The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
When you're running through third-world countries, watching buildings collapse around you and hearing explosions in the distance, you're in a place that is familiar to the video game space. Surprises are not always good things, of course, but when they're done correctly, play off false assumptions, and really show genuine creativity, they can create experiences we thought we would never have. Trust me, I've played a lot of games that have utilized settings we've seen time and time again, and I've enjoyed a lot of them. But, when it comes down to it, being in a world that is unfamiliar to the player is what inspires them, piques their interest, and holds their attention. These bizarre, awesome places have captivated plenty of gamers, but some are so bizarre yet so well realized that they stand above the rest.
I just want a painting of this...
I've decided not to rank this particular list, as there are numerous worlds that may be just as awesome or bizarre as these ones, but that I missed when glancing around for ideas. Some of these places I certainly have enjoyed more than others, but I think they all deserve recognition for the creativity (and sometimes wackiness) they employ. I tried to pull from multiple sources, so hopefully you see at least two or three settings you're familiar with.
Rapture is what made so many people fall in love with the original BioShock: in a sense, it is BioShock in of itself. This dystopian city has whales move outside the windows, and also is home to some of the most insane characters in gaming. I loved exploring its various locales, which range from a surgeon's office, to a tropical garden, to a frozen area with many human statues, all people encased in the ice. While I did very much enjoy BioShock Infinite's setting, Columbia, Rapture has more unexpected places inside of it, and also creates an atmosphere we rarely see in gaming today.
The Distortion World
Pokemon Platinum wasn't my favorite game in the series, and I spent less time with it compared to both Diamond and FireRed, but I did enjoy exploring one of its areas, the Distortion World. It's home to Giratina, in its Origin Forme. You really only explore it for a few minutes (maybe five at best), but this world was really one of the first to introduce more dynamic environments into the Pokemon series. In turn, this world seemingly inspired other worlds in other games, such as Historia in Radiant Historia. Running along walls, ceilings, and surfing down a vertical river was a nice little break from the standard Pokemon experience.
I never finished Epic Mickey. Nor did I play it's sequel. But, before its release, it was one of my most anticipated games ever. I loved how this game had taken Game Informer in a new direction with how the covers are put together, and also that it was focusing on the roots of Disney. The gameplay wasn't that great, hence why I never finished it, but the setting was certainly the standout. Seeing all the concepts Walt Disney himself had abandoned was amazing, and makes me wish now that I had the motivation to finish the title.
The Kingdom of Zeal
Every time in Chrono Trigger has different warring factions, and different people in power. However, the Kingdom of Zeal truly stands out for being so focused on magic that they raised islands up above the world to live upon. As an endless winter rages on beneath the clouds, they live in peace above, praying to Lavos. Beneath the clouds also exist mountains, chained to the ground, that serve as prisons for the kingdom. Seeing them rock in the wind, and then going up on top of one of them, was one of my favorite parts of the game entirely.
I'm not a major fan of the Halo series, but that doesn't mean it's not a great one. I've still only played the original (and...forty minutes of Reach?), but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The Halo ring itself is one of the most unique settings ever in a video game, in my opinion. It's so big, and I still don't understand why it actually has fauna and stuff, but that's kind of what makes it awesome. You just know its some giant ring world that was built by some unknown entity (this is in context of Combat Evolved), and that made it awesome to explore. Walking around, and looking up to see the world extend and curve up...well, as far as I'm concerned, no planet/world could really be more unique.
The World That Never Was
The final world from Kingdom Hearts II is perhaps the most visually striking in the series. It combines the bright neon lighting of the city with tall black and gray block buildings, along with the large, looming while Castle That Never Was behind it. This world in particular is bizarre because there's this city that seemingly exists for no reason. Was it once inhabited, but it then fell to darkness in some shape or form? Regardless of how it came into existence, or why it exists, it is really awesome because of the contrasting colors it employs, as well as the mysteries it holds.
Surprised? You shouldn't be. The recent Illbleed Super Replay that Game Informer completed was one of the best of them all. If you didn't watch it, you probably should get on that soon. If you don't plan to, or don't have the time to, that's alright I guess. In any case, for those of you who don't know, Illbleed itself is an amusement park with various attractions that act as levels, with each of those levels being based on a made up horror movie. They kind of act as spoofs, with one being very similar to Toy Story, and another taking cues from the movie Tremors. It doesn't take itself very seriously, and is one of the goofiest yet goriest games ever.
For several years, Disney had an MMORPG that was catered towards younger audiences, and it was called Disney's ToonTown Online, which I believe took its name from the part of the Disney parks called ToonTown. In this game, you create a toon styled after Mickey and his friends, and fight evil robots called the Cogs. I played this game for YEARS, and it's one of my favorite games ever (why did it have to be shut down :( ). The various areas in the game are based off Disney characters, such as Donald's Dock, and Daisy Gardens. It was just fun for me as a kid to run around a Disney world, but then fight these robots that didn't really seem like Disney characters at all, creating this bizarre tension. But, again, I loved it, and I would totally play this again if it was re-released.
The Bionis and the Mechonis
The God of War franchise had Kratos moving along the back of Gaia at one time, but that pales in comparison to the world of Xenoblade Chronicles. Looking up and around to see the Mechonis in the distance, or the Bionis once you reached the Mechonis, was fascinating. I can't pin down one exact locale from this game, because each inspires something different than the last. If I had to pick a a favorite, it would probably be on the Mechonis Hand, since you can see both of the titans above you at once then. Regardless, the setting of Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the most creative, and most well-realized of all time. I know X won't have the same setting, and thus may not inspire me as much, but based on what Monolith Soft was able to do in Xenoblade...I think I can look forward to it.
Persona 4 Golden has held my attention for almost every second of the last week or so. I've been dropping hours into it as much as I can, because it's one of the most amazing games I've ever played. Part of that comes from where Yu and his friends go to fight the Shadows that threaten those around them: the world inside the TV. At this point, I still haven't really had it explained what the world truly is (there have been hints), but I don't know if the game actually ever does fully explain it. Regardless, the world is one of coolest things ever, period. That may sound cheesy, but as far as I'm concerned, it's true. I mean, you go inside a television, traverse dungeons inspired by a person's inner turmoil, and fight dark beings. I don't know how you can get any more bizarre or awesome than that.
I know that there are plenty of more awesome settings that exist out there, but I only wanted to cover a few that have stood out to me over the years today. Perhaps sometime in the future I will revisit this idea with a new list...in any case, if you have any of your own personal stand-out, or you've enjoyed any of these worlds I've mentioned, mention these thoughts below!