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Oxenfree: Contextualizing Your Decisions

If you knew the outcome of every choice you are going to make through an entire night, would you change your decision or let it play out all over again? That is one of the themes of Oxenfree. The 2016 hit created by Night School Studios. I will keep details about the plot to a minimum to avoid spoilers. I will say that as soon as you press start you step into the shoes of Alex, a high schooler who’s attending a bonfire party on a tourist island with your best friend and your new step brother Jonas. Like all choice based games, your actions will dictate your relationship with your friends.

Usually I would go in depth about how great the story was in a game, but in this instance I won’t talk about the narrative because doing so would spoil the plot and this is one of those games that you have to experience for yourself as it was one of the most interesting stories involving the choose your own dialogue mechanic and quite frankly one of the most intriguing mysteries I have ever played. I will say that the choices you make involve the themes of grief, mistakes from your past, and mending or creating new relationships all rolled up into one coming of age story. Speaking of relationships the dynamic between Alex and Jonas is what makes the characters so endearing. As they discuss their past and personal lives. On top of their funny personal banter you start to feel them forming a real connection which in turn you feel connected to the characters themselves which makes the choices you determine all the more impactful as you want the get the best possible ending.

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I think what made the relationship between Alex and Jonas so special are the performances by Erin Yvette and Gavin Hammon. Both of them have wonderful chemistry and make their characters feel real. Another standout is Avital Ash as Clarissa who delivers a constant condescending attitude no matter what scene she is in. While Oxenfree is a short game there are some collectibles to hunt down which I recommend finding on the second play through as the letters you find scattered across the island will help you understand the full picture of what is happening. The first play through is designed for you to go in blind while new game plus will test your decision making. Would you still make those exact same choices? Or be experimental and craft a new ending?

Let’s back up for a second. You are probably wondering how does a NG+ work in a dialogue choice game? Well now that you know everything that is going to happen you could probably rectify any past mistakes you might have made. A little bonus is that long drawn out sequences with exposition is literally skipped over. Playing NG+ will also unlock what I consider to be the one true ending. If you like to platinum games then you will have to play through Oxenfree multiple times to get every achievement/trophy. One requires you to make sure everyone is happy, another is making everybody hate you, and one where you aren’t even allowed to speak. A silent play through as it is known as. One single play through is about 4 hours long so it’s best to play in spades rather than going for all of the trophies in one swoop.

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My only real critique is that the camera shots are so wide that you can barley see the characters. How am I suppose to feel attached to them if I can’t even make out their appearances? I played Night School’s other game Afterparty first and that game found the perfect balance between showing off the background and the two protagonist. That’s about my only problem with Oxenfree. If you like the TellTale games and are yearning for something to fill the hole left behind then go ahead and pick up Oxenfree. You’ll find yourself in an engaging story that will have you on the edge of your seat.

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