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The Best RPG Writing

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

Xenogears


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 intact.

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 enough.'"

Suikoden II


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.

Persona  4


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...

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