An intricately written narrative packed with interesting revelations, betrayals, and satisfying arcs is nice but hardly necessary for a game to be brilliant. 99% of Super Mario titles boil down to a plumber saving a princess from a giant fire breathing turtle, and they happen to be among the greatest titles of all time. The Legend of Zelda's Link is an unforgettable icon of the industry and the hero never even utters a single word. The story is not important, permitting the game presents it as such.
That being said, we do not appreciate our time being wasted! If cutscenes happen every other ten minutes, then the story and characters better amount to more than a plumber jumping on a turtle's head to rescue the token damsel in distress. Gameplay is always king, but a great story can raise a so-so title out of mediocrity. If a title plays well, a weak plot is not going to reduce its value. Since PlatinumGames crafted near flawless combat systems, nobody cares Bayonetta and Vanquish's narratives border on the nonsensical.
Generally, the highest-regarded projects ensure their separate ingredients work in synergy together. In a vacuum, The Last of Us' gameplay is stiff and limiting; however, the combat's intensity compliments the post-apocalyptic setting while also highlighting Joel's limitations as a hero.
Rare as it may be, a particularly awful story can hinder a perfectly fine game. Here are 15 storylines that hurt classic games (and 10 that saved them)!
25 Hurt: Kingdom Hearts II
Kingdom Hearts has a simple premise. Sora teams up with Donald and Goofy to free Disney worlds from an all-consuming evil. Although there is some talk about a corrupt organization pulling the strings, the original game primarily focuses on the banter between the main three.
Permitting Chains of Memories is not skipped, Kingdom Hearts II should make sense; however, the story is still a mess. Kingdom Hearts attempts to blend Final Fantasy's sprawling and unusual narratives with Disney's easily digestible themes. The end result is a superficial tale that confuses depth with convolution. While the story is not the worst, so much of Kingdom Hearts feels like pointless noise. The cutscenes also refuse to get to the point.
24 Saved: Deadly Premonition
An open-world horror survival game reminiscent of Twin Peaks, Deadly Premonition was named as the "Most Critically Polarizing" entry in the genre by Guinness World Records. Apparently, such a thing exists! Occupied by quirky characters, strange humor, and a ludicrous albeit entertaining plot; Deadly Premonition is the very definition of a cult classic. Does a 2010 release count as a classic? Maybe, maybe not. It should be noted, Access Games' title will soon celebrate its 10-year anniversary.
At best, the gameplay is serviceable; at worst, Deadly Premonition is a borderline unplayable hodgepodge of half-baked ideas and poorly executed mechanics. Yet, we still kind of enjoy it.
23 Hurt: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots
Metal Gear Solid's plot is purposefully cheesy, over-the-top, and convoluted. Playing all of the games could still lead to a lot of confusion. That being said, the franchise embraces the absurdity so completely and wholeheartedly, the madness transcends logic to become endearing. So, Metal Gear Solid's story is simultaneously bad and brilliant.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots struggles to walk this line. In terms of gameplay, 2008's sequel elevated the series to a whole new level. Unfortunately, Hideo Kojima drops cutscene after cutscene after cutscene. Lasting seemingly forever, these clips overstay their welcome quickly. The story drags out old faces in an attempt to provide a conclusive finale, but characters act oddly just for the sake of weirdness. The third act is particularly stupid.
22 Hurt: Resident Evil
Every once in a while, we all appreciate a bit of cheese. Resident Evil's voice acting is the stuff of legend. Due to the plot taking place in NA, Capcom opted to only include English audio regardless of the localization. Interesting idea, but the developer probably should have hired some experienced performers.
It takes more than interesting story beats to tell a satisfying narrative. The delivery is just as important. Resident Evil is intended to be an intense survival horror game and the performances take away from this goal. The plot itself is rather forgettable, so maybe the awful voice acting helped make Resident Evil memorable.
21 Saved: Drakengard
Prior to NieR: Automata, Yoko Taro's games were known for mixing fascinating narratives with clunky gameplay and inconsistent framerates. No other release embodies this relationship quite like Drakengard, which is near awful in every department besides the story. Luckily, Drakengard's mature and challenging narrative is gripping enough to justify recommending Taro's deeply flawed action RPG.
Taro's standard formula is to initially present a seemingly black and white conflict (as is often seen in many JRPGs) before subverting expectations by breakdown the characters, setting, and tropes. At times, Drakengard feels like a horror game masquerading as a hack and slash RPG. Play the first and third entries in the series.
20 Hurt: Borderlands
Borderlands barely contains much of a story. Vault hunters are hunting for a vault. That is basically the gist of it! A loot-based shooter hardly requires a complex narrative to justify its existence. Provide a couple of interesting baddies and everything else should fall into place. As long as a certain degree of urgency is reflected, a lack of depth is perfectly fine.
The problem is Borderlands drops players into an interesting landscape but supplies very little incentive to actually explore the wasteland. Certain areas are so devoid of personality or content, they almost came across as incomplete. The climax is notoriously underwhelming, especially if compared to the far superior sequel.
19 Hurt: Gears Of War 2
Gears of War is endearingly simple. A massive horde of Locusts invades the Earth and its up to a group of muscular Delta Squad soldiers to save the day. Shoot ugly monsters in the face until humankind reigns supreme. Subtelty is not necessary or wanted.
Gears of War 2 attempts to explore the psyches behind the characters and villains. Although the sequel offers a deeper storyline, that has more to do with its predecessor's unabashed straightforwardness than anything presented in Gears of War 2. With the exception of a handful of Dom-related moments, Gears of War 2 largely falls flat as a character-driven action game. In fact, the "deeper" plot hurts the campaign's pacing.
18 Saved: Planescape: Torment
If there is one RPG praised for everything besides its gameplay, Planescape: Torment is that game. Published in 1999, Black Isle Studios created a fantastic adventure marred by clunky combat mechanics akin to Baldur's Gate. The occasional forgettable battle is one thing, but Planescape: Torment is very combat-heavy, especially during the final few hours.
Despite the bland gameplay, Planescape: Torment boasts one of gaming's best-realized worlds. Player choice actually holds weight, while the characters are flawed and realistic. Torment continues to rank among the greatest RPGs of all time, even if actually playing the thing is a pain in the neck!
17 Hurt: 99% Of Fighting Games
Fighting games with decent stories are rarer than a Kid Icarus sequel. Injustice: Gods Among Us benefits from the public holding a preexisting familiarity with DC's colorful cast of heroes and villains. Following some rather awful entries, Mortal Kombat 9 turned things around with a fun and expansive campaign. Split into three arcs, Dragon Ball FighterZ's single-player mode boasts just enough memorable interactions to earn a passing grade. Arc System Works generally produce exceptions to this rule.
Everything else sucks. Street Fighter V's insulting excuse for a story is arguably the worst, although Mortal Kombat 10 gives it a run for its money. Multiplayer is obviously the big moneymaker, but a lazy story is just a slap to the face.
16 Saved: Rule Of Rose
Banned in the United Kingdom, Rule of Rose came and went without leaving much of an impact. A middling critical reception, combined with ludicrously expensive copies, caused this PlayStation 2 horror game to be forgotten with the times. Does Rule of Rose deserve a kinder fate?
Well, the story definitely does. Rule of Rose is an unsettling survival horror game centering around a cult run by spooky young girls. Primarily set in an airship carrying many demonic children, Rule of Rose produces some genuinely tense encounters, even if the combat leaves a lot to be desired. Thankfully, running away is a valid strategy, so you can focus mainly on the fascinating narrative!
15 Hurt: Ninja Gaiden II
Somehow, Ninja Gaiden's reboot trilogy has worse stories than 1988's NES original. How is something like that even possible? Tecmo's pixelated classic works with the console's limitations to present a cinematic and surprisingly atmospheric revenge story. As far as barebones good-versus-evil narratives go, Ninja Gaiden Black is forgettable but decent.
Ninja Gaiden II does not even try to surpass its predecessor, let alone other contemporary releases such as God of War II. Devil May Cry and Bayonetta know better than to take themselves too seriously, but Ryu Hayabusa plays it completely straight. Without an equivalent to Dante, Ninja Gaiden II is a bit of a bore.
14 Hurt: Tales Of Graces F
Namco's Tales of series lands somewhere in the middle between Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. While the characters tend to be somewhat cliche, Tales of is typically willing to insert high concept ideas in otherwise fairly stereotypical fantasy adventures.
Tales of Graces F offers a convincing case for containing the franchise's most free-flowing and fully realized combat system. Battles are a joy to behold, with new mechanics being introduced at regular intervals. The story comfortably ranks among the series' worst, while the cast is filled with nothing but derivative archetypes. Adding insult to injury, a 3-hour prologue also dumbs down the combat to guarantee a terrible first impression.
13 Saved: Heavy Rain
Okay, this entry is somewhat of a cheat. Heavy Rain is closer to a movie than an actual game, so the story holds far more significance than the norm. For a studio chiefly devised to satisfy David Cage's aspirations of being a filmmaker, Quantic Dream is incapable of consistently writing decent stories. Beyond: Two Souls and Fahrenheit are quite divisive, while Detroit: Become Human sticks too close to its influences (Blade Runner).
Nearly a decade later, Heavy Rain remains Quantic Dream's masterpiece. As a crime-mystery, Heavy Rain should keep most people guessing. The gritty tone and realistic aesthetic go a long way in establishing a tangible world.
12 Hurt: Hitman: Absolution
Fiction serves many different purposes. That being said, many fall under the bracket of wish fulfillment. Countless action movies, comics, and anime have self-insert protagonists meant to satisfy a user's power fantasy. Gaming takes this literary device to its logical conclusion.
Hitman tests a user's ingenuity and skill. Agent 47 is nothing more than a tool to aid in securing the coveted top rating. Turning the hunter into the hunted, Hitman: Absolution humanizes a character better equipped to remain a mannequin. Due to following a more story-driven structure, Absolution's levels follow a linear path. Consequently, Absolution reduces players to passengers in their own story.
11 Hurt: Super Mario Galaxy
There is beauty in simplicity. Nintendo may not always make the smartest business decisions, but the publisher understands the core appeal of its main properties. Super Mario Bros. is perfectly fine excluding a complex narrative filled with ambiguous villains or political intrigue. A story would only get in the way of the jumping and few other franchises personify the essence of gaming like Super Mario. Just allow us to do our thing without any distractions.
Super Mario Galaxy is the most story-driven entry in the series, although that is not saying much. While the other characters just are, Rosalina actually has a tragic backstory, which can be unlocked during the campaign. Interesting, but nobody plays Super Mario for the story. Shigeru Miyamoto agrees with this sentiment.
10 Saved: BioShock
Is saved too harsh of a label for 2K Games' masterpiece? Even if the first-person shooter does not boast the deepest or most dynamic combat system, the shooting mechanics are polished and the plasmids offer a touch of variety. Big Daddies are an absolute pain to take down, transforming each encounter into a tense battle for survival. In terms of improving the experience, Jack's vulnerability is his greatest strength.
BioShock's greatest strength is obviously the story, lore, and world building. An underwater dystopia bearing echoes of a once flourishing albeit volatile society, Rapture's shattered beauty is haunting. Similar to System Shock 2, BioShock raised the bar of storytelling in gaming.
9 Hurt: Final Fantasy V
In discussions concerning the JRPG franchise's top releases, Final Fantasy V tends to be overlooked in favor of later entries. Putting aside the story, Final Fantasy V's customizable job system automatically elevates 1992's sequel above the vast majority of its successors. Containing more than 20 jobs, characters are free to accept any class without reservation, allowing for the creation of dozens upon dozens of combinations. Out of all the mainline entries, Final Fantasy V is the most replayable.
The story and characters hold Final Fantasy V back from greatness. Although the series has spawned more laughable offenders (Final Fantasy XIII), this is the only one with such a large gulf in quality separating the gameplay and story.
8 Saved: Silent Hill 2
A few titles compete for the crown of the greatest horror game of all time, and Silent Hill 2 is definitely a contender. Published by Konami in 2001, James Sunderland receives a letter advising to head to Silent Hill from his supposedly deceased wife. Skeptical but curious, James elects to investigate further.
Silent Hill 2 is the best psychological horror game of all time. No qualifiers, it simply is. James' slide into madness is facilitated by personal grief rather than external forces, although the imposing monsters hardly helped matters. The third-person gameplay is rough around the edges and falls behind many of its contemporaries. Nevertheless, Silent Hill 2 is nothing short of a masterpiece.
7 Hurt: StarCraft II: Legacy Of The Void
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void was released in 2015, so the expansion is far too modern to qualify as a "classic." However, viewed as the final chapter in a nearly two-decade saga, Blizzard's RTS just about makes the grade. As it is anyone's guess whether StarCraft III will ever be a thing, Legacy of the Void could very well be the last stop.
It is just a shame such an influential franchise went out with a whimper rather than a bang. Obviously, the gameplay is more than fine, but Blizzard crafted a story utterly devoid of emotion, intrigue, or excitement. Chiefly told from the perspective of featureless aliens, the writing seems to purposefully remove any hints of a personality.
6 Hurt: Prince Of Persia: Warrior Within
What was Ubisoft thinking? Along with impressing critics, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a commercial hit. Sure, the combat is a little clunky; nevertheless, a sequel only needs to finetune a few elements of the original. Instead, The Warrior Within transforms the carefree Prince into an angsty teenager with greasy long hair and a tendency to speak in edgy Godsmack lyrics. Who thought Prince of Persia called for such a drastic shift in tone?
The Warrior Within's combat is actually quite fantastic, even if there is a touch too much of it. The platforming remains as seamless as always. Sadly, the story is laughably bad.
5 Saved: Homeworld
An RTS set in space, Homeworld's concept almost sounds too good to be true. Following in the footsteps of Star Wars' Galactic Empire, the Taiidan determine the best way to overcome their enemies is to destroy their planet. Left without much of a home, the last survivors of the Kushan alien race seek to travel across the universe and reclaim their rightful homeworld from those dastardly Taiidan.
Homeworld succeeds as an expansive space epic in the vein of George Lucas' classic franchise. The 3D visuals are also very impressive considering Homeworld came out in 1999. The gameplay is easily the weakest link.
4 Hurt: Crysis Trilogy
Remembered for creating a meme rather than its accomplishments as a game, Crysis made waves as a realistic first-person shooter requiring incredibly high specs to run. While the gunplay is serviceable and technically competent, Crysis could very well be the least interesting acclaimed AAA project to ever hit the scene. Once the shine wears off, all that is left is a mediocre shooter with a tepid storyline starring the blandest protagonist of all time.
What is Crysis' story? Does it even have one? Yes, but barely. The first game tasks Nomad with rescuing people held captive in North Korea. Eventually, aliens make an appearance. Graphics may attract an audience, but exciting gameplay or a decent story keeps them watching.
3 Saved: Mass Effect
Back in the mid-2000s, BioWare's name did not trigger elicit bouts of laughter and disgust. Now, in all fairness, the studio could very well bounce back after the disappointing Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda. Who knows? The next game might reach the same heights as 2007's Mass Effect.
Blending role-playing and action, Mass Effect owes its success to the former rather than the latter. Set in the year 2183, players control Shepard, the SSV Normandy's charismatic and complex commander. The story is interesting enough, however, Mass Effect shines the brightest in its character interactions.
2 Hurt: Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
A direct successor to the franchise's definitive entry, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 consists of a series of exhilarating set-pieces loosely connected by a weak thread. Viewed on their own, nearly every level delivers the goods in terms of explosions, kinetic energy, and sheer spectacle. Despite the appeal of the individual parts, Modern Warfare 2 makes for a rather unsatisfying full package.
Excess has a time and place. That being said, engaging stories know when to take the foot off the gas and let things breathe. Modern Warfare 2 is downright exhausting. Enjoyable sequences are rendered pointless by a narrative devoid of reason or rhythm.
1 Saved: Spec Ops: The Line
Yager Development crafted a generic third-person shooter on purpose. Or, at least, some believe that to be the case. Adopting such a strategy in a medium that views the plot as secondary to gameplay seems counterproductive, but anything is possible!
Spec Ops: The Line begins life as a typical military shooter before making a hard turn into Heart of Darkness territory. Challenging the player to examine their own actions, Spec Ops: The Line cannot be classified as an enjoyable experience. In fact, it is quite depressing. Occasionally, the industry needs a provocative story to counter all of the Call of Dutys of the world.