Developer Dontnod is not afraid of difficult topics, even if it leads to missteps. On the one hand, this is admirable; The studio has helped advance the medium in its stories and examine challenging topics such as mental health and racism. On the other hand, this is new territory and there is still a lot to learn. Tell me why this dilemma occurs; Tyler is breaking new ground as a transgender protagonist, but Dontnod also tackles topics such as grief, panic disorder and the importance of therapy. With all these steps, this game still stumbles across some depictions and plot holes.
Tell me why this is about twins Tyler and Alyson being reunited after a decade of separation. Though happy to be reunited, the occasion hits a somber note as they prepare to sell their late mother’s house – which also means facing the tragic event that caused their death and presenting them to them all these years apart. The bond between Tyler and Alyson is powerful and genuine, and I’ve enjoyed every scene between the two, whether it was just jokes or their troubled past. Dontnod does a great job uncovering memories that show how special their relationship is as they only allowed each other to grow up.
While Tyler and Alyson’s exchanges make up the experience, the same cannot be said for the entire story. There’s a lot of tension and tension in trying to figure out what really happened to her mom, but Tell Me Why moves the three-part arc at an overly accelerated pace. Relationships feel rushed, especially when it comes to romance and forgiveness.
None of this is more obvious than trying to figure out what kind of person the mother of the twins really was. She feels more like an instrument of action than a person due to unexplained details, and even in the end, you never really get satisfying answers. I’m not going to spoil anything, but her story is full of plot holes, especially when it comes to her mental wellbeing, and it’s a shame Dontnod didn’t treat this aspect better given its sensitive nature. That being said, the writers are doing a much better job with Tyler; The story touches him as a transgender, but it’s not the focus. The story strikes a good balance between recognizing that part of him, but not overshadowing or defining the journey of facing his mother’s death.
On the road to acceptance, explore Tyler and Alyson’s small hometown in Alaska, making decisions as they recall memories from their past. Dontnod takes the twins’ intense bond one step further by giving them the special ability to hear each other’s thoughts and look at their memories from the past together. In many ways, you haunt their memories as they arise, which sometimes leads to finding a necessary item or new clue. I liked this aspect because it shows how two people can remember the same event differently and it goes well with the general theme of thinking about how the past has shaped you as a person.
However, there is a part of Alyson’s and Tyler’s special abilities that didn’t work for me. At certain moments in the story, the twins remember events slightly differently, such as when a character appeared angry or sad during a heated exchange. You then choose whose memory you want to believe in. It feels like you’re being forced to invalidate the other character’s feelings or just choose the version you want to believe in rather than find the truth. It’s not about dealing with the events, and I found the mechanic more frustrating than worthwhile, as if he unnecessarily pit the characters against each other.
The choices in Tell Me Why feel more subtle and less impactful than Dontnod’s earlier work, and I felt like I didn’t have as much influence on the story or the events. Your choices affect Alyson and Tyler’s relationship and how they choose to move on with their lives, but the differences are minor.
If you don’t make dialogue choices, you’ll come across minor puzzles and mini-games that are also very good or bad. I loved ice fishing and solving the puzzles, but investigating graves to find a person or searching archives by remembering filenames is more of a chore than fun. A cleverly implemented mechanic helps Alyson get on track during a panic attack by looking at an app that you tap to regulate her breathing.
Tell me why the question she asks in her title isn’t exactly answered, and maybe that’s the point. Still, I got away with it with mixed feelings in the end. I really enjoyed getting to know Tyler and Alyson, and felt the tension and intrigue of solving this bigger mystery, but I also disappointed. This was only further illustrated in the final selection which is absolutely terrible in terms of portrayal and rationalization by the characters in the following scenes. It doesn’t end on a strong note, and what’s in between is full of ups and downs. The highs make it worth playing but just expect to shake your head when those lows are hit.