When you think of video games, what do you usually think of? The gameplay. Take Minecraft. A sandbox game with endless possibilities. How about Fortnite? A battle Royale shooter with casual and competitive players. But what do most people not really think of when you mention video games? Their stories.
Don't get me wrong, video games need a story. Even Minecraft and Fortnite have stories, despite how small or simple they may be. But as I’ve been going through school, I’ve been playing many games. Of course, most are just fun games, like Rainbow Six Siege or your typical world of Terraria. But I also went through a list of story-heavy games. Out of all the games I played, these games stuck with me the most.
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is a two hour walking simulator. You can’t lose, you have no freedom to tackle situations your own way: it’s just a two hour experience with very minimal effort required to progress. Yet, despite the game sounding like the most boring thing ever, it’s an amazing game. Like someone said to me, “It takes two hours to finish, and a lifetime to reflect.”
The story is about you, Edith, a girl walking through the home of the Finchs’ - a now uninhabited mansion - and learning how each of them met his/her untimely demise some many years ago.
As the story goes on, it progressively becomes sadder and more powerful. You see how each Finch died - in his/her own brutal way - as you discover the backstory of each family member. I’ve never seen so much care and love put into such a linear game. It’s nothing like I’ve ever played. Ever. Each section feels like a whole longer game of its own. This game excels at making you feel sad. I love how the game is never afraid to take risks. You see characters - young and old - facing relatable problems that lead to their death. It’s so brutal (despite it having little to no blood or gore) that every flashback to their death did nothing but hypnotize me as I stood there, thinking, “What the heck did I just witness?” It punched me in the stomach so many times that I felt like I was crying in my mind; I just wasn’t pouring out tears.
The graphics are gorgeous, and the stories are so dark yet cartoonish at the same time. It’s like what would happen if the Joker made a video game. I remember just finishing it, watching the ending, and feeling sad. I want to learn more about these characters, I want to see more of them. I want… maybe a sequel? But at the same time, that could have a high chance of ruining the original.
This is not the type of game where I can really explain how powerful it is. Buy it, and you’ll see why.
Persona 5 is one of the longest games I’ve ever played. Ever. It took me about 100 hours to beat, and even after that, I felt like I missed so much. This game excels at story and world-building, while still having surprisingly fun gameplay.
A young kid named Ren is sent on probation after a false claim of assault. While meeting some friends there, they discover the MetaVerse, another dimension with evil beings. After meeting some horrible people at the school, they discover they can change the hearts of those criminals and horrible people by taking their “Treasure” in the MetaVerse. Steal the treasure, and they will confess their sins in reality. This group becomes known as the “Phantom Thieves.”
Obviously, the story is not as simple as that. If I had to explain everything, we’d be here forever, but even still, this game has an incredible story. The characters are all incredible and feel like actual high schoolers instead of cut-down video game protagonists. I should say this right out of the gate: if you don’t like long dialogue and complex storytelling, buy something else. This game is filled with dialogue - almost 60 hours of it, if not more.
Normally, I find dialogue in most games to be slow and boring, but Persona 5 is an exception. The dialogue is so funny and perfectly resembles that of high school teenagers. The characters all have their own detailed backstories that you can learn over the course of the game.
I think what I love most about this game though is how well it combines sci-fi with realistic fiction. The Phantom Thieves are powerful in the MetaVerse, but as reality starts slipping away from them, they start to realize just how much they want to go back to being normal high schoolers. The characters all face mental issues that are addressed over the course of the game, and while it is a bit samey samey, it’s still quite impressive.
For me, Persona 5 is the type of game that immerses me into the gameplay so well that I don’t really pay attention to some of its crippling flaws. The music is amazing, but you’ll hear a lot of the same songs over and over again, so get ready for that. The gameplay and side activities could have been expanded upon a little more, and I personally believe they could have made the main character more interesting. Regardless, this game is a true work of storytelling with such a simple, yet effective story that satisfies fans of the series, and newcomers to it like me. I highly, HIGHLY recommend you try it out.
A Short Hike
It’s a simple, but cute game. The character tries to climb to the top of a mountain to receive cell phone service. Simple, but relatable. But what starts out as a simple premise becomes a pretty fascinating and fun game.
This game is so well done. It’s extremely small, and takes about 2 hours to beat, but it’s accompanied with an incredibly detailed world and a fantastic soundtrack. There’s something magical about this game. The graphics are cute, almost reminiscent of the Nintendo DS graphics all those years ago. The characters and dialogue are surprisingly well written and quite funny, and while there are not many, the secrets in this game are quite fun to find.
I don’t consider this game a masterpiece, but rather, a special game. A work of art. Something so incredibly different from all the modern games that have recently come out. It may only take two hours to complete, but it’s one of the best two hours I’ve ever spent playing a game.
Life Is Strange
I have a weird relationship with this game. On one hand, I believe it’s an easy masterpiece that’s perfect on all ends. On the other hand, I can completely understand why people hate it and find it cringey to play.
But for me, Life Is Strange is just…an amazing game. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because of the atmosphere and art direction. Maybe it’s because of the characters and plot. Even years after I first played it, I’m still struggling to find out why I am so awed by it.
Life Is Strange is a beautiful and charming supernatural experience. A girl named Max Caulfield discovers her ability to rewind time after saving a student from the bathroom. After reuniting with a long lost friend, Chloe Price, they both decide to discover how far her time travel can go after she gets a foreshadowing dream of an upcoming tornado ready to destroy the town.
Life Is Strange is the literal definition of “I wish I could wipe my memory and play it again.” Very few games I know have achieved this (Outer Wilds is definitely another one) because of how realistic and entertaining the game feels. Despite its many flaws, the story is quite engaging because like Persona 5, it blends realistic fiction and sci-fi so well. The choices don’t really always matter like in other games, but they feel very interesting and have a lot of depth. The atmosphere in the first game is unbeatable. Yes, the graphics and animations aren’t particularly amazing, but it blends the use of music, sounds and dialogue perfectly. Max walks around school with her headphones on as she monologues to herself. Ah…the beautiful vistas looming over as characters are talking in the background. The insanely depressing, but well made endings (there are two of them) that just make you desperately want another sequel following these characters. Life Is Strange 2 and True Colors are both good, but nowhere near as good as the first. It has, in my opinion, the perfect writing, simply because it feels so real and atmospheric. I understand, and completely respect people who find it cringey and dumb. It feels that way sometimes. But personally, this game is a depressing, gut-wrenching, and gorgeous game that encompasses two of the best characters I’ve seen in fiction, along with some brilliant side characters that help out. Life Is Strange is truly something else.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I hold this game with a lot of nostalgia for basically everything. Perfect gameplay, amazing soundtrack, tons of choices, huge character customization, and the heavy level of roleplaying involved in this game.
Skyrim is one of those worlds I want to live in because it’s so masterfully crafted. Every area is so carefully thought out and amazing, from the relaxing islands and beaches to the dark and creepy dungeons to the sprawling, snowy mountains. The amount of times my jaw has dropped in this game is more than you might think. It actually makes me feel old to say that this game is almost 11 years old. It is the literal definition of “I wish I could play this for the first time again.”
Part of Skyrim’s charm is its simplicity. It's easy to learn, but requires effort. Everyone I know who’s played Skyrim has never played it the exact same way as someone else. The number of builds you can create and role-play into is infinite. Notice how I say “role-play.” Skyrim is one of those games where it's easy to create a character and role-play like he actually exists. The number of characters and choices truly make it one of the great RPG’s (role-playing games).
Skyrim is like the video game equivalent of DND, where roleplaying largely accounts for what makes it so fun. Even though the premise of the game is still the same throughout its entirety, there are many options to build a character, and that's the power of Skyrim. The story is there, but in actuality, most of the story comes from your actions and choices as you play out as a thief, mercenary, etc. Yes, there is a main story, and it's very strong and action-packed, but Skyrim’s power stands from its ability to role-play so easily compared to most RPGs. The world feels real, even though sometimes it may break the immersion. This ability to role-play is what makes me keep coming back to Skyrim, despite its age, and with or without modifications (mods), I love it nonetheless.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less prone to getting scared. I’ve watched horror movies like It without ever flinching due to the horror being too over the top and corny. In fact, most movies and games don’t truly scare me.
Amnesia is one of the few exceptions. No matter who I’ve spoken to, they’ve always deemed this game to be terrifying, and I completely agree. It’s so creepy, scary and downright terrifying not only due to its gameplay, but the disturbing narrative. Trust me when I say that playing this in the night, with lights off and headphones on (which is what I did), will leave you absolutely terrified.
This game builds up tension like no other game before or after it. You play as Daniel, a man who wakes up in Castle Brennenburg to find out about his past. After realizing that Alexander, a psychopath, is taking over the castle, Daniel only has two goals: find out who Alexander is, and stop him. There is no long intro, very little dialogue - you just take control right away as doors slide open, monsters pop up and vanish in the darkness, and you slowly become insane.
The gimmick of Amnesia is its sanity mechanic. Daniel doesn’t like being in the darkness for too long, and if he is, he will eventually start getting hallucinations and things will become incredibly trippy and weird. However, monsters will see you faster if you are in the light, so you constantly have to mix between light and dark to never die, which is a really cool concept.
But what I love most about Amnesia is all of its encounters with the monsters and just downright creepy moments. There are zero jump scares, but it makes up for this with its Oscar-worthy sound design. As you’re walking, you can hear chains in the background, women screaming, your character breathing, monsters yelling, and other weird things. This is why playing with headphones lends to the best experience. Never once, even in the safe rooms, do you ever feel truly safe. It always feels like someone is watching you - always - and few things are as creepy as the fear of being stalked.
Amnesia really exploits the human fear of the unknown. Despite having only two enemies in the game, Amnesia completely prevents you from looking at enemies due to the character’s sanity. As you progress through the game, any abnormal events that occur (e.g. a door sliding open on its own 0r monster’s voices being heard in the distance) will drain sanity. The lower the sanity, the weirder things get, with things like blurry vision, loss of light source intensity, bugs crawling everywhere, and even a fake cockroach climbing onto your monitor. The sanity mechanic for me is a stroke of genius. You are constantly on edge because no dark place is ever truly safe, and the fact that if you constantly see monsters, you’ll drain sanity, is downright creepy. The fear of the unknown is always the greatest fear for everyone, and Amnesia dwells on that perfectly.
Every encounter in this game goes down in the history books for me. The chase sequences, the notes, the creepy characters and story, and how the safest rooms in the game are a room with a baby’s head on a millipede and a zombie-like creature asking you to cut his head off. It’s truly the perfect horror game in all aspects. Never once have I felt so terrified of even the slightest noises. I highly recommend playing this masterpiece, whether you’re into horror or not. The Lovecraftian undertones set in a dark, oppressive atmosphere makes this one of the most unique games I’ve ever experienced in my life. The story is told through nothing but notes and journal entries, as you experience flashback after flashback as the character loses his mind. No story has ever felt so perfectly messed up as the one in this game.
This is a simple game with deep lore. A man named Miles Upshur decides to investigate a mental asylum that traps him in with some of the ugliest monsters you’ll ever see. This game has everything: messed up villains, creepy characters, cults, and a terrifying atmosphere.
Many would describe this as a chase simulator, and they’re not wrong. Whereas Amnesia tries to make you disturbed, Outlast makes you anxious since everything will want to kill you. Jump scares are everywhere and chases happen all the time. So why do I love this game? Simple. It's freaky, horrifying, and shoves you into the game immediately. It's like you were a baby taking your first steps, but your mom (in this case, the game) decides to make you instantly start walking instead of crawling. That’s stressful for babies, and that’s what Outlast is.
Your only source of light in this game is a camera that has night vision. Problem is, it consumes batteries. Lose all the batteries, and you are completely blind. This really sets you on edge as you never feel safe even if you know an enemy can’t chase you somewhere. Outlast uses darkness so effectively. Not as effective as Amnesia, but very close. Its atmosphere and creepy, almost sort of funny villains, make this a very unique experience that was way ahead of its time. No game makes you feel so much for a character despite the fact that Miles never talks once throughout the whole game. It's mind-blowing how effective this game is at scaring people today, and while it may look old and lose its fear after a while, it's still an amazing experience. I recommend this game to everyone - no doubt about it! (Just hope you don’t have any panic attacks!)
We all know Dark Souls. “One of the most 'difficult' games ever.” “The Dark Souls of Dark Souls.” “Prepare to die.” Those comments aren’t wrong. Dark Souls I is a brutal, unforgiving, insanely challenging game that requires determination and perseverance. But once that ending hits and you hear the final song (which in my opinion is one of the greatest songs in all of gaming), you’ll feel things you never thought you would. It's not an easy game to stick with though. I’ve known many people who’ve given up due to its confusing map, lack of direction, brutal tutorial, and story so hidden that figuring it out yourself is like taking the SAT.
However, please DO stick with this game. Dark Souls I is one of those games where you’ll get a sense of accomplishment like never before. A game with such a depressing and sad atmosphere that you’ll feel like crying. A game with so many cool, yet difficult bosses it’ll make you want to break the controller. Dark Souls I tells the story through its gameplay, which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Part of what makes Dark Souls I so special is its complete lack of direction. The game tells you nothing. There’s no map, no waypoints, no signs, hundreds of shortcuts, and tons of secret areas everywhere. If I had a dollar for every time I got lost in this game, I’d be a billionaire. But it makes that sense of exploration so much more powerful and exciting as you never know what you’ll find next. Dark Souls I has constant surprises, where you’ll be fighting frogs and zombies in one moment, and in the next fighting demons from the underworld. There is also a complete lack of fast travel until halfway through the game, which is when games let you instantly travel from one point to another through specific means. The lack of fast travel means one thing: you fight your way in, you gotta fight your way out. This is truly why shortcuts are crucial to this game and can change your entire experience because they save so much time.
But Dark Souls I has, without a doubt, the best bosses in gaming. Demons, knights, gods - it has everything and I refuse to spoil the names. The lore for each boss is also extremely deep and incredibly well done that you feel bad for them once you understand their stories. I’ve never seen a game that makes me feel bad about a boss except Dark Souls I. That’s quite a remarkable feat, especially considering how some of these bosses are tough as nails.
Now don’t get me wrong. Dark Souls I isn’t perfect on all levels. It has many frustrating areas, enemies and locations that always make me go “Not again,” as I run past the entire thing. But Dark Souls I is a decade old, and just saying that makes me feel like a fossil. This game holds up so well that it's incredible. Yes, FromSoftware's (the developer of Dark Souls) other games are also really good. Dark Souls II is good, Dark Souls III is brilliant, Bloodborne is insanely action-packed, Sekiro is well polished, and their latest release, Elden Ring is probably their best game ever made. But Dark Souls I will always have a special place in my heart. If you have the determination and perseverance, play this game, because once you play and beat it, you’ll never experience a feeling like that ever again.
These are a few of the many, many games with powerful stories. Yes, all these games play very differently and some like Dark Souls are very cryptic and hidden in terms of their stories. But I put all these games here for a reason. They impacted me in some way, shape, or form because of how they make me feel things, whether through their atmosphere, story, characters, or all of those things. Some are scary, some are RPGs, some are tough as nails, and some are short but sweet, but they all share one common trait: they have well-written, fantastic stories that leave you feeling more emotional than you might think. Don’t get me wrong - most of these games are just plain fun. Skyrim and Dark Souls for example both excel in gameplay and level design, but I didn’t just put them here for the gameplay. I put them here for their stories, and I did so for all the others.
Video games, if developed with love and passion, can have just as much of an impact on me as movies and books. Some books might make me feel sad after finishing them because they impacted me on a deep level, or others could just be heartwarming or a fun read. The same can be said for movies. Whereas a Studio Ghibli movie might affect me deep down inside (All Ghibli movies make me sad even if they have happy endings), video games make me feel so much more. Sometimes I’m angry because the game tells a story that takes massive risks and kills off many characters. Sometimes I’m empty because a game makes me feel like I lost something dear. Sometimes I feel sad because I just finished a game I can never replay the same way as I did my first time finishing it up. In conclusion, games are an amazing source of entertainment, and I hope this review helped you understand the power of games and their stories just a bit more. Whether it's horror, fantasy, sci-fi or realistic fiction, video games are an incredible source of storytelling that is very much “under the radar." I hope that game narratives get more attention than they currently get.
Also, here are some other games I played that I also really enjoyed:
The Last of Us I and II
Dying Light I and II
Half Life I and II
Call of Duty Blacks Op I and Modern Warfare 2 (Sounds crazy, but COD actually can make you get really emotional)
Dark Souls III
Elden Ring (The only game that can truly compete with Skyrim’s open world)
Outer Wilds (Seriously, play this game)