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Azure Blue Tori

Favourite video game stories?

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I guess I'll mention a few. I'm a fan of narratives in video games and a good story really makes me love a story, usually. I mean at the end of the game its still a game but these are a few highlights. I might be repeating myself in previous threads but whatever. I'm humoring the topic.

Odin Sphere used to be my favorite game of all time before Hades came into existence to challenge that but I digress. The reason why is because I kept thinking of its story for years ever since playing it only a few times back during the PS2's hayday and I feel like that's a good hallmark of a game. The story is loosely based on Norse mythology where characters are inspired by various Norse characters and there's an apocalypse looming over head but everyone is busy dealing with their personal issues to care, if they even believe in it.

But what makes Odin Sphere work for me is that its a multiple perspective story told through various characters leaving you, the player, to piece things together. The first book is about a valkyrie Gwendolyn who's trying to gain her father's, Odin's, approval because she feels lesser due him ignoring her for other matters and people. Most of her story is her going out to try to win this approval but ends up taking a fall for Odin because of his past actions and has a sleep spell placed on her as punishment. Her story is about how self destructive it can be to win another's approval; Odin manipulates her into giving him whatever he wanted and Oswald, the black knight and Gwendolyn's fiancé, does his best to not do the same because he wants her to love him for who he is but due to Gwendolyn's short sightedness made him give up on living, leaving Gwendolyn to save him from the Underworld. Its then she realizes what's important and lives for herself, accepting Oswald's love and rejecting Odin's plans.

However her story is just a small piece, one that helps world build a chunk of the setting. The next couple of stories clarify what happened outside of Gwendolyn's story. Cornelius is a prince from a neighboring country suddenly finds himself in the Underworld, transformed as a beast but ends up getting involved with bigger issues at hand like the corruption of his nation. Mercedes is the fairy princess who suddenly becomes queen due to her mother's death at Odin's hands and gets trapped into a power struggle on who should lead the fairies into war with Odin. Oswald's story is about his struggles as he's constantly being used as a tool to advance someone's agenda before finding feelings for another, becoming independent in the process. And Velvet's story is about trying to stop the end of the world as told through prophecy but she has a lot of personal issues to deal with first. Its all then tied together in the Book of Armageddon where the player is rewarded with an ending depending on how much they've been paying attention to the story but I think its needless to say what happens here as its in the title.

The thing I just really like as I mentioned before is the multiple perspectives going on. For example Gwendolyn gets put to sleep for covering Odin's bastard children by killing his jackass general but in Oswald's story you find out what happens during that time, namely Onyx the Fire King was trying to wed her before Oswald's request happened and the two fight over her hand in marriage. But not only that but you'll get to see a different side to characters. Belial became one of my favorite characters because of this; When he first appears as the first boss in Gwendolyn's story he appeared as a big dumb dragon that the fairies sicced on her but in Cornelius' and Mercedes' stories he's actually intelligent and calm but is being mind controlled by 3 evil wizards to do their bidding. Because of Cornelius' strength and Mercedes' compassion he defies their orders and helps them out in some way after defeating him. Same thing with Mercedes who appeared in Gwendolyn's story as a major threat due to her position but is shown as a kid who needed to grow up fast in her own story. I just love trying to piece together the bigger story but its just artfully crafted that it kept me thinking for years and I absolutely love it, even if it fell off in recent years. Its what made me love Vanillaware so much and I'm glad they kept this level of story telling in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim but I digress.

 

Phew. I love Odin Sphere so much I ended up talking a lot about it again. I guess I'll just mention a few more stories I liked. Yakuza 0 is the game that won me over with the series. Its a crime drama where a rookie Kiryu Kazama gets framed for a murder he didn't commit while Goro Majima is yakuza who took the fall for his brother and is forced to live a fake life of glamour to get back into the family. Like Odin Sphere there's 2 perspectives going on but you don't know when they're going to converge until it does. But I really ended up falling in love with the characters because they're passionate in what they do but while they do try the right thing they're constantly being questioned left and right by friend and foe alike. Personally though I love Majima's story. He's in a glided cage. trying to appease his boss in order to get back in his family but then is suddenly asked to assassinate a blind woman. This is where he starts questioning if this was worth killing an innocent person over. Majima does end up falling for her but it turns out the situation was bigger than he realized and he's constantly trying to protect her. I just love a good love story that turns around someone's life. At the end though...

Spoiler

Majima ends up swallowing his feelings for Makoto and hooks her up with some other man, mostly because he knew he was going down a dark path of crime and didn't want her to get wrapped up in it again. When Makoto found her brother's watch buried and fixed in the abandoned lot it did make me cry a lot. I was a bit shocked that Majima didn't get the girl in the end but he was trying to give her a happier life while he lived his own life his way, becoming the Mad Dog of Shimano, a powerful yakuza known for his insane brutality and love for fighting.

After all the karaoke and dance parties I really loved Yakuza 0's story a lot. It build its characters, setting, everything so well its just so fun both as a game and as a story. Its just so good.

And finally Hades as I mentioned before might be my favorite game ever. Like Odin Sphere its based around mythology, this time its directly Greek myth. Its about a god named Zagreus who's tried of his father, Hades, being too overbearing and wants to see the outside world. But the Underworld is too cruel so everytime he tries to escape he either has to make it out alive or die trying literally and back to square one. I think this premise works so well because everyone is a god of sorts so death is just a bonk on the head at the end of the day. The story is pretty simple but at the end of the day its about how one person trying to fix a lot of personal issues. Orpheus can't get over his failure, Achilles blames himself for what happened in the Trojan War, and Hades himself while isn't presented to be evil for once has his own family issues to deal with. Its the kind of story you want to root the main character with basically. I am still processing it mind you but I think its a good, simple story that just works.

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I really love ETERNAL CHAMPIONS, and even more ETERNAL CHAMPIONS : CHALLENGE FROM THE DARK SIDE's storylines!!...
Sadly, ETERNAL CHAMPIONS : THE FINAL CHAPTER was cancelled on Saturn...

I love the SHINING series, especially SHINING THE HOLY ARK and its three wonderful sequels called SHINING FORCE 3 : SCENARIO 1 / 2 / 3... then, I didn't like what SEGA did with the SHINING series after!!...

I love PHANTASY STAR 4 but nt the PSO series!!...

But what I love the most are platformers and their lore : SONIC of course, SPARKSTER / ROCKET KNIGHT which is (for me) the only series as crazy as SONIC, ROCKMAN (especially the classic series) and KLONOA are my favourite heroes / universe!!...

AERO THE ACR-BAT was fun but I would have love it better if the design was more Japanese-looking!!...

And I'm waiting for Alex Kidd's return :

 

 

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Some notable stories for me would be:

BioShock

This was the first story-driven FPS game I ever played and while that was special in itself, it was also the first ever game that opened my eyes to the idea that video game stories didn't just have to be a movie chopped up and slapped between gameplay segments. The medium could do narratives that no other medium could do thanks to the intimacy of the player being an active participant.  If you've somehow gotten through the nearly two decades since this game came out without it being spoiled, please give it a shot while you still can.

Undertale

Its reputation kinda precedes itself right?  If BioShock was my eye opening "oh, game stories can be intrinsicly linked to gameplay", this one kinda blew the door wide open on the concept.  I'm so glad I got to experience this one before it became such a cult internet thing.  Amidst all the memes and fandom and spoilers, it's so easy to forget how incredibly funny and so full of heart and endearment the game is as a standalone piece of art.

The above are the two I'd give anything to experience for the first time again.  Beyond that though:

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Specifically recommended to me after I was let down by Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity's very lacklustre Nintendo-grade story, it knocked it out the park. It was a bit of a slow burn, since at first it felt like the first hour or two frontloaded a lot of crucial world-building lore about the current world's tribes and people, and the very first area of the game, which explores the old (comparitively futuristic) world, was filled with audio diary messages that are incredibly hard to follow and won't get contextualised until tens of hours later on - and end up being somewhat of a side story in the grand scheme of the world's backstory anyway.

Aside from that utter trip and stumble over the starting line though, by the end of the game I had experienced a lengthy but fantastically paced story of intrigue, twists and human tragedy regarding the backstory, a ton of enjoyable episodic stories with NPC quests and a deeply personal and beautifully done arc for the extremely likeable main character Aloy.

The Half-Life and Portal Series

Portal has had it's praises sung many times for how it slyly inserted a fantastic story into what appeared to be a basic storyless puzzle game.  Portal 2 often gets flack for going off the rails on it's pie-in-the-face humour compared to Portal 1's sneakiness but to be honest, Portal 1's finale had already blown off the rails and thrown them in the incinerator so I'm more than fine with it, because the execution was everything.

The Half-Life series is just an excellent bit of sci-fi with an extremely likeable cast of characters... once they're introduced anyway.  I don't care much for Half-Life 1 but it was necessary set-up for the rest.  Half-Life 2 is excellent but the story is very spread out across the 10-20 hour campaign, and thus feels a lot more gameplay focused than the Episodes that followed, which managed to pack story and interesting gameplay into almost every single map. Episode 2 is the pinnacle, where I think I could name every map off the top of my head, telling you what the gameplay is and what story beat happens in each one.  Half-Life: Alyx went a bit closer to HL2's pacing and tragically was missing a lot of those beloved characters that I was so looking forward to spending time with again after all these years.  It also gained a weird, almost Portal 2-esque focus on comedy (just more grounded in dialogue than actual events) but thankfully, said comedy makes up for the gaps between major story beats.

Even though I adore Half-Life as much as the others on this post, because it comes with those caveats it gets mentioned as a secondary note.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

I've played this game so many times it's become hard to appreciate how special and unique the story was. The presentation is aged nowadays but the ambition on display here shines through. While Link's personal journey as a protagonist doesn't really get any attention, possibly feeling even more of a blank slate character than he was in OoT due to his new, strange surroundings, all of the NPC stories build up to a narrative that is greater than the sum of it's parts and just drapes a blanket of general atmosphere over the player as they experience it in a way no other Zelda has done since, it's really something special (and if you're a Matthewmatosis viewer, yes I used some of his exact wording there from his Zelda MM review but I can't think of a better way to put it lol).

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Majora's Mask. spoiled cause I accidentally rambled a lot and I think you should play it(and OOT)


 

Spoiler

 

Majora's Mask is a game I think about a lot. It's both a complete thought in it's own right and a beautiful thematic companion in it's predecssor in a way that feels effortless. If Ocarina of Time was the coming-of-age story gamified, Majora's Mask is the natural next question. You know how to deal with the passage of time, but how do you deal with the end of time? In a beautiful example of Zelda's eye forsubtlety, death is literally staring you down the entire time in the form of the Moon, agony carved into it's stone surface.

Most franchises that come up on this theme tend to age up to characters to old, world-weary combatants that are at the end of their lives. Majora's Mask, intentionally or no, disparages this idea as optimistic and has Link confront these intense feelings as a child. The reality is that many of us won't get the long lives we were promised and the end comes for you when it comes regardless of age, race or status. The denizens of Termina are similarly all dealing with the idea that the world is ending at different stages of life. from Romani, who could be even younger than Link, to the gruff, middle aged carpenters who have been cogs in the machine of tradition for so long that it's all they know even in the moon's gauze. The carnival must go on. How can it not?

All around Termina, the spirits of the dead cry out in agony for the business they didn't finish or the people they can no longer comfort. The song of healing may put their souls to rest, but their burdens aren't gone. They're crystalized into a mask. When Link claims these masks and takes their power, he must also bear their pain, both quite literally in the form of those harrowing transformation animations and figuratively in the sense that their responsibilities are now yours. Sometimes I would wonder just what kind of nonsense the game was dragging me into when I would end up racing the Deku butler or comforting the most annoying child I'd ever seen in a video game, but with the benefit of hindsight it seems like a fair trade off. They all appreciated the comfort. No mechanical trinket is more rewarding than that, but the heart pieces and expanded wallets help too.

Majora's Mask has this overarching theme on the whole of helping others to find peace or comfort in these dark times. Link is going to stop the moon eventually of course, but Termina is going to end about a dozen times before that happens, so small victories like reuniting a young couple or  taking a few big stressors out of the lives of a struggling duo of sisters feel significant in the meantime. These sidequest make up the heart of the experience not just because they're interesting and unique from a mechanical perspective, but they encourage you to explore Termina to the fullest and actually see how everyone is dealing with this stuff.

A children's game isn't going to have the answers to such existential questions but the conclusion it does come to is surprisingly mature: the best things you can do are providing comfort to those around you and being receptive to it in return.

I haven't even talked about Skull Kid or Majora's Mask more significant theme yet. Skull Kid and Link may be worlds apart in terms of morals or character, but they do have one thing in common: a feeling of abandonment by their friends. Majora's Mask twists Skullkid's sadness into contempt and gave him the power to lash out at the world in a cataclysmic way, but perhaps Link didn't have the right answer when he decided to leave home either. Either way, I think the takeway from this is that the solution to dealing with these feelings isn't self destruction or isolation. You can make new friends, or you can reconnect with old ones, as Link and Skull Kid ended up doing.

I've seen some people say the ending kind of takes the wind out of the sales of the game but I personally don't see any other way it could have gone. Termina has gotten a second chance with most of their citizens having a new understanding of themselves or the people around them. Link is, at the very least, moved enough that he can go back home again. The obvious ending of him finding who he was looking for was avoided for something much more appropriate.

This would all be a pretty special story for a film or book to have, but the fact that they did all this in the Zelda frame work with the time travel mechanics reinforcing these ideas is commendable. It manages to be a clever, unique entry in the series bursting with completely new concepts, and they all tie back into the story in some way. It makes the impossible seem effortless.  One of my favorite things about Zelda is how thematically tight most of the major entries are, but nothing gets tighter than this.

 

 

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Very well said. I love how Japanese games deal with the topic of mortality, especially how it differs from the way Western cultures approach it. Final Fantasy X was a big deal to me for similar reasons. It really sold the idea of a dystopian world where no one can really build any long-term goals because of how it'd all be regularly wiped away in an instant, yet it still have things like Blitzball because people need joy in their lives to cope. Tidus seems like the typical loudmouth jock protagonist at first, but a good chunk of his dialogue in the game is about Yuna and how she must feel about having to deal with the burden of what her journey entails. It's linear, yes, but that worked in its favour because it made me regret not being able to spend more time in Spira's various locales. I really felt encouraged to try and be a kinder person after finishing it.

FFX also stands out to me for how it exposes the insidiously abusive self-blame dynamics of Catholic guilt, which is impressive considering it was never intended to be about Christianity and was more about Japan's own issues with religion. Something dispelling the whole notion of "the world is ending, and it's all your fault for not being pure enough" really helped me with my own anxiety issues, and I come back to it again and again in my memories for that reason.

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