PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5
August 18, 2022
2020’s edition of The Game Awards saw the premiere of We Are OFK, a virtual pop band. The spectacle was exciting and something not seen many times prior. Here was a pop ensemble, not too dissimilar to Riot’s K/DA, only now they were to release an accompanying EP and game. Their presence in that debut performance had me captivated and magnetised. The group demanded my attention, with a catchy tune and a lead sporting a shirt that read ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ How often do you see that in the games space? Flash forward almost two years later and we now have the release of the game and accompanying EP – titled We are OFK. It might not quite be as platinum as the quad of band members were hoping, in-game and out, but it is an enjoyable net positive, providing plenty of moving moments and gorgeous cinematography.
We Are OFK is an episodic game containing five chapters, with each episode more or less ending with the debut of a song and accompanying music video. Players will get to play through the first two episodes come the game’s launch on August 18, with the remainder to drop weekly. Across those five episodes, you’ll see the true trial and tribulations that can come with forming a pop group in the constantly moving L.A.
A killer opener
OFK is made up of four members by the names of Itsumi, Jey, Luca and Carter, along with their trusty mascot — an AI cat by the name of Debug. Itsumi has not long been in the City of Angels, partly moving to get away from a breakup but also to start a new day job at a video game development company, serving as the outfit’s pianist. Luca, who also moonlights as a writer at this same company, is the wordsmith and singer while Jey is the producer, who first happens upon the group at a flashy industry party. Carter has a knack for graphic design and as such rounds out the band by not only creating Debug but the VFX for performances and music videos. Being all twenty-somethings that live in one of the most bustling cities of the world, you won’t be surprised when I tell you they’re all dressed quite trendy and are a hip, albeit at times vapid group.
The introductory episode does well in whetting players’ appetites. Dynamics are established in clever, but very human writing, only opting to use the most flowery language when deep, emotional moments ensue. Itsumi is in a bit of a rut, not touching her keyboard all that much and showing moments of despair from her breakup until this reaches a drunken boiling point at the episode’s climax. Luca is feeling restricted creatively. He serves as a lore writer for this MMORPG the studio is working on, always going above and beyond with worldbuilding only to be asked to dial it back. Jey, fulfilled by producing some gold hits and looking for something new, takes a quick liking to the group. Carter? Well, barring popping up in group meetings, they’re sidelined a fair bit. More on that later.
Closing out the first episode is the interactive music video of Follow/Unfollow. This song probably has my favourite beats of the pack, serving as a catchy, rhythmic half optimistic half melancholic pattern. It may have some somewhat cringe-inducing lyrics in its chorus (namely the line “every time I cancel you, I just want to dance with you“). However, you can actually find this beautiful pop song in there, half about the beauty of social media and finding connections, the other half being all about everything falling apart, and how that’s okay.
“It’s the glow of my phone from a brand new vibration / And the numbers alone in a new combination,” speaks to these connections while the closing lines “On the verge of tears or dancing,” are the most palpable. We are OFK is all about how glamorous, exciting and life-changing making art with your friends can be, but also that that comes with hardship and tragedy. This very line introduces that idea, remaining wondrously throughout the remaining episodes.
Get it all out, put it in a song
It’s admirable how the experiences in a lot of the episodes inform teachings that rear their head in the closing moments and song. Luca for instance falls for a new flame in episode two, losing focus on the work that he and his friends are creating. “Looks like the real thing / once more with feeling,” is a pretty, flowery lyric here all about how easy they fall in love with someone new, fluttering with emotions. It’s a feeling and experience I’ve had myself in the past, but like Luca, it’s setting yourself up for failure whilst coming at the cost of friendship. To everyone else around Luca, this new flame is just like the others. To him, they’re everything.
Of course, while you’re in this bubble you as an individual might do some pretty frankly annoying things. Luca is the character that will test most and while he has his merits, he, along with the rest of the cast will complain about things that don’t matter. That’s great news if you’re looking for authenticity in a group of mid-twenty struggling artists in L.A., but also will slow down the pacing of episodes, having the crew take a little too long to learn their lesson. For most episodes, it’s worth it in the long run. The importance of being a friend means the simple but also complex task of just showing up and being there is how this Luca-centric episode concludes. Another important idea that’s key to the overarching narrative.
A mid-season boiling point is reached in episode three that feels like the amalgamation of not-so-perfect dynamics and conflicting opinions about the direction of the OFK band. This features my favourite music video and song of the bunch, Infuriata. Here, one of the crew enters a conflict with the band, leaving the music video featuring this character, alone, with an alternate version of themselves, judging their decisions and the destruction they’ve caused. Memorable cinematography is present, with invasive stares down the camera towards the player taking place as the harsh techno back the bleak lyrics.
Unfortunately, there are missed opportunities throughout We Are OFK. The biggest is how late Carter is utilised. It is only the penultimate episode we really get to know Carter before they are whisked away into the background once more. Carter is a person of colour that uses they/them pronouns. A lot of their episode delicately tells their backstory as they revisit an estranged friend and come to terms with their past. It’s a moving story, resulting in an optimistic ending which was a particular heartening thing to see — they’re coasting along for the remainder of the season, perhaps indicative of their mental state.
Other members of the cast had their big episode, then got to exist and be prevalent outside of that moment. Not Carter. I don’t think any of Carter’s sidelining was egregious or even intended, though it is saddening to see just one of the very few types of characters we see somewhat hidden away. Meanwhile, the skinny, white and delicate bisexual male that is Luca (who you’d likely be able to see anywhere in L.A.) takes the limelight.
“Unfortunately, there are missed opportunities throughout We are OFK.”
The final weird decision that really stuck out to me was how little the band achieved throughout. We Are OFK spends its whole runtime very slowly exploring personal stories with that resulting in the inspiration behind a song on the EP. In the background, the band is slowly building towards other stuff such as booking their first big gig, partnership and more. Sadly, we never see the fruition of this hard work on-screen. In the closing credits, like an afterthought, we learn these specifics and how the band did.
Backing these personal stories, We Are OFK features stunning cinematography. Shots of LED-illuminated bar and the soft warm colouring and framing of warm hangouts like the group’s local boba store highlight just how well developer Team OFK know how to work a frame. This all but beautifully paints the glorified, colourful and spritely nature of Los Angeles.
If We Are OFK is to continue following this, one of the big steps that need to be taken is more showing OFK being an actual band. I’m so curious as to how it would look for a struggling but talented band of creatives to book their first gig. What’d be even more exciting would be seeing the band reach success. They’ve made it. Where do they go from here? What troubles arise next? Those are questions I need to be answered.
Living life like a music video and texting your friend some memes
The very reason this review has been so laser-focused on the narrative and themes is that We Are OFK is actually really light on gameplay. The core gameplay involves making dialogue choices, including spoken and text messages. Here, you’ll see some of that millennial dialogue speak pop up. If you’re of an older demographic, I imagine you’d cringe and recoil. Hell, I’m like the OFK members — a queer twenty-something and even I cringed from time to time. That being said, I think the lexicon and quotes uttered are relatively accurate. It’s only natural for this group of individuals to be a little corny, sending memes, typing exclusively in lowercase and sending emojis.
Life is Strange as a franchise has long received critiques for its dialogue, but that was an answer to the early ’10s era of Tumblr culture, Joss Whedon and the early Marvel Cinematic Universe days. Flash forward to 2022 and we’re living in the days of Twitch, TikTok, online television streaming and Vtubers. The dialogue in We Are OFK reflects that. Deal with it.
The other instance of gameplay is in the interactive music videos. This features some movement, such as swimming under the sea or skating in cyberspace. Though most of it boils down to clicking on objects, in your environment (or not, if you like) prompting things to happen. There’s no rhythm required and many of these experiences can be quite clunky and laughable in their controls and visual delay. It too sadly becomes a distraction from some of the showstopping cinematography and visuals provided.
From the first launch, We Are OFK was never shy about being a gameplay-lite experience. In the main menu, you have a list of all the available episodes. It details here just how long every episode is going to be, giving you an idea of the session you’re in for. Something like settling in for a season viewing of a Netflix series. As a lover of visual novels, I’m far from against games that are light on gameplay. Still, this will be a bigger, more bitter pill for other audience members to swallow, left wondering why this wasn’t just released as a web series.
- Quirky and catchy pop songs throughout
- Emotional story moments that really hit
- Gorgeous and vivid cinematography
- So light on gameplay it could've been a web series
- Some characters and narrative threads are underutilised
- Characters and their dialogue won't be for everyone
Undoubtedly set to be divisive, We Are OFK will garner fans in with its catchy pop tunes and emotional storytelling, but also lose just as many with narrative and character omissions, light gameplay and purposefully cheesy dialogue. Still, for better or worse, this is an experience not like many others. Captivating cinematography also paints a haunting if bittersweet L.A. narrative. Like a classic pop debut that its own self is based on, We Are OFK has heart and moments that’ll reel you in while remaining plenty messy. If all else, isn’t that how this road was always going to go?