Not too long ago, video games were all about scoring points and outdoing your opponent or the game itself. In today’s modern society, however, storytelling has become a major objective for video game makers, and some of these can only be described as riveting.
To illustrate this point, below we will introduce you to ten of the best video game stories currently available for purchase, give you a brief explanation of why they made our list, and reveal just enough about the plot to get you interested.
1. Fallout 2
There can be no doubt that the fourth Fallout game brought us a great series of memorable conclusions, but the story in Fallout 2 is what makes this installment of the game so special—so special that it represented a new high in video game storytelling.
Just like other installments of the game, Fallout 2 is unique thanks to its 1950s visualization of what the future would’ve been like. They writers told a story of a society based on atomic power, one with worn-out shark-finned cars and bulky, heavy-looking industrial equipment. It is this scenery that gives it a charm unlike any other.
The main objective of the game will have you trying to save the local people of Arroyo from the Enclave, but it’s all the little environmental and narrative divergences that really draw you into the world. The sharp dialogue, which represents the best in the series, along with the weird, engaging characters you meet, and the countless documents talking mournfully about the old world are all narrative elements that fill out the world beautifully.
The noteworthy level of choice given to players in making big decisions and shaping their own stories made Fallout 2 a narrative revolution in games, and most of the great RPGs of today owe a lot to this game when it comes to storytelling.
2. Red Dead Redemption
Unlike other action-packed games, which enable players to achieve their rags-to-riches dream, Red Dead Redemption is a story that breaks free of this American dream saga, instead following the story of a man who truly wanted to just get away.
The lead character, John Marston, never gets rich in Red Dead Redemption, nor is a genius by any stretch. He is just a man who wanted to retire into the simple life, and as the story develops you begin to feel as if he is being torn further and further away from his goal.
This gives the plot the feel of an unfolding tragedy, rather than a typical rise to the top tale with a happy ending. A must play!
3. Final Fantasy VI
According to gamers in the know, while later installments in the Final Fantasy franchise boasted improved graphics and tools, in terms of the story plot, nothing beats the sixth installment of the franchise: Final Fantasy 6.
In Final Fantasy 6, a story was told about the death of magic at the hands of unethical progress, an allegorical concept that is often mirrored in our own reality. Final Fantasy 6 also had one of the best ensemble casts of any game on our list, and the game enables players to view any of a dozen characters in the game as a great lead character, and all would work in this context.
Scenes such as a surprise opera concert, the discovery of hidden ancestry, or a heroic sacrifice are scattered throughout the game, but it’s the villain Kefka that truly steals the show in Final Fantasy 6. Kefka is one of the most repugnant and despicable villains we have encountered in a story line, and the script does an amazing job of focusing in on this heartless soul.
4. The Last of Us
Since the turn of the new century, zombies and such have dominated the screens of video games, movies and TVs. The Last of Us carries on with this tradition, and the fact that it made our list is a testament to the great storytelling throughout the game.
The Last of Us follows a grieving father and his surrogate daughter names Joel and Ellie, who must make their way through a post-apocalyptic America to deliver a possible cure for a fungal virus that has ruined the nation. The storyline is dominated by Joel’s struggle to protect his daughter at all costs, even if it means that other creatures are expendable.
A tale of survival, empathy and happy endings, the Last of Us is truly a home run.
5. The Walking Dead: Season 1
Just as the first season of the television show Walking Dead hooked viewers in for the long haul, so too did the first installment of the Walking Dead video game. A giant of the story-based, narrative-driven dramas, Telltale Games’ Walking Dead Season 1 is an unrefined, pure story of survival—a story that is quite dissimilar to any other game.
You don’t have an arsenal of weapons on which to rely in this game, nor are there replenishing health bars or some kind of energy levels, instead it’s just the power of speech and reason that’ll keep order among your group of survivors. Still, as the game progresses, it becomes vivid that not everyone is going to make it through this tale unscathed.
Death is everywhere, and ultimately your priority becomes protecting the young girl, Clementine. Keeping her alive is one thing, but her innocence amidst the carnage means that you’re also desperate to keep her sheltered from the horrors surrounding you.
While things crash and burn a tad in the second season, the first is a masterful, tragic piece of storytelling that proves fancy graphics and thrilling gameplay is not vital to a spellbinding experience.
Soma is a wonderful science-fiction tale that follows the main character, Simon Jarrett, as he attempts to figure out how he wound up in an underwater research facility where everything seems to be going awry.
Unlike other horror-style games, there are no menacing monsters to fight off in Soma.
Instead the riveting storytelling will keep you glued to the screen, and the horror you seek can be found in the process of uncovering the meaning of life and in figuring out what makes us human.
7. Mass Effect Trilogy
The storyline in all three of the Mass Effect games must be recognized on this list, as all three stories blend effortlessly into a single interactive tale, where the decisions you make as the player along the way gravely impact the final outcome.
Set in space, players in Mass Effect control the main character Commander Sheppard as he battles a species that is hell-bent on destroying the galaxy.
What really sets Mass Effect apart from other stories, however, isn’t the rich and epic business of saving the galaxy, but rather the intimacy of life aboard the space ship Normandy and its assorted mix of diverse characters
8. Alan Wake
Although not considered a blockbuster game by any stretch of the imagination, Alan Wake is one of the best told stories in video games today. In this drama, the characters—a novelist (Alan Wake) and his wife—go to the Pacific Northwest on assignment and to find peace.
Once there, however, they find horror in its place. Alan Wake does a fantastic job of making the naturalistic world feel alien while Alan searches for his lost wife, running into any number of damaged people looking to do him harm.
Like any good author, Alan takes symbolism very seriously, as he uses light to battle the shadows that literally and figuratively want to consume him. It gets even more interesting when floating words become his enemies.
The actual prose you find in the game is proof enough of the quality writing, as is the excellent episodic pacing of how the plot unfolds. Alan’s never sure what’s real or not, but he knows he loves his wife, and that might be enough to see him through.
9. Silent Hill 2
The second installment of the Silent Hill series, Silent Hill 2 simply oozes eeriness, and although these entrancing scenes appear throughout the whole series, it is only in the legendary second entry that the story truly haunts you.
In a way, this creepiness is a testament to the power of the game’s story, which does away with the clichés of other games in the series, instead focusing on exploring the grief and guilt of its protagonist by way of horror. Nothing in Silent Hill is overt – from the misty streets to the intentions of the characters you meet – and everything is up for interpretation.
The true nature of what is transpiring throughout the game remains elusive all the way through, and the multiple possible endings depend on subtle, nuanced behaviors, such as your letter reading frequency and the time you spend with certain characters, rather than important, crucial decisions you are forced to make.
It’s a mysterious story that reminds players of the puzzle-narratives of David Lynch, a dark psychological exploration that offers no easy way out, making it truly one-of-a-kind to this day.
According to many critics, Bioshock just may be the best narrative-driven video game ever produced—a true coming-of-age game in the industry.
In this drama, your time is spent in the broken-down and ruined utopia known as Rapture, making for a truly memorable trip with scenes that closely mirror the individualism and objectivism found in Ayn Rand’s famous novel Atlas Shrugged.
Bioshock is an interactive allegory that critiques the concept of society, one in which each person is completely unfettered to pursue their best ambitions without considering the needs of others.
And of course, like many video storytelling games, a twist in the story arrives, one that towards the conclusion of the game has players feeling as if they have no control over their own actions whatsoever, but are instead playing by the rules of others.
Throughout its story, the brilliant Bioshock proved that the medium of video games can be utilized quite effectively to critique philosophies, conceive its own ones, as well as make us reflect on the very nature of gaming itself.
What do you think? Did we miss any of your favorite video games? If so, let us know and it might make it into a future update!