Video games are a malleable medium. Some games are about conquering a challenge, full of inputs and interactivity, with a near limitless number of approaches for how to complete a challenge. Others still strip interactivity back to such a degree that they’re merely paying lip-service to the idea of being a video game, opting to focus instead on emotions or telling an evocative story above all else. We Are OFK firmly falls under the latter, telling the formative story of a fictional band nonetheless making real music.
We Are OFK offers a peek at the lives of a handful of folks trying to make the most of things in the heart of Los Angeles. There’s Itsumi, a pianist-for-hire; Luca, a game developer with a passion for singing; Carter, a technological wizard with an electronic pet, Debug; and Jey, a music producer with an intimidating personality.
Coming from a small, talented team, We Are OFK is a bizarre experiment. Telling a story episodically is nothing new, but this title approaches things differently enough that if you come in expecting a Telltale-style title, you might walk away disappointed. We Are OFK shares more similarities with a television show than a game in a lot of ways. Indeed, the episodes even include runtimes. Not an approximation, or some coy ballpark estimate, but a hard number, down to the minute, just like an episode of a TV show. The episodes range from 52 minutes, all the way up to 84 minutes with the season finale.
The writing feels quite similar in both structure and pacing to a television series, too, but most importantly, it hits the high mark you’d expect out of a good show in quality. Most of the conversations are superbly written, deftly mixing mundanity with severity, providing a believability that really sells the world. Many conversations centre on food, alcohol, sex, relationships, and did we mention food?
The voice work definitely helps sell this, as the performances are phenomenal across the board. This high bar in quality helps sell some of the more sensitive subjects the game broaches: death, depression, and perhaps most interestingly, work-life balance. This includes an unexpected discussion on video game crunch, a generally touchy subject that nonetheless impacts seemingly every sector of the industry. The scene in question even explicitly mentions the Games and Online Harassment Hotline, a real organisation. While crunch and burnout aren’t focal points of the story, the fact they are present at all is very interesting.
Each character offers a defined personality with wants, needs, motivations, and quirks that extend well beyond their role in the band. They have lives that exist and move even when the camera isn’t watching. Their lives evolve and change between episodes, sometimes even between scenes, though not everything is convincingly conveyed to you. On some occasions, this will be welcome in that it helps to add layers to the characters that sit beneath the surface, unknown to you, as would be the case with any real person. But at other times, you will feel out of sorts with the story. The game does have a tendency to throw a lot of names at you, and sometimes, it’s unclear whether or not the game expects you to know who these people are already, or if you should be just finding out about them. This problem increases as the episodes go on.
In general, the pacing loosens up as the series runs its course. Characters have more time for self-reflection, ruminating on both their personal lives and their standing with the band, but at the cost of solid pacing. The last few episodes really feel their runtimes, and scenes sag with more regularity. Inversely, the ending actually feels rushed, harming the emotional weight of what transpires. The path to arrive at this moment is satisfying enough on its own that the finale missing the mark is palatable, but it is disappointing.
Visually, the title is a treat. Between a nicely stylised look and incredible use of colour, the game brilliantly sells the Los Angeles setting. The title is every bit as vibrant as the personalities of the characters that inhabit it, creating a visually arresting experience from beginning to end. Between a smart usage of pastels and contrast to make things pop, there’s barely a scene in the whole series without something of real interest to look at. Which is good, because looking is the predominant way you interact with We Are OFK.
Gameplay – when it shows up – usually feels like an afterthought. The vast majority of your interaction with the title will be choosing dialogue options. The game does smartly borrow a dialogue idea from Kentucky Route Zero, where the dialogue you don’t pick still helps to inform the personality of a given character. Whether an inner monologue, a conversation, or a text chat, you’ll rarely participate in anything outside the purview of conversation.
It feels like a missed opportunity, too, considering the game focuses on music. There are a multitude of moments that would have lent themselves to rhythm gameplay brilliantly, but opt to sit you on the sidelines, merely watching. The interactive music videos that close out each episode are a little more involved, but the gameplay that shows up here is usually just something to fill the time while the music plays. They offer nothing of real consequence and rarely amount to more than walking.
On the bright side, the songs from the in-game band that close out each episode are fantastic. There’s not a dud among them, and each is better than the last. Both the songs by OFK, and the traditional score for the game are phenomenal, and real highlights of the overall package.
We Are OFK is an incredibly well-written game that stretches the boundaries of the medium. There's not a lot of traditional gameplay, but the characters are so well-realised and the writing so strong that even though there’s not much for you to do during each of the episodes, the act of being there and listening remains highly engaging. Between the strong art and soundtrack, there’s a lot to like, even if there’s not a lot to play.