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We Are OFK (PS5)

By Lee Mehr 22nd Sep 2022 | 2,091 views 

We Are OFK's glitz and glamour can only do so much for a game so insecure about its format and inauthentic in its intent.

From examples like additional Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker scenes in Fornite to an adaptation of a chip-tune soundtrack in Spectra, trans-media experiments have gradually become more of a commonality in gaming.   We Are OFK is quite similar to that latter example: an origin story about a 'real' virtual band adapted into a game.  To put that into perspective, imagine if Gorillaz crafted a narrative adventure before their first album.  In the modern milieu of superhero and movie adaptations galore, this tangible difference sets it apart from the pack.  It's just a shame how often the game's out of tune.

Still, there's always promise when starting a new band; the raw passion to break away from your 9-to-5 for something more is always tantalizing.  The first episode centers on Itsumi Saito, game dev social media guru by day and stellar pianist by night.  OFK's lyrics and voice, Luca, is also a writer at the same developer.  Shortly thereafter, prominent VFX artist Carter and producer Jey (who was also one of Luca's music preceptors) join in.  If I splashed the words "modern-day musical group spawning from San Francisco," you've likely hit a bullseye on just about every expected character trait you can think of – aside from gushing about Pocky.  Since you’re navigating each of these characters, your engagement with their personalities will influence whether this is worth a watch.

Notice the emphasis on watch.  Even when selecting an emblem for your Netflix-esque profile or the UI layout when pausing the video, the inspirations are eminently clear.  Hell, paying full price at release didn't mean you could binge the entire five-episode season either; only the first two were available at launch and then a subsequent episode was released each week.  It's an odd fusion between TV show schedule and visual novel. 

An unhealthy amount of time will be spent on a character's phone and navigating various dialogue/text choices.  Virtually every option is just a different flavor.  There's more intrigue in seeing a character’s internal thoughts become dissimulated when texting versus butterfly-effect ramifications.  That view into a character's mindset will oftentimes be bookended by the button at the bottom of the phone showing their reflexive mood; something as simple as hitting 'ignore' after a tense bout perfectly fits that scenario. 

At a distance, I can... understand the appeal of inundating players in texts.  The duality between cell phones and angsty 20-somethings works in this context.  But there comes a point where the barrage gets under your skin; plus, the secondary game mechanics feel so artificial and lifeless.  Since each episode also premieres an OFK music video, it’s also complimented by little gameplay doodads: a runner segment, a short Breakout-inspired level, and so on.  Even though a couple of examples complement the song's theme, they're so undercooked as to feel like useless speed bumps.

Perhaps this passive activity wouldn't feel unrewarding if the context were more engaging.  Even by my expectations of Gen Z types navigating modern-day employment and relationship chaos, OFK's roster and scenarios often feel artificial.  The closest example that comes to mind is Netflix's Dear White People: carrying some conversations forward by relying on #soquirky references, emojis, & phrases that seem like Arcana to the usual layman; conversely, the Average Joe might feel uncomfortable with Luca & Itsu treating Sophie's Choice as a recurring in-joke. 

Again, at a distance, I get how the fusillade of phone notifications and chaotic responses reflects our world today.  You could internalize these contemporary conversations, how it segues between phone and real-life chat, and perhaps appreciate the authentic distractions.  On rare occasions, it’s done in interesting ways.  One episode has a moment of important news broken via group chat, which then ignites a text-frenzy between Jey and Luca during a concert.  There's also one episode with noticeably less phone activity than the rest, which in turn makes you feel less distracted.

Those nice ideas are still fleeting compared to the rest.  The moment Jey's approached by a Billboard-topping artist, you can map out each beat with near-certainty: the professional and relational fallout of choosing one band over the other.  It's more than just predictable plot points too.  Even the idiosyncrasies of the band feel manufactured.  The mixture of "profound" moments to punctuate the breezier tone, their sense of self-absorption (except for Carter), and other annoyances ultimately made me less interested in them over time. 

Artifice can't help but creep into We Are OFK's very premise too.  It's ironic how one of its core topics – criticizing commercialized art – runs counter to this game’s inevitable result.  Most of OFK's EP is rather vacuous dance music and doesn't always match the mood for its respective episode.  Their best, Fool's Gold, is the best combo of story context, visuals, and music, while others sound tonally mismatched with what's occurring in-game.  But hey!  Where else can we fit this catchy tune but here?  Even its bluster about an indie band climbing the uphill battle of the music industry is undercut by a story essentially highlighting their beneficial connections.

Even when the story, gameplay, nor music really land, as least OFK's brighter pastels maintain your attention.  If nothing else, at least it's avoiding the popular "Cal Arts" style that other animation studios churn out today.  Beyond just looking pleasant, the framing in many scenes looks great because it's constantly keeping your character's phone in mind.  You can sense its importance whenever they grab the phone and it takes up one-third of the screen.  Running on Unity Engine still presents some technical drawbacks, especially with animating movement and odd glitches, but they're only minor distractions from its art direction.

When you get past its pretty superficial looks and the context surrounding it, We Are OFK is a rather basic adventure that almost feels dragged into this medium.  Its hook of launching a virtual band through a fictionalized documentary has sparse moments of inspiration, but not enough to justify the price point ($20), nor the time spent (~6 hours).  There are better stories of artistic aspiration and young-adult dramas out there; moreover, there are better games that fuse interactivity and music as well.  The vast majority of which also avoid this weird commercialized angle. 

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of We Are OFK for the PS5

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