What are some video games with strong backstories?
November 12, 2012 4:06 PM   Subscribe

I really like video games that have a good storyline behind them. What are some titles that have a good narrative and/or backstory? Examples of games I've like in the past are inside.

I've enjoyed the following games because the story lines were so engrossing, and that made me want to help the character reach the goal! It was a great motivator to finish the game and feel accomplished at the end. Can you recommend others that are like them?

-Abe's Oddyssey
-Legend of Zelda
-Katamari Damacy (story is zany, but I also liked the aesthetics, especially the music and scenery)
*bonus:Parappa the Rapper (gameplay is not that great, but story is cool and again with the zany)

The visual don't necessarily have to reflect the cartoonish looks mentioned above. At the time, I really thought Abe's Oddyssey was beautiful, so complex graphics are good as well.

Thank you!
posted by film to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (41 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Mass Effect is a pretty solid series, and its strength is the narrative. Its weakness is the repetitive combat. Skyrim has a good storyline. LA Noire is a great example of narrative, play, too.
posted by ellF at 4:08 PM on November 12, 2012

My boyfriend has commandeered the keyboard to recommend Chrono Trigger, for the SNES.
posted by solipsism at 4:09 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Planescape: Torment has a pretty intricate and sprawling story.
posted by Garm at 4:15 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Okami, Red Dead Redemption, and Saints Row the Third.
posted by specialagentwebb at 4:15 PM on November 12, 2012


then half life 2

then half life 2 episode 1

best. narrative. ever.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:19 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

As far as RPGs go:
Final Fantasy VII, VIII, X

Other games that come to mind: Assassin's Creed and Bioshock (first one).
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 4:24 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Shadow of the Colossus has almost no narrative whatsoever, and yet is one of the best examples of storytelling in videogaming.
posted by radiosilents at 4:25 PM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

To The Moon. Its story is absolutely amazing and heartrending.
posted by CrystalDave at 4:27 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

American McGee's Alice. Agreeing on Assasin's Creed and the Final Fantasy games, though Assassin's Creed is kind of a nightmare for those who have to get the Last Lousy Point.
posted by corb at 4:27 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Mass Effect series has a very engrossing sci-fi/space opera story. Dragon Age: Origins is probably my favorite game ever and it's all for the story, which is fantasy fairly heavily inspired by George RR Martin's gritty/bloody style.

Skyrim is the latest in a loooong series of Elder Scrolls games, going back to the mid 90s. TONS of lore and backstory. Check out UESP.net for a glimpse of the rich lore.

The Fallout world is full of cool backstory--the first two games are isometric, while FO3 and New Vegas are more first person/open world. You don't have to play all of them, though they're all fun in their own way.

I pretty much only play the Assassin's Creed games for the story--and I really like the story.
posted by lovecrafty at 4:33 PM on November 12, 2012

Everything by Spiderweb Software. I particularly like Nethergate, because of the dual-storylines and the ability to play either the Romans or the Celts.
posted by Mad_Carew at 4:40 PM on November 12, 2012

Beyond Good & Evil is all about the story. And there's an HD reissue!
posted by Aquaman at 4:44 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Half Life series, for goddamned sure. Half Life II especially. Still the best.
posted by Decani at 4:47 PM on November 12, 2012

Ahem. The story in FFVIII is terrible. But if you don't mind classic games, the story in VI is absolutely masterful (IV is pretty good, too).

I'd also suggest Shenmue, and seconding Chrono Trigger.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:54 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you can get the entire Oddworld Saga on Steam for pretty cheap.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:57 PM on November 12, 2012

All of the Ultima games starting with Ultima IV are really rich - they're available on GoG.com. (They are, alas, quite old and the UI can be a pain in the ass. But the Underworlds and both parts of U7 are some of my favorite RPGs ever.)
posted by restless_nomad at 5:19 PM on November 12, 2012

I just finished playing Bioshock and, even though the protagonist is a bit of a cipher at first, the world/environment and story line I found very compelling. (There are tape players spread out all over the map where you can listen to bits of different characters' stories, like a radio drama. Only a few are necessary to actually beat the game, but listening to all of them makes the experience of the narrative much richer.)
posted by Zephyrial at 5:19 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Baldur's Gate II is an incredible game on many levels, one of them being a decent overarching story, but it also has the best NPCs of any game I've played. Their stories were compelling to unravel, and their dialogue was fantastic. I was as thrilled to see them break into conversation with each other as I was to finish a difficult battle.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic had NPCs that were almost as good, but I never completed it personally because the tactical side of it got too breezy after the conversion to a Jedi.
posted by ignignokt at 5:21 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Witcher and The Witcher 2 are fantastic - I actually found the rec somewhere on AskMe. Vivid dialogue, incredible voice acting, mysterious main story, compelling backstory. You can only play as the main character, if that matters to you, but I was completely engrossed within I'd say half an hour of gameplay.
posted by Angharad at 5:47 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't do Half-Life, because the story is incomplete, and the jerks who made it have been putting it off for five years. Avoid Half-Life.

Instead, play: Braid, Bastion, Fallout: New Vegas, Okami, Valkyria Chronicles, Bioshock 1 and 2.

By the time you've exhausted those, there's a snowball's chance that Half-Life Episode 3 might be out and you can start playing it.
posted by jbickers at 5:54 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've played all the games you liked (and liked them too) and I recommend...

Psychonauts - zany story, good gameplay. I wish I beat it because I think about it a lot and how I regret not discovering what happens. You play a telepath kid at summer camp, learning to invade people's minds and hijinks ensue. It's available on Steam/PC and 360 (downloadable).

de Blob also has a fun story: Evil fascist police come in and instill order in your world, and you're an anarchist graffiti artist fighting for individualism... told in the form of paint blobs and lots of bouncing (also, a great soundtrack). It's on the Wii. Story is light but ties into some great overall aesthetics, kind of the way Katamari does (albeit not as weird). You may also like World of Goo for the weird story + great aesthetics.

Legend of Zelda story-telling is really a hero-saves-the-world adventure - Final Fantasy games all have this. Personally, of the modern Final Fantasy games I thought Final Fantasy X (PS2) was the best story if you like tearjerkers/dramas/romance, and Final Fantasy 12 (PS2) if you like political dramas. (Most Final Fantasy fans will argue over what is best - see above posts - but generally agree to stay away from 13).

Instead of Final Fantasy, you might be more interested in Kingdom Hearts - don't let Disney branding scare you off, they are excellent games. They are on a few different platforms, but not on PC iirc.

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus and Okami are great stories and great games, but very different from the above styles. Not zany. More like a folk tale or a myth from long, long ago. All beautiful games, both visually and in setting the mood.

And if you want something that's weird and very story-oriented and you have a Nintendo DS, I recommend any of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games, where you play a defense lawyer-detective hybrid. It's pretty weird and lovable.

Mass Effect, Skyrim, Half Life 2, Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption... are all great games with excellent stories but do not in the slightest bit resemble any of the examples you listed.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 6:06 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Earthbound on the SNES is my gold standard answer for this sort of question.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 6:07 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

It would help greatly if you tell us what systems you own.

If you have a Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles. Plus, you get to play the newer Zeldas.
posted by Muu at 6:21 PM on November 12, 2012

Both my recommendations and the hubby's are listed below:
--Seconding Earthbound, and also recommending Earthbound 2 (Mother 3) if you're not opposed to downloading an emulator and ROM and patching said ROM--it was never released in the US.
--Hubby strongly seconds Red Dead Redemption
--Heavy Rain
--Tales of Vesperia
--Metal Gear
--Chrono Cross
--Suikoden series
--Liked Last Story so far, about ~12 or so hours in
--Xenoblade Chronicles
--Xenogears (not Xenosaga)
--L.A. Noire
posted by Verdandi at 6:25 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Longest Journey.

Seconding Suikoden, Shadow of the Colossus, Psychonauts.
posted by yaymukund at 6:39 PM on November 12, 2012


Deadly Premonition is a magnificently bizarre/bizarrely magnificent beast of a game, with gameplay controls that manage to be both grueling and somehow boring, and a story that dazzles as much as it bewilders. While I can't in good faith recommend the game itself thanks to the aforementioned mechanics, I will 110% recommend supergreatfriend's Let's Play of it, which is fantastic. (Seriously, deciding to watch this LP is one of the best choices I've made all year, entertainment-wise.)

* proud holder of the Guinness World Record for ~"Most Critically Polarizing Survival Horror Game"~

Other than that, I think you'd really like Journey! It's short but so, so gorgeous (avoid spoilers as much as possible!).
posted by brieche at 7:09 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Everything ignignokt said about Baldur's Gate II * 1000. You won't find a better RPG out there, and it will continue to be the best, that is until they re-release it. The interactions between the characters is what always brings me back to replay it.
posted by zombieApoc at 7:19 PM on November 12, 2012

Fallout; especially the original and New Vegas.
posted by spaltavian at 7:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bioshock definitely definitely! Other excellent story/exploration games include Psychonauts, Mass Effect trilogy, Little King's Story (Wii), System Shock 2 (oldie but goodie), Oblivion, and Dust: An Elysian Tale (Xbox Live Arcade).
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:52 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Silent Hill 2
Resistance: Fall of Man
Eternal Sonata. The whole game is a dream composer Frederic Chopin has on a sickbed - or is it!?
posted by Occula at 8:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kind of surprised Grim Fandango hasn't appeared yet. While old, it is still widely regarded as one of the best narratives in a video game.
posted by justkevin at 9:19 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the vein of Legend of Zelda, check out Dink Smallwood. It's an old school RPG with a quirky storyline and a few side missions. Hope you like it!
posted by Helleaven at 10:09 PM on November 12, 2012

9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (for DS) and the sequel Virtue's Last Reward.

The games consist of room escape puzzles connected by novel sections, where you read and watch the story unfold as well as make some decisions that affect the path the story takes.

They do some really creative exploration of a branched storyline in a way that isn't often seen elsewhere.

n.b. the sequel's 3DS version has a save-crippling bug in the PEC room - don't save there and you'll be OK
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:27 PM on November 12, 2012

Seconding The Witcher and The Witcher 2 as well as Dragon Age: Origins incl. the extensions/DLC. I also really, really enjoyed Alan Wake, it has a somewhat unique (for the gaming world) episodic structure similar to a mystery TV show. Also check out The Longest Journey (point & click adventure) and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (action adventure).

I'd also recommend Dragon Age 2, a lot of people dislike it because of the arcady combat and repetitive level design, but the story and characters were still very engaging in my opinion.

You haven't mentioned specific platforms, but in my books the 3 Uncharted Games are reason enough to pick up a PlayStation 3. Heavy Rain is also a engaging PS3 exclusive from a storyline perspective, even though the actual gameplay isn't that strong.
posted by starzero at 3:08 AM on November 13, 2012

Very newly released, but Dishonored is fantastic. The world is stunning (it's been described with good reason as painterley) and it has a cracking steampunk/Victorian world which is very deep. There is a storytelling device that allows you to point at any character and hear whispered backstory, plus books to read everywhere and reams of subplots and intrigue. It rewards multiple playthroughs.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:33 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can't nth Okami and Okamiden, the DS sequel, enough. Lovely graphics, beautiful music and a satisfying story in both. Continuing with the DS, obviously try out the LoZ titles as you've already stated a preference for them; The World Ends With You has a fantastic story, great music and unique gameplay; Ghost Trick is essentially a puzzle game set tangentially in the Ace Attorney universe with a plot that delivers humour, twists and some degree of melancholy; and finally Contact is a great little game with...an interesting story. The last half hour kinda makes up for any grinding you needed to do.

For consoles, everybody before me has mentioned the vast majority of my picks, but I'll throw out the entirety of the Silent Hill series for good measure. Story driven horror, and the only series to make me legitimately afraid to turn on my console the morning after a midnight session.
posted by Inner Universe at 6:15 AM on November 13, 2012

A few other people have mentioned Psychonauts briefly, but it seems perfect for what you want. The story is funny and well thought out, though very fictional. You play a psychic kid at a psychic summer camp where you learn to infiltrate peoples' minds. You then spend the rest of the game invading your friends (or enemies) brains to figure out why bad things are happening at the camp, and each of the 20 or so brain-levels is another reveal which makes it all the more engrossing, or at least it did to me.
posted by DynamiteToast at 2:26 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think Bastion had a good, well executed story and aesthetic
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 4:14 PM on November 13, 2012

I've gone back to replay these because of the engaging stories: Psychonauts, Ultima IV (originally on an Apple IIc), Deus Ex (get the updated textures), Little Big Adventure, Grim Fandango, SWKOTOR
posted by quiet at 5:38 AM on November 14, 2012

Bioshock and Bioshock 2 are both awesome from a storytelling perspective.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:23 PM on November 14, 2012

Nthing: Psychonauts, Fallout 3/New Vegas, Bastion, and The Witcher. Special shout outs to Mass Effect 2 (satisfied my “I want to watch a great sci-fi movie” desire, which I didn’t think was possible), and Skyrim for the beautiful scenery and spontaneous interaction of game elements, as well as engaging atmospherics (I will admit recently hanging around an Imperial camp at night for no other reason than it was utterly charming and had the camping vibe I’ve been missing lately IRL). Odd, odd suggestion given your criteria: Minecraft, given that it lacks any story whatsoever. Call it a hunch.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:32 AM on November 15, 2012

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