Friday, 10 April 2020

Top 5 Favourite Stories in Video Games

 

Hello again! I hope everyone is doing well. So, as well as being a doctor and an artist, I am also a writer, with my two published novels in my Chronicles of Azaria series already available and the third (which has been on a long hiatus, I know) back in progress. I must say that compared to drawing, writing definitely takes longer to get back into, and has much less obvious 'results' to show- I can't really share a completed chapter of a book in the same way you can share a finished piece of artwork, and in this social media-drive world, it can put you off as you don't get 'instant' feedback.

However, as I strive to get back into the writing groove, I began thinking, what kind of stories really pique my interest anyway? Thus, by looking at why I enjoy certain stories, I can hopefully try to channel the same thoughts to my own work and make better experiences.



So let's dive in!


Intro

Until the last decade or so, video games were not known for their depth of story. I mean my favourite game remains Sonic the Hedgehog, which is where a blue hedgehog goes up against a mad evil genius called Dr Robotnik (Eggman) who is using his advanced technology to ruin the natural beauty of Sonic's world and take it over. Hardly Shakespeare, I know!

Oddly enough, though, this simple story feels far, far more compelling than Sonic's rival Mario. Mario is a plumber who is out to rescue a princess from an evil reptilian king. And it has pretty much stuck to this formula with very little iteration or change. Personally I find the entire premise boring, dull and extremely cliched (perhaps it was less so at the time in 1989, but even so), and while gameplay wise I respect the Mario franchise, it has almost no noteworthy story to speak of.

But from these humble beginnings, video game story-telling has come a long long way, adotping many attributes from cinema, and I think this medium has some of the best stories to share.


Many mainstream audiences can be quite dismisive of game stories, but I've found these tales much more compelling that any film or TV show I've ever seen. Video games have the added element of you, the player, being literally an active agent, and this adds a whole new layer to the experience.

Anyway, enough waffle! These are five of my absolute favourite video game stories. I will be avoiding spoilers as much as I can but a few minor ones may crop up.



1. Horizon Zero Dawn


This is a relatively new game, coming out in 2017, but good grief did it hook me in! The premise is about a post apocalyptic Earth with robot dinosaurs. While that sounds ridiculous (if certainly very cool), when you delve into the story you find a deep, rich lore and an impecible standard of worldbuilding.


The main character is named Aloy, a girl outcast from her isolationist tribe, the Nora, as she was found on the doorstep of their Mother Goddess temple (which is deep within a mountain). Without any confirmed parentage, she is taken and given to another outcast, Rost, to be raised, at the beheast of one priestesses who disagreed with her peers that she was a bad omen.

Aloy thus grows up training for 'The Proving', a physical test held every so often for all of her tribe that would allow her back in as a normal member. Alas, during the Proving challenge, mysterious soldiers attack, killing Rost and several tribes members, leaving Aloy bewildered and alone. Searching for answers, she heads out into the open world- a world that her tribe has been isolated from- and discovers the truth about the past.

The game is layered cleverly, with present day Aloy finding pieces of old technology (which her tribe explictly forbade use of) that reveal the past, which is essentially a few years ahead of our time today. We find out that a corporation that manufactured self replicating war machines lost control over them, and they were going to wipe out all humanity and destroy all life on the planet.


To combat this, a brilliant scientist named Elizabet Sobeck instigated a hugely ambitious project called Zero Dawn, and the details of this plan are slowly unravelled. Each piece of this history is revealed through datalogues, audio recording and holograms, and I was very invested and engrossed in the story. It's not often I play for hours into the night, wanting to see what was coming, and this held me all the way to the end.

I think what captivated me most was the sense of mystery this story provoked. I wanted to know how and why humanity had regressed, why were there robot dinosaurs (yes even this is explained), and why Aloy was deemed an outcast. The story was also able to provoke real anger- I absolutely hated Faro (the CEO of the company who designed the war machines, although that's not the reason I loathe him so), and it's probably the first time I have actually thoroughly hated an antagonist of any story.

On the downside, Aloy isn't a particularly memorable character in that she lacks any real flaws- she's definitely not a Mary Sue or anything but she does feel more of a blank slate type character, as her personality quirks are quite tame. Still, it takes absolutely nothing away from this amazing story.





2. Persona 4


This is another game I only played recently (all 80+ hours of it), and hands down I think this is THE best story I have experienced in any media, full stop. It has it all- extremely well written characters, well paced plot, great twists and reveals, and again that same beautiful sense of mystery that Horizon Zero Dawn had. The story itself is essentially a murder mystery, with a serious of unusual killings taking place in the small town of Inaba. You play as teen protagonist Yu Narukami, who has moved here to live with his uncle and niece as his parents are working abroad.

Very soon it's apparent that Inaba has hints of the supernatural abound, and Yu gets involved investigating the killings, along with his newfound friends from school. Yu is very much a blank slate protagonist, which does impact how much he can be related to, but his supporting cast has bucketloads of character to make up for it.


His best friend Yosuke is your typical hormone rampaged teenage boy, with his own deep insecurties behind a friendly and bombastic personality. His other female friends Yukiko and Chie again have strong personalities, with Yukiko being the smart bookish shy type and Chie being a brash aggresive character (rare to see in female characters!), and then there's rough and ready Kanji, whose gruff exterior hides an impressive sewing talent. Finally there's Naota and Rise, the former being a boyish detective type and the latter being a bubbly pop idol.

I think the beauty of this game lies in the fact that its characters are all based around a central flaw (which ties into the gameplay), and this makes them really well rounded and believable. The side characters are similarly portrayed, making for a very rich experience. Mix in a compelling plot and the supernatural elements, and it for me is a near perfect experience in all ways. The only nitpick I would have is that the protagonist lacks anywhere near this kind of development, and if he's supposed to be a blank slate, then having a custom character (with gender options) would probably have worked better.

The game also got an anime adaptation which I also highly enjoyed (it's also really funny), and would recommend to any non gamer or anyone who doesn't want to grind through an 80 hour Japanese RPG.


3. Eternal Darkness



This game is very special to me, as I consider it the game that made me decide to try writing stories with my own characters. It follows protagonist Alexandra Roivas, who is phoned in the middle of night and is informed of the sudden murder of her grandfather in the ancient family manor. Alex therefore goes to the manor, and when the police don't get far in their investigation decides to take it on herself. During her exploration of the dusy mansion she comes across a strange book, the Tome of Eternal Darkness, and begins to read, kicking off a deep, era-spanning epic with repercussions that affect the present day...

This is an unusual game for this list as I am not a fan of horror at all, but it has a very clever plot spanning a great portion of human history, from the early Roman empire to the present day (year 2000), and I enjoyed it more for this aspect, as well as the interesting characters. While Alex is the main character, every 'chapter' you read of the Tome puts you in the shoes of the character from that era (so ancient Cambodia, Medieval Europe, World War I), and they all have interesting, if tragic tales to follow. I also love its magic system, and the personalities of the three 'Old Ones' who form the major antagonists of the game.

I also find the game pretty quotable, with some great lines from the villains in particular. The characters are certainly not as deep as the ones from Persona 4, but it's the setting, atmosphere and greater overarching plot that really drew me in. The biggest thing for me though was how events in the past impact the future (for example one character hiding an artifact in the past reveals where it can be found in present day), and is one of themes I carried through into my Chronicles of Azaria series.



4. Tales of Symphonia

Another JRPG title, and until Persona 4 came along this was my favourite video game story. This was the first 'Tales' game I played (which is Namco Bandi's equivalent to the Final Fantasy series), but this is far more subversive and enjoys playing with common tropes in the genre.


I love how this story pretty much rips apart the 'Chosen One' narrative, beginning by being told in the point of view of a non chosen one character. It also has themes of every 'evil' having a sympathic motive and backstory, fantastic racism, issues about resource management and preventing greed and paranoia causing more strife, and I though it handled these themes very well.

The main character Lloyd is brash, loud and has a big heart, and is very much a protagonist you want to root for. The supporting cast also have their own quirks and flaws- not quite as deep as Persona 4's, but there's plenty to get stuck into. From mage prodigy Genis, clumsy but kind-hearted Chosen One Colette, master assasin and harbinger of bad luck Sheena, to imposing but self flagellating Regal, they all have their own pieces of themselves that they want to improve, and Lloyd is there to help them. Even he undergoes some development, too, and makes for a satisfying arc.

The villain is also hugely sympathetic, and though immature in his approach, his motives have clear definition and reason behind them, which makes him all the more terrifying.


5. Dragon Age
Another game I only got into relatively recently in 2016. I had never played any western RPGs before, but this was recommended by a friend, and I loved the story so much it was enough to inspire some fanfiction (which you can read here). Dragon Age is a dark fantasy, similar to the Game of Thrones series. This game has a custom character, where you can choose from various backgrounds (noble, commoner, human, dwarf, elf) and play out an epic fantasy tale.


You are a Grey Warden, newly recruited to this ancient order against your will, and after a devastating betrayal at the start of the game, you have to unite the kingdom of Ferelden against the incoming 'Blight'- a disease that turns all it touches into mindless 'Darkspawn'. The Darkspawn armies have risen and seek to consume the entire kingdom, and you and your ragtag band of heroes need to raise an army and fight back before it's too late.


Like Persona 4 the game has very well fleshed out supporting characters. You have Alistair, the only other surviving Grey Warden with his charm and wit, the sultry Morrigan, a witch with very strong opinions and a deep interest in old magic, Leliana, a bard who lived a dangerous life as an assassin and spy who's now turned to religion for peace, a foul mouthed drunken dwarf named Oghren seeking to atone for the past, the stern and discliplined Qunari soldier Sten, the flirtacious and high spirited elf thief assassin Zevran, and the motherly kind mage Wynne. Each have their own 'quests' and ways you can gain their approval, so you really get to know them well.


The protagonist also has their own backstory and 'origin' (hence the name), and this can play into how they act in the story. I enjoy the human noble background, and is what I usually play as (female noble rogue).


Conclusion

So those are the top 5 video game stories, in my opinion. There are many more I've enjoyed, but I consider these the best. I hope this has also opened the eyes of those not into gaming, who may have had their interest tickled to look into this games!

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