Unless one is a videogame fan themselves it’s very easy to dismiss the idea that the medium has the ability to tell a good story let alone a clever or meaningful one. However, even gaming fans themselves can let a good plot and script pass them by based on a game’s first impressions, bad marketing, or the genre it falls into.
A good story can help elevate a player’s experience with a videogame far beyond its gameplay. It makes them feel more connected with characters and provide a more meaningful and satisfying conclusion when it’s all over. With some gaming franchises like The Witcher, Uncharted, or the Final Fantasy series players know what they are getting in terms of a story. So The Gamer has put together a list of games with great stories that aren't so obvious and far smarter and deeper than they appear.
10 Persona 4 Arena/Ultimax
It’s easy to pass off Persona 4 Arena and its follow up Ultimax as nothing more than a bit of fan service throwing together your favorite characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 into fighting scenarios. However, when Atlus teamed with Arc System Works - who were responsible for Guilty Gear, Blazblue and now Dragon Ball FighterZ - fans got a canonical sequel to two of the best JRPGs of a generation.
It may not quite reach the heights of a standalone Persona RPG but the game’s story which is split into two intertwining campaigns is a good one. It centers on characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 are satisfying and far deeper than usually seen in the fighting genre.
9 Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger was released on the Super Nintendo in 1995 and was developed by a “Dream Team” of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii, and famed Dragonball Z and Dragon Quest artist Akira Toriyama.
Despite its appearance, Chrono Trigger goes way beyond the tropes usually found in a JRPG with its surprisingly complex time travel plot that spans thousands of years that never manages to trip itself up. In addition, it’s completely self-aware and depending on which ending was unlocked it will shock and surprise its players.
8 Spec Ops: The Line
On the surface, it would be easy to dismiss Spec Ops: The Line as another generic third-person military shooter. However, with a story based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness which was adapted into Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in 1979, Spec Ops: The Line is so much more than that.
The game was designed to make the player question their motives and morality far beyond the context of an entertaining shooter. The game's impactful plot forces the player to make harrowing decisions, and come to terms with being responsible for one of the most unsettling scenes in gaming history.
7 The Binding Of Isaac
Indie title The Binding of Isaac is a top-down rogue-like adventure game inspired by The Legend of Zelda series. It’s gameplay incorporated the use of procedurally-generated levels using an old school twin-stick gameplay mechanic seen in classic shooters like Galaxian, Asteroids, and Ikari Warriors.
Yet, behind its simplistic visuals and classic design, The Binding of Isaac features religious themes based on the biblical story of the same name. More poignantly, the designer Edmund McMillian's draws upon his own experiences growing up in family split by born-again Christians and devout Catholics.
6 Binary Domain
Binary Domain was an underrated gem that was initially passed off as another generic third-person action shooter and one to avoid to boot. This wasn’t helped by Sega’s lack of marketing and the awful 1990s style box art that it shipped with.
However, those that scratched beneath the surface would have found a surprisingly good character drama. Developed by the same team behind the Yakuza series memorable characters are a strong point in Binary Domain. Furthermore, it follows a similar premise to the Blade Runner films posing the same questions of morality and sentiency with characters the player actually cares about.
5 Deadly Premonition
Mechanically speaking, Deadly Premonition is an incredibly unpolished horror/murder mystery game with terrible voice acting, and outdated gameplay mechanics. Yet, with this in mind, it holds the Guinness World Record for the most critically polarizing survival horror ever made and achieved a kind of cult status not often seen in the gaming industry.
Despite its flaws, Deadly Premonition’s plot is cleverly executed and takes heavy inspiration from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks with its bizarre characters, unreliable narrator, and a humorous plot. It’s designed to take players on a ride where they aren’t quite sure where they’re going but they will be thinking about its story long after it is said and done.
The first Nier title was an action went relatively unnoticed during the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 era. It was initially written off as a poor man’s God of War due to its action elements and large muscular barbarian-like hero. Yet, for those who actually played the game beyond its opening levels will have experienced the most thought-provoking stories and endearing characters in any medium.
Its sequel Nier: Automata performed significantly better both critically and commercially. This time studio Platinum Games were behind the action sequences and the package felt more complete. Additionally, its narrative is equally as deep and emotive as the original.
3 Injustice: Gods Among Us
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a fighting game based on the DC comics universe and was developed by Mortal Kombat creators NetherRealm Studios. Yet despite the fact that it’s a fighting game, Injustice’s plot is both entertaining and surprisingly complex in its execution.
The game’s interdimensional plot is very well done without tripping itself up. Following a similar premise to Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths where an alternate universe Superman becomes the villain it’s an entertaining ride that easily surpasses the Justice League movie.
When it was released Rockstar’s Bully was a met with criticism from anti-bullying groups for glorifying violence at schools and Rockstar was even forced to change the game’s title to Canis Canem Edit in the UK. However, this negativity was unwarranted because it came before the game was even released.
The reality, of course, is that Bully is the complete opposite of those things. The player is actively encouraged to be a better student and person. More importantly, its a poignant commentary on social status, teenage insecurities, and standing up for individuality in a world of conformity.
1 Mafia 3
While Mafia 3 was a solid open-world crime sim it didn’t really do anything new in terms of gameplay. Despite being more graphically intensive it was never quite as enjoyable to play or anywhere near as fun as Grand Theft Auto 5. Where it is superior to GTA 5, though, is its surprisingly mature story set in a 1960s America that refuses to pull any punches when it comes to the racial tensions of its time.
Mafia 3 puts the player in the shoes of a biracial Vietnam war veteran Lincoln Clay. As a result, he is subject to discriminatory attitudes from the locals on the streets, shop keepers, the police, and more. It’s all expertly handled with a message about intolerance and discrimination delivered effectively without being shoved down the player’s throat.