I know you read the headline and you’re either super mad right now, or you have no idea who that is and are just curious. For those of you in the first category, rest assured I like Rachel Amber a lot and I don’t have a death wish for her. It’s a matter of story telling and the emotional impact her death has on Chloe. For those of you in the second category prepare for a long answer to your question.
*Spoilers Ahead for Life is Strange*
In the first game a lot of the story buildup is around the missing girl Rachel Amber. You find out she was best friends with Chloe while you (Max) were off in Seattle. They were very close and you’re often jealous of that closeness. Despite that you hope Rachel is okay and not lying in a ditch somewhere. As the game progresses you even entertain the idea of the three of you hanging out and becoming friends.
As a player you see all the signs pointing towards Rachel Amber pushing up daisies. I imagine different players figured it out from different signs. Whether it’s the length of time she’s being missing (almost a year if I remember right) or the fact that everyone you talk to speaks about Rachel as if she were some sort of goddess instead of human being; you know something isn’t quite right.
Your suspicions are confirmed a little past the midway point in the story when you figure out Rachel was kidnapped, drugged and made to pose for Nathan Prescott in his creepy dark room. You race with Chloe to the junkyard where you (as a player and as Max) start digging and find Rachel Amber’s body.
After getting over the initial shock of finding a dead body, you see Chloe first deny and then slowly accept that her friend is dead. It’s heartbreaking, even though I’ve played this game at least three times, this scene still gets me. I’ve managed not to cry while watching it but barely. What is it about this scene that gets me so emotional? It’s Chloe’s reaction to seeing her best friend dead and gone. It’s her realization that Rachel isn’t coming back and all their plans are never going to happen.
At this point in the story you’re so invested in Chloe as a character and you want her and Rachel to have a happy ending (even if you’ve realized this won’t happen.) Since you’re playing as Max (another close friend of Chloe’s) seeing her reaction is twice as bad because there’s nothing you can say to make this better. You can only hold your friend as she cries her eyes out because someone she cared about is gone.
Now imagine all of that never happened. Imagine that by going back and making a few different choices, Rachel Amber ends up alive. Would that make you feel better? Of course. Would it completely change the emotional outcome of the original story? Yes. Is that a bad thing? I think it is.
All of the emotions and all of the impact of Rachel’s death would be gone. Think about that for a minute. If she’s alive then the impact of the scene I described would be pointless. You wouldn’t feel sorry for Chloe or be sympathetic to Max because it wouldn’t fit. Instead there’s a weird sense of why is this scene still here, it doesn’t matter anymore. All the time you’ve invested in Chloe would be wasted because everything turned out okay in the end. Sure you thought Rachel was dead but surprise she’s not, so let’s just pretend this didn’t happened.
I can hear you saying, but that’s a good thing isn’t it? If Rachel’s alive then Chloe gets to be happy and maybe in some alternate reality they can all be best friends? Sure, if you can also go in and remove that scene from the first game, but you can’t. Since that’s the case, how does that impact the rest of the game?
Rachel touched a lot of people. Even if they only had one conversation with her, that person remembered it and what kind of person she was. The idea of Rachel Amber influences everything. It gives the game a sense of hope and melancholy that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
I found a few clips online with the creators saying that the doe that Max sees from time to time, is supposed to be Rachel Amber’s spirit animal. Throw that into the mix and everything gets a whole lot more interesting. Again, if she’s alive what’s the point of the doe? The significance is gone.
If all of this is just in some game why does it matter? Well, why do we play games? Is it to escape our everyday lives? Is it to get invested in a story where we can affect some change but the choices don’t impact us in the real word? Is it putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes to see what it would feel like? For a fair number of people it’s all of the above.
Now let’s apply this to Life is Strange. If we want to become invested in the story of Chloe and Rachel or even Chloe and Max we have to care about them, right? If we take away a pivotal scene or change what happens to one of the characters what happens? If Rachel is alive do we care about Chloe any less? Do we feel like we’ve been cheated a bit because that death scene is now a complete waste of time? How does that change the tone of the story? How does it affect how the player feels about the rest of the game?
I’m not going to answer these questions directly. I know how I would answer them but I want to leave this post somewhat open-ended. For anyone who has played this game, what do you think? Would you feel better or worse if Rachel was alive? Do you think the story would be just as good or would it lose something? Feel free to discuss this amongst yourselves in the comments section below.