Community: What’s the Greatest Video Game Story Ever Told?

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by Gabe Carey

It’s funny how, when you ask an entire community of 60 people what the greatest video game story is, the results differ so significantly. While I expected most to answer with the same critically-acclaimed post-apocalyptic survival game from last year, I was intrigued at the actual results, which can be seen below. It just goes to show that there are a lot of excellent video game narratives out there and that we all have varying opinions on which one is best. It just goes to show that one man’s opinion is another man’s garbage, or something like that.

From the Benign with B-TEN Facebook group

Gabe: What’s the best story you’ve ever experienced in a video game?

Jeff Hart: only game to make me cry so far has been walking dead season 1, but recently id say gta 5. loved that story, i really felt like multiple people and no game has done that before. throughout all Final Fantasy games I’ve played I’ve never actually felt like those people and GTA5 made it rather realistic and very much like real life with exception to the mindless murdering and running people over. We dont participate in such foolishness  but my favorite overall story has to be tales of symphonia, i dunno it was just a wonderful tale that has always stuck with me and made my heart warm.

Brian White: If I had to choose something recent, I’d go with To The Moon. But there’s too many great stories to pick just one. There’s 999 and it’s sequel, Silent Hill 2, The Walking Dead (Season 1), Final Fantasy VI…the list goes on and on.

Dennis Aleksander Mrozek: Final Fantasy X and Mass Effect trilogy

Sawyer Scherbenske: Final Fantasy 9 or The Banner Saga

Zach Waller: Persona 4. The loveable cast and character development were what took it to the next level. The main story of course was absolutely spectacular and full of intrigue, suspense, and twists. I’ve never been so engrossed in a story in all of my years of gaming. Of course it helps that it was very original in its premise!

Diego Calderon-Arrieta: The Last of Us, first video game to make me shed a tear, it’s got believable characters and its rife with moral quandaries

Eli Orth: Cave story. I’m a sucker for games that appear fun and happy on the outside, but after some time show a deep story behind it. Also, there are parts which leave some parts to be imagined along with a surprising lore-rich setting.

Dennis McCarson: Bastion

Patrick Toworfe:  It’s hard to pick one, since I have so many narratives that I enjoy for different reasons. Off the top of my head, I really liked Lords of Shadow’s story, BlazBlue series story in general, and the COD games’ stories. Tbh, it’s hard to even list them, I like so many, haha. There’s not really just one I can say is the best for me

Kyle Dumont: Xenoblade and the Metal Gear Solid series are rivals for my favorite. Metal Gear touches on some really dark themes and presents a brilliant story. Most of the characters have arcs and they’re intriguing. The player can strangely relate to Solid Snake and Big Boss, making them feel more human than any other character in games. The story is intense and escalates with each installment in the series. Xenoblade has some of the best story telling in gaming history. The Xeno series is excellent, but Xenoblade is the pinnacle of the series. It touches on many modern problems while staying true to a fantasy/steampunk world. The story is also beautiful and heart-wrenching

Breann Parks: Persona 3! It was the first Persona game I’ve played, and I have never found myself so invested in a cast of characters so quickly. The whole game was an overall experience; I found myself laughing, crying, growling in anger and shivering in utter terror through it all.

Bill Thomas: Warcraft/World of Warcraft.

Simon De Roux: Tough. Catherine, FF7, Shadow of The Colossus, Last of Us, Red Dead Redemption.

Simon De Roux: Oh and Dark souls ;)

And there we have it. Everyone is different and there are a whole lot of stellar games listed in this article. If there was infinite time, I’d play every last one of ‘em. Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll get to all of these, but at least I’ll be able to replay one of my all-time favorite stories when The Last of Us: Remastered releases on PlayStation 4 tomorrow. Be sure to check back to B-TEN later this week for our review of the game in all of its rejuvenated glory!

Image Credit: DualShockers

Gabe2

Gabe Carey is editor-in-chief at B-TEN.

The Festivus season is jam-packed with games this year.

You can follow him on Twitter @Thats_Bullogna.

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  • Tye the Game Guy

    “To the moon.” Well that just raises an incredibly complex can of worms doesn’t it? TTM is more or less a visual novel if you think about it. In fact this entire article really raises some pretty important questions about the nature of gaming as a whole in the first place, and in my opinion show to some extent that people are missing the point. Now I’m not going to say that anyone is wrong (except for whomever said “The Last of Us” because I’m a bitter old man), Red Dead had a fantastically moving story that I’d probably put near the top, and games like Final Fantasy VI, Silent hill 2, Planescape Torment, Deus Ex, System Shock 2, and many others above the cut. But I chose those games and ignored the rest because really I don’t consider Visual Novels to be games. I mean, technically they fulfill all the requirements, and sure the term “game” is really abstract and loosely definable, so yes, they are video games on the most basic levels, but I don’t consider the parts that I am praising to be parts of the game. If we can count “To the moon” we can count virtually any VN, which begs the question, why are we even asking about game stories if these stories have nothing to do with the interactive elements, the parts that make it a game?

    What I’m trying to say in a roundabout fashion, is that cutscenes aren’t games. Accepting this, I will never call the greatest “video game” story the one with the most moving cut scenes. An effective video game narrative should be one that is player driven, with a certain amount of dynamism and interactivity. Journey does this to a loose extent. Western RPG’s like Morrowind does this incredibly effectively. What this means, of course, is that the story is different for every player, and so it’s virtually impossible to track down what the greatest video game story known, since it probably was some epic quest that a fifteen year old improvised with his level 15 orc based upon his own pre-decided character traits, and it was almost definitely in no way prescribed by the developer’s “intended route”. Think of every time you’ve made an epic backstory for an rpg or shooter character and everything you did in the game that strained the ethical code of that character. You made that story, and I can guarantee it was a lot better than much we get today, if not for the sole reason that an effective video game story is about the player and not the writer. If it’s for the player, why not let it be by the player too?

    While I do love the dynamic player-based storytelling in games like Silent Hill and The Witcher, I’ll have to say my favorite game stories were in no way part of the “main plot” or intended by the developers, because that’s what games are, just like the greatest chess story is about a particular game and not about the mythos intended through the use of the names “knight” and “king.” It’s always been about the mythos.

    Without further adeu, I’d nominate as the two best video game stories either “The Ballad of Edgardo” or the tragic tale of “Boatmurdered.”

    The Ballad of Edgardo- http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending(DOT)com/archive/26565579/
    This might not count because it took place on an RP server, but it was interactive, virtual, and player driven so I thought it might count. It’s in my opinion one of the best stories I’ve ever heard, not incredibly deep but an exciting adventure nonetheless, if you’re into anime I’d suggest it.

    Boatmurdered- http://lparchive(DOT)org/Dwarf-Fortress-Boatmurdered/
    If you weren’t sure about Edgardo counting have no fear, because Dwarf Fortress is definitely a game, and in my opinion the greatest game in the history of mankind for dynamic stories. I have folders FILLED with amazing Dwarf Fortress hijinks, and some are way more polished than this one even. That said, this is one of the most intensely epic and tragic tales I’ve ever heard, and it happened completely dynamically between a group of players who wanted to try the coolest thing possible. If you have the patience for it, I’d definitely suggest it, it’ll take an afternoon to read, but it gets AMAZING around a half hour in.

    I’m not stepping on anyone’s choices, I just find myself incredibly sad to think that the greatest video game stories ever told are almost all choices from software that is more story than game. Shouldn’t the game BE the story? Shouldn’t the celebration of everything gaming is come from anything but the parts that make the products less of a game?

    I’m trying to condense a lot of thoughts into a very short amount of space, and frankly, I’m not a b-ten writer so I don’t have any reason to write my own mini articles at the bottom of every page, but I thought that this might spark some interesting discussion. So have at it.

    • http://b-ten.com/ Gabe Carey

      I certainly appreciate the opinion, Tye, and I agree to an extent. I’ll actually share this with the rest of the team to see how they respond since a single opinion doesn’t reflect the rest.

      I feel as though the definition of what a video game is has changed and some have learned to accept that while others haven’t. Either way is fine. If visual novels aren’t considered games then maybe it isn’t games that I like, but how do I refer to all things interactive without completely repelling the attention of our readers?

      This industry is different now. A good predefined narrative doesn’t make the GAME good, but it sometimes makes for a better experience, especially since not everyone who plays games is necessarily creative. Not everyone WANTS to make their own narratives in their experiences and some, like me, just want interactive film, but there isn’t enough of that to go around. Interactive film hasn’t evolved into its own medium. It doesn’t have a fan base, so people like me, who still want to be actively involved in a predefined story can do so in linear games like The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, BioShock, or even Journey to an extent.

      Luckily, the industry is so widespread and varied, unlike anything else, that we can all enjoy different experiences. That’s what I liked about this post. Not everyone’s opinions were the same, but we all learn to accept one another’s differences in taste. You can’t say that about every community. Some people want linear experiences, interrupted by cut-scenes, but certain to provide an emotional adventure. Others want to create their own adventure. No one’s wrong. We’re just different.

      • Tye the Game Guy

        Everyone gets the wrong idea about me. I love interactive narrative, I’m a huge fan of Bioshock, The Stanley Parable, VN’s (mostly anime stuff), Heavy Rain(despite how laughably bad it sometimes is), Uncharted, ect ect ect. I think it’s perfectly valid in it’s own right, and in fact I have been working with a mathematician friend to create a scale that measures the amount of interactivity per-capita in a game in order to categorize it based upon it’s “gaminess.” Not to measure it’s validity, but rather to make very clear that Dear Esther and Guitar Hero are really just not the same thing and shouldn’t be compared.

        I only wrote my post because honestly I don’t think the stories to games are often all that great. I think The Last of Us was cliche and predictable, saved only but well written and likable characters. Bioshock was fine of course, but does it really compare to real philosophic works like “The Brother’s Karamazov” and “Nausea?”
        What I’m saying sounds unfair, to compare a new medium to a really old one, but I’m just trying to shed light upon a simple miscommunication in video game categorization. It’s difficult to tell a really good story through cutscenes. The harder you try the closer you come to just making a movie, which is really a problem. The hardest anyone tried ever was Quantic Dream, and let’s be real, if heavy rain was put in a theater people would laugh it off the screen. Stories are jarring and vague in most AAA games because they make a lot of games uncomfortable in their own bodies.

        What I’m trying to say is that the more interactive a game is, the harder it is to tell a decent story through prescribed narrative. It has to be told through player interaction or else you’re creating some kind of bi-polar Cerberus of a game. To make it more of a pre-defined story you have to take away player interaction. That’s just how causality works.

        This is a rant about a lack of distinction between these two things, not about measuring the worth of one thing or another. I’ve had more enjoyment out of muv-luv alternative and Katawa Shoujo than I have out of hundreds of the most interactive games. I just wouldn’t use their stories as examples of the greatest gaming stories, because the parts that are stories aren’t games, and the parts that is a game isn’t a story. I feel that the video game part of games are getting more and more underrepresented, and I just wish that wasn’t the case.

        As for the last part “No one’s wrong. We’re just different.” I’ll definitely disagree with that, but not for any other reason than the fact that there are simply uninformed baseless statements that people use the “it’s an opinion” card as a shield to hide the ignorance of the comment. But that’s neither here nor there, I don’t disagree with *most* of what you’re saying, so I guess we’ll agree to sort of agree on some things.

        • http://b-ten.com/ Gabe Carey

          Sure. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Though I don’t have much to say, I respect your thoughts and I mostly agreed up until the paragraph regarding opinions and subjectivity. I’m glad we can just get along to an extent. :)

        • Patrick Toworfe

          I’ll reply to both Gabe and yourself, having read the whole conversation. While you’re right in believing what you want about gaming and its ‘true’ meaning, you should realize that this viewpoint isn’t generalizable to all. I respect it’s your opinion and your way of looking at things, but I have to back up Gabe here: not everyone wants a purely gameplay qua gameplay experience without strong, impressive cutscenes. Some people prefer games that give you an open world and seemingly infinite choices. Some people prefer open level design with a linear story, that lets you go from A to B however you want, with cutscenes at the end of each gameplay segment. Some people like strong linear narratives with in-game conversations and over the top set pieces. Some people like a combination of all of the above.

          I took some time to think about it, but I remembered that one of my favorite games from last gen was Max Payne 3. it was a game that I consider to be legitimately ‘cinematic’ in both its presentation and gameplay. It weaved its cutscenes and gameplay so close together that there wasn’t a single moment where I wasn’t immersed or intrigued. The characters were believable, the plot was serious and the gameplay was given more motivation based on that. Max Payne 3 has a TON of cutscenes, but also a ton of in-game interactive segments, player driven actions and in-game dialogue. To me, that’s an awesome game because I not only got a great story out of it, but also a fun gameplay experience.

          I feel like tying down the notion of a good ‘game’ to one that doesn’t try to be like other mediums isn’t really fair to other people’s experiences, but it’s understandable if that’s how you feel. Mind you, I have a myriad of interests and I’ve played a ton of stuff from Super Mario to Ratchet and Clank to Metal Gear Solid; all of which I consider ‘games’. Essentially, I don’t think any one thing should define what a game can be however the interactive element is what forms the basis of every game. Given that, I think that anyone is fair to call ‘The Last of Us’ a game as much as something like ‘Skyrim’ can be a game.

          Personally, I find the idea of player driven narratives to be problematic because the concept of a story told by the player runs into SEVERAL problems. A lot of people lack either the imagination or drive to create their own story in a game, whilst others just don’t care. In fact, the reason a lot of people choose to consume entertainment media is because they want to be told a story. Sure some games may give you that option, but not everyone has access to it. Some people can play open ended games and have an ABYSMAL time. This is often the case with games that have choice and consequence systems, games that can sometimes completely screw over a player and leave them with consequences that weren’t fun and an unsatisfying ending. Even the best designed games can fail to thrill a player when not enough is given by the game itself to interest them.

          Sure, I could talk about all the awesome things I did in Crysis 1 and how I evaded a chopper by swimming for ages and finding a sewer pipe to lead into a warehouse, in which I used incendiary ammo to dispatch the enemies inside and find a sniper on the roof. But for another player, they could’ve played through Crysis 1 AND NEVER have experienced a single fun thing to tell as their story. They might prefer a game like Crysis 2 with a more clear story that they can follow and reminisce about. I should also mention that the experience and appreciation of games differs for every genre, because sometimes a game’s story can be appreciated alongside your own imagination where you fill in the blanks, such as with some fighting games or MOBAs.

          I did mention on facebook that it’s hard for me to just pick a definitive one game that has the best story, because I’ve played so many and I think they’re all great. However, like Gabe said and you said as well, everyone’s different and everyone’s opinion is different. The beauty of being gamers is that we can all share and understand each of our experiences.

          • Tye the Game Guy

            I gotta say I agree with Gabe’s perspective a lot more than I agree with yours, but maybe that’s just because you got a lot more specific. To each his own I guess.

        • Diego Calderón-Arrieta

          O hai Tye! I really dug what you had to say, and I hope I am not misinterpreting you when I say that I agree with you, most games that are lauded for their stories suffer from the gameplay-cutscene pattern, and as much as The Last of Us is a masterpiece in my opinion, what I appreciate your thoughts is that it reminds me to question why I think it is that way and to also recognize its shortcomings. I think you are right in that the game that should be most celebrated is the one that pushes gameplay to astronomically new levels, since that element of interactivity is what makes it unique from other storytelling mediums.

          I guess I am guilty of the same thing that you take issue with, since I find myself more drawn to the narrative and themes of particular games (usually established in cutscenes) more so than the gameplay, but it is my predilection, what can I say?

          And I do agree with your sentiment that a game should have a unique experience for each player and that is how we should measure a good video game story. I think that is what made me so captivated by Skyrim.

          I appreciate this discussion you birthed, and I, like Gabe, respect your opinion even if it contrasts with my personal tastes. I would rather prefer to agree to disagree because I would find it a waste of time to try and convince you, plus I am too ignorant about the whole “cutscene-vs-gameplay” debate that goes on in gamer forums and I am too lazy to research that kind of thing because I am not interested in that kind of debate. It was nice to hear a different perspective from you, dawg!

  • oo7PorscheMGS

    MGS (Metal Gear Solid) series and The Last of Us. Last of Us is so emotional/intense/well written, while MGS just does so many things..through music, cutscenes, action, stealth, dialogue… it touches on race, revenge, nature vs nurture (genes vs environment), war, peace, nationality, friendship, love…I could go on. This is the only game I know that does this.

    • Diego Calderón-Arrieta

      Metal Gear Solid is my favorite franchise of video games. Before The Last of Us, I ranked that series as my favorite. I agree wholeheartedly. I really love Liquid Snake and Ocelot as villains; they are definitely up there with the greats.

  • Ryo Shenmue

    The best story ever told by a videogame is obviously Shenmue(1 & 2), it’s one of the only stories that involves all the most useful elements: drama, adventure, emotional storylines and characters, mystery and some thought provoking and poetic moments. After Shenmue the games with the best stories are clearly Persona 3, Persona 4, Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga. The only thought provoking videogames ever made, the only ones that actually explores some themes.

    • Diego Calderón-Arrieta

      I am interested in hearing from you the premise of Shenmue, because I have heard a lot of good things about the story, but I haven’t watched a playthrough of it. And I also adore video games that explore significant themes, because those are elements of narrative that stick when the story closes.

  • lassenwolf

    Game of the year-RDR

  • EverAlwaysRealLife

    MGS series, Shenmue, Final Fantasy X, Red Dead Redemption, Walking Dead Season 1 and the Last of Us… If youre into games with a great story, this is a list of must played games and sequels

  • Corey Wells

    My favorites are last of us, bioshock series, mass effect series, and the halo series. I’m actually surprised I haven’t seen more people say halo and bioshock.

  • http://www.xboxonedaily.com/ TheRedButterfly

    Greatest Story: Mass Effect
    Greatest Universe: Halo
    Greatest Environment: Elder Scrolls
    Greatest Gameplay: Dark Souls
    Greatest Soundtrack: Halo/Zelda/Elder Scrolls

  • Section8

    Assassin’s Creed Universe and Darksiders 1&2. Also any game from Quantic Dream.