The 10 Best Video Game Stories
Gaming has evolved exponentially over the years. What started as a button-smashing pastime has turned into an interactive, cinematic, and sometimes, emotionally gripping experience as we actively participate in what often feels like a novel or blockbuster movie. While there are still those who approach the medium strictly for gameplay and graphics, many of us now game for the stories; from linear Naughty Dog games to character-driven sandboxes and RPGs built around the consequences of choice. The following list compiles The 10 Best Video Game Stories (apologies to fans of the Metal Gear Solid franchise who feel those games should’ve made this list).
10. Assassin’s Creed II
When the Assassin’s Creed franchise began, it followed Desmond Miles as he relived the exploits of his ancestors through the Animus; he does this to discover the location of the pieces of Eden left behind by an ancient civilization for the modern-day Assassins before the Templars. In Assassin’s Creed II, Desmond relives the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze (arguably the series most memorable protagonist) in Italy during the 15th and early 16th centuries. Ezio is drawn into the Assassins after his family is framed and executed for treason. His story sees him seek vengeance while simultaneously converging with Desmond’s destiny leading up to a mic-drop worthy finish which enhances the thematic soul of the franchise.
9. Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI is a departure from the medieval setting of previous entries in the franchise. Taking place in a steampunk society reminiscent of the late 19th century, the story revolving around the unethical death of magic (which has been sealed away thousands of years before the beginning of the game). From its fully realized world and an amazing ensemble cast of characters (including Kefka, one of the best baddies in the history of gaming), Final Fantasy VI is a renowned high point for the series.
8. Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite is set in 1912 and takes place in the flying city of Columbia founded by a self-proclaimed prophet, Zachary Comstock (built by the American Government). You play Booker DeWitt, who visits Columbia via a lighthouse/rocket silo to capture/rescue a girl named Elizabeth (who has the ability to create tears in time/reality) and settle a debt. Say much more than that risks spoiling the story (hint: the multiverse plays a role). Capitalizing on the societal, industrial, and religious themes of the first game, Bioshock Infinite is the kind of story that questions its own reality and the nature of every character; ultimately leaving the player in utter shock. It’s a Swan Song entry that has implications affecting our view of the Bioshock universe in a way that cannot be topped.
7. Silent Hill 2
At the beginning of Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland comes to Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his dead wife. The game’s narrative relies heavily on the way the player interacts with the world. Every creature you encounter is a manifestation of James’ psyche. The game has multiple endings (none of which have been canonized by Konami) all of which reveal the protagonist to be the scariest monster of them all.
6. Red Dead Redemption
After leaving his outlaw life behind (in a time where the Old West is dying) and committing to a life of domestication, Marston is dragged back into it when government agents kidnap his wife and son. To save them, Marston must hunt down Dutch van der Linde and other members of his old gang. While he manages to do all of the above, the ending of Marston’s story is a tragic one, which Red Dead Redemption 2 has since contextualized spectacularly. Red Dead Redemption was a watershed moment not only for Rockstar but open-world sandbox narratives in general.
5. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic put Bioware on the map. Many consider this game to be one of the best RPGs of all-time, mostly because of its story. The game utilizes everything that’s great about Star Wars: the worlds (old and new), relatable characters, mythology, and TWISTS. Taking place thousands of years before the prequels, You play as a crewman aboard a ship in the Republic Fleet (which is under attack). Once marooned on Taris, you must find a captured Jedi. Once you do, she obviously trains you in the ways of the Force…This ultimately sends you on an epic quest across a galaxy far, far away to defeat the Sith and save the Republic.
4. God of War
2018’s God of War takes place several decades after God of War III. This sequel/spiritual reboot implemented a lot more plot, dialogue, and character development than previous entries in the series. The plot follows Kratos and his son Atreus in ancient Norway (Midgard) as they embark on a journey to scatter Atreus’ mother, Faye’s ashes at the highest peak in the nine realms. Their quest sees them collide with many figures of Norse mythology, adding to an epic atmosphere than contains the inmate story of a grieving father and son.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the first game in The Legend of Zelda series to feature 3D graphics. It brought Link and Hyrule to life in a way no one had seen before. For that reason alone it’s super nostalgic. It’s even more memorable because of its story. The plot sees you control a young Link who is tasked with stopping the evil Gerudo king Ganondorf from acquiring godlike power (via the Triforce). In an attempt to get the Triforce before Ganondorf, Link accidentally lets the former into the Sacred Realm (helping him achieve his evil goal). Link wakes up 7 years later as an adult and in a Hyrule now ruled by Ganondorf. Using his Master Sword and Ocarina, Link traverses time and multiple dungeons to save his world. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is considered by many to be one of the greatest video games of all-time. Its story has influenced every subsequent title in the series (and they’re all the better for it).
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher video game franchise builds upon the world (and characters) Andrzej Sapkowski created in his fantasy novels. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is basically a crossbreed between Red Dead Redemption and Game of Thrones (but better). Chances are, you know this already…The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt follows Geralt as he searches for Ciri who is hiding from the Wild Hunt (an other-world force hell-bent on capturing her for her powers). The level of detail in this game is unmatched; its world and characters being fully-realized (understatement). More so than other fantasy worlds, the Continent is one painted in shades of gray. From its main storyline to the DLC, Blood & Wine, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a must-play.
1. The Last of Us
On the surface, The Last of Us appears to be just another post-apocalyptic zombie story. Except it’s not. It’s a contemplation on survival, perspective, and love. The story follows Joel who, after losing his daughter 20 years prior, is a broken man with a questionable moral compass. When Joel is assigned the task of transporting 14-year-old Ellie (who’s immune to the Cordyceps infection) across the country, this changes (kind of). As the two experience the depths of their world’s brutality they gradually bond; softening Joel. Ellie becomes Joel’s surrogate daughter and second chance. Its intimate and deceptively simple story would’ve worked in a less dire setting. Although, the setting and circumstances make the game’s riveting finale one of the gaming most hotly-debated endings. The game stays with you because of its main characters, interactive gameplay, and resonant message: at what cost is what’s left of humanity worth saving? What lengths would you go to in order to protect someone you love? The Last of Us has almost single-handedly changed what narrative means in this medium.