Musical miniseries that has a surprising amount heart
We Are OFK was a surprise to me. The trailer made me believe it would be the same as the other episodic, choice-based narratives I enjoy. It was less of a game than I thought, and more like an animated miniseries, with interactive elements including music videos, when I began to play We Are OFK. It was clearer that We Are OFK was recommended to me to watch on "whatever [my] TV viewing setup is." While I would more consider it a biopic, the fact that the project is a fictionalized telling of the formation of a virtual band sounds confusing.
Before I started writing this review, I was unsure whether it should be considered a game or an interactive series. It's in the middle. This is something I really love, as it's something that we don't see very often in the games industry. It's also refreshing. Having said that, I will be honest and criticize the interactive elements as I would any narrative game. I have much to say. Let's go.
We Are OFK (PC [reviewed], Nintendo Switch and PlayStation) Developer: Team OFK Publisher : Team OFK Publication: Aug 18, 2022 – Eps. 1, 2, Aug 25, - Ep. 3, Sep 1 – Ep. 3, Sep 1 - Ep. 5 MSRP: $19.99
We Are OFK is a story about four friends living in Los Angeles. They navigate the challenges of making art, work, and family. This series was a great slice of life story. Itsumi is a fun, energetic concert pianist/social media manager at a large gaming company. Carter is an eccentric, workaholic artist who prefers to keep their story somewhat a mystery. Luca is a bubbly singer/songwriter who has trouble with self-doubt. Jey, a passionate music producer with a no-nonsense approach, completes the main cast.
While the main cast is all members of the LGBTQ+ community it's important to note that this does not make them the most distinctive of their identities. We see their queerness not as an overt postulation, but as a genuine expression of themselves. It can be difficult to find the right balance for stories based on real people. I am excited to see thoughtfully written examples of this community.
You can relate
The thing is, I'm exactly the demographic you need to play this game. I am bi, live in Los Angeles, I write, I love pop music and I have a dog. I am the only person who could relate to this game. But, I believe that We Are OFK is a great game. This is a realistic look at the life that you will have if you ever wanted to work in the music or games industries.
This might seem controversial, but I am more concerned about narrative-centric games than their mechanics. Even though I have a bias, I can admit that We Are OFK's mechanics are a little shallow. It's close to perfect if you are looking for interactive stories with incredibly relaxing, chill gameplay. It all comes down to personal preferences.
We Are OFK was a miniseries, not a game. This was evident in the length of episodes that were included under the titles. It was exactly the same way you would see it on a streaming service. It causes me anxiety to not know how long it will take to play a video game. This is something I would love to see more traditional games do. You can also see the progress bar when you pause. This is similar to a typical VOD UI.
You can't exaggerate the writing enough
The best thing about the book was its writing. First, I was expecting We Are OFK to tell the story of a band's rise and fall to fame. It's instead a lot more about the characters. This was bold but I think it was the right choice for the story of interpersonal relationships they are trying to tell. We know the identities of all these characters from the beginning. These characters have different personalities, flaws and believable motivations. They also have rich relationships with one another -- I could go on. Although this makes sense, I don't know how much of their stories and characters were derived from real people. They're some of the most realistically-written characters I've ever seen in video games.
Conversations feel natural and effortless. You can feel how familiar these characters are with each other. Each member of the group has their own values, which is a perfect reflection of modern-day relationships. They are just trying their best, despite difficult circumstances. They also actively try to support each other and pursue what they want. I left the game rooting for these characters and understanding their motivations.
I have to also break out to express my gratitude to Episode Four, titled Splits. It was a complex and delicate examination of grief, trauma and being there to support your friends. I won't reveal too much, but I think it was the best I've ever seen. The rest of the episodes were pretty standard, but the fourth episode was special. It was especially moving and beautiful. And the character it was focusing on became my favorite.
Some of the dialogue did irk me a bit, only because it veered into no-one-actually-talks-like-that territory, similar to the issue Life is Strange had. It wasn't a major issue for me because the character arcs were so strong and the structure didn't occur all that often. Another criticism I have about the story is that it ended a bit too soon. But again, this is a minor gripe considering some of the most character-focused writing I've ever seen.
Let's talk about interactivity
Interactive elements were not very common, as I mentioned. Most common were dialog choices via text message or regular conversation. This is the norm. If you've ever played any story adventure, you already know what to expect. Although the choices are almost always flavor text, I don't mind them. We Are OFK is not a game where you have to make choices. I, for one, like flavor text. However, while others may disagree with me, it can still be enjoyable to pick how your character responds to any situation.
There are also a few text conversations that you can access from the main menu. These are great little surprises to see between episodes. It's a great way to see what the characters are up to when you're not there.
There are also interactive music videos. Each episode has one, and they are usually used to highlight a strong narrative beat. Although I don't know much about music, the EP is considered to be indie pop. I like a lot of CHVRCHES music, and We Are OFK reminds me a little of their early songs. Virtual bands like K/DA and Gorillaz were an influence on me, from what I can tell. I'm sorry if this doesn't help music lovers out there. It's all I have. OFK has a single that is featured in the game. You can listen to it before playing if you wish.
Let's get back to interactivity. The interactive music videos are similar to the dialogue options, but more about style than anything else. There are no fail states and they feature clicking on beautiful visuals. These were great fun due to the way they accompanied the songs and the way they played into the story.
Although we're not trying to reinvent the wheel, if you enjoy interactive musical vignettes that don't have any stakes and are fun to look at, it's sure you'll love it. It was also a pleasant surprise that I enjoyed each song. It's probably a good thing that there are no weak links in the tracklist, if you plan to make an entire game about creating an EP.
A couple of more interactive sets are available, which were my favorite "gaming moment" moments. Although they were short and didn't affect the story, it was great to see different styles in the low-poly characters.
Final thoughts and critiques
While I loved We Are OFK, there was some jankiness I experienced. Some music video parts were lacking in polish. I wish they had been more tightly controlled, as these were the only parts with more complicated mechanics. The animations are a bit stiff, even though the art style is minimal. There are also a lot more objects that clip through the characters than you might think. This is especially noticeable when there's not much else to focus on.
I also had subtitles on all the time. I was really bummed that they didn’t appear during the music videos because that is when I needed them the most. Strangely enough, subs also failed to appear at random times in the narrative portion of the game.
I find the way that interaction is integrated reminds me of Netflix's Bandersnatch in a way. It's not similar to We Are OFK in anyway, but it makes me remember how my friends and myself spent a night watching Bandersnatch and then arguing about each other's choices. Although We Are OFK is more serious in tone, the principle of the game is similar. It seems like a fun game to play with friends. It would have been a great opportunity to watch/play with my roommate if they weren't out on vacation.
We Are OFK is not for everyone. It seems like many people will dismiss it before giving it a shot. This is a shame, because while it is self-indulgent at times and downright silly, it is still compelling, inspiring and damn well-written.
We Are OFK's identity has been shaped by its style. However, I must say that the material is just as strong as its stylized aesthetic. It's a lot more fun when you see it as an interactive expression the creative process behind an EP.
Is it more interactive in its storytelling? It's up to you. You'll get the best out of this experience if you are willing to immerse yourself in it and use the interactive bits to express your feelings as an observer.
It's my job here to be truthful. The conclusion I have reached is that We Are OFK is a great narrative game and I recommend it highly. Although it doesn't show in-depth gameplay, it tells a simple story. Some people have said that the series is nothing but an advertisement for OFK's EP. I think that it's one of the most beautiful ads I've ever seen. It can tell you with absolute certainty that We Are OFK, even if it's a bit out of your comfort zone is a great time, if you let it be.
[This review is based upon a retail version of the game that was provided by the publisher.]