Spinning out of the yesterday’s "Video Games Need Better Stories" column is this week’s gaming list: the top ten gaming stories of all time. The title is pretty self-explanatory. These are the games with the most gripping narratives that pull at the heart strings, make you laugh, make you cry, and, most importantly, make you care for the character you’re interacting with. These ten titles stand as shining examples of how to properly balance gameplay with a story driven experience.
10. Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
Shadow of the Colossus does not spoon feed narrative exposition to players throughout the adventure. Gamers have to be perceptive in order to truly grasp the magnitude and emotional punch that Team Ico’s Shadow of the Colossus strives for. But for those willing to commit to piecing together the "why" behind the game’s desolate environment, they will discover a rewarding story that is truly heart-breaking in nature. By the time you realize what a mistake it’s been to go off and slay all the massive colossi scattered throughout the landscape, it’s far too late.
9. Halo 2 (Xbox)
Many a gamer has cried foul at Halo 2’s shift in narrative focus away from cookie cutout Master Chief to a, dare I say, more "human" Covenant martyr. But the move was the best thing Bungie could have done for the Halo series. Not only did the inclusion of the Arbiter give more weight to the overall war engulfing the galaxy, but it also expanded the entire mythology of the Halo-verse, giving some much needed motivation for the bad guys outside of "they’re evil, kill them all." So say what you will about Bungie’s decision to have gamers play more than half of Halo 2 as the Arbiter. Truth is, no game in the Halo series would be on this list if it weren’t for him.
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
What’s important about Uncharted 2’s story isn’t really the story at all, it’s the characters. In fact, I can’t really remember what exactly the story was about besides the fact that it involved the Tree of Life. However, the entire cast of characters in Uncharted 2 are some of the most memorable in all of gaming. Every single one of them are completely rounded individuals with their own beliefs and motivations. No one in this cast is a cardboard cutout, shell of a person. Therefore, Uncharted 2 features some of the most believable character interaction gaming has ever seen. And even if the plot isn’t anything to write home about, the characters make this game a memorable experience.
7. God of War (PS2)
God of War might take Greek lore and X-tremeify it something fierce, but I dare you to find someone who says it didn’t work. Kratos’ journey in the first God of War is one of the most brutal and gut-wrenching stories in gaming. At first you think he is nothing more than a frat boy meathead, but as the game progress, and the layers are peeled back on Kratos’ psyche, you discover a man whose been put through the ringer and is a bit justified in his bitterness. It’s also the only game I can think of off the top of my head that opens with an attempted suicide. So you know things are going to go well right from the start.
6. Braid (XBLA)
As mentioned in the "Video Games Need Better Stories" column, Braid has a plot that is paper thin. You could explain it in a sentence. Maybe even two words. Or even one that involves a hyphen: Anti-Mario. Braid puts a nasty, and creepy, twist on the traditional Mario saves the princess story and by the time you figure it all out, it’s too late to change the past (see what I did there, Braid involves manipulating time). It’s the definition of a mind-f*ck, for sure. And everything leading up to this final twist is cleverly and vaguely hinted at throughout the entire game, making the final punchline all the more powerful.
5. Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
If you ask a lot of video gamers what the most shocking moment in gaming history is a lot of them will say when Sephiroth impaled Aeris in Final Fantasy VII. And while shocking moments don’t automatically make for a great story, I’m sure the rest of Final Fantasy VII’s narrative can speak for itself. The Final Fantasy series is known for its epic, gripping stories and every time a new game in the series is released it’s compared against FFVII. That speaks volumes.
4. Jak 3 (PS2)
Much like Metal Gear Solid 4, Jak 3 is the perfect send-off to the Jak & Daxter trilogy and all its characters. The game had heart and it’s patented humor and remains a perfect conclusion to one of the most memorable sagas in gaming history. It was also both shocking and hilarious to discover the true heritage and legacy of the fabled Precursors, who have been working behind the scenes of the entire trilogy.
3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox)
Bioware knows a thing or two about creating gripping stories in their RPG titles. Knights of the Old Republic is one of the best examples. The game was so excellent that a MMORPG is being spun out of it’s mythology (The Old Republic). The epic plot twist midway through KOTOR also helped ensure the game was exciting up until the very end. And while the sequel left much to be desired, the original Knights of the Old Republic is enshrined in the hall of gaming greats.
2. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3)
Metal Gear Solid 4 is the perfect example of a saga ending story. It takes all the loose threads carrying over from the previous titles in the series, introduces new morally complicated scenarios for our characters to deal with, stitches it all together, and wraps everything in a nice pretty bow by the time the final credits roll. It’s not very often that I tear up, but MGS4 had me there, and I’m man enough to admit it. This game was freakin’ dramatic and a perfect sendoff to one of the most memorable figures in gaming, Solid Snake.
1. Bioshock (Xbox 360)
It’s not hard to understand why Bioshock is on this list, nor why it’s ranked number 1. Whether it’s the gripping words of Andrew Ryan in the game’s climactic confrontation ("A man chooses, a slave obeys!"), or the "would you kindly" revelation, Bioshock is an experience no gamer is soon to forget after completion. Bioshock is also one of those rare titles that actual raises a number of questions about our own society and way of life that you would expect from an Oscar worthy film, or classic literature assigned to you in school, not from a first person shooter video game. We need more games like Bioshock, and stat!