“Remember saying things like ‘we’ll sleep when we’re dead,’ and thinking this feeling was never gonna end,” sings Japandroids guitarist and vocalist Brian King on Younger Us, one of the Vancouver band’s finest songs.
When Japandroids first arrived on the global music scene back in 2009 with Post-Nothing, they weren’t the most innovative band nor was King even the best singer or songwriter. In fact, a lot of the band’s songs were goofy, but their greatness came from the fact that so much of Japandroids music spoke to an essential truth: growing old sucks.
In playing Oxenfree, one of the latest indie games to make its way to iOS via the PC and home consoles, I’m reminded of those two rockers from East Vancouver. Created by Night School Studio, a game developed outfit based out of Glendale, California, Oxenfree is great not because it’s the most graphically impressive game — though it does feature a gorgeous art style and a lush electronic soundtrack I totally dig — or because it presents interesting new gameplay mechanics. Instead, it’s a great game because it understands human beings. It understands them as complicated amalgamations, defined by moments of severe psychological trauma.
In one early scene, we see Alex, the player’s character, and her new stepbrother Jonas talk about their present living situation. We quickly learn that Alex’s biological brother, Michael, recently passed away and that Jonas is now living in his room. It’s a scene that’s handled with nuance and empathy; the player can take the conversation down several different paths, but even the most conciliatory response reveals the effect Michael’s death has had on Alex.
It’s all tied together by excellent writing and a voice cast that delivers excellent performances. Some will likely be put off by the characters’ ‘teenage angst,’ but, in my mind, that’s a sorry excuse to pass this game over.