Jess, throughout our conversations about this series over the years, you've told me how much you identified with protagonists Chloe and Max. Now, I'm finally able to say the same. What had me worried though was that because this stars a young boy and his dad, that there wouldn't be much of a female presence in the game, and would fall into tropes we've seen so much lately. Cough, God of War, cough. Thankfully that doesn't seem to be the case. Chris' mom bought him comic books, played video games with him and passed on her artistic talents. She's a looming presence even though she's not a principal character.
Despite Charles' blatant flaws, I'm drawn to him.
Chris' dad isn't a god. He's a human. A fractured, broken human. Whereas once Charles was a star college basketball player engaged to the cutest girl in school, now he's an alcoholic single father trying to cope with the twists and turns life dealt him, his glory days a highlight reel fading beneath a bath of brown liquor.
I was mostly able to accept his drinking beer for breakfast because it was game day, but once he pulled the fifth of whiskey out of the cabinet and took it into the living room I was taken aback. And then there's the massive hand-shaped bruise on Chris' arm that ended up being a frictional topic of conversation between father and son.
But despite Charles' blatant flaws, I'm drawn to him. He still wears his wedding ring regardless of the accident and that he's dating someone new, he fully admits his scrambled eggs aren't anywhere as good as his late wife's. There's good in there, it's just drowning under his demons.
You've given Charles way more respect than I have. The moment I realized he was the reason Chris' arm was covered in bruises, he transformed into a repugnant beast in my mind. Yes, Charles has experienced trauma and heartbreak, but nothing excuses physical (and, later in the game, emotional) abuse. Especially in the case of a father and his young son.
I wonder if it's easier for me to villainize Charles because I'm playing the game with a little more distance than you. As you noted, this is the first taste of Life is Strange from a male perspective, and while my childhood was also filled with comic books, video games and playing pretend, I was never raised as a boy; the emotional foundation for this relationship is slightly different for me. It's not better or worse from a gameplay perspective, but perhaps my connection to this storyline is slightly less personal than your own. Perhaps it's easier for me to paint things in black and white.
That said, I still relate to Chris -- and Charles -- deeply on a number of levels. I remember the moment when, as a child, I realized that I didn't understand what was actually going on with the people I loved. I remember feeling like I was trapped in a different world than the adults around me, lacking the ability to comprehend a complex and dire situation, but overhearing conversations, finding notes, opening letters, and putting the pieces together myself. Though instead of dreaming of developing superpowers that could magically solve any situation, I eagerly awaited my Hogwarts letter.
As an adult, I recognize Charles' competing wills -- he wants to be a good father, a strong human, but he's so tired and life has been devastating recently. Besides, beer is cheap and the bottle is right there. When it feels like things can't get any worse, there's no reason to not drink.
Still, I have no love for Charles, the abusive father. Meanwhile, I'm deeply curious about Chris' mother and the circumstances of her death. She's more than the deceased wife and mother in this story -- Chris comes across a handful of her comics throughout the game and they infuse her with personality and life.
It's remarkable that I feel so strongly about these characters after just two hours or so of play time. Captain Spirit isn't a full game; it's a teaser for a larger story, Life is Strange part two, and I'm already invested in it. Plus, this quasi-demo confirms the next game will feature plenty of supernatural goodness, as the worlds of imagination and reality crash in Chris' backyard. Has Captain Spirit renewed or changed your excitement for the next installment in the series, Tim?
Timothy J. Seppala
If anything, I'm even more excited. I went into this episode completely blind outside of the trailer that debuted during Microsoft's E3 keynote this year. I wasn't sure how this would connect to the rest of the series until the narrative's final moments, or what all of the foreshadowing would lead to. Watching Captain Spirit transition from being somewhat foreign at the outset to pleasantly familiar the closer I got to the end has me mentally counting the days until Life is Strange 2 is released.
A lot of what's driving that is my desire to see where Dontnod goes with the relationship between Chris and Charles. What Captain Spirit made clear is that the writing team is just as adept at portraying a believable, layered, unflinching bond between father and son as it is the awkwardness of being an angsty and/or awkward teenage weirdo. Charles feels more like a real human than Chloe's cliched ex-military authoritarian not-step-dad, David, ever did. I'm not saying I love or respect Charles, but, I've witnessed my own dad do and say some very similar things. It made slipping into Captain Spirit's tinfoil helmet uncomfortably easy at times.
Like you said, it's impressive that in just two hours Dontnod's prologue managed to forge such strong, nuanced characters. I've been thinking about the game since finishing it, imagining the possibilities for Life is Strange 2. Does the neighbor boy have powers as well? Was I actually using mine to make the wood stove burn brighter and hotter? How deep will Charles' resentment for Chris cut?
I'm probably not going to enjoy the answer to at least one of those questions, but that doesn't mean I want to stay ignorant any longer than I absolutely have to. In that sense, this reminds me a lot of PT, the playable teaser for the Silent Hill reboot we never got. Except this time, barring any unforeseen surprises, we'll actually get to play the finished product.
You just said something that highlights the beauty of Dontnod's approach to video games: "It made slipping into Captain Spirit's tinfoil helmet uncomfortably easy at times." When given the choice between adding a mask or a helmet to Chris' drawing of Captain Spirit early in the game, you picked the helmet -- but I went with the mask, prompting Chris to find some leftover Halloween makeup in the bathroom and draw bright blue raccoon markings around his eyes about halfway through my playthrough. I'm sure there's a small scene that I didn't get to see involving the crafting of the helmet (I didn't even realize it would have been made out of tin foil, which sounds very adorable).
These small decisions are littered throughout the game, and they stack up to create a unique experience for each player, even as the core narrative remains the same. My perspective on Charles, viewing him as the enemy, will influence my responses to his actions in the full game. I'll probably be more hostile and less open with him than you will be. Maybe my Chris will grow colder and shed his childish naivety faster; maybe he'll transform into a villain, rather than the superhero he wants to be. Discovering how any two playthroughs converge and differ has long added an extra layer of mystery to the Life is Strange series, and Captain Spirit shows the next game will be no different.