Nathan Prescott: Why His Character Was Severely Underused
Heavy spoilers for Life Is Strange and possibly Life Is Strange Before The Storm.
So, the time has finally come for me to talk about this game.
There’s no denying the influence that Life Is Strange has created over many of its fans. Some say that it’s a story about moving on from grief while others admire the game for its characters and world building. Whatever opinion you may have, the game definitely has made an impact on many people as well as the game being created from many other sources such as the choice based dynamic of The Walking Dead game by TellTale and the references within the game taken from Twin Peaks and many other sci-fi classics.
But the game has been bothering me for some time now. With the release of the prequel, Before The Storm, created by Deck Nine focusing on the secondary main character, Chloe Price, and the official confirmation that a season two is in the works by the main creators of the game, Dontnod, I’ve never really seen how this game became so popular.
Life Is Strange is about a girl named Max Caulfield who is a shy student attending an art school named Blackwell Academy in the small town of Arcadia Bay in Oregon. After trying to save a girl from being shot by the elite rich kid, Nathan Prescott, she soon discovers that she has the power to rewind time. Along the way she comes across a girl named Chloe Price who s revealed to be the girl she saved from Nathan’s grasp and is also the childhood friend of Max after she moved away to live in Seattle for five years before returning. Of course, Chloe is upset that Max hasn’t contacted her in years to which Max attempts to apologise for. From here, a tone of things happen. There’s a mystery concerning Rachel Amber, Chloe’s best friend who has been missing for months, a mystery concerning Kate Marsh after she was drugged and taken to a place she is unaware of and rumors spreading about her being kissing boys none stop and a tornado that is slowly coming to the town in which Max must find a way to stop before it comes.
A quick word on my opinions about the game, if you haven’t watched or played the game yourself then I highly suggest that you watch some play throughs first before buying it as I’m afraid the mistakes that appear throughout the game as well as the abysmal Episode 5 doesn’t convince me that its worth the full price. I’d recommend that you wait until the game was on sale before buying it or even watching the game first before buying it. After all, your opinion on the game will definitely be different to mine and this isn’t about making you turn away from this game since it does have many parts that I can admire.
But to me, Life Is Strange is nothing more than just Ok.
While I admire its story (say the words “Time Travel” and you’ll have me hooked to the end) and at some points I really was feeling sorry for many of the characters (I mean Jesus someone give Kate Marsh a hug), the dialogue makes the game distracting and in some cases just cringy to listen to. I mean do I have to explain the amount of times Chloe says “Hella”? I don’t care if people from that region of America say that word a lot, there’s only so much you can take before it starts to annoy you. The villain starts with potential but becomes a generic villain that can’t seem to take the hint that he should shut up for once with his overbearing exposition, the endings renders your experience and choices meaningless, two scenes from Episode 5 are completely useless and don’t add anything to the story besides what we already know from the trailers which, might I remind you, spoiled the message of the game in its last trailer (and don’t even get me started on the misdirection of Episode 4’s trailer) and one major element of the story was removed that really made the game suffer.
You’ve probably guessed this due to the title, but I am, indeed, talking about Nathan Prescott.
Nathan Prescott is, if you don’t know, a character that is considered to be the “Angsty Rich Kid.” Throughout Life Is Strange, he’s shown at least once or twice in each episode to be an angry teenager with obvious anger issues and his family having a strong influence on the town of Arcadia Bay. He is also shown to be, for the majority of the game, the main antagonist due to him threatening Chloe with a gun and even in one reality shooting her when she retaliated and pushed him back, causing his grip on the gun to fire and killing her. Of course, for people who are aware of the game, Max Caulfield, the main protagonist, using her new-found rewind powers to save Chloe’s life and revoke Nathan of being branded a murderer.
Later on, in the game, it is revealed that Nathan has been dealing with mental problems for an extended period of time with him losing his sense of reality and having a strange fixation on taking pictures of dead animals. It isn’t until much later in the game that its revealed that Nathan was involved in the drugging and kidnap of Kate Marsh who, because of the allegations, attempted to commit suicide which can be prevented through careful chosen words from the player. It is then revealed that Nathan wasn’t action alone and was in fact a simple pawn to the main antagonist, Mark Jefferson, who had been seen as the trustworthy photography teacher at Blackwell Academy. In Episode 5, as revealed through overdone exposition from Jefferson, we learn that Nathan was involved in the drugging and murder of Rachel Amber and that he was manipulated into working with Jefferson to supply him with the right drugs to take the girls and photograph them in very sick ways against their will.
So, from that description, you would think that Nathan would be just as important to the story as he was the one that started the events of the game by shooting Chloe in one reality and being involved with the main antagonist. But, through strange circumstances, that is not made out to the case.
Not only is Nathan hardly seen throughout the game, but he is also killed off in Episode 5 in the worst way anyone can kill of a character: simply killing them offscreen and announcing their death through overdone and cringy dialogue.
Not only was this surprising to me that Dontnod just decided to remove Nathan from the game completely at the last moment but it just becomes evidently clear that his absence hinders the game in many ways. His death also has no ultimate consequence. Add that to the useless scenes in Episode 5 and you have a game with potential but ruined by an unsatisfactory conclusion.
This isn’t even just about Nathan’s death, this is about Dontnod wanting you to feel sorry for him. Yeah, you read that correctly, Dontnod want the player to feel sorry for Nathan despite the fact that for the majority of the game he is angry and rude, revealed to be involved in Kate's attempted suicide or actual suicide, drugged Chloe and attempted to take pictures similar to Jefferson, attacked Max in the parking lot outside of the school by attempting to strangle her (I think, the animation makes it difficult to tell) and physically attacked Warren, one of Max’s friends when he tried to defend her and several accounts of selling drugs to students.
That’s at least six things I can list that Nathan has done to harm other people. Yes, I understand with mental illness that these actions can be connected to his disconnection from reality and that his father has been neglecting him when it comes to the love and support that he needs and the misuse of his medicine and drug use, but when you have all these things running through your mind its difficult to really mind a moral center with Nathan. Especially when Dontnod only used two scenes to try and level it out. But not only is this rare but you only find information that might lead you to feel sorry for him by your own actions. Yes, you have to find the information yourself in order for you to find a shred of info that might make you feel sympathy for him. But once again, considering all the terrible things he’s done, the player will obviously find it difficult to feel what Dontnod want them to feel. In my case, yes, I did feel sorry for him but that doesn’t mean others would feel the same. Even I thought watching and playing the game when seeing Nathan did I notice how far, and few sympathetic scenes are. Even watching other players made me realise how much they don’t care about him. And that shouldn’t be the case, considering how much Nathan means to the story.
Coming back to Nathan’s death, it surprised me how underused it was. The fact that it was revealed in long and boring dialogue just shows me how much Dontnod didn’t care. Which is also surprising because they themselves revealed that they had more fun writing for Nathan than any other character. So, when Nathan was killed off it just bewildered me. Why kill of a character that you know has the potential to be better? Or better yet, make changes in the story and drive the characters forward. Right after Nathan’s death, Max finds a way to escape by using the photographs established in episode 3 to travel back in time and make it so that him and Mark were arrested. But this changed when Max finds out that Chloe died again in this reality (side note, Chloe dying a lot in this game is a theme that’s revealed in Episode 5 to be the cause of the storm) and decides to go back in time to erase her change. This ends up with her returning to the dark room (the place she is held hostage) and through more dialogue is then saved by Chloe’s stepfather, David Madsen.
This is where we come to the Voicemail scene.
While Max is driving to the Two Whales Diner after discovering she can use the photo took of her to save Chloe after she was shot by Jefferson at the end of Episode 4, Max receives a voicemail on her voice that was made to her hours before she was kidnapped. The voicemail is revealed to be from Nathan who proceeds to say that he is sorry for what he has done and tries to warn her about Jefferson and that he is coming for him to kill him. The voicemail ends, and Max is shown to be saddened by what she heard and quietly continues her drive to the diner.
Now, on paper this scene may seem to work. But in the game, it is nothing more than a attempt to make the viewer feel sorry for Nathan. The scene doesn’t work either. Yes, for some I can see why this would work. At first, this did work for me. I was bailing my eyes out, knowing that Nathan was too late to save Max and that he met a horrible end by the hands of the person that he trusted. But the more I watched the scene, the more it angered me.
After this scene happens, Max never talks about Nathan again to anyone. Yes, she mentions to Chloe that Nathan is died but she shows no signs of caring and right after its forgotten about. The game expects you to feel sorry for someone who they don’t even attempt to make you care about. And yet I’m supposed to be Ok with this?
Think about it, what does Nathan’s dead ultimately do to the characters? How does it affect Max?
Short answer, it doesn’t.
So, Nathan is killed and instead of Max having a moment to dwell on this information, she casually moves on, forgetting about him. There is no mention of Nathan's death throughout Episode 5 and you might as well have written him out entirely and nothing would have been affected in the episode. And that shouldn’t be the case.
Once again, this is an example of Dontnod not having a single clue on what Nathan’s character meant to the story and what his actions meant to not only Max but to Chloe as well. Remember, it is destined that Chloe must die by Nathan’s hand. He is the one that must kill her, or the town will be destroyed by the storm.
But for some reason, the final decision to let Chloe die is only made by Chloe and Max. But what about Nathan?
Why shouldn’t Nathan be just as involved with the choice as Chloe and Max are? He shoots Chloe, accidentally yes but shoots her nonetheless. He should be just as involved with the choice to create more of a conflict between Chloe and Max. Max is the one that doesn’t want to do it, she doesn’t want Chloe to die whereas Chloe is practically begging Max to do it. Why not have a third wheel? Having Max say she doesn’t want to it makes the decision one sided since Max is meant to be the player. But at this point the player may not even know what they want to do. Having Nathan in there to have his take on the situation can make it more real to the player.
They’re not just killing Chloe, they’re turning someone into a murderer.
With that in mind, the choice becomes harder. Kill Chloe and ruin Nathan's life to save the life of innocent people, or let them die and keep Chloe alive and Nathan safe. But the justice that must be serves will not happen.
You can also improve on Nathan’s death as well. In either scenario with Nathan dying Max can save both him and Chloe. This could be the dwelling that I mentioned before where Max feels guilty for Nathan’s death and attempts to save him. You can even add in a few scenes with Nathan before his death. Have it so that he is in the darkroom with Jefferson and have it shown to the player what mental and physical abuse he went through when working with him. Having the events told the player removes the reality of the situation and just makes it underwhelming. Having Nathan in the room with Max makes the scene tenser as we get to see the anger Max is in when shown what Jefferson is capable off.
This also allow the player to talk to Nathan at his most vulnerable moment. Each time previously in the game Nathan talked to Max with hostility and it didn’t really add anything new to his character. But now, with him at the mercy of Jefferson, we can ask him questions and learn the truth from his mouth. The perspective then becomes broader and allows the player to be more invested in what’s going on. The play can even have the option to convince Nathan to help Max or leave him to Jefferson to be dealt with. Which ether way is chosen its guaranteed to have more choices available to the player instead if it being obvious that it will be erased later on when saving Chloe. Max’s outlook on Nathan will be different and it will carry over to when she changes the timeline again.
Having Nathan die can still be used in the game, but how it is executed is important. Have Nathan be torn between betraying Jefferson and helping Max. after all, the player has no clue how long Jefferson has manipulated Nathan mentally and physically. Have him struggle to decide from the right and wrong path and, depending on what the player says, convince him to help Max. Through this Nathan can be killed off while trying to protect Max or, if the player choices not to convince him, have him be killed by Jefferson when is usefulness wears off. If Nathan is killed by Jefferson when protecting Max, Max might be given the option to put her values in to question and shoot Jefferson. Maybe even have a moment where the player can decide whether or not to comfort Nathan in his last moments before dying. At least this way the player has been shown a different side to Nathan and shown the realty of what he went through. Whether or not the voicemail scene is kept in is up for debate as it might be seen as overkill or unneeded.
After Max saves both Chloe and Nathan, the three of them can make the decision to either have Chloe die or save the town. Have Max undecided and Nathan be the one to say that he won’t kill her. After all, Nathan never meant to kill Chloe in the first place. The two can argue over what is right and what is wrong, and the player can become more conflicted over what is the right choice.
In the end, the player must decide which side to take, Nathan’s or Chloe’s.
The theme of the game can still be kept in with Max learning that fate cannot be changed. Of course, learning where her powers came from would have to be addressed at some point, but the overall message can still be kept in the game. I would personally change the overall theme of the game but that’s another story for another time.
It’s also disappointing that the prequel doesn’t delve more into Nathan’s character and decides to focus more on Chloe and Rachel, even though we already know their relationship. Maybe if the prequel was a three-episode story that had each episode focus on one character. This being, Max, Chloe and Nathan. Since after all, these two were the main focus of the event with Nathan being the gun, Chloe being the victim and Max being the witness. Learning about them equally I think about have made the prequel more necessary. Of course, Episode 3 has yet to be released to conclude the story so, who knows? Maybe we will have a moment to talk to Nathan and learn more about him. But I won’t be holding my hopes up.
Overall, Nathan’s character was severely underused and I’m very disappointed in where it all ended for him. I wish that Dontnod has kept him and did more scenes with him to understand him better. But with what he have now, Life Is Strange is just a game I might find myself revising a few times a month. But I don’t see myself replaying it anytime soon.
I hope you enjoyed this obviously disjointed essay :D and I hope to see you all in the next one. If you have anything to say to improve my future work then don't hesitate to let me know!
See you later!