The lights are on
Time travel is hard to do well, but Chrono Trigger nailed
it. The story remains cohesive and understandable despite the time shifts. The
writing stands out for character development in its side quests and for its
atypical cast of characters. How many times do you see a frog, robot, or girl
genius as party members? It also takes risks by adding unexpected twists such
as former foes entering your party. The characters have depth, like Frog, who
watched his friend die and is haunted by the regret of not being able to change
the outcome. There are few games you point to and say they changed the genre,
but Chrono Trigger is one where the innovation was oozing, leaking straight
into the writing.
The quest of "The Nameless One" could have been another
throwaway amnesiac plot, but the revelations over time about the character's
identity are a thrilling discovery. Planescape Torment puts story front and
center, almost to the point where gameplay was negligible. The writers'
imaginations lit fire with the scope of the universe, complete with its own
language and various planes of existence featuring different magical properties
and enemies. The different personalities of party members you can recruit keep
things interesting, like the pyromaniac mage Ignus and his intriguing
connection to the The Nameless One. And who could forget Fall-From-Grace? She
was a walking contradiction, as a cleric who worships no higher being...and runs
a brothel! With these intriguing characters alongside thought-provoking
dialogue, many found themselves taking advantage of the ability to skip combat
by talking or sneaking their way out just to experience more of the story.
Poignant and philosophically stimulating, Planescape Torment has as much depth
to its world as it does to its characters and narrative, and it thrived because
Valkyrie Profile captures the essence of tragedy wonderfully.
Based on Norse mythology, you play as Valkyrie Lenneth, who is getting the
souls of warriors ready for a final apocalyptic fight. While you fight
alongside warriors who are dead, the narrative captivates by showing the final
moments of each of these allies' lives and letting the characters offer their
own insight and feelings about their lives to Lenneth. Learning why characters
chose the path they did is often startling, and the writing is extremely
moving. Gripping and somber, seeing these moments are akin to looking death
repeatedly in the face. At times, you almost feel like the Grim Reaper taking
these souls, and the intrigue doesn't stop there. You're also discovering
Lenneth's own life was full of its own share of tragedy as you restore her
stolen memories. Throw in a touching love story between Lenneth and Lucian, and
this game pulls at the heart strings in more ways than one.
The Mass Effect
Mass Effect put the universe in our hands and let us craft a
Shepard that felt like our own. The fond memories are hard to top, but Mass
Effect's greatest asset is how it makes us actually feel the plight of the
world - something few games achieve - by giving us some say in how we got there
in the end. Letting us rally with our team and visit them between missions adds
a sense of realism, and many conversations feel authentic, exploring the doubts
and trials of entering high-stakes missions. Choosing to be paragon or renegade
and seeing Shepard's personality change shows the writers' ability to adapt.
And let's not forget some of the well-written characters, like Mordin, Thane,
and Garrus. No matter what you chose or who your Shepard became, it's
impossible not to feel attached to that universe and characters - a testament
to the writing.
Seeing a game make writing its backbone is refreshing, and
that's where Mistwalker's Lost Odyssey makes its strongest impression. The
Thousand Year dream sequences features some of the strongest writing around.
The sequences are lengthy, but they're also so compelling that many people
didn't mind and looked forward to them. These dreams have you piecing together
main character Kaim's memories, but take on a life of their own by centering on
different themes like morality and humanity. Having the amnesiac trope turn
into something fascinating isn't an easy feat in RPGs, but Lost Odyssey shows
how finding a different way to develop characters works. Most impressively, the
developers achieved dream sequences with primarily text - visuals are limited -
and the emotion still comes across beautifully in a digital format.
What RPGs do you feel feature the best writing? Let us know
in the comments below.
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.