Gorillaz may be the most famous example of a virtual band, at least in the west. Elsewhere, virtual idol Hatsune Miku is omnipresent, her personality projected on to her by fans. Four-piece outfit OFK are different: before you’ve heard a note of their music, you’re going to find out exactly who they are. The band itself is not real – it is an invention of the songwriters, composers and game designers working together at LA developer Team OFK – but the music is, and this is a novel and intriguing way to experience it.
We Are OFK is a band biopic delivered over five animated episodes. Four friends come together through happenstance, sowing seeds of creativity and opportunity that blossom despite LA’s cut-throat music scene. As catchy as the band’s electro-pop earworms are, the real hook comes from spending time with them: manager/keyboardist Itsumi, vocalist Luca, producer Jey, and VFX artist Carter.
There’s a risk that anyone who isn’t a zoomer might struggle to relate to the young, painfully hip cast, especially when reading through the text chats that make up a significant portion of the game. (At least we can find solace in Jey, the oldest member of the group, who properly punctuates her texts.) Yet in the hands of writers Teddy Dief and Claire Jia, what might have come off as indulgent or irritating makes an honest reach for the heart. The script brims with personality and authenticity, delivered naturalistically from its voice cast; Dief, who juggles many hats as the series’ showrunner, also provides the voice and singing vocals for Luca.
Beneath the peachy settings of boba tea cafes, trendy clubs and Hollywood parties is an aching melancholy, as each band member works through their personal issues, be it Itsumi with her recent bad break-up, or the seemingly cool-headed Carter, who is still haunted by past events they don’t feel comfortable sharing with their new friend group. The band’s diverse make-up of different ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities allows the game to depict the unsavoury parts of the industry that marginalised musicians have to navigate, whether’s it’s creepy dudes at parties or gatekeeping label bros. But it also doesn’t dwell on these barriers, soon bouncing back to upbeat vibes that suit the sun-kissed setting. The songs themselves, whether the dark gloomy beats of Infuriata or bittersweet closing track Thanks, with its chorus line, “We’re not OK, and that’s alright,” echo the mood of this virtual band’s generation.
Each episode, paced to mimic your average Netflix series, culminates in a playable music video, which feels inconsequential compared to the tight arcade thrills of music games such as Sayonara Wild Hearts. Text conversations provide time for introspection and choice, as you can decide how to respond to them – though no matter which response you pick, you’ll end up at the same destination, as this isn’t a game with different endings and outcomes depending on how you play. If you’re not convinced that text messaging can make for good narrative drama, then wait until a revelation accidentally spills on to the group chat, leading to the series’ tensest exchange.
The stakes of trying to release an EP may seem small, and this is a virtual band that seems to be able to afford spacious apartments to exist in while they do it (an early conversation about needing to pay rent is forgotten about just as quickly). But because we get to know OFK’s members intimately, by the time you’ve finished their origin story it’s hard not to be invested in their dreams, their music, and whatever comes next.