Tell Me Why is a story about two siblings working through trauma, all while uncovering the truth about their mother. Created by Dontnod Entertainment, who gave us Life is Strange (2015), it offers another episodic narrative. In Delos Crossing, Tyler and Alyson Ronan must work together with their combined power of sifting through their old memories. Displayed as visions, the Ronans have to decide which of their memories is the closest to the truth. Tell Me Why is a convoluted story that is not afraid to tell a unique narrative with strong representation.
Tell Me Why is set in the fictional town of Delos Crossing, where Mary-Ann Ronan, the mother, attempts to kill Tyler for cutting his hair. Out of self-defense, one of the twins kills Mary-Ann. Ten years of separation reunites twins in Delos Crossing. They both decide to get rid of their childhood home and the memories that literally haunt the property. The twins discover their telepathy and the ability to share visual memories of their childhood. Alyson finds a book that opens up whether their mother disapproved of Tyler’s identity as a transgender man. As they sift through their memories, it is up to you to decide which one is right.
The Tale of Two Siblings
The story begins with an act of self-defense on Tyler’s part, resulting in the death of his mother, Mary-Ann. Separated for ten years, Tyler and Alyson come together in what seems like an awkward reunion. Early on, you can see their struggle as they try to reconnect on their way back to their hometown. Throughout the game, Tyler and Alyson’s decisions have the ability to weaken or strengthen their already strained bond. The story is from the perspective of the two siblings, with the opportunity to play as both.
Tyler and Alyson Ronan
The well-written aspect of this game is the twin’s relationship, but it lacks in some areas. There are times when playing; it feels as if the story was more about Tyler than Alyson. This may be intentional as Alyson grew up in Delos Crossing while Tyler was in a residential center. Tyler has been away from the people in town, and we have never been apart of the community. We are experiencing Tyler’s reintroduction to the community disguised as our own introduction.
However, it feels as though Alyson is a side character, and we don’t get to see her outside of Tyler’s angle. The game punishes you when you side against Tyler when considering Alyson’s feelings. Despite that, though, the game does have stakes in developing Tyler’s and Alyson’s relationship. Ten years apart created a rift between the two, and it is important to choose which option strengthens their bond.
The People of Delos Crossing
The characters in the story can feel dull, significant figures like Alyson’s adopted father, Chief Eddy Brown. The ability to “remember” certain events allows you to confront others in the small town to gather details about Mary-Ann. When it comes to remembering events involving certain people, Tyler and Alyson remember them differently. This forces you to think about which memories you choose are based on Tyler’s distance or Alyson’s friendliness.
Michael Abila and Chief Edward Brown
The game’s LGBT representation continues with Michael Abila, one of the characters who are a part of the Alaskan Tlingit community. Michael is not explored as much, but he becomes a friend that Tyler and Alyson can depend on. Another Tlingit community member is Alyson’s guardian and adopted uncle, Eddy Brown, chief of the local police. Tyler has resented him for years after being arrested the night Mary-Ann died. Having kept Alyson and Tyler separated during those ten years per court recommendation.
Thomas and Tessa Vecchi
Tom and Tessa Vecchi are two people who have known the twins since they were young. Tessa Vecchi, a religious restaurant owner, attempted to confront Mary-Ann about Tyler’s identity in the past. She admits to trying to convince Mary-Ann to send him to a conversion camp but says that Mary-Ann was supportive of Tyler. Tom Vecchi married Tessa Vecchi and is the owner of the general store where Alyson and Michael work. His character is more neutral at the beginning of the game but becomes more uncharacteristically devious towards the end.
The twins’ complex relationship with their mother is more difficult to understand when they remember things about her. Mary-Ann’s character is the most complex in the game. You see her in the perspective of the twins, but they are start questioning who she is. The people in town describe her as unfit to be a parent. The game does not explore Mary-Ann’s mental health crisis, and you are left asking what happened to her. The beginning of the game is confusing when Tyler and Alyson seem to hate their mother. They spend most of the game defending her and berating everyone else for not doing enough to help their family.
This was probably one of the few frustrating parts of the story. Alyson and Tyler’s endearing praises are confusing after speculating that Mary-Ann may have been emotionally abusive to them. They refer to her as “Mary-Ann” instead of “mom” but are critical of others in town for not doing more to help her. In fact, Alyson berates her father figure for calling CPS because he was concerned for their safety. Perhaps it is the game’s way of trying to bring light to the complications of familial relationships after traumatic events. It was hard to follow whether or not you were supposed to be forgiving of Mary-Ann.
How “Tell Me Why” Feels and Looks
Delos Crossing and the mountains surrounding it have incredible amounts of realism. There is a lot of attention to detail inside the buildings. Inside the Ronan household, there’s noticeable dust and dilapidation on countertops and walls. The Ronan family was artistic, and you see that in the designs in the separate rooms. Tyler and Alyson’s play areas are specifically decorated to fit their personalities. The same can be said for Chief Brown’s house, where Alyson’s been living. The layout and small details in Alyson’s room show her interests. The way her possessions are scattered around in a “lived-in” sort of fashion is a nice touch.
However, many of the graphics in the game appeared glitchy or non-existent. When faced with an emotional scene, the characters lacked the emotion that their voices inflicted. The animation for their mouths didn’t match at times and hardly moved. This was sometimes distracting when playing it the first time around. By chapter 2 and 3, the graphics decreased tremendously. The clothes would clip more, and it looked as if no one ever made eye contact. Sometimes things would look a bit “muddy” as you got closer to them. There was good and bad graphics, but most of the worst looking graphics were during dialogue scenes.
Is “Tell Me Why” Fun?
If you are looking for something action-packed, then Tell Me Why would not be for you. The gameplay is mellow, with a focus on the story. The direction of the game was hard to follow and would be slow at times. There are times when it is hard to find a memory you need to trigger. Although Tyler and Alyson sometimes walk over to the area where you need to trigger a memory. Even with that, sometimes you need to be right on top of the spot to trigger the memory. Speaking of walking, the controls are a bit “wonky.” It feels weird to walk around sometimes. You may even find yourself wandering a bit, not sure of what to do next.
The puzzles were some of the most enjoyable parts, but some puzzles can be difficult to solve. There are puzzles at the end of the game in Mary-Ann’s barn that are the key to answering the twins’ questions. However, those can take time, so you lose interest in the puzzles’ stories. Speaking of losing interest, Tell Me Why is mostly made of long cutscenes. It is not very interactive and makes it hard to replay the game again for a different ending. If you do end up playing again, you do have the ability to skip those cutscenes. However, when skipping cutscenes, you may find yourself skipping over new scenes.
The decision-making in Tell Me Why is not too important as there are only some options that change the game’s course. That being said, the game is most decision-based, but there additional mechanics that are thrown in that don’t make sense. There is a scene in the general store with Michael and Tyler, and you play a game where you have to throw toys at each other. The aiming system of that scene feels unnatural, and we don’t see anything else like it throughout the rest of the game.
For the most part, this game was slightly enjoyable, but the end leaves you wanting more. Anticlimactic, with everything Tyler and Alyson have been through, you expect more emotions regardless of the ending. The story, in general, struggled to stay linear and veered in weird directions. There was a supernatural element to the game that was attempted but ultimately forgotten.
The game’s inclusion of a trans character is the representation that the gaming community needs. However, it feels like more could have done discussing LGBT discrimination in rural towns or explored Tyler’s own thoughts on his identity. There is not much dialogue on Tyler’s thoughts or his experience at the residential center, Fireweed. Alyson’s character development was lacking, and you are left, not knowing much about her.
Overall, the game kept you invested long enough to play through all three chapters, but it would have been nice to see more added to the individual characters with a story that didn’t feel all over the place.