Character-driven story with a supernatural twist
Since I played it back in 2018, Oxenfree has been one of my favorite games. It’s one of those stories that’s character-focused on top of everything else it has going for it, like a gorgeous art style, amazing VO performances, and one of the best implementations of a dialogue system in a game I’ve ever seen. I even found the gameplay, which mostly involves walking and climbing around Edwards Island, to be really engaging, mostly because of the conversations the characters had. For me, it captures the coming-of-age magic that something like Stranger Things season one had, and it’s one of the best narrative games of the last decade.
As one would expect, I’m pretty stoked for the sequel. I had been following any news surrounding Oxenfree II: Lost Signals since it was announced last year, and during the Tribeca Games Fest, I was fortunate enough to play a preview of the upcoming title. I am pleased to report back that this experience has only increased my hype for the release.
If it ain’t broke…
Here’s the thing — the team at Night School knows what made Oxenfree work the first time, and they’re not straying too far from that. The focus on “walk-and-talk” gameplay is still there, the climbing-through-creepy-caves exploration is definitely still there, and you’re still gonna use the radio to check out some creepy ghost signals, etc.
That’s not to say the games will be exactly the same — on the contrary, the story focuses on Riley, who is in her 30s, as opposed to the teenage characters of the first game. Now there are tears in the space-time continuum that players will enter and explore, and there’s a whole new group of antagonists who are a more active part of the story than in the first game. Basically, they’ve kept the heart of Oxenfree as they move forward in the series, but the entire scope of Oxenfree II has been blown up a bit.
And I respect the hell out of that choice. Sequels can be so hit or miss regardless of the medium they are, but the key to a good sequel is an understanding of why people were drawn to the original in the first place. Even with little context of who the characters were and what they were doing when I dropped into the preview, everything felt so quintessentially Oxenfree that I knew the overall experience was going to give me exactly what I’m asking for.
While you play as Riley, the aforementioned 30-something who is quick-witted, pragmatic, and self-assured, her old friend from high school, Jacob, is also along for the ride. There’s an innocence to him that I found really charming even from a short bit of gameplay, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing how his character fully develops over the course of Oxenfree II. He’s a lot more laid back and plays off of Riley’s character nicely, but it never feels like we’re rehashing any of the relationship dynamics from the first game. It’s yet another area of the game that feels familiar, yet still entirely new and intriguing to explore.
That shiny new feeling also extends to a large piece of the story: the supernatural phenomena that plague the island. In the first game, you only got to briefly interact with people from the past who were harmed by what had happened at this place, but now, players will be actually going back in time and seeing it for themselves.
The devs also let on that in the same way that Riley and Jacob can enter a previous timeline, things from previous timelines can come into their present as well, and that they will have to deal with the repercussions of that.
Something else I’ll be looking forward to is seeing how Lost Signals’ story ties into the first game. During the Tribeca Games Showcase, Night School’s lead writer Adam Hines actually let on that Jacob has a connection to Maggie Adler, the woman who lived on Edwards Island and who helped kick off the events of the first game. Of course, there’s also the possibility that Riley and Jacob will get close to figuring out what exactly is causing all of these strange, supernatural occurrences, which is a mystery I think many of us would love to see solved in Oxenfree II.
My only reservation is that the devs might play it a little too safe by relying on the precedent of the first game, but that’s much more of a hypothetical than it is based on anything I’ve seen of the game so far. I’ve been sorely disappointed by sequels in the past, so I’m trying to stay realistic here, but honestly, everything I’ve seen of Oxenfree II: Lost Signals only reinforces its place at the top of my “most anticipated games” list. Of all the games on the docket this year, I think I’m looking forward to this one the most.