When you look at the factors working against them, it’s hard to believe that any video game has a good story.
For one thing, the story is only one component in a game, and it often has to be pushed to the side during development. Lots of unexpected things happen during the development process, and writers often have to rewrite major sections of the script with very little notice. Worse, plot-heavy games are often dozens of hours long, making it difficult to sustain a narrative.
Despite those challenges, some game makers have crafted fantastic stories to accompany their games. When it’s done well, the story and gameplay work together to create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. These are the games that stay with us the longest. Following are five games with incredible stories.
1. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
You know the idea of the closed-room murder mystery? The board game Clue is a classic example. In a closed-room mystery, a group of people are trapped somewhere, and someone winds up dead. The murderer is one of the group, and the rest have to figure out which one it is. That’s the set-up of Danganronpa, but as the game progresses, more and more people wind up dead.
Here’s the plot. Sixteen students are locked in a school by a homicidal teddybear named Monokuma. Only one person will leave alive, and the only way to do that is if someone kills a fellow student and gets away with the murder. Whenever a character winds up dead, the survivors comb through the clues and have a trial to identify the killer. One by one the characters drop, while your character tries to figure out how to get out alive, preferably without killing the students you’ve befriended.
If you have a PS Vita and are old enough to handle the R-rated subject matter, Danganronpa is a must-play.
2. The Last of Us
When a game can be compared favorably to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, then you know you’re looking at something special. The Last of Us is like that. It’s a heart-wrenching, cinematic game that centers on two very different people who come to depend on one another as they cross an America ruined by a disease and destruction.
The core of the story are the characters, who feel way more like real people than virtually any other video game heroes. Fueled by a sharp, brutal script and a talented set of voice actors, The Last of Us is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who sees the journey through to the end. Also impressive is that the game’s ending is elliptical and open to interpretation, which has spurred much discussion among fans.
3. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
This game is set up like a million role-playing games before it. Joshua and his sister Estelle are young adventurers-in-training whose lives kick into gear when their dad goes missing. As expected, they decide to journey out on their own to find him, and in the process explore all corners of the great big world. What sets this game apart from the rest of the herd is the writing.
The heroes are warm and funny enough to charm even the stoniest of players. You also meet a revolving cast of secondary characters as you roam from town to town, slowly learning more about what’s going on in the world. This game’s story has many layers, and they keep becoming more interesting as you progress. You can buy Trails in the Sky on the PlayStation Store for PSP or Vita.
4. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
On the surface, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City may appear to be more like Scarface than San Andreas, but when it comes to rags-to-riches gangster stories, San Andreas is the better of the two. You play as CJ, a poor kid from a poor neighborhood who comes back to bury his mother. Since this is a GTA game, you get roped into the criminal world the moment you step off the plane.
As you run missions, you gradually work your way up the ladder, fighting off rival gang members and crooked cops, while trying to save your friends from making bad decisions. By the end of the game, you’ve cleaned up the streets and eliminated most of the rival gangs, leaving you and what remains of your family safe — at least for the time being. That beats snorting mountains of cocaine and going down in a hail of gunfire, doesn’t it?
5. Heavy Rain
This thriller kicks off when a boy is abducted by the “Origami Killer,” a serial murderer who waits for storms to come and tie his victims down to let rainwater do the actual killing for him. As you can probably surmise from that description, this is an awfully dark game, with lots of horrible things happening to the characters.
But the story is endlessly compelling, with one plot twist after another pulling the player forward. Many parts of the story are malleable, so your actions have consequences that play out as the plot barrels forward. If you fail to save someone at a key point, that character is dead for good. If you like dark thrillers, you’ll love Heavy Rain.
This list only scratches the surface of games with good stories. Here are some others: Red Dead Redemption, Persona 4, Pillars of Eternity, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, The Walking Dead, Silent Hill 2, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, Bioshock, The Witcher 2, Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy VI, and Uncharted 2.