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Image: Nintendo Life / Netflix Games

After spending half an hour with Oxenfree II: Lost Signals at Summer Game Fest, there's an immediate sense that the sequel is shaping up to be a much bigger, bolder, and indeed stranger experience than its predecessor.

As it probably should be. In speaking with developer Night School's founder and director, Sean Krankel, he confirmed that while the original Oxenfree was completed in 16 months, the sequel has taken the studio a full three years to craft. You can definitely see the fruits of the studio's labour, too, with this entry so far proving to be a much more accomplished piece of work in every facet: character models are much more detailed with enhanced animation; environments are brought to life with beautiful colour and lighting; the gameplay feels much smoother and more fluid than before.

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Image: Netflix Games

In terms of narrative, Oxenfree II takes place five years after the first game and stars Riley Poverly, a woman who returns to the coastal town of Camena to investigate strange goings on after unusual electromagnetic waves cause interference with radio signals. It's all very reminiscent of the mysteries raised in the first game, and even in the short session we played, there are multiple narrative seeds planted that we can't wait to dig up when we get our hands on the full game.

We're really quite taken with Riley, too. While the first game's protagonist, Alex, was very much an angsty teen surrounded by mutually angsty teens, Riley is a bit older, a bit wiser, and a lot more straight-talking. The back-and-forth with her partner, Jacob Summers, reminded us a lot of the dialogue between Henry and Delilah in Campo Santo's Firewatch, and definitely in a good way. Honestly, it felt nice to focus on just two core characters, to begin with, rather than the five you had immediately in the first game.

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Image: Netflix Games

Aside from that, it's clear that Night School has made some great strides with the overall gameplay. It definitely feels similar to the first game in many ways, but Oxenfree II is undoubtedly a more immediately satisfying experience. Character movement is a lot more intuitive, climbing is a lot faster, and it's much easier to gauge where you need to be going.

The biggest improvement, however, comes with the game's new walkie-talkie system. This time, characters you've met are assigned to specific numbers through your walkie-talkie, and you can call them up at any time, even if you're talking with someone else in person. This means that while our time with the demo was mostly linear, there will be sections of the full game that will require independent investigation, needing you to call up multiple characters in order to follow through on certain narrative threads. It's a cool addition and makes the world feel much more alive.

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Image: Netflix Games

If you're finding yourself intrigued so far, but haven't played the first game, don't worry. As with virtually any sequel nowadays, Krankel confirms that while players will most certainly benefit from having some familiarity with the first game, Oxenfree II has been designed to be a standalone story that newcomers can jump straight into. In fact, he explained that the team initially struggled to decide on where to take Oxenfree after the first game, reluctant to turn protagonist Alex into some sort of "hero". After creating other games, including the excellent adventure title Afterparty, the team realised that Oxenfree was much more than just Alex's story and decided to branch out and tell other tales within the same world.

Needless to say, if you're a fan of the first game, then Oxenfree II seems like a no-brainer. Heck, even if you've not experienced it before, we'd definitely recommend keeping an eye on this as we approach its release date of July 12th, 2023. It's a game that's evidently full of mystery and intrigue, and if you like intricately woven narratives guided by well-realised characters, then you really can't go wrong.

What do you make of Oxenfree II so far? Have you played the first game? Think you might squeeze it in before this one arrives? Let us know your thoughts with a comment down below.