After so much time watching Itsumi struggle with finding her place in Los Angeles, I feel for her. Losing a girlfriend, leaving home behind, and throwing yourself back into a hobby you once were a prodigy at can be a lot to handle.
Sound engineer Jey can empathize, having struggled with the move from New York to LA. Itsumi chimes in saying how leaving her hometown of Torrance has been rough. This is when We Are OFK first lost me. Torrance is in Los Angeles County, not a 45-minute drive from Itsumi’s new home of Alhambra. Even with notoriously bad traffic, that’s close enough to go home every day if you wanted!
What may seem like a small detail encapsulates my occasionally stunning and often baffling experience with this musical visual novel. Developer Team OFK bills it as a musical biopic and interactive e.p. in five hour-long episodes. The first two drop on August 18 with weekly releases to follow. While there is a lot of heart and meaning in the characters, We Are OFK loses itself in the details and sells out its characters in hopes of delivering a musical spectacle that never reaches its full potential.
Once upon a time in Hollywood
You assume the roles of each band member (and their sound engineer Jey), and bob your head along to the beat of a visual novel that blurs the lines between fiction and reality in a curious fashion. The video game We Are OFK is a fictionalized origin story for the virtual band OFK who are releasing actual music on streaming services thanks to a record deal with Sony Music Masterworks.
Still with me?
As is typical of struggling artists' stories, every character struggles to balance life duties with creative passions. Itsumi works in video game PR, Luca is an undervalued writer, and Carter is a talented yet depressed coder. Together, they are an indie pop band that seeks to create an “authentic sound” through Luca’s songwriting. The songs that make up OFK’s debut album range from pop bangers filled with autotune and blaring beats to smaller, more personal tracks that put Luca’s unfiltered voice front and center.
Play from the heart
Propelled by a gorgeous pastel pop aesthetic with style to spare, OFK’s origin story contains surprising depth for what could have been a formulaic meteoric rise to fame. There are genuine moments of connection in vulnerable scenes that capture the acute misery that comes with identifying as an artist even when you aren’t actively creating art.
As someone who gets paid by a company in real-world dollars to string together thoughts into coherent sentences about video games, justifying my profession to the people in my life can sometimes feel exasperating.
I cringed and hid inside my sweater when Jey’s parents immediately asked how much money she was making after getting a promotion to sound engineer for a popular DJ. Having dealt with a family who struggles to conceive of what I do outside of its monetary value, I felt Jey’s pain. It’s not that her parents don’t love her, it’s just that they cannot fathom where her passions lie — or how much they mean to her identity.
Throughout the story, you also text with various friends. Just like in real life, group chats are often incredibly stupid, but that what makes them so believable. You’re on the outside of the band’s inside jokes as they refer to each other by cheesy nicknames and send way too many frog pictures. But this largely works because it is so deliberately silly. Have you ever re-read YOUR group chats? It’s all embarrassing nonsense.
Yet another strength of We Are OFK’s characters is the choice to be unapologetically queer. Every single main character in the game is part of the LGBTQ+ community, and this is weaved naturally throughout the narrative. Carter, who often serves as the band’s support system and heart, is an amazing example of nonbinary representation that is rare in media, let alone video games.
Out of tune
The main selling point of We Are OFK is, of course, the music. Within each of the five chapters, players direct a music video: one for each of the five tracks on OFK’s debut album. A departure from the other 90 percent of the game, these music video sections give the player a little bit of agency.
It’s just a shame that from a design standpoint, they’re a total mess. To preserve some kind of artistic vision, there are no prompts or guidance about how to move characters in music videos. This leads to an awkward sequences as the player desperately fumbles through options and mechanics that can make or break this band’s career. The disappointing truth is that despite assuming the role of “director,” very little is within your control.
Instead of an exciting highlight of an otherwise generic game experience, each music video section devolves into an unnecessary moment of stress. I found it easier to sit back and let the music videos play without my input and focus on the music.
The greatest challenge in making a story about artists making good art is that the storytellers need to also deliver on “good art.”
We Are OFK continuously talks up the band, describing their unique talents and voices. But once the first song plays, it becomes clear that the music is a bland attempt to recreate the sound of trendy indie pop bands you might only recognize from a random TikTok video. The worries Luca voices in-game about not being good enough are accurate, which then creates a dissonance between what the game tells you about the band’s abilities and what exists in the music itself.
The focus on the band at large in later chapters also takes away from the more personal stories that make We Are OFK great. As a portrait of individuals struggling to reconcile their corporate and artistic identities, We Are OFK succeeds in the strength of its writing. But as a vehicle for OFK the band, this undercooked visual novel can’t quite strike the right chord.
The first two We Are OFK episodes will be released for PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC on August 18, 2022. Inverse reviewed the game on PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.