Review

Tell Me Why is a story of healing that stays with you

Dontnod Entertainment’s Tell Me Why is a gripping, emotional tale of two siblings on a personal quest to heal. Tell Me Why tells the story of twins Alyson and Tyler Ronan as they come to terms with the reality surrounding a traumatic event that changed their young lives.

Tell Me Why follows in the footsteps of the critically beloved Life is Strange series. As you’d expect, the game is split up to follow an episodic structure. Though, the release of all episodes has been condensed to span only a three week period. Tell Me Why manages to pull at the player’s heartstrings all the same, and delivers rewarding narrative beats throughout.

The intimate look into the lives of Alyson and Tyler steals the show. How you anticipate the narrative to unfold ends up exceptionally different from how it does. That, coupled with the ebbs and flows of a structure similar to a weekly HBO series, made me walk away from Tell Me Why with a deep connection to the Ronan twins.

The goblin twins

Alyson and Tyler Ronan are twin siblings who grew up in the small Alaskan town Delos Crossing. The two reunite for the first time in 10 years after the death of their mother, Mary-Ann. Having been split up, Alyson grew up sheltered while Tyler – a transgendered man – had to strive on his own to find himself and become more comfortable with who he is.

The Ronans return to their childhood home to start preparations to sell the estate. During their time, the two begin to reconcile with harsh truths. This includes the events leading up to the death of their mother. The key element in their discoveries is that the two are linked together by a “Bond”. This link that allows Alyson and Tyler to manifest memories from their childhood and telepathically speak to one another serves the overall experience.

The Ronan house is a character unto itself. Here, I found the rich history of the Ronan family. Growing up, Mary-Ann encouraged the two to create extensive fairy tale-esque stories. Fantastical tales of becoming goblins, protecting a princess, and becoming friends with woodland creatures were all apart of the Ronans’ upbringing. However, these stories mirror their childhood, incorporating deeper analogies of their lives. Alyson’s ‘Book of Goblins’ is paired with drawings on the wall and toys in the house. They all give added texture to our two protagonists.

Mysteries around Delos Crossing

I’ve often felt that Dontnod’s leading characters in the past, while engaging and memorable, often suffered from minor tropes. Alyson and Tyler both feel incredibly relatable and human. For Tyler, being a transgender man isn’t used as a plot device. Additionally, Tyler’s identity isn’t a result of trauma, a misconception often used in fiction. It’s who he is and a lot of respect has been given to that fact. The character is nuanced in a variety of ways, with his own goals and aspirations.

Tell Me Why revolves around a handful of settings, and the Ronans are personally tied to most locations in the game.  Uncovering the past put a lot of perspective into the present. I felt incredibly compelled to dig through the various items and photos scattered around the game’s environments. There’s no shortage of information to gain from interacting with environmental objects.

It’s important to note that Tyler and Alyson are on a road to healing. They aren’t on a mission for revenge. There’s no quest for retribution. However, Tell Me Why is an honest look at how one grows from a traumatic experience. The two interact with a small cast of residences from Delos Crossing. I found myself making some truly difficult dialogue choices. Like many games in this story-driven genre, these choices affect how the story progresses. Choices I made affected the relationship between Alyson and Tyler, and how certain characters interacted with the two. Naturally, there were points I put the controller down and rubbed my temples to contemplate my decision.

Creating  water cooler moments

Tell Me Why unfolds in a three-part episodic structure. We’ve seen this episodic model countless times. Though, it’s rare to see it executed this well. In many cases, an episode will drop and we sit and wait for months on end to pick the game back up and continue. Spreading the game across only three weeks allows Tell Me Why to create water cooler moments between each episode. For this reason, I was tied to Alyson and Tyler’s story a lot more, as I didn’t have to try to remember what had happened in a previous episode months prior.

There is a lot to digest in each installment. Like any good HBO series, reaching that climax only to see credits roll is crushing. Certain perceptions of characters transform as the story progresses. It encouraged the creation of speculation and theories. During my review period on Xbox One, all I wanted to do was discuss the events with friends. I also had the undying urge to discuss the choices other players made. Each episode concludes with showing the percentages of players who made certain choices. While the ending had me feeling underwhelmed, the journey to get there was compelling enough that it didn’t hinder my experience.

Final thoughts

Tell Me Why only manages to fix a handful of gameplay hitches I’ve experienced playing Dontnod’s games in the past. Characters still shove you out of the way as they walk their predetermined path. Limited options to run or slow interaction sequences did slow my pacing down.

This is all inconsequential, however. The character study of two young adults coming to terms with their past is what kept me engaged from start to finish. Alyson and Tyler’s story is engrossing on many different layers. I became invested in these two characters on a level I never felt compelled to be in other games akin to Tell Me Why. The unpredictable nature of the story and turns throughout made Tell Me Why a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

Tell Me Why‘s first episode is now available on PC and Xbox One. The second releases on Sept. 3 and the conclusion releases on Sept. 10.

A copy of Tell Me Why was provided by Xbox Canada for review purposes.

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Steve Vegvari

Steve is based in Toronto, Ontario. His adoration for everything gaming began very early on in the SNES-era. He’s gone on to write honest content around the web. While not writing about games, Steve is often looking for the next big narrative-driven title. Something with an impactful story, regardless of genre or platform. Bonus points if it has an appealing achievement/trophy list!
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