The Power of Music in Life Is Strange

In Life Is Strange, music has always been a powerful element within the series, adding character and a distinctive feel to the narrative game. Here are many of the ways in which music is used to build upon and enhance this series' world, one note at a time.

The Power of Music in Life Is Strange

From Arcadia Bay’s golden shores to Haven Spring’s diverse floral displays, the world of Life Is Strange is full of beauty. One aspect of the series that many adore, however, is its well-selected and constructed soundtrack. Here’s why the music of Life Is Strange is so crucial to the series as a whole, and how it frames the world.

In the first game, we meet Max Caulfield through the song To All of You by Syd Matters. It’s a melancholic acoustic indie song reflecting her lonely and introverted persona. It also touches on the disappearance of Rachel Amber with the line ‘American girls, it’s sad to imagine a world without you.’ It’s a truly iconic song for the game and opens this world up to us. As she roams the halls of her high school and acts as this wandering wallflower, we come to understand who Max really is.

A little later on in the first episode, we meet Chloe. Upon arriving back at her house, we come to a point in which she feels a little low. She puts on Santa Monica Dream by Angus & Julia Stone. It describes the parting of two lovers, and how one of them does not want to know what the other could be up to in the present. This song gives us a small glimpse into Chloe and Rachel’s relationship without us even knowing either of the characters all that well at this point in time. It’s storytelling through subtext, and that can be so powerful.

Nostalgia In Time

It’s not just the licensed tracks that breathe life into the scenes, but the original soundtrack as well. Golden Hour plays for the main menu music of Life Is Strange and several times throughout the game itself. Max and Chloe is one that plays on multiple occasions, as well as while the credits roll at the end of each episode. They’re simple tracks yet so effective in solidifying us in Arcadia Bay.

Acoustic indie was the perfect choice for this video game. It’s nostalgic and sets an emotional tone that no other genre could quite capture. It has this magical effect that paints a clear picture of Max and Chloe’s childhoods in the mind of the player, without even needing lyrics to do so. It allows us to interpret the game how we want to. Is it sad, that they’re getting older? That they can’t go back to more simple times? Or is it important that they grow and weather the storm of adulthood?

Music in Life Is Strange rewinds us to the past

Music in Life Is Strange rewinds us to the past

One of the most underrated mechanics in the game is the ability to take a moment of calm. At several points throughout most free-roaming scenes, Max can find a spot to get lost in her thoughts. During these moments, one of the original score’s songs will play and set the tone. These moments are often introspective, insightful and full of reminiscence, but all framed by the choice of music.

Life Is Strange was renowned for its music choice. As a crucial aspect of the game, it definitely feeds into the overarching game themes very well. Nostalgia, the past, trying so hard to fix time itself, all while learning the value of friendship and what that bond really means to us. Jonathan Morali’s original score definitely hit the mark in this game.

Calling Somewhere ‘Home’

Life Is Strange: True Colors is the third mainline instalment in the series. It follows Alex Chen starting her new life in Haven Springs. After moving around her whole life, flowing through the foster care system as a child, she just wants to find the meaning of home. The music selection of True Colors very much reflects this.

The first licensed song we hear in the game itself is Home by Gabrielle Aplin. A sweet indie song defining the meaning of home. During this scene, Alex is wondering if maybe this is the place where she’ll be able to fill that definition herself. She’s full of hope, after a past of trauma and loss. Maybe finally, things will be different for her.

Music in Life Is Strange grounds us in the moment

Music in Life Is Strange grounds us in the moment

Again, the music does a great job of mixing happiness with melancholic undertones. Bittersweet acoustic indie has always been the focus of these games, and it doesn’t change here. Angus & Julia Stone actually provided the original soundtrack this time around. Songs such as For Remembering and Tears are great pieces from the list. Despite Alex finding comfort in her new life, it suddenly turns completely upside down when her brother, Gabe dies.

In Life Is Strange: True Colors, music is even more crucial than before. Alex is a musician at heart. She adores the record store, plays the guitar herself and uses it as her outlet, much like Max did with her photography. So, the soundtrack was somehow more carefully selected than in previous titles.

Soundtracks Add Character

A brilliant game will often have a phenomenal soundtrack. One that reflects the game’s themes, characters and settings so well to bring a cohesive nature. I feel like Life Is Strange is one of the greatest examples of a title that has near-perfect chemistry and synergy between these elements. Many feel like Arcadia Bay is a character of its own in the story, but I feel as though even the music can feel like one.

Not only does it solidify characters, scenes and emotions, but somehow also feels like its own character in a way. A reflection of all of these aspects thrown together. Without this beautiful craft and careful composure, I don’t feel like the episodic series would’ve hit quite as hard. It takes a few playthroughs to really notice just how impactful this part of the game is.

Music in Life Is Strange brings people together

Music in Life Is Strange brings people together

Whether it’s when you hear Obstacles by Syd Matters play while you’re watching the different residents of Arcadia Bay reacting to the beautiful snow flurry, or when you hear Mountains by Message to Bears as our protagonists uncover a horrifying secret… It’s grounding us in a scene, with plenty of subtext in the lyrics to be found. Fast forward to the present, and we now have original songs such as Holding On To Hurricanes by Driftwood Drive made for the game’s promotional material. It’s wondrous, it’s climactic and it encapsulates the series as a whole.

When I first played it at fourteen years old, I had little appreciation for music. Acoustic indie is now one of my favourite genres, and I have this game series to thank for it. If you haven’t played Life Is Strange before, check out KeenGamer’s review of the Remastered Collection.

Life is Strange Remastered Collection | Official Trailer | E3 2021

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