Tell Me Why is the next narrative adventure game from developer Dontnod Entertainment of Life Is Strange 2 and tells the story of two twins – one of whom is a transgender character – and the childhood tragedy that they have to unravel. Through this narration, the developers manage to point out that different perspectives are important, even if your memories may lie to you.
This is a storytelling game for players who love making important decisions while following in the footsteps of characters they get to know very well. This modern story is about whether the twins should delve into their uncomfortable past and hazy memories in order to get to the truth of a traumatic event that separated them for a decade.
The game focuses on identical twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan. Tyler, voiced by August Aiden Black, spent 1
This game is not for the crowd with twitching reflexes. It’s an approachable experience that any adult can play (it is rated as ripe for drug references, mild blood, strong language, and violence) and enjoy for its complex characters, secrets, and good writing. Critics will say it’s a boring “running simulator” with little action, but that didn’t bother me. You won’t find challenges like button mashing tests and other things that might put off people who just want to experience a good story.
In the first 30 minutes of the game, I didn’t have to take any consequences. I was immersed in the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, feeling preoccupied with the union of the twins and how they met after they were separated. You will read through a lot of things like old letters that shed light on the puzzle and solve a few puzzles like encrypted combination locks. But you won’t encounter anything more difficult than finding things around the area occasionally.
Warning: This rating has spoilers -Ed.
A soap opera or a deep riddle
For a few moments I wondered if Tell Me Why was a simple soap opera about a family who didn’t get along. From the little look at the tragedy at the beginning, mother Mary-Ann Ronan didn’t seem to accept the transgender transition from Tyler, a female character. When he was 10, Tyler cut his long hair off and Mary-Ann walked off the deep end. Tyler didn’t understand why Mary-Ann looked so angry, but he assumed she had read his diary in which he wrote about his desire to become manly.
Since this is a game by Dontnod, creator of the Life is Strange series, it has a supernatural element in it. The twins have the ability to bond or communicate telepathically with each other without speaking. You can have a conversation while speaking to someone who may have something to hide. You can also come across certain places in your childhood that trigger memories that play back as partial memories like old videos. This bond creates a mental burden and threatens to create a rift between the twins. It reminded me of Quantic Dreams Beyond: Two Souls.
When you find the right place, you can play a reminder. But sometimes Tyler and Alyson have different memories of the same event and you have to decide which one is right. Your decision to reconcile the memory can have an emotional impact on one of the twins. This mechanic gives the game its secret, as you don’t always understand why the remembered scene matters when you piece together the missing links. If you choose the right memory to believe, it will lead you down a different path than another that could be misleading. I appreciated that this part of the game gave me a button to push, and it was a challenge to find exactly where to make something appear. And the latency wasn’t as slow as some of Dontnod’s games have been in the past.
While the twins are looking for answers, they get to know other townspeople better, like Eddy with the narrow street; shopkeeper Tessa, who is religious and doesn’t tolerate Tyler’s transgender status very much; Tessa’s easy going husband, Tom; or the alcoholic handyman Sam Kansky, who is still mourning Mary-Ann. Every encounter with them is not easy, but you will have to make an effort to figure out how to get more secrets out of them.
There, Tyler and Alyson’s quest for the truth becomes more difficult as they research a Rashomon– like a secret in which every witness remembers something else. The player has to decide which memory is correct and these lead to some of the most important decision points in the game.
Microsoft is the publisher, not Square Enix, so the game is not franchised as Life is Strange. And it won’t be released as a long-term episode game, with months between episodes. This three chapter game spans three weeks. The last chapter was published on September 10th. With people finishing the game faster than a normal episodic game, I’m excited to see how their decisions stack up against my own.
An imaginative childhood
The game offers sweet memories that the twins have of their childhood when they played as “cunning goblins”. While her mother, the “wise princess” could be strict, she promoted this imaginative game and told them fairy tales she had created to entertain them in a time when video games and televisions were out of reach.
The girls grabbed items from their house and hid them in a goblin hideout under the house. The children have a book full of fairy tales The Book of the Goblinswith a bear, a frog, the creepy Mad Hunter and other animal characters. These fairy tales come back as puzzles to solve as the twins try to understand what their mother tried to tell them through the allegory of stories. I enjoyed the way the puzzles were intertwined with the facts of Mary-Ann’s life.
Playing with the kids is a charming part of the game. As young adults, the twins became personable. Alyson has a good friend in her shop, Michael, and he becomes a source of camaraderie for Tyler in a city where acceptance is usually a challenge.
I also enjoyed when the game explored Tlingit Alaskan culture. It has several Tlingit characters, such as adoptive father Eddy Brown, the police chief who makes an early peace offer in the form of a ring. Tyler can throw the ring off the ferry or put it on his finger. It shows a bit of Tlingit culture on a trip to a cemetery, but I wish this part of the game went deeper.
All in all, it’s a fairly short experience with three chapters that total nine hours. If it was a movie, it would be a miniseries. But as a game, it feels like it’s going to pass so quickly.
Well told story
In the end, it’s a good story. I really appreciated learning along the way that everyone has different perspectives and if you collect enough of them you can find out the truth. I’ve tormented myself over a few decisions that I had limited insight into, but for the most part, I made the same decisions as most other players.
I appreciated that Tyler is a nuanced and thoughtful character, not someone who has been painted in a hyperbolic or stereotypical way. For example, he didn’t have to fight for gender freedom with a city full of transphobic people. Being transgender is part of the story, but it’s not the entire focus.
The developers have chosen to provide the hotline number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the website for the International Association for Suicide Prevention. This is a nod to the mental health issue that has become so severe in the pandemic and is a topic that is relevant to the characters in the game. Characters have panic attacks, family disputes, delusions, and moments of suicide. They unearth secrets that most people would rather bury. And sometimes the twins squeeze too much.
The game handles these moments well and blames them on their fault. It doesn’t rely on stereotypes or tropes to find easy answers, and it could be a source of comfort to those who can empathize with these issues. That’s why I liked the story. It treats all of its characters with a kindness and empathy that reveals their complexity.
Tell Me Why is available now for PC and Xbox One, and as part of Xbox Game Pass. The publisher has provided GamesBeat with a PC code for the purpose of this review.