This is not a review, it’s mainly my personal thoughts on why I really loved Oxenfree, a narrative driven adventure game developed by Night School Studio.
Ever had a game shelved (Can I say “Shelved” if it’s in a steam library?) for months and months, and one day you had nothing to play, so you decided to come back to that game? This was basically the case with Oxenfree for me, and oh boy I regret not experiencing this spectacular narrative driven game back when it was released! I’m a person that feeds on stories and proper narratives, and Oxenfree hit all the right spots for me, delivering an experience I won’t forget anytime soon.
The simplest way to describe Oxenfree is a supernatural mystery narrative driven adventure game. You play as Alex, a teenager who goes to a local island with a close friend and her new step brother.
One of the things that stands out the most early on in the game is the radio that you carry around, which is something that is significant both to the gameplay and story. Contextualising the radio as an entity throughout the narrative is one of the unique aspects that really stood out in the game, because it acts somehow as one of the few game mechanics that the game has. With your radio, you could tune into story related secrets, solve puzzles, open doors, or just stumble into creepy stations.
Without revealing too much, the radio complements the supernatural side of the game in a way that takes a lot from old horror tropes, but the way it’s executed here feels fresh, catering for both a story and gameplay balance, while making it an entity that works naturally, without it being forced or explicitly brought up every once in a while. It worked in a way that delivered a commonly known trope in most teen horror movies without it feeling cliched, and that says a lot.
Weekend Party gone wrong:
You are Alex, you and a couple of your friends have a planned a weekend party on a nearby local island called Edwards Island, but as you arrive there and go exploring with your newly met step brother, things kind of go wrong… Supernaturally wrong.
That’s the basic setup to Oxenfree’s story without going into too much detail. Although it sounds simple, it shines spectacularly with the way it progresses, it has proper pacing that maintains a certain amount of mystery to keep you captivated and hooked. The way it develops from this simple horror movie flick plot to something that is incredibly deep and relatable was very well done, it goes on to tackle heavy themes and subjects such as Isolation, friendship, true motives, and sacrifice, and it manages to deliver all of that in a low-key tone. It doesn’t go for overly dark, and I think that’s important in a narrative experience that’s as specific as Oxenfree.
The characters are what make everything work, they’re a great and diverse cast of characters, all with a special type of relationship to you. Their dialogues just feel so natural and authentic, bringing along a stellar performance from the voice actors, who really gave it their all to make this feel so real and believable.
Another thing that cements that narrative and the overall experience is how these relationships are developed based on the choices you make throughout the game. The game presents a branching dialogue system that’s fast and lite, it strikes the right amount of pressure to make a decision fast, without making them explicit. No choice ever felt like good or bad, which was rewarding to me, because the effect it had on alternating the narrative was ambiguous, and that added a sense of curiosity, it kept me going and it kept me interested, it also adds a big value for replayability. One more thing that I liked about the dialogue system is how immediate it was, because whenever you make a choice, your character almost immediately says it and interrupts the other characters speaking, it’s kind of like speaking your mind out loud.
Inside A Painting:
Oxenfree is a beautiful game! It almost doesn’t look like anything out there, which makes is really unique. The way it blends it’s signature painting-like art style with the 3D models of the characters works perfectly. It feels so distinctive to the point where it almost feels like this is a whole new world that only exists here. It’s dreamy, yet haunting.
This leads me to talk about environment freshness. In a game, I thoroughly enjoy diversity in the environments, and while Oxenfree doesn’t do a spectacular job at that, it’s how everything is designed that struck me the most. It’s new in the sense that I don’t feel accustomed to it yet because I’ve never seen anything like it. To go along with that, the “Supernatural” side of the story is also presented in an uncommon way. Expect a lot of sudden effects that would alternate your surroundings, and some recurring symbolism throughout the game.
Here is a video that talks about the art of the game in detail.
The final piece that makes this experience almost perfect, the music. It’s chill and atmospheric tone delivers an electronic set of soundtracks that feels right for the game. It’s paranormal, striking, moody, and at times just right on creepy.
Here’s a sample to showcase what I’m talking about:
Composed by scntfc, the music manages to capture the themes of the games perfectly, it successfully maintains a strong sense of emotions and paranormal elements that complements the story, characters, and art style.
Olly Olly Oxen Free:
Narrative indie focused games are by the dozens these days, and that’s not a bad thing at all. However, with that many narrative driven games out there, you start to get some kind of fatigue, so playing something that genuinely feels refreshing, unique, and fun has a lot of weight.
This is what Oxenfree gave me, a fresh experience that kept me interested since the beginning and even after I finished it. It explored fascinating themes wrapped in a well executed plot, with authentic characters, stellar voice acting, meaningful narrative, and amazing artstyle/music.
If you love narrative driven games, then don’t do my mistake and shelf this game. Play Oxenfree, it’s an experience worth exploring.
Till next time…