Yakuza 0’s story is nothing if not completely epic and dramatic – something which the series has thrived on for a while now. Even if you’re a newcomer and have absolutely no idea what the series is about though, Yakuza 0 is a prequel, so it’s a good place to start.
The game follows the stories of the series’ most iconic characters: Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. In Kamurocho, Kiryu is accused of a murder he didn’t commit, and the Dojima family puts a bounty on his head as he tries to prove his innocence. On the other hand, Majima struggles to deal with his exile from the Tojo Clan. When he’s offered a chance at redemption by assassinating a target, he takes the job… only to find out that his target is a blind girl with no way to protect herself.
Yakuza 0’s plot is dramatic at every turn, and it can even feel overplayed at times. But that’s precisely how the game keeps you at the edge of your seat, waiting to find out what happens next.
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood
Stormblood is the latest expansion released for the critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, and it’s an absolute blast. The Warriors of Light finally take the fight eastward, where they seek to free the lands of Ala Mhigo and Doma.
The picturesque beauty of Kugane and the eastern aesthetics of Stormblood aside, the story being told here is seriously gripping stuff. Things are not as simple as just going to a new land, rallying civilians to stand behind you, and then storming the fortresses of the Garlean Empire. Stormblood tells a tale of a war-torn country, filled with citizens and ex-soldiers who have been beaten over and over again, to the point where they no longer possess a will to fight. Trying to oppose the Empire as the Warrior of Light is one thing, but actually getting the Empire’s enemies to support you is whole other matter altogether.
The stories in this expansion get pretty dark, even by Final Fantasy standards, and it’s arguably the best story arc we’ve seen in FFXIV yet.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn captivated audiences with its unique setting and likable protagonist in the form of Aloy, a fiery and strong-willed red-haired woman who’s determined to find some answers about her past.
Perhaps the most captivating part about Horizon Zero Dawn is the fact that we start the game out as an outcast. Aloy was cast out of the Nora tribe at a young age for reasons unknown (of course), and because of this, she’s forced to deal with various forms of discrimination whenever she runs into any of the tribesmen. Aloy possesses a tough exterior, but the game manages to sell her softer side as well. On one hand, we cheer her on as she tosses a rock straight at the forehead of Bast, who won’t stop trash talking her, and on the other, it’s hard not to feel a little sad as she replays the hologram of Isaac’s birthday message during the game’s early hours.
Horizon Zero Dawn’s plot thickens as we continue along, and while we felt the conclusion could’ve been handled a little better, there’s no doubt that Aloy’s quickly become one of the most beloved main characters in the PlayStation family.
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is one of the standout indie titles of 2017 so far. The game follows the story of the mysterious Finch family. Playing as the titular Edith Finch herself, players are tasked with exploring the Finch house and finding out the truths behind the deaths of some of the family members.
The premise is engaging enough, and its presentation even more so. By exploring the house, players are treated to snapshots of the Finch family members, each of them “frozen in time” in a crucial day or moment in their lives. The story unfolds with a level of surrealism, but it knows how to deliver the emotional punches when needed, too. One particular family member has their story told through a poem written by another, and it conveys an uplifting, yet also utterly heartbreaking story about how they died while trying to overcome their fears.
As the highly anticipated follow-up to the wildly popular PS2 JRPG Persona 4, Persona 5 had a lot to live up to. And it did. Abandoning the typical slow start formula that we see in most JRPGs, Persona 5 hits the ground running by putting players right in the thick of the action. By beginning its story in medias res, players have a lot to look forward to as we get introduced to the colorful cast of characters one by one.
Like its predecessors, Persona 5 isn’t afraid to delve into controversial topics like student abuse and suicide, handling these issues with grace and the appropriate amount of gravitas. While the overall story arc felt a bit weak at times, it was the Confidant side stories that really made it shine. Persona 5 revolves around the theme of rebellion and going against society; as a result, your characters are all outcasts in one way or another. This is also the case, even with the characters outside your core cast.
The Confidant side stories are all remarkably well-written and well-developed, and every one of them have satisfying conclusions that tie up their arcs neatly. Persona 5 definitely got it right with the social link system this time around, making sure those stories tied in with the game’s central theme instead of just having them be random character stories you could pursue outside of the main plot.
Night in the Woods
Don’t let the cats on the cover fool you; Night in the Woods tells one of the deepest video game stories you’ll experience this year.
The setup is fairly easy to follow: Mae witnesses a kidnapping, and she and her friends begin working together to catch the culprit. While all of this is going on, Mae is also subjected to a series of unsettling dreams and nightmares as her past slowly catches up to her. The game deals with heavier themes like emotional isolation and disconnection, and these are also handled fairly well, despite the game’s story being spearheaded by a talking cat and an assortment of equally cute and fluffy animals. It’s a story about personal strength and endurance, even when it seems everyone around you is against you.
The first Injustice was praised for delivering an engaging DC superhero story, and Injustice 2 continues that trend.
Following the catastrophic events of the first game, Batman finally puts an end to Superman’s tyrannical reign and sends him to a Kryptonite prison. Since the imprisonment of Superman, the rest of the universe has been torn in half, with one side still believing in Supes’ brand of justice, and the other choosing to stand with Batman instead. It’s interesting to see which heroes fall on which side, as well as the redemption arc for some characters who stood with Superman in the last game, but are now trying to regain trust from the rest of the world. And of course, when a new evil threatens the existence of everyone involved, DC’s most iconic heroes are forced to work with each other again to eliminate the new player.
Injustice 2’s story isn’t exactly unpredictable or surprising, but it’s the game’s excellent depiction of everyone’s favorite heroes that really make it stand out as an overall package.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Though it lacks the support and marriage systems players have grown accustomed to from the past couple of games, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia delivers an excellent story about two young friends caught in the middle of a horrific war.
Shadows of Valentia brilliantly forces the game’s two protagonists, Alm and Celica, apart and allows players to swap between their two armies at any point in the game. Both characters are driven by their own purpose, but because you’re able to progress through their stories at any time, you can’t help but wonder and hope that their paths would cross soon. Shadows of Valentia also excels at telling a gritty story about war, and showing the effects that it’s had on its random NPCs and even your party members. Class and status also end up becoming a big part of the story. Most of the story beats are predictable, but the writing itself is solid and believable, making it a compelling tale to follow from start to finish.
NieR: Automata is a masterclass in storytelling, and I don’t say that lightly. The main premise itself is fairly simple; machines have taken over Earth, and so the humans (who live on the moon) create a bunch of androids to wipe out the machines in their stead. What follows after that is significantly more complex.
Automata certainly isn’t the first game to dive into the ideas of androids gaining consciousness or attempting to be more human-like, but it does so in such an emotionally heavy (and sometimes comical) way that it’s hard not to feel completely and utterly engaged in what the game has to say. The exciting main story aside, Automata’s side missions also do a great job at fleshing out the world even more and, at times, even provide some form of foreshadowing for events to come.
The most praise-worthy element about NieR: Automata, though, is how it tells its story. Instead of relying on more traditional, storytelling methods, it uses gameplay to make its point. Boss fights are executed with purpose, control is wrestled away from the player for a reason, and even that divisive hacking mini game feels a lot more than just a simple mini game when used during specific circumstances. NieR: Automata’s story is wonderful on its own, and it shines even brighter because of its innovative storytelling and courage to take some risks.
Gravity Rush 2
Look, I know that Gravity Rush 2 isn’t the most enjoyable game to play, but if you stick with it, I promise it’ll all be worth it at the end. Gravity Rush 2’s overall plot can only be truly appreciated if you’ve played through the first game, and it definitely rewards fans who’ve been sticking with it since the very beginning.
Watching Kat evolve from a bumbling ditzy gravity queen to… well, still a bumbling ditzy gravity queen, but with a sense of purpose when it comes to saving Hekseville and a newfound friend in Raven was truly one of 2017’s greatest gaming pleasures. Kat is, hands down, one of the most lovable main protagonists we’ve ever seen, and she continues to be just as charming in this sequel. It’s her cutesy, adorable mannerism, juxtaposed with how twisted the endgame is, that really makes Gravity Rush 2 stand out as one of the best written stories of the year.
Without giving too much away (because this game is way too easy to spoil), suffice it to say that although Gravity Rush’s story may be relatively short, it’s written strongly enough that players will care deeply for Kat and Raven long before the credits start rolling, lending greater impact to the series’ rousing ending which, might I add, also provides major closure to all loose ends.
For most of its duration, Gravity Rush 2 is an absolute, yet charming, mess to play through. It’s a vicious push and pull cycle that drives you insane with its awful controls that somehow seem worse than the last game’s and terribly implemented side quests. And yet, every time you feel like you’ve had enough, the game always finds some way to pull you back in with Kat’s dopey charm and the world’s colorful exuberance. And by the time you’ve reached the end of the game’s fantastic and cathartic third act, you’ll be reeling.