As of 2015, The Witcher has become one of the premier role-playing series around. Things weren’t always that way though, and the series was seen as more of a cult classic PC game years ago.
The first game was definitely ambitious, but a bit rough around the edges. Glitches and texture issues popped up here and there, and the game had a timing-based combat system that became a little monotonous after a while. The game threw so many options at you with its different potions, oils and traps that it was totally overwhelming. The inventory system also managed to be a bit of a cluttered mess.
What The Witcher did best was present you as a player with an engaging world and impactful choices. Learning about Geralt of Rivia and his universe was fascinating. Geralt was an engaging character that had an interesting place in the world. Many of the choices you made added up to make a big difference throughout the game’s five chapters.
For as bogged down as the gameplay systems felt at times, The Witcher forged an immersive world that you wanted to learn as much about as you could about.
David Cage and his studio Quantic Dream are known for making incredibly cinematic game experiences. Heavy Rain fits that bill exactly, and functions more as an interactive drama than a full video game. Heavy Rains story revolves around its central characters and unraveling the mystery of a string of murders committed by the “Origami Killer.”
The story in Heavy Rain is spellbinding with tough decisions, unbearable tension, and a ton of twists; the gameplay on the other hand is as simple as it gets. Occasionally you’ll guide a character around environments, select conversation options and have a series of quick time events. It’s not the deepest of systems.
You’re certainly not playing this game for action packed gameplay, but the scene to scene intensity has you gripped to your controller nonetheless.
Asura’s Wrath is basically one ten-hour-long insane anime special. The action and absurdity on display almost puts everything else to shame. You’re cast as the vengeful god-like Guardian General Asura. His goal is to take revenge on the deceitful organization that killed his wife and kidnapped his daughter.
When in you’re in control of the game, Asura’s Wrath is a mix of third person action and a rail shooter. While the mechanics work perfectly fine, the combat system is a bit uninspired. There’s not a combo system nearly as deep as something like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry.
Where Asura’s Wrath really shines is during the cutscenes and story moments of the game, where you witness the absurdity of the game in all its glory. The outline of the story itself is a bit convoluted, but the presentation is fantastic.
Epic Dragon Ball Z-like battles take place between Asura and the rest of the Guardian Generals, and the ante just keeps getting raised as entire landmasses and eventually planets are blown to smithereens. It’s all presented in a gorgeous cel-shaded style that will have your jaw dropping at what you’re watching on screen.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215
Hotel Dusk is a fascinating and wholly unique game. For starters, you play the game holding the original Nintendo DS upright like a book instead of the normal way.
The game casts you as a former New York detective named Kyle Hyde, who has now become a salesman for the company Red Crown. He arrives at the Hotel Dusk looking for his partner and is given the room 215, rumored to be a room that grants wishes. Hyde finds out that the room and the hotel itself hold many mysteries, as well as a link to his past.
Hotel Dusk is certainly a slow burn. As a point-and-click adventure game it has you traveling around the hotel speaking to different residents and investigating. There’s some truly masterful writing and character development as you encounter different patrons of the hotel and after finding out more about them, they take on a personality of their own and really begin to feel like real people.
The graphic style of the game is done in something that looks like hand-drawn pencil, giving off a feel like a journal or graphic novel. The story of Hotel Dusk goes to some truly interesting places, and the dialogue is engaging the whole way through even if the gameplay surrounding it is a little slow to get through.
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead was a turning point for Telltale Games. It created a new formula for their games and found a storytelling rhythm that would change the company. We know the tried and true Telltale adventure formula now – difficult conversation choices, button prompts and minor exploration.
What The Walking Dead did incredibly, though, was build a relationship. Between two characters, and then between those characters and the player. The world of the game is already bleak enough before it casts you as the deeply conflicted man Lee Everret. Near the beginning of the game, Lee stumble upon a young girl named Clementine and takes it upon himself to keep her alive in the apocalypse.
A deep connection forms between the two characters as they become the most important thing in the world to each other, and as a player, their survival becomes of the utmost importance. The Waking Dead presented you with impossible choices where no matter what you did, things didn’t turn out well, compiling into a sense of guilt and duty to keep characters alive. Through great character development and dialogue, The Walking Dead builds an attachment to its characters, making the emotional impact at the end of the series thoroughly powerful.
If there’s one word that describes Deadly Premonition best, it’s ‘crazy’. Certainly one of the oddest games ever made, this title catapulted its director Hidetaka Suhiro – or Swery65 as he’s known – to fame. Definitely influenced by Twin Peaks, the game received polarizing reviews, both incredibly positive and incredibly negative.
Deadly Premonition is what would be considered a “budget title,” with rough third person shooting gameplay and a Shenmue-like exploration and town system. There were also a fair share of bugs and glitches to go around, but even still the game managed to make some nice horror moments.
What truly makes Deadly Premonition unique is its bizarre story and world. Main protagonist Detective Francis York Morgan is a strange individual who sees messages in his morning coffee and has conversations with his imaginary friend Zack about 80’s B movies.
Morgan is sent to investigate the murdering spree of the “Raincoat Killer” in the town of Greenvale, which is filled with equally strange residents. The strangeness of Deadly Premonition oozes from every part of the game, soundtrack, dialogue, story whatever it might be. Morgan turns out to be one of the most interesting protagonists in years, and the game was easily cemented as a cult classic.
999- Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Visual novels have surged to popularity over the last few years, and 999 is definitely a great one. Taking some basic inspiration from Saw, the game focuses on nine different characters who are abducted and put aboard a sinking cruise liner. There they are forced to play a game of life-or-death called the “Nonary Game.”
The gameplay is split into two sections called novel and escape. Novel advances the story with lengthy cutscenes and dialogue, while escape tasks you with solving puzzles to escape situations where characters are trapped and can die.
While the puzzles are certainly decent, the main focus here is seeing the narrative through. Players can makes choices throughout the game, resulting in branching storylines that change who lives and dies. Interestingly enough, the whole story is told through the voice of the main character, Junepei. Getting to know the other eight abductees is the whole point of the game, as well as figuring out who among you may be a dirty liar.
There’s tons of twists and turns to the story, with it feeling more like a thriller novel than a game at times. 999 was received incredibly well, resulting in the founding of the Zero Escape series and an equally interesting sequel called Virtue’s Last Reward.
Spec Ops: The Line
On the surface, Spec Ops: The Line may seem to be a run of the mill military shooter. The gameplay would certainly suggest that as well, as the third person shooting is functional if not exceptional. It’s everything you’d expect from a military shooter.
Spec Ops is so much more than that though, and that fact becomes evident the farther you advance in the game. As Captain Martin Walker you’re sent to Dubai to ascertain the whereabouts of the decorated war hero John Konrad and his infantry battalion. As things go on, you start asking questions about your role in the game’s story. As your character begins to question his mission as well, you’re led to some some shocking revelations later on.
Spec Ops sets your expectations at military shooter clone just before flipping everything you know on its head. The game makes you question Walker’s morality, and even your own in a way. It’s a commentary on the purpose of war, and the way we represent it in shooters. The game has some incredibly chilling moments, and there’s no way you’ll come out of the experience without thinking about it for hours afterward.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni is a dream game, a partnership between the legendary animation company Studio Ghibli and the talented game developers Level-5. It’s a gorgeous title that throws you into a rich fantasy world full of Ghibli charm.
It’s a turn based RPG at heart, with a monster collecting system thrown in the mix. Unfortunately, the combat system is incredibly slow, really weighing down the experience at times. The main character Oliver is taken from his world and dropped into one filled with magic, where he discovers a guide named Mr. Drippy. Now, Oliver must travel across the world and fix the broken hearts of its residents.
Ni No Kuni manages to have a charming colorful tale of friendship and discovery in traditional Ghibli style. The gameplay definitely feels dated, but the world and cast of Ni No Kuni is brimming with personality.
Mass Effect gave us a brand new sci-fi universe to explore, filled with unique alien races and planets. A sense of discovery permeates the entirety of the first game and the master storytellers at Bioware managed to craft a great story and character that feels unique to you as a player.
Mass Effect told a grand tale of humans finding their place in an alien universe, and Commander Shepard becoming a galactic hero. The fascinating party members were a strong aspect of the game, as well as the ability to explore and learn about virtually every planet you come across.
But of course there’s the gameplay, and Mass Effect’s isn’t the greatest around. Third-person shooting essentially still relies on a dice roll for damage, and manages to be completely floaty and imprecise. Not to mention the terrible Mako driving that makes the vehicle flip and fly all over the place.
It’s really a testament to the writing and storytelling in a game when it transcends gameplay shortcomings like Mass Effect did. The series helped define the era of player choice in video games, and gave each of us a universe that really felt uniquely our own.
What are some video game experiences where the story has come out on top for you? Do you think that story is more important than gameplay in the end, or is it most important to have a mix of the two? Let us know in the comments.