The lights are on
Writing a narrative for a lengthy RPG is tricky. Not only do
writers have to consider character development, realistic dialogue, and story
progression, but they also have to make sure it complements the long-form
gameplay. Storytelling has always been hit or miss for the role-playing genre,
but writers have crafted some standout stories that survive the test of time.
The following games were avant-garde and pushed writing toward innovation.
Note: Choices are in no set order
Some games cause you to ponder, but Xenogears challenges you
to analyze every piece of the plot. Philosophically stimulating, Xenogears
takes a sci-fi narrative and makes its themes relatable to everyday life. It
asks questions about memories, reality, and power, and that's just scratching
the surface. That's part of the lure; Xenogears wants us to constantly question
what is going on around us. Tackling complex themes concerning metaphysics,
religion, and science is gutsy, especially for a '98 release. Fei Fong Wong's
struggle for consciousness is one of the plot's biggest assets. What is
reality? Why can't he remember his past? The localization may not have been
perfect, but Xenogears' messages, questions, and overall impact thankfully remained
Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI was ahead of its time. Back in '94, it
broke the mold with 14 playable characters and mature themes, so much so that
it set a new standard for RPG writing. The small character moments make the
journey what it is: A suicide attempt, an unexpected death, a brother's
sacrifice, and a chilling opera performance showcase how emotionally
captivating an experience can be when great writing, powerful music, and
memorable set pieces build off one another. The plot has plenty of twists and
featured one of the best villains to date, the cunning Kefka, a psychotic,
magically enhanced being. Final Fantasy VI succeeds for bringing out empathy
and showing the power of character development, often making it considered the
best Final Fantasy.
Dragon Age: Origins
Dragon Age: Origins has a multitude of detail and flavor in
every conversation. The branching dialogue options give the journey personality
and every location in Ferelden tells its own story. Origins' greatest feat,
though, is making character interactions matter more than the average RPG.
Whether it's Alistair and Morrigan's banter or Wynne lecturing you like a
mother, a highlight was never knowing what characters would say next. BioWare
also provides characters with unique back stories, making them feel real,
rather than merely pawns in a world-saving crusade. Dragon Age doesn't shy away
from making statements on life and the human condition; the best writing comes
when characters acknowledge their morality in the face of the Blight.
Characters often make profound statements with raw honesty, such as this one by
Wynne, "But why should you fear death if you are happy with the life you
have led, if you can look back on everything and say, 'Yes, I am content. It is
Blindsiding betrayal is the series' forte, but Suikoden II
helped cement that reputation. Your superiors betray you, causing a near-death
experience. Then the narrative puts you at odds with your childhood friend,
with things only intensifying with unexpected deaths and the vile antagonist
Luca Blight. Suikoden II emotionally tugs at you while tensions rise between
Highland Kingdom and the Jowston Army. Its most impressive feat is making you
feel sympathy for characters who engage in vicious actions in the name of war.
Take Blight for instance: He witnessed something so cruel as a child that his
disdain for the Jowston Alliance makes sense. Suikoden II puts you on an
emotional rollercoaster - with highs and lows - and it's those unexpected drops
that hit the hardest.
Both Persona 3 and 4 have some of the best writing in RPGs
to date. But Persona 4 takes it a step further with complex struggles, forcing
characters to confront their flaws and letting them learn to accept the uglier
parts of themselves. So often in life we look at our imperfections as something
to keep hidden, and we are weaker for it. Persona 4's writing is different
because it sends the message to embrace these flaws before they overcome you.
The tough subjects continue with a character questioning his sexuality and
another struggling with gender identity. Adolescence is a scary and confusing
time, and the writing remains realistic, staying true to these dilemmas. Don't
forget the cast, which has a deepening bond with genuine interactions that facilitate
the friendships' growth. And who could forget Nanako? Child characters are
tough to make resonate in games, but her dialogue lights up the dark journey.
The Witcher 2:
Assassins of Kings
CD Projekt RED's writers excel at creating scenarios with
plenty of shades of gray. Nothing is cut-and-dried, and consequences and rewards
are unpredictable. The gray even comes through in its antihero, Geralt, a man
merely adjusting to the circumstances around him. So often things are boiled
down to good and evil, but Assassins of Kings challenges you with no right or
wrong answers to its political warfare. Unattractive choices smother you,
forcing you to stop and think what you can or cannot live with having Geralt
do. It also puts the power in your hands to decide what really matters and what
the journey is truly about. Maybe you're focused on regaining Geralt's
memories, or instead care about being a Good Samaritan and liberating the
oppressed. The writers put powerful choices in players' hands, and yet still
created such emotional and cerebral undertakings in its intertwining paths.
Up next: Time travel, being the Grim Reaper, and powerful dreams...
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
Man, I loved Lost Odyssey. I actually picked up a 360 specifically to play that, Blue Dragon and Tales of Vesperia. The writing was definitely the highlight of LO. I still have to play Xenogears. I loved all of Xenosaga and really need to see where the ideas for it started.
Well, Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2's writing are great. Heck, some of the best.
Mass Effect 3? Not so much. That is one of the worse written games in existence. Plot holes, Deus ex Machina (A HUGE no-no), deviating from theme, illogical MacGuffin, scenarios that felt forced, etc....
I could go on. But well written Mass Effect 3 is not....
Great picks on everything else though. I personally love the story in Final Fantasy XIII but some would not agree with me. That is just a personal thing.
And man, I need to pick up Lost Odyssey again. But man, that game makes me cry sometimes. Some of those dreams are so sad.
You missed the best one. The highly underrated (in terms of story) Final Fantasy Tactics.
I'd say Legend of Dragoon was a good one too. Otherwise I'm content with this list. :) I truly love how Bioware brings raw emotion and life choices into their games. Makes it more relatable and interesting to play.
I loved Bioshock's story in that you had to explore this ruined city, finds these audio recordings of people who are probably dead, hearing their personal stories, then piecing it all together to figure out how a city like Rapture went so wrong. The environment was oppressive, creepy, and did a good job of letting you know that yes, the odds were stacked against you.
But killing your first Big Daddy, deciding whether the lives of numerous little girls could be sacrificed or saved, outsmarting the Splicers with your own tactics, all of these are priceless moments.
And the characters? I enjoyed Andrew Ryan's characterization, how sympathetic he was, even though he was a complete monster. I liked the protagonist, Jack, because even though he was devoid of a personality, he grew as a person by turning his back on what he was raised to be, and in the end, earned a life of his own.
So yeah, I really, REALLY liked Bioshock's story, and I enjoyed the sequel, Bioshock Infinite for the same reasons.
Lol, Dragon Age but no Baldur's Gate Saga? Shame....
God I really need to play persona 4...and the mass effect series..sigh.
Great List. I really can't think of any other game to add, it's funny. I can think of a ton of games with good writing, but none that are RPG's.
Skyrim has a colossal amount of writing, and all of it is top-notch. I realize that the core story is kind of simple, but the dialogue is so engrossing that even a simple fetch quest sounds important. The dialogue captures the story behind each quest perfectly. The really amazing part is the shear amount of lore, all of it captured in hundreds of books. I'm not the only one nerdy enough to read all of them, right?
I know it's not an RPG, but I still feel that the Metal Gear Solid series deserves an honorable mention for its incredibly nuanced story and (in)famous cutscenes.
I personally feel that any of the more recent Shin Megami Tensei games could fit on this list ("Devil Survivor 2" almost competes with "Persona 3" in terms of finding understanding with one's situation) because SMT really puts a lot of effort into their stories. In fact, generalizing Persona 3/4 into Shin Megami Tensei for its marriage of story and gameplay seems altogether rational.
One game that I was sad to miss was Square Enix's "The World Ends With You" for the DS. That game was a hidden gem! The storyline bleeds emotion (with great gushes of teen angst) but still has moments of light humor without turning onto the traditional JRPG formula of overdoing comedy. It's a game that can't really be explained; it has to be experienced. I'm replaying the game for the extra ending and after a year on the shelf, it feels like a completely new experience for me. I recommend that if you can find a copy, that you play this game.
Baldur's Gate without a doubt! In addition to superb writing it had incredible voice acting as well (You must gather your party before venturing forth..)
This list is completely true 100% I would also add Xenoblade...aka the only rpg i will never ever sell back to any gamestore.
Tales of Symphonia
Cool :D Persona 4 managed to get in here :D