We Are OFK – Something to Sing About
Even before starting We Are OFK, it was immediately clear that it was going to be unlike anything I’d ever played. An interactive narrative musical biopic that tells the story of a real (virtual) band navigating relationships, drama and their careers in the lead up to the release of their first EP, this gorgeous piece of transmedia storytelling is instantly breaking new ground. The path it treads isn’t always smooth, but the moments where it falters almost seem necessary for creating the moments where it shines – as long as you’re willing to go along for the ride.
As an interactive narrative, We Are OFK has its heart and soul embedded in the story. The gameplay itself is simple, usually only requiring the player to choose a character’s reply to a text, or a response to a conversation. Each of the band’s members has their own internal and external struggles, and choosing how they convey those to their fellow bandmates or the important people in their lives can have small influences on the way they react to one another in the moment, but it occasionally feels like it’s influencing more than that – like you’re conveying the character’s priorities, or their state of mind. None of the choices you make have lasting consequences in the context of the game, but it didn’t take long for them to start feeling like they were helping me to shape my understanding of who these characters were on a grander scale – even though the difference between two options might only be a choice of one word.
None of this would work if the characters weren’t so instantly believable, and to a certain extent, relatable. Every single one of them was a version of what it seems easiest to call a “gay disaster”, meant in the most affectionate way possible (from someone who is also a relatively gay disaster). Each chapter centres mostly around a different character’s core perception of the way events are unfolding, but all of the bandmates’ lives are so interlinked that they’re all still very involved in each step of the way. I assume these characters will resonate differently with everyone, but for me their friendships and interactions felt very real, with each character and connection filled with love and flaws and sharing and miscommunication. It was genuinely like hanging out with friends.
Even though they’re all on similar paths, each one of the four characters is struggling with a wildly different set of demons alongside trying to navigate a path to fame and creative fulfillment. Itsumi, an incredibly talented pianist, is trying to recover from a break-up with her long-term girlfriend while also working at a game studio; Luca, a somewhat whimsical writer and composer, wants to create and find love and experience life; Carter, a genius effects artist and programmer grapples with their past and what they want to achieve in the future; and Jey, a producer, wants to build on the success she’s already found – but reckons with what that success might look like for her. These dreams, priorities and moments of deep soul-searching all affect the band and their relationships in raw and realistic ways that are rarely seen in games released on this scale. The characterisation feels real in a way that I largely only see in smaller indie projects, and to see it happening in a game of this size (as small as it still might be) is genuinely exciting, especially with this absolute powerhouse of a voice cast behind it (truly look them up, so many of them have been in other projects close to my heart and I guarantee you’ll recognise at least one of them from somewhere).
As you finish each chapter of the game, you’ll gain access to one of the band’s singles – one per episode. Each song comes with its own interactive music video, with each one using different mechanics to encourage the player to interact with the music in some creative ways. They aren’t really mini-games and it’s often unclear what the ‘goal’ of each one is, but they’re still extremely interactive sequences that make you feel like you’re playing a role in their creation. Each song relates (at least a little) to the chapter you’ve just played, and they all carry different energies, with one of my favourites including a sequence that has you saving stray cats, and another involving wild artistic destruction – but they all mostly work. I think I would have liked a little bit more direction from them at times, because I was often at a loss as to how the clips wanted me to interact with them or what my inputs would even do, but you could also argue that none of that matters – it’s all about the vibe.
Which, really, is what the success of We Are OFK comes down to for me. For most of the experience it felt less like I was playing a game and more like I was just straight vibing with new friends, and that wasn’t something I necessarily would have expected to enjoy. But it works. It just feels nice. I felt the fear and ambition and overwhelming pressure and sadness and joy and love and excitement that each of these characters felt, and I loved feeling it alongside them. The game is beautiful and the score that’s been crafted by Omniboy is perfect, and every time someone has asked me what I think of this game I’ve wanted to say that it’s artistically exciting, because it is – in ways that a game hasn’t been for me in quite some time. The game encourages you to get a group of friends in a room and experience each chapter of this story together, and it’s definitely clear that even if you can’t do that, experiencing each chapter one at a time with some time to digest in between is the way to go. You’ll want to rush this because the drama is addictive, but just chill with it. I think it’s worth it.
I’ve had the band’s first single, ‘Follow/Unfollow’, stuck in my head from the moment I first heard it, and I love that I get to listen to music by a band I now love ‘created’ by characters I just spent time getting to know, even when I’m not playing this game. Sure, I didn’t feel engaged for every second I spent playing this game, but I’m sure as hell on OFK’s journey, and I want to see where it goes from here. I love them. I love that the world of the band extends beyond the confines of the game. I love what this team has done, the art they’ve created, and the heart with which they’ve done it. I know this game isn’t going to be for everyone – but I don’t think it needs to be. We Are OFK is by no means perfect – but it’s undeniably something special.
We Are OFK was reviewed on the PS5 with a code kindly supplied by the publisher.