Generally put on a pedestal and welcomed by all, new IPs are what keep the gaming industry fresh. While other publishers create sequel after sequel, it's those new experiences — particularly in the indie space — that start to live longer in the memory. Night School Studio managed something memorable with 2016's Oxenfree, but what happens when your chance to do it again falls on deafer ears? Following a tamer response to Afterparty, the developer has returned to what it knows best. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is a relatively safe sequel that does little to veer off the familiar path of the first game, but with a new cast and location, it's a story fans will be gripped by.
Gone are the party-seeking teens of Edwards Island, replaced by the more mature Riley and Jacob in a small coastal town named Camena. You play the whole game controlling the former while the latter joins you on a job to plant transmitters that analyse strange radio frequency signals. When a portal opens up in the night sky, though, the task takes on a whole new supernatural twist.
Since gameplay is somewhat on the light side, it's this narrative along with the two main characters and supporting cast that do much of the heavy lifting. Through dialogue options and some of your actions, you'll be able to shape the story to your liking, creating friendships and saving lives along the way. Your choices lead to a number of different endings, and with a few different faces to charm, replay value is fairly high.
The walkie-talkie and the radio return from the first game, allowing you to expand your horizons a little and interact with characters you wouldn't normally encounter. This opens Oxenfree II: Lost Signals up a little further with small side quests to complete and additional dialogue to uncover that delves into the history of the island and what's happening elsewhere. Back in the real world, there are also collectible letters to find that explore the history of Camena.
All these optional stories come together to form an engaging narrative around the core plot. Lasting in the region of seven hours, those smaller details surrounding the cast and supernatural entities at play are what provide reason for extra playthroughs. It's not quite a standalone experience — veterans of the first game will definitely get more out of the experience with easter eggs and callbacks — but both newcomers and experienced ghost hunters are in for a treat.
What links these story beats together is serviceable hiking and basic puzzles. You can free roam to a degree, taking in the scenes and sights of Camena, but there's always a main objective you're supposed to be working towards. It's not particularly exciting on its own, but Riley and Jacob will keep you engaged through consistent conversations that explore their personality, personal life, and hobbies. Through the dialogue choices, you can make Riley as open or closed off to chit-chat as you like.
The brain teasers are few and far between, so most of your interaction relies on simply pushing the left thumbstick back and forth. When they do come into play, though, most make good use of the walkie-talkie and radio. You'll sometimes need to tune in to specific frequencies to crack the code or make use of tears in time to travel back to a bygone era. However, there is one type of puzzle that proved particularly annoying. Tasked with manipulating radio waves into a shape, the game never explains what you need to do and so it can become frustrating as you aimlessly turn dials in the hope something will work.
Besides walking, talking, and the occasional puzzle, though, there's not a whole lot else to Oxenfree II: Lost Signals. Much like the first game, this is an experience very much focused on the core narrative and the wider stories surrounding Riley, Jacob, and the town of Camena. Luckily, there's enough there to make the lighter stretches of gameplay more than worth it.
Actually, a significant upgrade the sequel makes over the PS4 original is the dialogue system. In the first game, it was all too easy for multiple conversations to start overlapping one another, with different characters talking to the protagonist across the radio and in real life at the same time. You essentially had to micro-manage speech, but this isn't an issue in Lost Signals. Discussions flow much more naturally and seamlessly carry over between load screens, with a handy icon situated next to a location name on-screen.
The only problem is those load screens, of which there are a lot. You'll need to wait roughly five to seven seconds between every single area for the game to load. It's not a particularly long time to wait, but these load screens are frequent enough that they do become a bit of an annoyance. They give you just enough time to break immersion and hand Twitter the chance to distract you with a quick scroll — if you've not hit the rate limit yet.
Another enhancement Lost Signals brings is vastly upgraded visuals and a great soundtrack that could have been ripped straight out of Stranger Things. The latter makes sense as Night School Studio is now under the Netflix brand, with creepy and mysterious electronic music adding to the tension of Oxenfree II's supernatural themes. Complemented by the static of old-school TV sets, the visuals work to mess with your brain and keep you on edge. All while looking great across every character and environment, it's a graphical palette that represents a huge leap over the first game.
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is a fairly safe sequel that allows its narrative and new cast of characters to do the heavy lifting. Through constant chit-chat between Riley and Jacob, gameplay remains enjoyable enough to keep you engaged, allowing the story to always be at the forefront of your mind. A few frustrating puzzles and frequent load screens aside, Night School Studio has put together a worthy follow-up that fans and newcomers can equally enjoy.