Empathy shouldn’t really be considered a superpower but rather a quality that makes us all better people – but in True Colors, this means that Alex can basically see and experience the emotions of another person, which are presented in a colourful aura, such as red for anger, blue for sadness, and purple for fear.
It’s not just a glorified form of mind-reading either. The aura might spread to other objects in the immediate area that triggers a character’s memories leading to other clues, while Alex’s dialogue choices can also alter someone’s emotions, which might feel manipulative on a couple occasions but more often is about helping someone out of a bad emotional state. Going one step further, she can even absorb these emotions, which carry their own risks, especially if someone is suffering from severe depression, for instance.
More importantly, the point of empathy is being able to understand someone else’s perspective, which allows for nuanced writing, revealing conflicting emotions beneath someone who looks like they’re keeping it together or finding out why someone who could’ve been just an unlikable caricature is acting the way they are. For the most part, it also avoids being gratuitous with the difficult subjects that come up, from mental illness to grief.
Which isn’t to say it’s a misery fest of anxiety and trauma, as the game also basks in moments of joy, some of which are brought about through Alex’s actions, including one choice that is guaranteed to have you positively beaming.
It would be fair to say that the writing succeeds in True Colors not just because of the performance of the cast but because the tech has also stepped up, from the use of mo-cap to the subtle facial animations, making every close-up as emotionally affecting as intended.