed individuals found common ground in their desire to escape was magnetic to me. They made more sense to me as girlfriends.
But that meant that the knowledge of what happened in Life is Strange proper lingered over the relationship for the whole game. Rachel would go on to betray Chloe in more ways than one. Cheating, lying, and eventually, those decisions would put her in harm’s way. Rachel is a tragic figure in Life is Strange, but getting to that revelation means a lot of idealized images of her and Chloe’s relationship have to be broken. And as true as their relationship felt in Before the Storm to me, I was knowingly walking into a relationship that would have a tragic end.
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The relationship I ended up pursuing in Life is Strange 2 has never sat well with me. But it was the only queer option for protagonist Sean Diaz. In the third episode of the sequel, Sean is able to have a (likely fleeting) relationship with one of two members of a group he and his little brother Daniel have been staying with midway through their cross-country hike from Seattle to Mexico. I opted to pursue Finn, the leader of the group the Diaz brothers were staying with. However, going for the overtly queer relationship involved making a decision that put Daniel at risk. There’s a strong enough connection between Finn and Sean that the relationship worked for me on its own terms. Finn is clearly just as lost in the world as Sean is, but he talks about his view of the world with such authority and comes from a similar troubled background. I couldn’t help but feel Sean would be drawn to him. Enough to make a stupid decision about his brother’s safety. Ultimately, I ended up making a final decision in Life is Strange 2 that meant their relationship wouldn’t last more than an episode, but it’s one I look back on knowing that it was probably not the best decision for anyone involved. This certainly adds to the drama, but that’s two protagonists whose hearts I broke in the name of angst.
I’ve completed the first chapter of True Colors, and there’s just something appealing about Ryan and how he doesn’t seem to have the drama of my typical Life is Strange love interest. The man loves his birds, he’s very concerned about the safety and well-being of others, and he knows his way around hiking gear. He doesn’t talk much, but when he does it matters. And he hasn’t intentionally put Alex’s brother at risk, which is more than I can say for Finn. The ending of True Colors’ first chapter has put a pretty significant part of the story on his shoulders, and as I head into the rest of the game, I’m eager to see how Deck Nine handles it both generally, as well as how it pertains to the possible romance that will ensue. But at the very least, it just feels nice to have the drama of a Life is Strange romance that isn’t bearing the weight of an extremely toxic foundation.
And if he turns out to somehow be the villain of this game? I’ll just have to add him to the growing list of men I regret gassing up in my life.