Gamers fall into two main categories; ones who thrive off points and ones who thrive off the story. If your goal is to top scoreboards and log as many kills as possible, then we hope this article will turn you to the other side. Imagine being able to change the outcomes of your favorite movies based on your own choices. Consider is you were in control of your favorite book character and could interact with other people in any way you saw fit. That is what it’s like when you play a story game.
The impressions that storylines of video games have on you last longer than those in books or movies. With many hours spent in-game and you steering the ship the whole way, there is a higher level of investment. You get the chance to build your character through the journey and get to know other characters along the way. The frustration when you lose and the euphoria when you succeed all create an immersive experience. When done correctly, story games are the best of all the game genres.
While first-person shooters and battle royales have their place in the gaming world, they don’t have the cult following that well-made story games do. The earliest games revolved around rules and gameplay, innovative titles of today put precedence on gripping the player in with an epic storyline.
What is a Story Game?
At its very core, a story game is essentially a videogame that puts precedence on the storyline. They establish a solid narrative and hand you the reins to control the outcome. Story games are often called RPGs. Most role-playing games do revolve around a story and therefore are story games. The difference is that RPGs usually have a predetermined outcome and are quite structured, whereas story games typically allow for a bit more flexibility. Though every game that has a solid storyline is technically a story game, that doesn’t make them a good one. Let’s chat about what makes a story game and extraordinary game.
What Makes A Good Story Game?
There is no one size fits all in any gaming genre, but there are a few factors that contribute to a well-rounded story game.
The first and most apparent defining factor of a good story game is the storyline. Much like a good novel or television series, if the writing is sub-par, then the whole thing is going to be thrown off. Even if the graphics and combat system are amazing, if the storyline sucks, then you won’t see the game through to the end. The development of a storyline begins with an idea. The writers grow that idea into an experience with a beginning, middle, and end. A storyline is broken down into a series of parts that make up the greater whole.
Interesting and Developed Backstory: When you begin your journey in a story game, you don’t start at the beginning of time. There have been a series of events that have taken place before your involvement in the story. It is called a backstory. A solid backstory can set the tone for the entire game and give you an idea of what you’re getting yourself into. If the backstory doesn’t make sense or hasn’t been adequately thought out, then you’ll be confused from the beginning. Setting the scene with an exciting backstory will have you invested before you even begin. The backstory can present itself in a variety of ways. A standard method is through a cut-scene at the start of the game, which establishes the location, time, and possibly a bit about the lead characters. Another way is through flashbacks throughout the game, which reveal more backstory and connect the dots as you go. This creates more mystery and curiosity with many ‘A-ha’ moments in the game.
Compelling and Inspiring Goal/Task: The purpose of all games is to win. You win each title by completing a task or series of objectives that lead you to the ultimate goal. The more inspiring the quest or purpose, the more invested in the game you will be. If the end goal isn’t compelling, then you’ll likely not see it through to the end. Story games typically have a series of tasks and side quests that you can take part in along the way. They add more interest and the potential to learn more about the character as you go along. Regardless of the side quests or tasks in the game, there is an ultimate goal that needs to be completed. Sometimes, this goal isn’t revealed to you straight away. You may start out completing seemingly meaningless tasks while your purpose slowly reveals itself to you. A good quest will propel you forward through the game. It’s the piece of a story game that will keep you coming back time and time again until it is complete.
Relatable Characters: The next crucial part of creating a good storyline is creating relatable characters. You want to feel connected in some way to the characters in the game, especially the lead role. The main character that you control needs to be someone you like and with whom you can relate. If you hate your part, then you won’t care what happens to them and have no investment in getting them to their goal. It’s not an easy task to create a character that every person will relate to. Gamers come in all shapes and sizes, so the character needs to have traits that everyone can at least marginally sympathize with. Whether the role is a human woman, an elf man, or an animal or some kind, thought needs to go into their personality. Beyond just the lead character, the secondary characters need to be likable in some way as well. There aren’t many story games where you go it alone the whole time. You’ll usually meet people along the way that will aid you in your journey and sometimes even join your party. Though it’s not as relevant to necessarily like them as much as your main character, the story is better when they’re relatable. Again, they may not be of our species, but if they’ve been through a lot in their in-game life and have a positive attitude, then you’ll like them more. Creating relatable and likable characters will have you more invested in what happens to them throughout the storyline.
Rivals You Love to Hate: All good storylines have a villain. They aren’t always wearing a black leather suit with blood-red eyes, but they are an essential element of all story games. Villains come in many types; from enemy factions and nations to one singular enemy, all story games have a rival. The rival should be someone/something you love to hate. The storyline should create some severe hatred or resentment towards your opponents from the beginning. It doesn’t need to be extreme. A friend turned enemy could be just as valid of any enemy as an evil genius trying to destroy the planet. The creation of a significant rival will help the player see their downfall through until the end. The rivals’ ultimate demise will be of ultimate necessity, and the whole storyline will be more involved. If you don’t care about the fate of your opponent, then you’ll have no drive to defeat them.
2. Enchanting Locations and Interesting Maps
The second main factor that contributes to a good story game is the setting. The creation of unique locations, coupled with interactive map designs, makes a story game more believable. The world of the game needs to feels realistic, even if it’s an obscure concept. Thought needs to go into the placement of elements throughout the locations that keep you immersed in the game. Unique features throughout the map will make you wonder “what’s over there” and pique your curiosity to keep you exploring. The development of the locations is just as important as a good storyline. You can have a good storyline, but if it’s in a boring map than you will move on quite quickly. Interactive elements of the locations will take gameplay to the next level.
3. Realistic Character Movements/Combat Systems
The third factor that makes a good story game is down to creating a greater sense of believability within the game. Now don’t be fooled; believable does not mean it needs to base itself on real-life events. It’s the opposite. It’s creating character movements and combat systems that have such excellent execution that it makes you believe it could be real. Even if the characters are un-human, they can be programmed to move realistically. For example, frogs in real-life don’t talk or walk on two legs. If the story game includes a race of frogs, they could have them move in a human-like way, which would still make you believe the characters and relate to them. The same goes for combat systems. Lightsabers do not exist in real life, but the creation is in a way that you can believe that they are real in the game. Developing believable movement and combat within a story game can take it to the next level.
The genre of story games is hugely vast, but only a limited number of them have kept gamers whole-heartedly invested. There are tons of games with amazing stories, but we’ve picked the top 10 best story games that take into consideration all the above factors we’ve mentioned. These games beautifully define the genre with innovative storylines, characters, and locations that set them above the rest on the market. They aren’t all brand new, but many have been re-released on more modern platforms and consoles since fans can’t get enough. They’ve stood the test of time, and without further ado, here are the best story games.
1. Final Fantasy VII
Available On: PlayStation Consoles
Though it may be one of the oldest original titles on our list Final Fantasy VII is the best story game of all time, in our opinion. There is no other game in the whole Final Fantasy series that has become as famous or grown such a following as this one. When it released in 1997, it changed the video game industry forever. Fans cannot get enough of this title with it sparking a series of spinoff games and even a movie. The remake is set to be released next year, and the hype has been crazy. So, what makes Final Fantasy VII the best story game of all time?
The beginning of the game makes an immediate impact, throwing you into battle backed by some of the most fantastic battle music used to this day. It used the intro level to teach you about the combat system, including how to use items, Materia (magic usage), and special moves called ‘Limit Breaks.’ The backstory is revealed gradually throughout the game, with flashbacks and conversations with characters you meet along the way.
Probably the most impactful and notable quality of this game is the extremely relatable cast of characters. Each character is entirely different, but they all have qualities that make them likable, even the main antagonist, Sephiroth. The development of these characters and their connections with each other are incredibly impactful. Even roles that make small cameos have been well thought out, and their interactions leave lasting impressions.
You play the role of Cloud Strife, who has joined forces with an organization who are determined to save the planet from the evil Shinra Corp. They are a megacorporation who are draining the life essence out of the world. Though the Shinra Corp as a whole is rivals to the gang, Sephiroth is Cloud’s main rival. Sephiroth is a superhuman that has made it his mission to destroy the entire planet
With an insane storyline, well-thought-out characters, a memorable soundtrack, and a believable, immersive world, Final Fantasy VII is no doubt the best story game.
2. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Available On: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Mac
If you’re a Star Wars fan, then you’ll be frothing over our next title, Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic. Though the characters from the movie have not crossed over into the game series, the concept is the same. With the success of the Star Wars franchise, it has us repeating “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” KOTOR takes place thousands of years before when the movies take place. It was in a time when the Jedi and Republic were at the height of their power. But so were the Sith. You face the dilemma of which side to choose on your path to becoming the most powerful in the universe.
KOTOR has a storyline filled with tons of plot twists, many decided by you. Different from many other story games, the outcome can be dramatically altered based on your decisions throughout the game. You can choose to follow the light side and take the path of a Jedi or succumb to the lure of the dark side and join the Sith. Even step along the way, you’ll face choices that will determine different events throughout the game. It includes who becomes your friend and who becomes your enemy. You can influence your relationships with the other characters based on your interactions with them and decide if you want to be truthful or backstab them.
The storyline is one of the most engaging and dynamic stories of any game ever made, and we’d expect nothing less as George Lucas had approved it. The intro sets the scene as your character has lost their memory and must re-learn the ways of the force. The evil Sith Lord, Darth Malak, is the main antagonist in the game, but there are a series of other bad guys you will encounter on your journey.
The otherworldly locations all have a unique type of terrain and species. They are exciting and well-thought-out, with each offering a fun environment to explore and discover.
3. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
The Witcher series bases itself on a seven-series set of books by Andrzej Sapkowski. There is one word to describe this game, and that is epic. There are so many layers to the plot, with an almost infinite number of side-plots and quests as well. The game allows you a ton of freedom to pick your path and make pivotal decisions that have significant repercussions. You play the game as Geralt of Rivia, who is a well-known witcher. A witcher is essentially a monster hunter who is loyal only to themselves and operates as a solo entity. They travel the world taking contracts for monster hunting and other tasks, using their unique abilities to make money. They undergo a special ceremony to become witchers, which gives them heightened senses and also prevents them from having children.
There is a fantastic cast of unique and exciting characters that you meet along the way, and you choose where you stand with them based on the decisions you make. You’ll encounter witches, dwarves, and a massive bank of monsters and beasts in the world of Temeria. The main storyline revolves around a girl named Ceri, who Geralt trained in the ways of the Witcher years before. She is like a daughter to him. Through the quest to find Ceri, Geralt takes on a ton of side quests. So many that it’s easy to forget what the original search was in the first place. That said, all the tasks will keep you immersed in the complex plot of this fantastic story game.
They do an incredible job of developing the back story at the beginning of the game so you can understand what has led up to this point. It is especially useful if you haven’t played the previous games in the series.
The open-world concept can be almost overwhelming sometimes. You are not forced to play the game in any particular order and are free to explore at you. The quests are rated based on level, so some of them you’ll want to do once you’ve leveled up enough. You don’t necessarily need to do the story quests until down the line if you don’t want to, so you have ultimate freedom in this game.
4. Red Dead Redemption
Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Released in 2010, Red Dead Redemption is by the same makers of Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar Games. It’s the second title in the series, and they kicked it up a notch with this one. Different from the others on our list so far, this story game is based on a very realistic planet Earth. The main locations in the game are in the western states of America and the north-most parts of Mexico. The open-map style allows you to explore these areas at your will and offers a frightening realistic perspective of the life of an outlaw back in the early 1900s.
You’ll play as John Marston, who was previously an outlaw. A corrupted government entity called the Federal Bureau to come in and threaten to take his family if he does not cooperate with their demands. He is sent across the wild west to hunt down and kill the outlaws her formerly worked with, many of which were his good friends. This high-stakes title forces you to choose between saving your family or your friends.
The realistic terrain and scenarios make Red Dead Redemption a natural choice for one of the best story games. The settings include deserts, old school frontier towns, mountains, and prairies. All of them beautifully created to represent what the landscape may have looked like at that time. The historical realism created by this game, coupled with a story of personal struggle, makes this story game incredibly immersive. You will hate the rivals, and therefore, although having to fulfill their tasks, you’ll ultimately keep pushing toward their demise.
The environment is extremely interactive with fun features like animals that you can hunt and trade for money or other useful items. Throughout the story, you will also get a chance to play games like Poker and try your hand at taming horses. Your wild west dreams will become a reality in this fantastic story game.
5. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Available On: PlayStation 3
Dropped into the dense jungle of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater tasks you with a weighty mission. You’re there to eliminate the Boss, who is a former American agent who has defected from the American forces. The twist, the woman who is the Boss, was a former colleague of the protagonist. His name is Naked Snake. The unique connection that your character has with the main enemy makes for an emotional plotline with boss fights that pull at the heartstrings.
The game is heavily cinematic, with the plot development often taking precedence to the gameplay itself. It has loads of cutscenes that keep the game moving and reveal the backstory of the characters as you go along. It is entirely different from others in the series as it is in a different location and offers a new set of environmental challenges. As you’re in the jungle, you’ll need to use skills like camouflage and stealth to catch the enemy by surprise. The forest is quite interactive, allowing you to hunt the wildlife to gain health when needed.
The game is long, but with players so invested, that’s a good thing. Not only are you meant to take out the “Boss,” but the Russians have also developed a weapon called the Shagohod. You must destroy this weapon before it can wreak havoc on the United States. The game does a great job of incorporating survival techniques into the gameplay, which creates a more realistic environment. If you’re hurt, you need to tend to your injuries. If you’re hungry, you need to eat, and so forth.
For a realistic adaptation of a Cold War mission coupled with the harsh truths of the corruption in the government, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is one of the best story games.
6. Legend of Zelda – Majoras Mask
Available On: GameCube, 3DS, N64, Wii
Legend of Zelda is, without a doubt, one of the most favorited video game series of all time. It’s easy to see why they’ve released this title on pretty much every system Nintendo has since its original release. Out of all the Zelda titles, the most epic storyline has to be Majoras Mask. It takes place after the happenings in the Ocarina of Time. For his next dilemma, Link faces an evil villain who plans to crash the moon into the planet in the next three days. His name is Skull Kid.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, you will play as Link. Link, while often thought to be an elf, is a Hylian, which is the race of the planet Hyrule. He is the main protagonist in the entire Zelda series. He carries with him his trusty Ocarina, with is a musical flute, that he can play many different melodies on. Each tune has a different effect. In Majoras Mask, it becomes increasingly important as it allows him to travel back in time.
When the game begins, you only have three days to save the planet from destruction at the hands of the imp named Skull Kid. There is a countdown running the whole time, so the stakes are high. As the countdown gets near the end, you will need to use the Ocarina to travel back in time, thus buying you more time to defeat Skull Kid. You’ll need to complete four main dungeons and free four mythical giants as well as complete various side quests. You’ll be able to equip different types of masks that will transform you into different kinds of creatures, each with different perks.
The storyline is quite involved compared to others in the series. That is because it’s hard to hate the antagonist Skull Kid. Skull Kid is just a misunderstood and lonely imp who’s been down on his luck. The game makes you feel a sense of sympathy towards him, even though he’s trying to destroy the world. It adds another layer of investment in the game to see how it all pans out with him.
7. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
The Assassin’s Creed series, in general, has long stood out as one of the best story game series of all time. Out of all the titles, Brotherhood is hands down the best story game of them all. It combines elements of greed, conspiracy, and lust for power that are made all too real by its ingeniously written storyline. You play as an assassin named Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who was previously an Italian noble. The game takes place in the 16th century, with characters, events, and locations that are based on real-life.
No other story game creates such an incredible historical fiction tale around notable figures and places as Assassins Creed.
There are tons of political undertones throughout this game, and we love it. Throughout the game, you’ll encounter letters and recordings that suggest corruption in the American government, including undertones of Capitalism and propaganda. The story makes you think and consider the possibilities of real-world government manipulation.
It’s based in Rome during the Renaissance and is as much a lesson in history as it is a video game. You’ll meet characters such as Machiavelli, who discusses his concepts with your player. You’ll also engage in battle with the son of the possibly the most corrupt Pope of all time, Cesare Borgia. If you’re into history, then this story game will entrance you. As Ezio, you can explore the open world of Rome freely, completing side quests at your will. The main goal of the game, though, is to re-establish the order of the Assassins and to defeat the disgusting Borgia family.
Different from others in the Assassins Creed series, Brotherhood also has a multiplayer mode, in which you can play with other people. You’ll need to hunt down others while you’re being hunted and use your stealth skills to evade them.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is by far the best historical fiction title on the market and one of the best story games.
Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
BioShock is a cohesive mix between an RPG and an FPS, blending aspects of horror with adventure and bag of action. There are three games within the series so far, and it sounds like the plan is not to stop any time soon. And why would they with the cult following that they’ve gained from the series? The unique and innovative storyline and the world the series has created is hugely praised throughout the gaming world.
The first game takes place in the 60s, but not in the world as we know it. In a dystopian time on Earth, the corruption of the surface world pushes some people to take matters into their own hands. A man named Andrew Ryan decided to build his world that was exempt from the social, political, and religious systems of the surface world. It’s called the Rapture. Rapture has no government and offers a realistic look into what could happen to our planet if the systems collapse. Its location is underneath the ocean, and your character discovers the entrance when his plane crash lands, and he’s the only one who survives. What he finds is a society that has gone crazy with the discovery of a DNA altering drug called ADAM that grants superhuman strength. Speaking of drugs, have any of you ever tried CBD oil?
The game has you completing various objectives in the underwater world, while you encounter others that are still sane and try to fight the crazy ones to escape. You are contacted by someone named Atlas, who wants to take down the leader Andrew Ryan and wants your help.
Bioshock has one of the most immersive and believable storylines of any game series out there, with a “Brave New World” style look at the scary concept of what could become of our world. The newest installment, called Infinite, offers up a similar idea but is based on the floating world of Columbia.
All in all, BioShock offers up a deep and engaging plot that leaves a lasting and bone-chilling impression. The whole series is well-written with a lot of intelligence behind it.
9. The Last of Us
Available On: PlayStation 3 and 4
The Last of Us was first released on PlayStation 3, and by popular demand, it has been remastered and re-released on PlayStation 4. Many have rated the game one of the best games to ever be created for PlayStation 3, which is why it makes our list for one the best story games. People love zombies. We’re not sure why, but the concept has been presented in the likes of “The Walking Dead” and Call of Duty. The Last of Us introduces the idea of a zombie apocalypse in a format that creates a sense of intimacy and investment in the main character, Joel, and a girl named Ellie.
Joel lost his whole family when the zombie infection had spread throughout the United States. He teams up with Ellie, who is the person that may be able to lead him to the cure. She claims she was infected, but the infection never took hold. Usually, a person would turn within a couple of days. For this reason, she may have immunity that could be used to develop a cure. They travel across the USA, meeting other characters along the way. Some they can trust, but even more that they can’t. Their connection grows as the game gets increasingly more gruesome as they go along.
The Last of Us accentuates humans’ drive for survival and how we will do anything we have to when faced with danger. When civilization crumbles, its dog eats dog. In this world, humans form groups and lay claim to territories which they deem their own. Those not in nomadic camps are held in heavily policed quarantine zones. No one is to be trusted, and if outsiders try to enter your territory, they get killed. Some of these groups form alliances, but only to get something from the other. Once they’ve served their purpose, they are unnecessary. There is no such thing as a moral compass in this game; there is only survival.
The graphics are incredible, and the characters are super realistic, especially in the remaster. You’re likely to get extremely invested in their characters and the outcome of the story. The Last of Us takes the shoot-um-up zombie idea to a whole new level.
10. Dragon Age: Origins
Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Released in 2009, Dragon Age: Origins in the culmination of all the games in the series. What is so amazing about it that sets it apart from other story games is the ability to play your own Origin Story. With the main plot being the same, the way your environment reacts to you is defined by your origin, as is the way you see the world. It allows for the ability to replay the story from a whole new perspective each time.
The game is based in Ferelden, which is a fictional kingdom with many different races of beings. When you begin the game, Ferelden is in the middle of a civil war. You’ll have to choose which role you want to take on as well as your race when you begin. You can choose between rogue, mage, or warrior. Each with their strengths and weaknesses you can use throughout the game. You can also pick a race of either human, elf, or dwarf. Whichever you choose will hugely impact the game. For example, elves are not very well regarded in the kingdom and will face prejudice from certain characters in the game. A secondary character that is your friend in one playthrough maybe your enemy in another.
Regardless of your role or race, you will join a faction called the Grey Wardens. Their quest is to rid the world of the Darkspawn and defeat their leader, the Archdemon. Killing him is the only way to end their invasion for good. Along the way, you will meet various other characters who will join your party, and you can develop your relationship with them as you see fit. While you can interact with everyone in your party each time you make camp, you can only have three of them out in the field with you. They can all be fully controlled and physically customized in the same way you are, which sets it apart from other story games. You can even develop romantic relationships with other characters if you want.
Dragon Age: Origins is full of dynamic relationships, magic, and an immersive storyline that instills total commitment into defeating the Darkspawn.
The best story games evoke emotion, passion, and motivation in the gamer. They take a video game and turn it into an epic quest with stories that leave lasting impressions on the player. These ten video games are the best story games of all time, and we recommend getting out there and trying them out. You won’t be disappointed.