Oxenfree: Time Travel and Teenage Angst

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I got Oxenfree a week ago during a PSN sale for a few bucks. I was curious to see what the game had to offer, as the art style and the story-driven gameplay had piqued my interest. Its genre is described as a graphic adventure, and it’s the first game by indie developer Night School Studio. If you’d like to learn more about this charming little game, do read on!

Oxenfree plays like the Netflix series Stranger Things

The game starts off with a group of teenagers on a trip. Five friends — Alex (who you control), Jonas, Clarissa, Ren, and Nona — go to Edwards Island to enjoy themselves over the weekend. Sounds quite ordinary, right?

At one point, as the friends share a conversation on the beach of Edwards Island, Ren decides to show Alex and Jonas a cave where you can apparently tune into certain radio frequencies and listen to strange noises. Alex has her trusty portable radio with her, so she tunes in. Suddenly, sounds erupt from the radio and light flickers from inside the cave. At this point Ren decides to rest as he’s had too many mushrooms, but Alex and Jonas decide to explore deeper into the cave.

As they near a dead end, Alex tunes into her radio again. Suddenly, bright triangles appear in the sky as a rift between dimensions seemingly opens up. Immediately after, everything turns black. Some time later, Alex and Jonas wake up in the middle of the island somewhere near a communications tower, without no idea as to how they got there.

They soon realize that the island seems to be haunted. They decide they ought to try to contact their friends using the communication tower’s com system. This is when the game really begins. Which friend will you look for first? Why can’t you remember what’s happened? And what’s up with the supernatural stuff that’s happening around the island? Things start to get even spookier when your friends start to seem possessed by an evil force. The longer you’re on the island, the more strange things happen…

Time Travel and a Radio

In Oxenfree, you’re constantly challenged by the supernatural. At times, evil spirits from a war incident almost 100 years before the events of the game play an inter-dimensional game of hangman with you. Sometimes the radio offers you soothing 50s music reminiscent of games like Bioshock, and other times you feel like you’re suddenly walking around in Silent Hill.

Through it all, the radio is a constant companion. There are some spots where you can tune into secret frequencies and listen to another dimension. Special locations are usually marked with a small stone tower on your path. The radio also serves as a mechanic to unlock certain doors with special frequencies. It also serves as a communication tool to manipulate dimension rifts and time loops.

Then there’s the time travel part of the game. You’ll often find yourself reliving situations from the past, and sometimes even trying to change them. You’re able to choose between dialogue options during these past moments, and the things you say will affect the present. For instance, something you say in the past might suddenly change how someone’s treating you in the present. This makes the game interesting through even a second or third playthrough, which is great especially since the game is relatively short with its 4-5 hour playthrough time.

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

Despite being a walking simulator in the best possible way, Oxenfree drives forward its story with dialogue options. In conversations, you regularly get to choose what Alex says — or whether she says anything at all. And as you might guess, there’s never an obviously right option.

This is ultimately the reason why, as aforementioned, Oxenfree is worth playing through multiple times. Every decision you make has some sort of effect. Some conversations have lasting effects that will change the ending of the game; others just change responses and nuances in future conversations. Since the game sends you back to past conversations as well, you actually get the chance to redeem yourself at times.

At certain points you also have to choose a companion for a limited time, and this also affects outcomes and relationship dynamics. Do you accept Jonas as your new brother and build a meaningful relationship? Do you help Ren and Nona to become closer? What is your take on Clarissa? These decisions make up the core of what Oxenfree is about.

Hauntingly beautiful

The thing that first caught my eye with Oxenfree was its art style. The atmosphere and landscape feel like looking at a dark and somber painting in a lonely art gallery. The game wants you to feel isolated, cold, and at times, fearful. Yet it is beautiful all the while.

The sound design does the rest. Most of the background sound reminded me fittingly of an 80s TV series, and the solid voice acting never distracted from the tense tone of the game.

It feels almost meditative at times as you’re wandering through the island and listening to the young cast talk about life. The selfies the group takes at different points throughout the adventure makes it all even more memorable. By the end I really cared about the characters and I wanted to help them as much as I could.

A game for the artsy types among us

I can’t recommend this game to everyone. It’s slow paced at times, and not all conversations are meaningful. During a second playthrough in particular you’ll notice the shallow sections of the game. If you’re into original games with a lot of soul, however, you’ll love this indie title.

Personally, I wouldn’t buy this game for the full price of $19.99. There are other games that offer far more at this price point in my opinion. But, if you find it on sale, you’ll definitely be getting your money’s worth.

Have you played Oxenfree? Be sure to leave a comment below and let us know what you thought of it!

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Guitarist, singer, console gamer, general nerd, marketer, contributor @obiliskgames.

Currently obsessed with Persona 5 and waiting for new Switch titles.

I love to talk in movie, game and TV series quotes. Hit me up on Twitter if you’d like to speak about any of those.

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