When Story Is All That Matters…

In today’s gaming industry, making a game that performs truly well in every aspect is difficult. But I’m not here today to talk about that.

I’m here today to talk about one thing: STORY. For me, the gameplay can stink worse than my puppies’ latest ‘gift’ and the controls can be weird and wonky. However, as long as the story is amazing, I WILL play it to the end. And, depending on the type of game, I may do it multiple times, if nothing more than for the achievements that I missed the first time around.

Needless to say, the following is a list (in no particular order, of course) of 10 titles or series that have set the proverbial bar for story. Of course, this is my opinion (gotta love that First Amendment here in the good ol’ US of A). Also, I’m sure that I’ve missed quite a few titles/series as well, so PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE post your favorites in the comments section below.

That said, here we go:

1. Alpha Protocol

I know what you are thinking. How can I put Alpha Protocol on this list when the critics just dragged it through the mud not less than a month ago? Not to mention SEGA has all but said that it won’t see a sequel because it sold so poorly.

I can put it on this list for one reason: the story is absolutely bloody amazing. The writers crafted a story the easily rivals the Bourne films, Bond films, and any spy novel you’ll pick up in the local library or bookstore. Believe me when I tell you that ‘putting up with poor gameplay and graphics’ is 1000% worth it for the story. Heck, with it being an RPG, you can put up with it multiple times because the story twists and turns on a dime when you make your choices. Once this title hits $20, you’d be an absolute fool not to buy it. Trust me on this.

2. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2

KotOR 1 was arguably the greatest RPG to grace the original Xbox. Heck, there’s not even an argument from me. It’s the best, hands down. BioWare took some of the deepest and best material that the Star Wars universe had to offer and crafted a masterpiece, plain and simple.

While the second entry didn’t exactly strike the same chord as the first (sequels are rarely as good as the original), it offered another perspective within the Star Wars universe that we nerds know and love. The ending to the second left a lot of questions unanswered, but (hopefully) the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO (to be released this summer) will provide at least some closure.

If you haven’t played KotOR, you owe it to yourself, simply for the story. It’s likely dirt cheap on STEAM.

3. Mass Effect series

What Star Wars KotOR was on the original Xbox, Mass Effect is on the Xbox 360. When BioWare was finishing up KotOR, I’m sure the creative minds were thinking collectively: why borrow someone else’s source material when we can simply create our own? God, am I glad that BioWare hires these people. They gave birth to our generation’s Star Wars and Star Trek in Mass Effect. Spawning a planned trilogy as well as a comic mini-series (I own all 4 comics because I’m a nerd like that), a series of prequel and bridge novels, and a possible film or television miniseries, Mass Effect has quickly become one of the most robust, awe-inspiring universes ever created. Mass Effect is likely under $20 now and Mass Effect 2 is $30.

Go get them. REALLY.

4. Too Human

While many say that it’s development time is what doomed it (began development in the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube days), I’m in the school of thought that it simply wasn’t what the masses wanted. The control scheme had a steep learning curve for starters.

However, the reason why it makes this list is flat out originality of story. Weaving Norse mythology of old with technology of the future gave birth to a society that was more gray that clear-cut black and white. Many gamers already know who Thor and Loki are (from Marvel comics), but who knows who Baldur is?? Telling the story from his perspective was absolute genius. If you enjoy games with lots of looting and gear, then you may enjoy the gameplay as well.

You can complete this story in a weekend. If you can find it at a local game rental store, or see it for ultra-cheap at GameStop or Play’N’Trade, it’s worth a playthrough, only to see the story play out.

Also, there’s a slim, outside chance that we will see a sequel. Personally, I’m hoping for one.

5. Grand Theft Auto 4 and Tales from Liberty City
Niko Belic. Johnny Klebitz. Luis Lopez. Three unlikely ‘heroes’. Three different perspectives. Only one Liberty City.

Rockstar went all out for GTA4. And they didn’t disappoint. I can honestly say that I haven’t played a single second of the multiplayer modes in any of the three episodes. Heck, I didn’t have to. The story-telling done by Rockstar in GTA4 is only trumped by their newest hit title: Red Dead Redemption. Playing through the original story as Niko, you encounter both Johnny and Luis as events play out. Then, when you fire up Lost and Damned, you get to see the same events play out from Klebitz’ perspective. The same with Lopez in Ballad of Gay Tony. You get not only a great set of events here, but also THREE perspectives!! I call that winning the lottery from a story angle.

Needless to say, GTA4 is still worthy of a purchase, simply to feel yourself enveloped in the life and times of Liberty City.

6. Gears of War Series

Oh, Cliffy B. How I and millions of other gamers out there love you. You are the person who, while on a paintball field, wondered how it would feel to be in the same position in a video game. Thus, Gears of War was born.
Many say that its shooting mechanics are amazing and the multiplayer is fantastic. And they would be correct. However, I’m here to talk about the story.

From the first moment that Dom opens that door in the prison and you (as Marcus Fenix, of course) start chainsawing Locust, it’s a non-stop thrill ride. Still going, in fact, as Gears of War 3 hits next April. Some weren’t exactly pleased with how the story of the second entry went, but that’s their opinion (to which they are fully entitled).

Gears of War has also given birth to a set of novels and there will always be talk of a film (RON PERLMAN FOR FENIX, PLEASE?!?), so this universe, while birthed on a paintball field, has come to rival the best universes in our generation’s sci-fi canon.

Well done, Cliff. Well done, indeed.

7. Halo

Of course. Why not? It’s only one of the greatest-selling franchises in the history of gaming. I’m pretty sure that I would be cyber-crucified if I had left it off.

We were first introduced to Master Chief a few months after the launch of the original Xbox. Heck, without Halo and Halo 2, I’m pretty sure that Microsoft would have packed it in from a console standpoint and left Sony and Nintendo to slug it out. Xbox Live wouldn’t be what it is today without the Halo franchise. On those merits alone, I humbly thank Bungie for breathing life into Halo.

Like Mass Effect and Gears of War, Halo has given rise to a set of novels and never-dying rumors of a feature film. But who would play the Chief?? Who cares. He won’t be taking his helmet off anyway.

8. Lost Odyssey

If a story makes you cry multiple times like a little girl, it makes this list. Period.

If you have played this title, and didn’t cry once, then I have to wonder if you have any humanity in you. If you DID shed even one tear, please comment below and we can share stories.

9. Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII is the sole reason many people STILL own a PS2.

Without Cloud Strife, this game would have been ho-hum. Insert Cloud Strife. One of the greatest games OF ALL TIME. For those of you who know me, you understand my hatred and loathing of Sony.

But FF7 is one of the greatest RPG’s ever created. And the story played a VERY large part in that.

10. Vagrant Story

I’m sure that many of you who are reading this haven’t even HEARD of Vagrant Story, which is understandable. It was one of Square’s lesser-known RPG’s from the original PSX. It’s in my top-10 games of all time list. If you email me at [email protected], I’ll be happy to give you the reasons why. But I digress.

Forgetting the fact that it has ‘STORY’ in it’s name, there are quite a few reasons why VS’ story makes this list. One, it involves Ashley Riot (a dude). With a name like ‘Riot’, what’s not to love about him. Also, the story’s setting is a Medieval one, with castles, kings, nobles, and peasants. Riot is a part of a group of secret soldiers who are investigating the goings-on in a castle that’s been taken by a cult. Needless to say, there are several wrinkles which unfold before the glorious finale.

Oh, and one more thing. When you finish your first playthrough, you can use EVERYTHING in your second. It’s one of the very first titles with a ‘New Game +’ feature. Thank you, Square.

There you have it, folks. Please let me know what you think in the comments section below. See you next week!!

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  • Nathan Hardisty

    I’m writing an essay on the exact opposite thing, which will probably get me completely ripped apart by everyone. Obviously, I’ll be normal self and troll everything in existence.

    I did like reading the article, although I disagree about Story being the most integral part of any gaming experience. A good story is one that uses the full potential of game storytelling; choices and problem solving. Mass Effect 2 is a high example of this and I should probably stop soiling my essay.

    P.S Gears of War? Seriously?

    • I enjoy Gears’ story. I never said this was the end-all-be-all list of all amazing storylines of all time list.

      It’s a group of games with stories that, if everything else about the game sucked, then I would still play through because of the story.



  • Jimbo

    Well I have to say that the Gears story sucked.. It wasn’t that good!

    If only we could include the game Shenmue somewhere in there..

    • I would have included Shenmue if I had actually played it.

      And I have to defend the Gears story. It’s original and relatively compelling. Too bad most gamers that play Gears are on the MP mode to start with and see the story as an afterthought.

      Try giving the novels a read. They are relatively inexpensive.

  • I agree with a majority of the games on this list since I’ve played most of the them. But two games that are not on this list that I’d stress to consider would be Mortal Kombat and Fallout 3.

    Mortal Kombat has (had) a rich story filled with -no pun intended- colorful characters that had an interesting mysticism about them. And with the upcoming ‘reboot’ of sorts with the new MK game coming next year, hopefully it will add some new depth to stale characters.

    And Fallout 3, because I’m biased and its my favorite game in the world.

  • Jeff Elliott

    I think that when you talk about story, Uncharted 2 has got to be near the top. The way it handles the characters and their interactions is handled as well as I have ever seen.

  • FrehleyzComet

    Heavy Rain is the be-all end-all game when it comes to story. We just finished playing it Friday night and it was better than almost every movie ever made. Seriously, it was unmbelievable. That being said, I agree with most of what you said. Gears is a great story, especially if you read the books (I will be writing an article soon about this!). Same with Mass Effect. Loved it.

    One game that stands out on your list for story that I do not agree with though is Too Human. Before I elaborate, know that I have played through it multiple times and actually enjoyed it. I however, thought the story was eratic and confusing. The whole borse deal was cool, I just didnt like the cutscenes. I had no clue what was going on most of the time and I honestly didn’t care either. I just wanted to get back to killing. hehe.

    Over-all I enjoyed your article and can’t wait to play Alpha Protocol (I have it for PS3). Good Job Patrick.

    • Thanks dude. Again, WHEN I get a PS3, I’ll be buying Heavy Rain and playing it.

      Understand about TH. Not for everyone.

  • Bionka

    First, I must strongly disagree with Gears of War making the list. If anything, GoW shows a game can be great without any depth to the story whatsoever. Juvenile, sophomoric and senseless are all adjectives to describe the storyline of GoW.

    But anyone can be a negative Nelly, so here’s a few to add to the list:

    Alan Wake, Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, Chrono Trigger, Metal Gear Solid 4, and maybe even Bioshock. Also, Mass Effect is a perfect example and the best effort so far.

    • ‘Alan Wake, Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, Chrono Trigger, Metal Gear Solid 4, and maybe even Bioshock. Also, Mass Effect is a perfect example and the best effort so far.’
      Haven’t played Alan Wake, Heavy Rain (no ps3), MGS4 (no ps3), don’t remember Chrono Trigger much (kill me if you must). Flat out forgot BioShock (sorry about that). Mass Effect series is my favorite of all-time.

  • Blood Omen

    I have to add the Original
    Legend of Kain PS 1 video game.
    It introduced us to Kain and is
    one of the absolute best vampire
    storys ever. And that game spawned
    the Legend of Kain/Blood Omen
    series on the PS 2 and a 2nd
    charachter (Raziel). But the
    original is still the best.

    Anyone else remember The Legend Of
    Kain? That game also had a one of a
    kind spell that NO other game has
    had since. It was a spell that
    littarally turned people inside
    out, it was gruesome and fun.
    This spell never even made it into
    the other Blood Omen games. I wish
    someone would be brave enough
    to put that spell in their game.

    But if you can still find it,
    it is worth a playthrough for
    the story alone. Its old, but
    is STILL better than some current
    console releases.

  • derpa

    I can see some of these games but halo, gow, And ff7. While the list is missing many great storyline games.

    • Maybe not Halo or Gears, but I’ll argue FF7 with you until I die.

      If I missed some games, please list them. I KNOW I missed quite a few, mostly because I haven’t played them.

  • Digging back to last gen, I would have to say that the X-Men Legends games and even the new Marvel Ultimate Alliance games have had decent stories.

    And Halo Wars was very good.

    • Loved the 2 XMen Legends titles. Thoroughly enjoyed the MUA1 story. Have yet to play MUA2 (it’s on my backlog).

      I grouped Halo Wars into the Halo franchise. Can’t post all the boxarts. 😉

  • I thank everyone for their comments thus far.

    A few things. Again, this wasn’t a ‘greatest stories of all time’ list. This is a list of games whose stories I personally enjoyed.

  • I cried during the first hour of Lost Odyssey. It was right when you got the first 1000 year dream.