A musical miniseries with a surprising amount of heart
I wasn’t sure what to expect with We Are OFK. Based on the trailer, I thought it was going to be the usual fare we get with episodic, choice-based narratives (which I love). When I started playing, I was surprised to find that We Are OFK is less of a game and more of an animated miniseries with interactive elements, including music videos. It made a lot more sense that it was recommended to me to play on “whatever [my] preferred TV watching setup is.” We Are OFK is also considered a biopic by its creators, and while I’d more categorize it as a memoir, the point is that the project is a fictional telling of the forming of a real virtual band, which sounds more confusing than it is.
When I sat down to write this review, I thought a lot about whether to review it as a game or as more of that interactive series thing — it’s just in a sort of indistinguishable middle ground. I love that though, because it’s not something we see often in the games space at all, and I find it refreshing. That being said, I’m just going to be as honest as I possibly can, and critique the few interactive elements as I would any other narrative game. I have a lot to say. Let’s go.
We Are OFK follows a group of four friends in Los Angeles as they navigate work, family, relationships, and the difficult process of creating art. I love a good slice-of-life story, and this series delivered on that front. The main cast includes Itsumi, a spunky concert pianist/social media manager for a large gaming company; Carter, an eccentric, workaholic artist who likes to keep their story somewhat of a mystery; Luca, a bubbly singer/songwriter who struggles with self-doubt; and Jey, a fiery music producer with a no-nonsense outlook.
It’s worth noting that the main cast are all part of the LGBTQ+ community, but that never takes center stage as the defining characteristic of who they are. They are full, complete people first, and we see their queerness as a true expression of them, not preachy postulation for the sake of it. Even for a story based on real people, that can be a difficult balance to strike, so I’m excited to see such thoughtfully written examples of this community.
I can relate
Here’s the thing — I am the exact demographic for this game. I live in LA, I’m a writer, I love pop music, and I’m bi. If anyone was going to really relate to this game, it’s me. However, I think that the strength of the writing makes it so anyone can really enjoy playing/watching We Are OFK. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work in the games or music industries, this is one of the most realistic looks at that life you’re gonna get, for better or for worse.
Moreover, this might be a bit of a controversial take, but when it comes to narrative-centric games I care more about good writing than mechanics. Despite my bias, even I am willing to admit that We Are OFK is a bit shallow when it comes to its mechanics. If you’re looking for an interactive story that has incredibly chill, relaxing gameplay, as I often am, it’s close to perfect on that front. At that point, it just comes down to preferences.
The first hint that We Are OFK was more of a miniseries than game was the length of the episodes included under their titles, exactly like how you see it on a streaming platform. I get weird anxiety about not knowing how long it’s going to take me to play a game, so that’s actually a detail I’d love to see some more traditional games take on as well. When you pause, there’s also a progress bar that shows you exactly how much time there is left in the episode, again, like any typical VOD UI.
Can’t hype the writing enough
What shocked me the most was the quality of the writing. First off, I thought We Are OFK was going to be a run-of-the-mill, yet lovable, story of a band’s rise to fame. Instead, it’s way more focused on the characters, which was a bold choice, but one that I thought was perfect for the grounded story of interpersonal relationships that they’re trying to tell. Right away, we know who all of these characters are. They have distinct personalities, flaws, believable motivations, rich relationships with each other — I could go on. This makes sense considering they were all based on real people, but I have no way of knowing how much of the story and characters were actually pulled from their real-life counterparts. Either way, they’re the most realistically written characters I’ve seen in games in a long, long time.
The conversations always feel natural, like you can feel how well these characters know each other and how comfortable they are. You constantly see each member of the group’s values clashing with the others as well, perfectly emulating the real-life ebb and flow of modern relationships. They’re just doing their best in tough circumstances, and actively trying to be there for each other while also going for what they want in life. I walked away from the game not only rooting for these characters, but deeply understanding what makes these people tick.
I also have to break out to give extra kudos to the writing of Episode Four, titled Splits. I can’t give much away, but it was one of the most delicate, complex examinations of grief, trauma, and being there for your friends that I’ve seen in anything… ever. Most of the rest of the episodes were about on par, but there was something especially poignant and beautiful about the fourth episode — and the character it was focused on suddenly 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. But the character arcs and structure were so strong, and it didn’t happen all that often, so it absolutely was not a deal breaker for me. The other critique I have of the story is that I felt like things wrapped up a little too quickly, but again, it’s a small gripe in the face of some of the best character-focused writing I’ve seen in years.
Let’s talk interactivity
Like I said, the interactive elements weren’t super prevalent. The most common of them were dialogue choices either via text message or in regular conversation. This is standard fare — if you’ve played just about any narrative adventure, you know what you’re in for. The choices are pretty much always flavor text, but I don’t really mind it. We Are OFK never presents itself as a game where your choices matter, or much of a game at all for that matter. I for one happen to like flavor text, but while some people may not agree with me on that, it can still be fun to choose how your character reacts in any given situation for the sake of it.
You can also access a few text conversations on the main menu, which are fun little surprises to look at in between episodes. It’s a nice touch to get a glimpse into what the characters are doing when we’re not there.
Then there are the interactive music videos. There’s one per episode, usually placed to accent a strong narrative beat that occurred in the story. Now I don’t know a lot about music, but the EP is considered indie pop. I listen to a lot of CHVRCHES, and the music in We Are OFK reminded me a bit of their early stuff. From what I can guess, virtual bands like Gorillaz and K/DA were a big influence. Sorry if that doesn’t help you music people out there — it’s the best I got. OFK has a single out that’s featured in the game, though, so you can listen to it before you play if you want.
Anyway, back to the interactivity: similar to the dialogue choices, the interactive music videos are more about style than anything else. There aren’t any fail states, and for the most part they include clicking on pretty visuals to a beat. I thought these were a lot of fun because of how they went along with the songs, and how they played into the story at the same time.
We’re not reinventing the wheel here, but if you like little interactive musical vignettes with no stakes that are nice to look at, you’ll have a good time with it. I enjoyed every single song, too, which was a pleasant surprise. I guess if you’re going to make a whole game about making an EP, it’s a good thing there aren’t any weak links on the tracklist.
There are a couple more stylized interactive set pieces, and they were my favorite “gaming” moments of the whole thing. These were usually short and again, didn’t have any bearing on how the story played out, but it was fun to have some different styles mixed into the low-poly characters and painted backgrounds.
Critiques and final thoughts
As much as I enjoyed We Are OFK, I do have to disclose some jankiness that I encountered. Some of the music video bits were lacking in polish, and I would have liked to see those moments really be locked down considering they were the only parts that had more involved mechanics. Also, while the art style is purposefully minimal, the animations can be pretty stiff. You also get a lot of objects clipping through the characters, which only becomes more noticeable when you don’t have much else to pay attention to but them.
I had subtitles on the whole time as well, and I was pretty bummed that they didn’t show up during the music videos, which is when I needed them most. Strangely, there were moments in the narrative part of the game where subs would randomly fail to show up, too.
The way the interaction is incorporated kind of reminds me of Netflix’s Bandersnatch, in a way. Not because it’s similar to We Are OFK in any way, but it does make me think of how my friends and I made a night of sitting down, watching Bandersnatch, and arguing over each others’ choices. Obviously We Are OFK has basically the opposite tone, but the idea is the same in principle. It feels like it would be a blast to watch with friends, casually pass around the controller, and have a chill night in. I know if my roommate weren’t out of town this week, it would have been something they would have loved to sit down and watch/play with me.
We Are OFK is absolutely not for everyone. I feel like a lot of people are going to write it off before even giving it a try, which I think is such a shame because for every bit of self-indulgent and downright silly it can be at times, it is also every bit compelling, inspiring, and just goddamn well-written.
So much of We Are OFK’s identity is its style, but I have to say that it has the substance to back up its hyper-stylized vision. When you look at it less as a game and more as an interactive expression of the creative process behind an EP, it really is a lot of fun — you just have to be willing to meet it there, and look at it for what it is rather than what you think it should be.
Does it benefit from being interactive when it comes to its storytelling? That’s kind of up to you. If you allow yourself to become immersed in it, using the interactive bits to express how you feel as an observer of this story, that’s when you’re going to get the most out of this experience.
It’s my job to be honest here, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m really glad We Are OFK exists, and I think you should absolutely play it if you’re looking for a good narrative game. It’s not a great representation of in-depth gameplay, but it’s just a well-told story, plain and simple. I’ve heard some people say that the series looks like nothing more than an ad for OFK’s EP, and if that’s the case, it’s the best ad I’ve ever seen in my life. Even if it feels out of your comfort zone, it can say with absolute certainty that We Are OFK is a fun time… if you lean into everything that it is.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]