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Which games do you think represent the gold standard in story-telling? [roundtable]
 
Self-explanatory. I don't want to skew the discussion, so I'll be brief, for now.

Super Metroid, Ico, and Prince of Persia - Sands of Time. Arkham Asylum was also very strong, with judicious cutscene use. I will even give a shout-out to Maniac Mansion, for being an adventure game that amused me and had multiple paths to victory, instead of a series of roadblocks that required a FAQ.

As far as the worst - god(s), SO MANY. I'll just start with Metal Gear Solid and (post VI) Final Fantasy. I kind of want to throw Modern Warfare 2 in there, for completely failing to flesh anything out or follow anything up or even be interesting, but the CoD franchise actually has some cool storytelling touches, like perspective changes, and such. I'm also going to throw GTA onto the fire, because the linear aspects of the storytelling and progression are totally at odds with the open world nature of the game.

And, just to piss all of you off, I'm going to include Metroid Prime. Fuck scanning. To death. Retro (or whoever it was) ignored many of the best aspects of Super Metroid storytelling, and instead amplified the worst, most discontinuous mechanic in the game. I would only accept all of that flat, textual narration if it was Zork Prime.

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Posted: 01/06/10, 19:31:52  - Edited by 
 on: 01/06/10, 21:35:37
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Gold Standard = Chrono Trigger.

Worst? Hm. I'll have to think about it. I actually like Metal Gear's storytelling - haters be damned. -_^
Posted: 01/06/10, 19:40:09
Well to be honest, I don't believe there is a gold standard for storytelling in games. There are only storytelling methods that work in the game they're used in, and storytelling methods that fail for the particular game they're in. I think it's pretty easy to figure out when they don't work. As for the best, it's just a matter of taste and preference. I love the dialogue-less storytelling of A Boy and His Blob, and it's probably where my preference lies. But the cutscenes in Uncharted were also effective.

Final Fantasy from the PSOne era on gets a bad rap from fans for its lenghty and obstrusive cutscenes, but I say look again, revisit Final Fantasy IV or VI. Those obstrusive cutscenes are there, just in a more primitive form. Maybe they did get longer, but not that much, I don't think.
Posted: 01/06/10, 19:49:30  - Edited by 
 on: 01/06/10, 23:38:18
Yeah, I was actually going to say gold standards, but that would break the analogy. Generally, I meant, which game(s) should be looked at by other games in their genre for storytelling inspiration?

I have actually never played a Final Fantasy game (except for a bit of VI and a smidge of X-2 and VII). I just know that FFVII changed the whole industry in a really, really terrible way.
Posted: 01/06/10, 19:52:19  - Edited by 
 on: 01/06/10, 19:52:43
System Shock.

Being able to unravel the story as you were playing was absolutely genius and yet next to no one has borrowed it. For a game of it's time, it had great voice acting, especially Shodan who was, surprisingly, voiced by one of the designer's wives, typical stuff for the age that led to some really terrible voice acting, but in that case some of the best.

The big moments are forever burned into my mind and, of course, unfold without any cutscenes. Pretty much every FPS game that is praised for its story borrows elements from System Shock. By far the most underrated game of all time, as far as I can tell.
Posted: 01/06/10, 19:53:33
To me, the best will still and always be Final Fantasy VI. I became really attached to most of the characters (Gogo and Umaro were really the only exceptions) and felt deep disdain for the villians of the story. Chrono Trigger was good. The World Ends With You also had a good story if you stuck with it.

The worst was, I have to agree, Metal Gear Solid. I love the story, but the story overshadows the gameplay by a good bit. Without the cutscenes in the original, you could blow through the game in three to four hours easily...maybe less if you really know what you're doing. Again, the story was great, but there was almost too much story for so little game (if that makes sense). Final Fantasy VII also gets a nod. The Sephiroth thing was cool, but the story was too disjointed at times for my liking.
Posted: 01/06/10, 19:54:03
Tough question. I'd say Chrono Trigger and Okami are definitely up there as epic stories. The Legend of Zelda series has always had a subtle, yet profound way of telling stories, so those rank high on my list too.

I like how Metroid Prime's desolate world is told through history and logs too. It's a unique narrative that also plays in Bioshock, and somewhat in Kingdom Hearts.

Lastly, I'd say Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The characters and adventure as just so fun to follow. It has it's place in video game history now.
Posted: 01/06/10, 20:13:20  - Edited by 
 on: 01/06/10, 20:14:22
Of the games I've played, I would pick Super Paper Mario. While the method of delivery was less than ideal -- text, text, and more text -- it was an engaging story with a wonderful ending.


David V
Posted: 01/06/10, 20:19:01
porphyrous said:
Of the games I've played, I would pick Super Paper Mario. While the method of delivery was less than ideal -- text, text, and more text -- it was an engaging story with a wonderful ending.
I have to agree. The gameplay was okay and there was an awful lot of text, but there was a great story buried in it. I migth have to replay that sometime soon.
Posted: 01/06/10, 20:25:04
Octorockin said:

I like how Metroid Prime's desolate world is told through history and logs too. It's a unique narrative that also plays in Bioshock, and somewhat in Kingdom Hearts.

See what I mean about System Shock? No one ever gives it credit for that.
Posted: 01/06/10, 20:36:59
One of my most recently completed games was Mass Effect and that had me engaged throughout. I remember back in the day A Link to The Past having a really profound effect on me in terms of storytelling.

A story I loved was in Paper Mario and The Thousand Year Door, not so much the main story but Luigi's retelling of his adventure. It had me gripped and I couldn't wait for the next installment, especially the sidekick telling you that was not at all how it went down and giving you a clearer picture of the events that unfolded. I am still waiting for that to get its own game.
Posted: 01/06/10, 20:47:55
Whats with the Crono Trigger love? It's without a doubt one of the best jrpgs ever made, however while the story was fun it wasn't anything special. The pacing, combat, concept and execution are what, imo at least, makes it a classic. The story though? Really it was pretty standard 16bit Square fare and there are literally hundreds of games out there on par or better.

For me I'll go with the best first:

1) Bioware's Catalog- I arrived post Baldur's Gate and NWN to the Bioware fan club, however what I have played by them from a story telling perspective is about as good as it gets in the industry. KOTOR, Jade Empire (which is not that good of a game however the story and characters are great), Mass Effect and Dragon Age are just really well done. The characters are always incredibly fleshed out, the plot, while nothing approaching even average literature is always exciting and fun and the story always puts you in an epic good vs evil setting while still allowing you to influence events. Bioware wins this hands down.

2) Deus Ex- This is probably the best game ever made in my estimation and is how you tell a story in a game. Great, fairly original cyber-punk story that spans well over 15 hours with tons of plot twists, multiple endings, characters that you will remember forever and pacing that puts most modern games to shame. If you want to see PC gaming at it's peak, play this game as even today it trumps nearly everything on the market side by side.

3) Half-Life 2 + EP:1 & EP:2- Even if Valve totally drops the ball on EP3, what they have created here IS the industry standard in how to tell a story in a fps game. They have been ripped off more than any other developer in that regard post Half Life from everyone from Halo to Call of Duty and Killzone. They created the mold of how to tell a story in a fps, and they still do it better than anyone. Period. Further their pacing is second to none.

I'll leave my "best" list at that point though I could add a couple more. Those are imo without a doubt the best I've played. Ico and SotC would be next, then The Longest Journey... were I to keep going. Now on to the worst:

1) Final Fantasy X- Not only is this the worst story with the worst characters and the worst pacing I've arguably seen this decade, it's also one of the worst games. Who buys this shit? The story was awful. I could write another ten pages detailing the demise of Square and the jrpg post FFVI however I'll leave it at this... at least FFVII and FFVIX were somewhat entertaining, what we have here is a pretentious, bloated pile of excrement. The follow up, FFX-2, is laughably worse however I'll give the initial offender the nod.

2) Grand Theft Auto IV- I may get blasted for this one however I don't care. This IS a good game, don't get me wrong however when an asshat like Hilary Goldstein claims the writing is "on par with The Godfather" I honestly wonder what the industry is coming to. The most cliched story of the modern era hiding under the guise of "art". Nothing original or beyond blatant stereotypes went into any facet of this game. Is it fun? Sure. Is the story a steaming pile of shit along with the tripe Rockstar attempted to pass off as a supporting cast? Absolutely. Shit is shit no matter how much you pay for the voice acting. For the record while Vice City and SA were also poor in this regard, they get a pass because they did a good job stereotyping an era, Vice City in particular I actually found highly enjoyable just because I remember the 80s and it was a great job of fan service to a decade. GTAIV is just offensively bad all around.

3) Halo- I know, I know. I have to read the books. Well I do read books. A lot of them. If you can't tell a story in a fucking videogame that makes a lick of sense without me reading a bunch of books on my free time you fail on an epic level. I have beaten all of these games and to be honest outside of the major plot points I have no idea what the fuck happened. Go here, grab this, OH NOES TEH EARTH... blah. Piss poor storytelling that is made all the worse by the fact the gaming media seems to think this is how to do it. It's not, Half Life is how you do it, this is how you write a convoluted mess of a story, throw some epic music behind it and pass it off to the public as the next War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells would not be impressed Bungie... not at all.
Posted: 01/06/10, 20:54:03  - Edited by 
 on: 01/06/10, 21:02:54
@Oldmanwinter

Well the thread was supposed originally to be about storytelling, not story. The conversation has apparently branched off but in terms of storytelling, Chrono Trigger is a fantastic example because of, as you mentionned, its pacing and execution.

Everything you do in that game, even the side-quests, relate to your main quest or your characters. No frivolous, pointless errand to pad the game here. How many other RPGs can claim the same? Other than Dragon Quest V I can't really think of many. Perhaps Phantasy Star IV, too.
Posted: 01/06/10, 21:04:22  - Edited by 
 on: 01/06/10, 21:14:50
Pandareus said:
@Oldmanwinter

Well the thread was supposed originally to be about storytelling, not story. The conversation has apparently branched off but in terms of storytelling, Chrono Trigger is a fantastic example for, as you said, pacing and execution.

Everything you do in that game, even the side-quests, relate to your main quest or your characters. No frivolous, pointless errand to pad the game here. How many other RPGs can claim the same? Other than Dragon Quest V I can't really think of many. Perhaps Phantasy Star IV, too.

Well in that case I agree. Bioware's rpgs are also very good in that regard too, imo at least.
Posted: 01/06/10, 21:07:41
Along with the pacing, Chrono Trigger's memorable characters and world-altering side-quests make the story a classic. All of the ending possibilities also add to my choice.
Posted: 01/06/10, 21:24:08  - Edited by 
 on: 01/06/10, 21:24:55
Yup, Chrono Trigger won't win any awards for the story itself - a rag-tag group of heroes (made up mostly of teenagers) defeat a big monster to save the world - is pretty cliché to say the least. But it's the pacing, the presentation, and the memorable characters that make a simple story like that shine. The storytelling itself is what sets it apart from the rest. And as mentioned before, the side-quests and multiple endings (that all relate to the main quest, no padding) make it even better.

Pacing, characterization and presentation can make a simple story in a game seem better than it actually is. See Skies of Arcadia for another example.
Posted: 01/06/10, 21:35:08
I think I appreciate any game that tells the story in a way that's relatively unique to games.

With Chrono Trigger's multiple endings and ways to different outcomes, I think it stands out.

Deus Ex was really great because the way you played the game had a very legitimate impact on how the story was presented to you. I'll never forget Paul ripping into me for killing the guards on the first level after asking me not to. :(

Also, what I love about the Metal Gear Solid games is that I really can't imagine that story being told in any way other than games. Yeah, I know they're ridiculously cutscene heavy but I think they really take advantage of the medium in interesting ways. I sure as hell don't want every game to do what the MGS games do, but I appreciate they really going out there with it.

Super Metroid is a great example of subtle storytelling. I always thought the text heavy beginning was a shame considering how well the game narrative is told without a single spoken word or text bubble, but I can't hate on it too much. I will say the only things I disliked about the Prime series was the fact that the scanning, while logical in thought, was so disjointed in execution. Why doesn't the visor automatically do that? Why does the game pause while I read text? The Metroid games always did a good job of telling a story WITHOUT telling a story, and I thought that while great overall, the Primes were an unfortunate deviation from that (Fusion is the same way for me).

For as much as I adore FFVI, I have to say that the storytelling itself isn't all that special, but the characters and the arc are dear to me.
Posted: 01/06/10, 21:50:08
Simbabbad said:
I don't know if it should be a standard, but for me:

- Majora's Mask
- Day of the Tentacle
- The Dig
- Chibi-Robo
- Silent Hill 3
- To some extent, Dead Rising
- The Ark of Captain Blood
- It Came From the Desert (Amiga)
- Another World
- Cruise for a Corpse (Amiga, from the Another World guy)

... are games that had the perfect symbiosis between game and story. I'm probably forgetting a few, though.

You win for mentioning Chibi-Robo, I love the hell out of that game.

Ya know what game I've played recently that really caught me on the story-telling aspect? Cave Story... I just felt so tingly after playing it. I know I'll probably never be able to get the best ending though... probably not until they release it on WiiWare.
Posted: 01/06/10, 22:20:18
Kal-El814 said:
I think I appreciate any game that tells the story in a way that's relatively unique to games.

Also, what I love about the Metal Gear Solid games is that I really can't imagine that story being told in any way other than games. Yeah, I know they're ridiculously cutscene heavy but I think they really take advantage of the medium in interesting ways. I sure as hell don't want every game to do what the MGS games do, but I appreciate they really going out there with it.


Ah, see I'm going to have to disagree here. Metal Gear Solid doesn't really do much of anything that can't be done in a movie. Taking the player out of the action for upwards of 30 minutes at times to show a long and drawn out cut scene that is trying it's damnedest to mimic a Hollywood production is not my idea of using the medium to it's inherent strengths. Take Deus Ex, a game you and I both agree on, how many cut scenes were in that one? How many times did that game take you out of the action? It didn't, ever, everything unfolded around the player while he still was playing the game, immersed in the world. I find cut scenes to the degree which MGS does them to be anything but immersive. Which is not to say the games are bad, they definitely are not. MGS3 on the PS2 was one of my favorite games on the platform. I just think MGS is a prime example of trying to make a game a movie and not tell a movie quality story within a game, if that makes sense.
Posted: 01/06/10, 22:27:52  - Edited by 
 on: 01/06/10, 22:29:56
@Oldmanwinter

There are definitely cutscenes in Deus Ex. There's one that happens almost immediately after the game starts when you talk to Paul. Weren't there a lot of dialog trees too?

Anyway there are absolutely parts of MGS games that could be done in movies, but I think the games were at their best when they did stuff like let you tweak the codec to hear the character's thoughts, the Psycho Mantis scenes, the split screen Snake/Raiden stuff from MGS4, making you walk past the ghosts of people you killed in MGS3, etc. The more interactive stuff, I guess. I agree that the storytelling isn't always immersive. But I do think that it's at its best in the moments that use the game medium specifically to deliver story elements.

Again, I don't want every (or even most, for that matter) game to be as ridiculously cutscene heavy as the MGS series, but for as much deserved flak as it gets for that, I think it takes great advantage of its medium as well.
Posted: 01/06/10, 23:20:52  - Edited by 
 on: 01/06/10, 23:25:14
Oldmanwinter said:
Well in that case I agree. Bioware's rpgs are also very good in that regard too, imo at least.
I wish I had played more Bioware RPGs. I've only gamed on PC for a brief period, basically the duration of the PSOne era. My first experience with a Western RPG was Fallout and I loved it, and when Baldur's Gate came out, I was immediately put off by the D&D aspect of it. Now it's not available on any download service that I know of, probably because of the D&D license. Too bad.

I've only played KOTOR (which I liked, and it did have some good storytelling), and Jade Empire (which I disliked and almost completely erased from memory).
Posted: 01/06/10, 23:58:46
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