Wednesday, May 22, 2024

We Are OFK Review – An emotional and celebratory masterpiece of queerness

Burned out, miserable, stuck in jobs that don’t appreciate us, and breaking ourselves inside and out to fit inside the expectations of those before us. If that sounds far too close to home, then buckle up, because We Are OFK isn’t afraid to make you sit down and review your life with a knife to your throat thanks to a cleverly written one-liner, or a side-glance between characters.

We Are OFK describes itself as a music biopic and an interactive EP series that takes place over 5 episodes. Each episode follows four different characters as they fight to not only create the music and art that speaks to them, but survive – all while living in the City of Angels, Los Angeles.

The four characters we follow are Itsu (Ally Maki), Jey (Fiona Rene), Luca (Teddy Dief), and Carter (Syhaya Aviel). Itsu and Luca both work as game developers, with Itsu as the long-suffering social media person who has to corral everyone into doing their goddamn jobs, and Luca as a narrative designer/games writer who finds that the passion of songwriting has been out of his reach since joining the company. Then there’s Carter, VFX and visuals artist who compartmentalizes their grief by throwing themself into their work. All three’s lives change, particularly Luca and Itsu’s, when they meet Jey Zheng, a music producer and Luca’s TA in college, who knows talent when she sees it. Jey is a force to be reckoned, but feels pressured by her parents and the male-dominated music industry to assimilate in order to survive.

We Are OFK has been on my radar since the very first announcement of the game, and it renewed my interest when the virtual band performed at The Game Awards in 2020. Mostly I was curious, and a tad confused: was OFK the band real in the same way that places like Japan have 2.5D idols and musical bands? Was this a weird parasocial experiment that would be sent out via the game in order to test the waters and see what the consensus was? Because of this level of confusion on my part, I went into We Are OFK with some heavy skepticism on what this game was, rather than what it was trying to sell to me as being. I was certain I’d walk away disappointed.

We Are OFK review

I am so glad We Are OFK blew every expectation I had out of the water. Instead of an experience that felt inauthentic and patronizing, I was privy to an entirely too real experience of what it’s really like to want to create, all while being stifled by the capitalistic motions we go through each and every day to survive. All in order to keep the lights on, to keep friends and family safe, to keep our sanity, to keep us barely there as we push from A to B in hope that one day we’ll get to Z and rest. It’s these moments of disparity that the characters face that, as someone who grew up poor, stick to me as I played. One of the first things we see is Itsu trying to practice piano on her keyboard, only for her power to go out, forcing her to move from the privacy and safety of her home. Then there’s Luca and Carter who both run into money problems, and Jey’s outlook on life and what money can do to help further it. Money is not nothing, and We Are OFK doesn’t try to pretend that it is.

Often when you’re burned out to the extreme, you feel powerless and watch as hours upon hours tick, tock away. Monday to Friday is a concept that feels like weeks, months, years one moment, and then seconds the next. Perfect then that We Are OFK gives you very little say in what comes next in Itsu, Carter, Luca and Jey’s lives, especially in the more sorrowful scenes. While players are given the option to say, text and think different things, you’re never given a choice which ‘matters’ in the same way it might in an RPG. In fact, the interactive aspects of the game are minimal, with the music video mini-games in each episode being the only thing that players really have the chance to mould into whatever they want, and even then that’s limited. This limitation from We Are OFK works on a symbolic level – who hasn’t felt powerless against whatever life throws at you? – but I’m not convinced it lives up to its own description of being an interactive narrative game.

We Are OFK is keen to shed light on a lot of different aspects of city-living, and it does so while following a group of very queer individuals in their mid 20s to perhaps early 30s – which means their gay humour and mannerisms instantly felt familiar to me. This focus on a queer group of friends meant I could easily imagine myself among them. So, with each setback they faced, and with each heartbreaking layer that was revealed, I found myself feeling affected too, a desire to protect and help them succeed rising in my chest, because that’s just what the LGBTQ+ community is about – supporting and celebrating one another.

We Are OFK

And boy, does this game know how to celebrate. With each episode the emotion it builds throughout reaches an emotional catharsis through We Are OFK’s music videos. As explained above, these are interactive mini games where players move their mouse or sticks, or press buttons, in order to influence the VFX that appears in the video. The first time this happened and Itsu moved to the beat, curving and diving throughout water with different colours and a fluidity of a mermaid, can only be described as a ‘holy sh*t’ moment. It certainly isn’t the first time video games has combined music in such a way – just look at Sayonara Wild Hearts – but combined with the stylish flair, a vivid array of colours, and the moving, personal struggles of We Are OFK’s protagonists? My heart only stopped racing after I’d put the game down for the night.

It’s a shame then that, with the incredible high of the first episode’s interactive music video, I found that other episodes simply couldn’t match it. Teddy Dief’s (who also voices Luca) vocals are electric and the music from Omniboi, feat. Nicole Brady and Wldr Ensemble is far from being a con – but the mini-games that accompanied each song after Episode 1 fall flat in comparison, effectively weighing down the song with mediocre gameplay. It also didn’t help that, despite We Are OFK being presented via a letterbox template, there were a lack of subtitles throughout these interactive music videos – something which the rest of the game has. As someone who is hard of hearing, this lack of accessibility made it difficult for me to fully appreciate both the songs, and what the interactive mini-games added to said songs.

Despite some shortcomings, that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of joy to be found in We Are OFK. There were plenty of times where I shed tears, and not all were out of despair. The queer joy present in this game felt like a warm hug, and a nice reminder of the sense of community that runs through the heart of the five episodes. Just seeing Luca try to find love with both men and women, Itsu working through leaving her long-time girlfriend to move to a new city, Jey’s defiance of the heteronormative desires and wants from her family, and Carter simply thriving in being who they are as someone who is non-binary, made me happy. So many of our stories thrive on heartache, and while this game is far from being ‘wholesome’ and I personally love getting my heart ripped out and stomped on, it’s so rare for that struggle not to be rooted solely from our queerness. We Are OFK is different in all the ways that matter.

We Are OFK review

Overall, I still don’t know the answer of what OFK is. The band is a compelling one, and I really want to see if a sequel or second EP will be on the table, hopefully with a lot less confusing marketing surrounding it.

But I do know what We Are OFK is: a compelling and stylish masterclass that suckerpunched me right in the chest with it’s depiction of burned out creatives who are trying to find patterns in the chaos of their lives. It’s beautiful, fulfilling and a thrilling exploration of identity and creativity, one that has stuck itself to my heart the moment the final episode’s credits rolled.

We Are OFK’s 1st and 2nd episode will be available to play on August 18th on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, and PS5.

Score: 4.5/5

A copy of We Are OFK for Nintendo Switch was provided to Gayming Magazine by the publisher.

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