Despite what some stuffy people say, videogames have the capacity to tell beautiful and important stories. Obviously not all videogames revolve around a narrative (yay for Wii bowling!) and that’s absolutely fine. But I think games that do spin a yarn, and particularly those that do so brilliantly, deserve much more recognition. With this in mind, I’ve prepared a list of my five all time favourite videogame stories. Let’s show videogame storytelling some love!
Silent Hill 2 (Konami)
Silent Hill 2 boasts a deliciously intriguing premise. James Sunderland receives a letter from his dead wife Mary saying that she is waiting for him at Silent Hill in their special place. Confused and just a little bit hopeful, James heads to the town in an attempt to learn the truth about Mary’s whereabouts and supposed death. This game is terrifying. With its gloomy buildings, bellowing fog and creepy characters, Silent Hill is not a place for the faint-hearted. As for the story, it’s dark, twisty and heavily inspired by movie director greats such as Hitchcock, Lynch and Fincher.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo)
Majora’s Mask isn’t the most famous Zelda game, but I think it contains the most elegant storytelling. Dragged through Hyrule’s Lost Woods by a masked stranger, Link ends up in an alternative world called Termina. The scariest thing about this new realm: the moon is going to crash straight into Clock Town in three days’ time. Luckily, using the Song of Time Link can reset the three day cycle whenever he wants in order to give himself a chance to collect all he needs to stop this catastrophe. He can also employ transformation masks to give himself new abilities and integrate himself with Termina’s many and varied peoples. The cyclic dynamic of Majora’s Mask is genius, with certain events only occurring at certain times on certain days. And the game’s multiple side stories, most notably the mysterious disappearance of groom-to-be Kafei, are beautifully done.
Shadow of Memories (Konami)
Probably the most obscure game on this list, Shadow of Memories begins with protagonist Eike Kusch’s murder. However, he is soon resurrected (sort of) and given the ability to time travel to the years 1508, 1902, 1980 and 2001 in order to try and prevent his own death. There are a whole host of characters to interact with, and eight different endings to unlock depending on how you play the game. Because there is no health bar and no real way to attack anyone, some critics gave this game a bashing upon its release. However, due to its immense scope, thrilling plot and water-tight writing, I fell in love with Shadow of Memories and will forever hold it up as an underappreciated gem.
INSIDE is a masterclass in visual storytelling. With no dialogue or text, the story is told through nothing but backdrop nuance as a young boy negotiates a 1984-style dystopian landscape. It’s unclear where you as a player are going, and even less obvious why the dark figures in the background are hunting you. However, the game does drip feed you tantalising clues as you solve puzzles and progress. As a player, it’s your job to piece together these clues in order to make sense of the game’s final act and shine a light on the thematic message quietly building in the background.
The Last of Us (Naughty Dog)
The Last of Us is not only the best videogame story I’ve come across, it’s one of the best stories I have consumed in any medium, ever. The game begins with Joel trying to get his twelve-year-old daughter to safety as a mutant strain of fungus sweeps across the US, turning all in its path into terrifying, cannibalistic creatures.
The majority of the game is set twenty years later, as Joel is tasked to smuggle fourteen-year-old Ellie out of a survivor city and through the post-apocalyptic wastelands. The two don’t get on well to begin with, but as they’re forced to tackle the horrors of their world as a duo they begin to bond. This is the story of a bereft father searching for salvation, and of a young girl coming of age in a world gone wrong. The game’s cinematic cut-scenes are superb, and the gut-wrenching writing, voice acting and motion capture are beyond compare. The relationship that develops between Joel and Ellie is deeply affecting, and the story’s climax is as good as that in any top post-apocalyptic novel. Storytelling perfection!
So, what do you think? Is there a great story I’ve missed? Let me know!