A Discussion About Stories in Gaming.

  • As you are all no doubt aware, I am a writer. A novelist, or at least I'm trying to be. I mean, what part of Themis the Catgirl gave THAT one away. But, what you might not know is that I love stories. I love writing and reading, I love a good world, great characters, development, and plots. My favorite genre is, naturally, Role-playing games, where story itself is a major game mechanic is usually a big part of why people play them.

    That all having been said, I'd love to know how you all feel about stories in games. What are your favorite things in a good story? What games could you replay over and over because of the story? Get detailed, gush about the writing of your favorite games. And never, ever forget about the BONDS made along the way.

    Edit: Oh, right... Obviously no spoilers for games, but you can probably talk about certain parts of games without spoiling them.

  • Personally, there's a lot of things in games I play that I love. I'm a sucker for love and romance. I love time-travel and fate based encounters and how it can alter and effect a story in interesting ways as a result of your actions. I adore a hero/villain swap, when a hero becomes a villain or vice versa, especially if its character driven (even if they're just being manipulated).

    Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that I love Final Fantasy 4 and Chrono Trigger.... but this should come as no surprise.

    (Oh, and don't get me started on character development and relationships, we would be here all day, and no one is prepared for my TED Talk on Naruto... Not even Huber.)

  • Looking at my favorite games, I feel like I enjoy stories about people who have the odds stacked against them and being punched down many times in the process, then being forced to find ways to fight back and win. Persona 5 and Ghost of Tsushima comes to mind, both of those games have the main character start at an absolute low point in their lives. I really like how Persona 5 starts in particular, the first 5 hours feels so heavy and chaotic because there's so much crazy stuff happening around the protagonist.

    I also like stories that show the importance of having friends/partners, and being able to trust and respect them. There's so many games that have this, but I like to call out Uncharted 4 in particular. The second half/third act of that game could have gone so awry for Nate had someone didn't pull off some miracles behind the scenes. Heck, Nate would probably die way before U4 if he didn't have anyone to check up on him, he's such a messy man.

    While I usually avoid playing games with depressing stories, it just happens that they have some of the most interesting character moments for me. In particular, having to see a character being put at their lowest psychological point and how they're coping with their predicaments. The best example of this for me is the first half of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. I still remember crying at one particular story moment at near the end of the half (right after the crazy difficult combat scenario in the courtroom). I can't help but feel like shit everytime I think about it, and it pops up more often than I like. Thank god that the second half is the polar opposite of the first half, I would have gone crazy had that depressing tone continued.

    P.S. I forgot to say that the kind of stories in the first paragraph works really well in a game for me because it also sets up a natural sense of escalation in it's gameplay.

  • Personally I find the best stories are the ones that grab me in a way that makes me care about what is going on. I've ranted and raved about why Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch matters so much to me-because we're thrust right into a story that welcomes you with eloquence but then quickly moves you through Oliver and his fantastical journey with Drippy. The reason why Oliver embarks on his quest and the flashbacks are so moving with the music doing a stellar job of telling the story as well. So many videogame stories don't make me care about anything that goes on because there is no depth, the world isn't introduced to us in an intriguing way and they don't have a soul. I'm not going to name any games that have a rubbish story but I know the games that are worth playing to the end thanks to the story. Sometimes my favourite games are those that force me through it because of such an amazing story. Oh and A Plague Tale: Innocence does a fantastic job of hooking you in. With all this blabber what makes a story great to me is a reason to care from the outset and then the oomph to back it up throughout using its gameplay. Sure Ni No Kuni's gameplay is divisive to some and A Plague Tale loses track of itself eventually-but because their stories made me care in the first place is what compelled me to keep moving forward with them.

  • I could probably give you a better answer if I thought about it a lot more, but right of the top of my head, I think some of my favourite video game plots follow a similar formula to some of my favourite film plot structures. One film structure I love is the pursuit of an "object of desire" so to speak. Those films where everybody is going bonkers trying to get their hands on one thing. Think about the ransom money in The Big Lebowski, the diamonds in Reservoir Dogs, or the opal in Uncut Gems. I absolutely love those simple self contained plots where antics ensue between relatively ordinary people, but the stakes become surprisingly high.

    Two of my favourite game plots are:

    Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines

    This is an RPG so you have a glorious amount of agency over your character build which ties wonderfully into the vampire lore in the game world, but the big draw for me is less about my own character and more about the actual plotline this game puts you through. The tone of this game is a dramatic neo-noir with vampires in a seedy depiction of Los Angeles. There is also a healthy dose of comedy sprinkled throughout.

    I love it because of how simple yet thrilling the plot is. The premise is that you are a human turned vampire and are spared an execution from a powerful Vampire Prince of a secret society clan called the Camirila. You're told to do a few odd jobs for the Price which leads you to cross paths with all of these different vampire clans hidden in plain sight in LA. The goal of the game is to find and retrieve this ancient and powerful sarcophagus which is said to have supernatural powers. You, the Prince, and all of the different vampire factions and local gangs are all in this hard boiled race to open the sarcophagus.

    It's so simple yet so effective and it leads to many twists, turns, betrayals, and desperate moments. I think this game might have my favourite overarching story in gaming.

    Fallout: New Vegas

    Read everything I said about Vampire The Masquerade and apply it to the different factions fighting over Hoover Dam in "New Vegas", Nevada. I could go into more detail but all of the same reasons I love Vampire apply to this game. It's this comedic yet often dramatic storytelling where everybody is trying to get one over on the next person. The difference here is that you have more player agency to affect the plot which is nice. You can outright kill heavy hitters in the early game and the story will adapt later on which is unique.