Narrative driven games that focus on player choice have risen to prominence over the last decade and while one developer was keeping things mostly the same, another chose to keep things fresh by experimenting a bit with every new release. The latter developer happens to be Dontnod Entertainment and since their release of Life is Strange they have grown quite a following for telling unique tales while also offering new experiences at the same time. Their latest offering happens to be another experimental entry called Tell Me Why, featuring a pair of twins with some rather extraordinary circumstances.
A pair of twins named Alyson and Tyler Ronan have been separated for ten years after a horrific event occurred during their childhood. While Alyson was able to stay in their hometown of Delos Crossing, Alaska and be adopted by a caring father figure Tyler was raised in a correctional facility as a result of said event. Despite this lengthy separation, the pair are eager to meet one with one another again even if it means that they are going to undertake a fairly traumatizing task of revisiting the site that the pair were last together and trying to sell it, their childhood home.
After visiting the home and finding that it has mostly been untouched over the past decade to the point that even their mother’s belongings and their childhood toys remain scattered throughout the rooms, the pair quickly realize that their special connection, a “bond,” that allows them to mentally speak with one another has returned and is in fact stronger than ever before. The pair find that their bond now allows them to revisit memories of the past as if they were seeing them as they happened, bringing new perspectives to what they may have once thought as fact. Through the use of their bond and a number of objects of their mother’s, the twins realize that there is more to the events of their childhood trauma than met the eye and begin to investigate what exactly happened that night and split the pair apart for a decade.
Tell Me Why kicks things off to a great start by immediately establishing that both Alyson and Tyler are a likable pair of characters and, despite being twins, couldn’t be more different from one another. While Tyler is eager to uncover the truth, a bit brash, and confident in himself Alyson is a more thoughtful person and tries to put others before herself making for a unique dynamic as the pair works together and deals with the various issues that are brought up as they dig deeper into the mysteries of their past and the town of Delos Crossing. The same cannot really be said unfortunately about a majority of the game’s side characters however as many are not given nearly as much depth as players would expect, especially given the major roles some eventually play in the story and how they interact with Tyler and Alyson.
Now, one of the key elements of Tell Me Why is the fact that Tyler is a transgender character and seeing how both the small townsfolk of Delos Crossing interact with him and treat him can make for an interesting experience. Rather than force any type of unusual abuse or stereotypical cliches on the character, Dontnod has gone to great lengths to make sure that Tyler was a character of his own and not ruled by his sexuality. There are some confrontations and a few uncomfortable moments but these are handled in a way that is fairly nuanced and serve as examples of how to handle these situations better.
The mystery itself starts out great as players will eagerly want to dig deeper into the past and find out what happened to the twins but while things move quickly through the first chapter, the second chapter feels like something of a stalling effort at times as the pace slows to a crawl outside of some great cliffhangers. It is also worth noting that, when the pace does begin to pick up once again, the mystery itself begins to fall flat as the more players reveal, the less interesting things becomes which is both rare and disappointing considering how deep the mystery seemingly was at the start only to boil down to what it eventually becomes.
As with most of Dontnod’s narrative games players will find that Tell Me Why has a fairly simplistic style of gameplay that focuses mostly on examining environments, talking to various characters, solving puzzles, and making choices during discussions that may or may not play a role in how various events will play out further down the line. One of the most notable aspects of Tell Me Why happens to be the memories that the twins are capable of recalling. For the most part recalling these memories are ways to expand upon the story but also can play a pivotal role in the story as, just as in real life, everyone’s memory is a bit different from others. This means that there are a number of times throughout the game that players can choose to remember a memory one way or another and this can play a major role in the twins’ relationship and how they handle things going forward. It is interesting to note that there are a couple of endings to Tell Me Why as well as a number of variations to these endings so players will want to note that their decisions do matter a bit, especially since the twins’ relationship plays a major role.
It is interesting to note that although players will find that Tell Me Why offers quite a few puzzles, there are ways around these as well. Most of the puzzles tend to revolve around deciphering clues hidden in a storybook created by the twins’ mother though a few others are mixed in as well but should the player want to skip trying to solve these puzzles, they usually can be solved through brute-force. This latter option can speed things up but does ruin certain aspects of the story as many puzzles end up revealing more about the mystery of the twins and their mother’s past once they are properly deciphered. Alongside these puzzles players will also come across a number of rather odd mini-games that really slow the pace of the game down and while they usually are implemented to try and make certain scenes a bit more impactful, they often fail in this regard and come off as more annoying than anything else.
Visuals & Audio
It is clear that every new game that Dontnod works on they are continuing to grow as a developer as their visual designs continue to impress with Tell Me Why as the rather unique setting of a small town in Alaska is brought out to the fullest thanks to some great environmental designs while the characters themselves are fittingly designed with plenty of great details and many of these details. This ends up being especially useful given how certain aspects of Tyler’s character and some of the world building is done through environmental clues and items players can examine than outright spoken about.
The voice work features an outstanding performance for both twins with Tyler’s voice actor really nailing the role of the character and Dontnod can be given a lot of credit for going the extra mile when it came to handling the voice talent in this regard. The soundtrack also features a wide variety of background tracks that fit perfectly given the setting and heavy mood swings the game can take from time to time.
Tell Me Why spins an engaging mystery with a small supernatural twist and takes on a cast of characters that avoid falling into stereotypes, creating a much stronger narrative as a result. This mature tale may lose its luster the longer the story progresses but the strong characters and interesting puzzles make for a game that players will want to experience and proves that Dontnod is as strong as ever even when taking risks with sensitive topics.