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The greatest stories ever told...

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I was just thinking today about some of my favorite games of all time and why I think so highly of them. Although there are a lot of games that I like just because they are fun to pick up and play, or games that are wonderful at evoking an atmosphere through graphics and sound, I think what separates the true masterpieces from the games that are "just" excellent are the combination of the aforementioned characteristics with memorable characters and an engaging storyline.


As we all know, the quality of a game's story and characters are highly subjective and our opinions of these things often vary based on factors such as our age, our background, our place in life and a sense of nostalgia. For example, when I played Final Fantasy VII in 1997, I really thought it was an interesting story. I was especially intrigued by the Sephiroth / Jenova storyline, but I'm not sure I would find it as thought-provoking if I were to go back and play through the game again today.


Regardless, what are some of the games whose storylines and characters have intrigued you, inspired an emotional response, stimulated your imagination or just been an all-around enjoyable experience? Of course, certain genres lend themselves to a storytelling experience better than others, but feel free to comment on any game whose storyline has interested you. I only ask that you include spoiler tags if you intend to reveal specific details of the plot or its resolution in consideration of those who haven't played the game.


Here are some of my favorites:


Disgaea: A very comical storyline about a demon (imp?) who's trying to ascend to the throne of the underworld recently vacated by his father. The voice acting is sometimes over the top, but the sheer absurdity of the game makes it enjoyable.


Final Fantasy VII: Yes, you can argue that the "stopping the world from destruction from unspeakable evil" plot has been done to death, but at the time I genuinely cared what happened to the game's characters. This was the first real RPG I ever played through and it expanded my horizons of what a game could be and do.


Half-Life: It had a controversial ending, but it was a genuinely compelling experience - I never really was sure how to feel about taking out members of our nation's special forces. The sheer scale of the game gave it an epic feel.


Ico: Although short, I thought its simplicity was beautiful, and I lost count of the number of times I felt my heart drop into my stomach when I thought I was going to fall or drop Yorda. Again, it really made me care. The cutscenes were very nicely done.


Mario & Luigi: Another comical storyline, but a nice departure from the typical "save the princess" plot of nearly every Mario game. There were some very funny characters and some good laughs at all the Nintendo in-jokes.


Metal Gear Solid: Loads of memorable characters, whose names I can still rattle off without having to think about it. Each one had his or her own interesting backstory, and the storyline kept me dying to find out what happened next. I beat it in one sitting (from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m.) just because I HAD to know.


Metroid Prime: As someone mentioned in another thread, the thing that makes the Metroid games cool is the impossible odds - Samus against the world. I thought Prime did a wonderful job developing its story, doling out little bits of history piecemeal (albeit via repetitive scanning) until the pieces of the puzzle all started to fall into place. Very cool.

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I think what separates the true masterpieces from the games that are "just" excellent are the combination of the aforementioned characteristics with memorable characters and an engaging storyline


Although it actually seems crazy, I am going to disagree with this point. Yes, an engaging story can add another dimension to a great game, but some of the best games I've ever played haven't had a particularly compelling story to them. Number one on my all-time list might be Final Fantasy Tactics, but to this day (and through multiple play-throughs) I couldn't summarize the plot for you. The thing that made that game great was the gameplay itself. In fact, I think it's a great game despite a convoluted and confusing storyline.


Another example is my current obsession, City of Heroes. It's a MMORPG and as such doesn't even have a "story" per se. Yes, you get hints of snippets of secret alliances between rival street gangs, and some of the missions seem to be a part of greater "story arcs", but what makes that game fun is again the way it's played, not the story it tells.


There are also entire genres of games that don't have any story elements at all (twitch-based arcade games, racing games, fighting games, sports games, etc.)


Having said all that, I would never argue that the story in a game has no effect on how good a game is. The ones you mentioned are all great examples of how a compelling story can add another dimension to a great game (and I would offer KOTOR as another example of that). I just don't think a great storyline is a prerequisite for a gaming "masterpiece".

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Lunar: The Silver Star/Silver Star Story Complete (Sega CD - PSX): It was a simple and cliched anime tale, the story of a boy who must grow into a man to save the world and the girl he loves (who happens to be his sister in a way, she was adopted by his mom). But it was the human touches and character interaction that made it into something much, much more.


Final Fantasy VI (SNES): This overwhelmed me and was probably one of the first stories in a game that truly dragged me into its world and sucked me in for hours upon hours that turned into days and weeks.


Breath of Fire II (SNES/GBA): I got the "bad" ending, but it kept me thinking for days on end. The story overall is kind of thrown at you in one big chunk near the end but its worth a play through for the heartbreaking conclusion that you get handed if you let just one thing/person die... *sigh* The richer points are told in flashbacks (Black and white I think?) that flesh the world out even more.


These are the three that come to mind immediately and I'm sure there are more....

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Just strictly going on story (and trying to drop opinions about graphics or other aspects), seems like RPGs tend to own this area. Considering they are text intensive and closest to books anyway, I think they get a leg up on storytelling (not gameplay but storytelling.)


I would put these RPGs up for consideration:


* Planescape:Torment. A guy that can't die whose sidekick is a wise-cracking floating skull? A trip across the universal planes and back, including several confrontations with yourself? Solving a storyline that your character basically crafted for himself over the eons. This one is maybe the #1 all-timer.


* A Mind Forever Voyaging. Hard to describe this one without giving it all away, but being a computer that can travel back and forth in time and experiment with social tampering. Pretty cool.


* KOTOR. Just an pad story really, until they hit you with the greatest 800-lb gorilla story twist of gaming history. Just that one part put this one on my list.


* Baldur's Gate (I, II, and add ons.) You're the son of the God of Murder and get to grow into everything that entails. Great idea and always kept fresh by interesting plot twists, side quests, and good writing.




Just for fun, here is a list of the funnest games I've played that have either absolutely no storyline or I can't make heads or tails of it:


* M.U.L.E. How friggin cool was MULE? I think the entire plot revolved around rubbing the robot / little fat round guys' noses in your crystite deposits.


* Advance Wars. Loved this game, played it multiple times start to finish. Who the hell is Sturm?


* Counterstrike. I would be offended if they ever had a story to this game. It would've been a huge detriment to the CS nihilistic vibe.


* Seaman. I stand in awe of Seaman (and horror.) Maybe this isn't fair, I mean what story could it possibly have, how could Seaman ever possibly explain himself?

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I'm shocked to see no mention of Xenogears. It had the most complex storyline and deepest characters I've experienced in game, movie, or book, and every RPG I've played since has been a bit of a letdown .


I'm also a big fan of the first Deus Ex. One of the best main characters ever and a plot that keeps you guessing from start to finish.


Ace Combat 4 also deserves a special nod. The storytelling from the opposition's viewpoint and tasteful approach aren't something seen too often in games.


Lastly, Zone of the Enders 2 is a perfect example of how to tell a cool story but still keep it perfectly paced with the gameplay without hours of cutscenes.


Other than those, my favorites are the rather unoriginal choices: Final Fantasy 4, 6, 7, and 8. FF4 and FF6 probably wouldn't hold such special spots if they hadn't been my first RPGs, but I just played FF7 a few months ago and the magic was still there. I'm also pretty fond of KOTOR, Grandia, and the Silent Hill series. Overall though, it seems like developers have forgotten how to tell a good story. Despite having more tools to tell a story with, we end up with ridiculously pretentious disasters like Xenosaga and Metal Gear Solid 2, both of which could have been good if a bit of common sense was excercised during development. I've really been dissapointed in the RPGs this gen. Of the traditional ones, Suikoden 3 is the only one with a story and characters I'd consider better than "meh", although I did enjoy the different approaches in Morrowind(piece the scattered story together on your own) and KOTOR(direct the story through your actions). Hopefully Tales, Front Mission 4, and Star Ocean will improve things.

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Silent Hill 2 - What I consider the most fascinating human story told in a videogame. Every possible theme is explored including love, loss, hate, revenge and in the end happiness. While most games try to be "mature" by including so called blood and violence for the sake of doing so, Silent Hill 2 is one of the only truly mature games on the market IMHO. It is mature not because its rife with disturbing imagery or grotesque creatures around every corner but because the story it tells is a very personal one and also one of the few that made me truly care about the character I was playing and those around me.


Xenogears - I fell in love with this game the minute I played it. I was, at the time heavily into Japanese RPG's and this one hit me like a truck. Combat systems, graphics etc. are only the beginning. The read reason to play through and complete Xenogears is for the remarkable story. Touching upong religious prophecy and even so far as the death of god, I was floored at the level of depth the developers had worked into this tale. ID also happened to be one of the coolest characters in videogaming at the time. ;)


EDIT: I didn't noticed you mentioned Xenogears above bling until after I posted!

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Cool topic:


Outcast - One of the most underated games ever. Like Covak said the way the story unfolds is pretty darn cool. (Yes Odie I know what you are thinking) :)


Planescape Torment - Excellent writing and voice acting. Unique and compelling storyline.


Grim Fandango - Probably my favorite adventure game of alltime. Its a lucas arts adventure game so the storytelling and dialogue are top notch.


The Longest Journey - Another great adventure game that draws you in with its great storytelling, dialogue and visuals.

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The Longest Journey - Another great adventure game that draws you in with its great storytelling, dialogue and visuals.


Agreed. Really looking forward to its sequel, Dreamfall.


Planescape Torment - Excellent writing and voice acting. Unique and compelling storyline.


Should go without saying its so damn good.

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Silent Hill 2: What Romier said. :)


KOTOR: Standard Star Wars story, but the plot twist was great and the outcome as a Dark Jedi was even better. The only RPG that I played and finished in a couple of weeks.


Half Life: A terriffic story filled with awesome gameplay. I actually replayed this game twice because of the story.


The Ocarina of Time: IMHO, the best Zelda game to date, though I have never played A Link to the Past (everyone stop looking at me like that). :)


Metal Gear Solid: I beat this game in a couple of days just because I had to know what was going to happen next.


Final Fantasy VII: I don't care for the FF series or RPGs for that matter, but this was one of the few that I liked and completed. The story was typical, but Squaresoft did a wonderful job developing the characters to make the player truly care about them.


That is all I can think of off the top of my head.



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Ahh, Planescape and Grim Fandango should always show up on these lists by default. I'll throw a vote to Longest Journey as well.


Additionally, I'll add in that I think both System Shock games are superb examples of storytelling. There's something about gaming that takes a cliche idea like 'evil AI' and can work it into something compelling and involving. System Shock features no human characters or interaction outside of personal log files, but it tells a damned amazing story about the last stand of a group of humans fighting for their life. You already know how the story turns out, so it becomes quite moving and you really come to care for some of the characters.


System Shock 2 is the same thing in that regard, though the log files there might be even better. Both superlative games. :tu:


Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is another great one. Horror story, but told so well, with realistic dialogue and a flawed, yet likeable hero. The level of detail to the game is astounding; it's both well-researched and the characters have amazing depth. And so much is said in throwaway lines that you wouldn't think have any bearing on the game, but play out in the end. And there are other unstated bits to pick up on, which makes it rewarding for the player. Maybe not my favorite game ever, but my favorite series of all time :tu:

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I agree with Romier & Dean on the Silent Hill series. Silent Hill is what brought me back to video games after a long period of time not playing. The story just compells a person to find out what is happening and why. I still say it is one of the most disturbing gaming series out there.


Resident Evil is another.


Shenmue had something going, but I never got to finish it.


Majora's Mask, Ocarina of Time and WindWaker are all great stories too.


I really enjoyed Sword of the Berzerk: Guts Rage on the DC. But those camera angles just have got to go. They really interfered with the game play IMHO.

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I liked Deus Ex. In some ways, it does the "every conspiracy ever rumored is linked together in an even bigger conspiracy" better than the X-Files tv show did :)


KOTOR - For the most part it builds off of standard Star Wars archetypes, but it does it so well that it actually reminded me why I really love Star Wars when it doesn't suck.


The Longest Journey - Fun characters. The concept has more fantasy gobbledygook in it than what I normally like, but I still found myself really enjoying the storyline :)


Gabriel Knight - Similar reasons to Deus Ex. I like it when writers twist obscure bits of history into something really outrageous, and Jane Jensen is pretty good at that.

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Originally posted by Pharmboy

System Shock 2 is the same thing in that regard, though the log files there might be even better. Both superlative games.


Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is another great one.



Amen brother. SS2 remains one of my favorite games of alltime. So many "Oh $hit!" moments. No other game has managed to create such tention and atmosphere (Thief series comes close and I'm sure Doom 3 will be about the same level). The writing in GK:SOTF was excellent. I remember thinking the story was far beyond any of the other games at the time.

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So many "Oh $hit!" moments.


The events that occur with one member of the nursing staff stick out in my mind the most. I still shiver just thinking about her final log file. Brrrr.


Thief wasn't bad either, I must say. Presentation was what stuck out versus story in the Thief titles though. Good throwaways, that being said, like the couple in Life of the Party who bicker about not being invited to the fancy shindig and it turns out their invitations just got lost ;).

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Well, after hearing nothing but raves about Planescape: Torment, both here and elsewhere, I found a used copy at EB Games for $3.99 today. What a deal. I'm looking forward to playing it and experiencing this one for myself.


You lucky man. If only to experience it for the first time again..... :tu:

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