I originally posted this in the Steam forums, but then I thought, why not? So here it is, the Oxenfree game review!
Please note that everything discussed below will contain spoilers so be warned!
So first things first, that was really cool. I started my first real game - novel experience from Visual Novels and one of them is Ever 17, followed by Remember 11 and the like so I’m not too surprised by this ending. However, this is definitely among the top time loop experiences I’ve had so far, so big and many kudos to the developers!
What’s next? Right, the characters. You know, the character interactions are downright fantastic. I would love to have a raw script to read from - the horror element is really light but I just can’t go through another run - because whoever these dialogues deserves a freaking medal. The English natives are probably like meh, but for me the language and interaction literally gave life to the characters.
And let’s not forget to give praise to the voice actors. I don’t know where you got them or who they are, but holy hell that’s one of the best voice acting I’ve heard in years so kudos to the developers, and kudos to the VAs as well! I’ll rip your vocal cords for myself if I could! Haha ha, that joke didn’t come out too right, did it?
Speaking of exploration, it is unfortunately one of the weaker elements of the game. I’m not saying that the Oxenfree world is not amazingly beautiful, but the horror element - the constant pressure and stress of trying to get the freaking hell out of this island just discourages you from exploring the world properly. Alex is not running fast enough for me to begin with, and there are some corners that are kinda hard to turn, and rock climbing is really, really slow (although admittedly it’s realistic), and that “you have until dawn” thing at the end? I know it didn’t literally countdown from a trickling hourglass but holy cow I was gunning for that escape so hard it’s not even funny.
Speaking of flaws, I have a little concern about that puzzle at Addler’s Estate: the 2nd question’s time limit is too short. One we don’t know which items we can interact with because there’s no indicator, and two ten seconds is absolutely not enough time to scour the whole area (just to check which items are interactable), with the reversing screen making things even harder. This forces me to replay the section a few times just to get all the questions right - I’m not even sure if it matters in the end actually, but not seeing my friends’ bodies disappearing is great news I guess - and I just feel like that particular section is not a fun kinda of difficulty. Fix please!
We ready? Alright, here we go. So first, a time loop ending. While it may seem that Alex and her friends have successfully left the island, Alex is in fact trapped in an infinite time loop (a.k.a this game) and is destined, as of now to relive this tiny period of her life forever. So, I’ve see a bit of a discussion at another thread, and will like to contribute my own theory based on my experiences with time loops.
The One and Absolute Fact of the True Timeline: If the words of the ghosts are to be believed, then Alex chose to sacrifice herself and saved her friends from being trapped in the infinite timeloop. This is the absolute fact that must be established for the loop to exist, or this game itself theoretically does not exist.
Otherwise you can also assume that the moment they enter this time bubble they are all doomed to relive their lives forever, but that possibility is simply too depressing and not substantiated with in game facts. So we’ll just ignore this one.
Now then, Theory Time!
As you know, Alex is the only one who can remembers everything about the timeloop in a timeloop (which we will simply call a small timeloop because it’s wordy). While it appears that when she restarts the bigger time loop she forgets everything that has happened - even though her ‘beginning’ automatically adjusts to ‘the end’ of a run - just as the ghosts remembers, Alex too eventually remembers exactly what happens in the big loop.
For obvious reasons, Alex tries to find ways to escape the time loop, which over the course of many runs are eventually refined into several highest potential branches which we, the players get to play. But back to that in a minute. Let’s talk about the achievements. The achievements are basically all the methods Alex have tried to influence the loop; it is basically the time journey of Alex. For example, the matchmaking is among the first things she tried since it’s the most obvious and simple thing to do while she further investigates her own situation.
The next will be the collection of all Addler’s letters, since they are directly connected to the ghosts and hence, the time loop. But that still didn’t help her, so she tried her most ridiculous wish of changing the past itself - if Michael came back to life, then surely everything would have changed, right? It was something she normally would never have tried, but given infinite time even the hardest hardhead is going to break eventually. It worked, kinda, because Jonah is directly taken out of the equation and Michael is alive. That should be a big enough disrecpancy - one can even say that because of that, Alex never even went to the island - to break her out of the loop, right?
But here’s the thing about time theories. It is true you can create a ripple that’s complete different from the original timeline, and if it’s just one timeline versus one timeline then Alex’s idea would totally work. However, Alex’s artificial discrepancy is like a ripple created by a drop of water, trying to fight against the sea’s wave - it’s impossible. The big flow is going to swallow her tiny drop like it’s nothing, and no matter how hard she tries she is never going to succeed.
She even went as far as to act horrible to all her friends, treating them like scum just to deviate as much as possible from the original timeline, but it also failed. One may even imagine that Alex has considered killing all of her friends - it certainly WILL completely change the course of the loop, like how EMIYA tries to erase Shirou so that there is a chance, however miniscule, that he can remove himself from his Heroic Spirit Existence (I TOLD you there are spoilers, so don’t say I didn’t warn you). But since this is not an option in the game, we can assume that Alex has never fallen completely to the dark side and ‘retained her nature’, as the ghosts describe her in a good ending run. After all, who is to say that even if she successfully escapes the time loop, she won’t return to a world where all her friends are murdered and she is being accused as the murderer?
But since she didn’t dare to do the extreme, Alex never succeeded from escaping the timeloop. As time passes, memories fade away. ‘The Strong, Silent Type’, the final and least obtained achievement indicates that Alex has completely lost her personality and almost completely reverted into a blank state. Of course she can still ‘pick’ an interactive run, but it is all acting and no true emotion. It’s impossible to not lose yourself when you’ve lived the same thing over and over and over again. At that point, Alex is no longer Alex. Past that point, Alex has become a player, who controls her body through a series of predetermined events mindlessly trying to seek a way to break out of the loop... forever.
Curiously enough, committing suicide and death by accident is not a choice in the game. We can say that’s because Alex is strong and she never gives in to the temptation... or we can say that she now truly understands the fear of the ghosts, and does not dare give in to death.
Well that was... long regardless of my intentions of keeping it short. Anyway, there’s another explanation to that ending I described above. It is possible that Alex understands that as a person of that world she can never truly save herself from the time loop, and has given control to higher dimension beings (us!) to find a way to break her out of the loop (2D cannot understand or influence 3D and the shizz)...
... Or following a darker line of theory, Alex is attempting to trap the players with her, forcing them to try and find a way to break her from the time loop, when in fact there is absolutely no way to do so (unless the creator a.k.a developers do something - MAKE OXENFREE 2 AND SAVE ALEX ALREADY! Speaking of which, what does Oxenfree even mean?) so they are too forced to experience an infinite loop forever (Yes there’s a game with exactly such a mind screw theme, yes I’ve mentioned it somewhere above, and no you’ll have to find out yourself which game i was talking about). You know, why suffer alone when you can suffer ALONG WITH EVERYONE ELSE?
Your choice. Your, choice.