What do you consider to be the greatest story ever told in a video game? (Spoiler-free)

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#1 Posted by liquiddragon (3526 posts) -

Maybe it's not your favorite game but which story in a game do you hold up above all the others?

I've only played these in the last few years but I'm debating between Silent Hill 2 and Killer7. But gun to my head, I'll probably have to go with Silent Hill 2 'cause the way everything in the town of Silent Hill tied to the protagonist and his struggles, not only was it a scary game but I really felt his sorrow and the sorrows of the others you meet in the game. It got me into the survival horror genre and it kinda sucks 'cause I just know I'm chasing a high I'll never reach again in games, let alone the genre.

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#2 Posted by FrodoBaggins (2105 posts) -

No doubt it's The Last of Us. Not the most original or complex plot but the way it engaged me as a player no other game has done as well before or since. The story was TOLD exceptionally well, which is most important to me.

Other stories I've enjoyed off the top of my dome quickly -

ICO

Halo Combat Evolved

Tales From The Borderlands

Red Dead Redempion

The Witcher 3

Metal Gear Solid 1,3,4,5

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#3 Posted by glots (4389 posts) -

Grim Fandango is the one above the rest for me personally. I have so much fondness for it and ’am really hoping that I’ll still play a game that combines together as many elements that click for me as Grim did.

As for other picks, TLOU is definitely high on the list. I could *maybe* say Outcast, if you had asked me this before I played it again a few years ago. Back in 1999, it was an amazing experience and a story, which on the second run was kinda just a Stargate tv-movie quality one.

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#4 Posted by FancySoapsMan (5924 posts) -

Probably persona 3. Beat it for the first time 10 years ago and I still think about how that ending will probably be topped whenever I finish any other game.

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#5 Posted by Esteban5XG (12 posts) -

There are two games that everytime I play them, story just freaks me out. These games are Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Last of us. Definitely, these two games have really good stories behind.

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#6 Edited by Meltac (2023 posts) -

Definitely SOMA. It's one of the few video game stories that's not only great compared to other video game stories, but to me it's one of the best sci fi stories across all mediums.

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#7 Posted by nutter (2307 posts) -

That’s tough...Silent Hill 2 is WAY up there, as are the Witcher trilogy and Mass Effect trilogy (despite the muddy ending).

I also really liked the storytelling in Dragon Age 2. KOTOR is pretty great, too.

Alan Wake deserves a spot at the table, as does Metal Gear.

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#8 Posted by imhungry (1139 posts) -

Obligatory NieR: Automata post here, pretty much blew all previous answers I might have had for this question out of the water. Not only a great story but some great storytelling too.

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#9 Posted by Do_The_Manta_Ray (1645 posts) -

Another vote for Nier: Automata. Original Nier is right up there as well. SOMA is an incredible experience that I think far too few people have played. Metal Gear as a series for suresies.

If I had to pick one above all others, though; I'd probably still say Planescape: Torment. But man; Automata is damn close. Maybe even better.

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#10 Posted by BrunoTheThird (844 posts) -

Told: Planescape Torment is as good as most well-regarded novels. It's tragic, haunting, funny, pretty original, morally and emotionally complex. I think it has it all.

Shown: ICO. Through body language, interpreting the made-up language (in the EU version, anyway) and visual storytelling, and a little emotional guidance from the soundtrack, you end up fully understanding a significant amount of this game, and it's equal parts tragic and overwhelmingly beautiful.

Personal favourite: Kingdom Hearts. Ambitious friends feeling trapped on a tiny island and wanting to see the world just resonated with me as a fairly lost eleven-year-old kid, even if the writing is some of the dumbest light vs. dark anime nonsense. I think Roxas' story in KH2 is much better, though; living in a fake town with fake people and implanted with a bunch of fake memories is fucked up.

Generic and unoriginal but exceptionally executed: TLoU, through rich characterization and world depth. Less so in terms of writing, but not by much.

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#11 Posted by Puchiko (847 posts) -

Xenogears (if they had finished it...) The game had bigger ambitions then budget and time. The story resonated with me so much I can still replay it in my head from start to finish.

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#12 Posted by cmblasko (2946 posts) -

Don't have a lot of good answers so just going to post some scatterbrained thoughts.

I haven't played any of them but I have to imagine that the Uncharted series is in there? But I DID play Last of Us and that absolutely should be in consideration.

Metal Gear series, it's just too much of a spectacle, can't be ignored. Probably my personal pick.

Maybe one of the GTA games? Red Dead?

Wish I could say Mass Effect but we all know how that turned out.

What about the prominent RPG series? I don't know if I could comfortably include any Final Fantasy games in the discussion, as much as I adore 6. Guess the contention would be between 7, 8 and 10? I would go with 7 out of those. Witcher series is up there for me. Never played it, but I always heard how good the story in Xenogears is, although it drops off in the second half if I recall correctly.

Old CRPGs might have to be taken into consideration, series like Ultima and Baldur's Gate, that are rich with lore. Just don't know if they could stand up to more modern, cinematic experiences.

I actually think it would be fun to first explore various genres and determine a few contenders then pull them all together to pick an overall winner.

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#13 Edited by soulcake (2820 posts) -

FF6, Was mindblowing at the time. And SWKOTOR I & II are great to II is even better with the unofficial patch / restoration some modders made. And more recent games Divinity II definitely sticks out. Also shout outs to Beyond Divinity HALO CE and Mass Effect I, The Max Payne Trilogy.

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#14 Edited by Redhotchilimist (2973 posts) -

The first games that come to mind for me are Astro Boy Omega Factor for the GBA and Tsukihime, the first indie visual novel Type-Moon made and has been trying to remake for something like a decade while putting out new Fate products every month.

Astro Boy Omega Factor was my first exposure to Astro Boy. It's a beat 'em up on a purely flat plane with some platforming, and the mechanics feel good but aren't really anything exceptional. What made it stand out to me was the story, which combined all of these personal tragedies and issues with the ever popular robot racism and bald supervillains ruining the sun. During the game, things get gradually worse until an ending that spells doom for everyone. I'm moderately certain Astro dies. Then you're resurrected by the Phoenix, and go through the game again, with the story, enemy types and plot points having been changed because of certain decisions. After that round trip, you're given access to time travel powers yourself(actually, the Stage Select) and try exploring the stages in different orders to discover secrets and truths that can help you finally fix it all up for yourself, leading to a final completely unique world with some of the most heartfelt scenes I've personally played in a video game.

Tsukihime is somewhat similar in structure I guess, since it's a visual novel with different routes. It really spoiled me on choices. Bioware games can try to pretende all they want that saving or killing the Rachni Queen actually changes things, but because it's all text and some images Tsukihime can offer vastly different storylines and outcomes with the same cast. The character writing is what stood out in Tsukihime for me, with most of the people involved seeming instantly tropey and then developing a lot of depth. Some are better than others, I think Ciel was mostly a bust for instance, and Hisui is only interesting as setup. But the Arcueid, Akiha and Kohaku routes are some of my favorite stories in gaming. Arceuid's story is the perfect opener, a strong introduction to the fantastical with a very lovable magic girlfriend and some eye-watering moments. Meanwhile, the Akiha and Kohaku routes explore the personal tragedy of the your family and their history of abuse, which is a lot more personal and Real while still being influenced by the magical elements that you're located on just the outskirts of. I loved it a lot, gradually exploring the setting and its mysteries, including your personal history, while interacting with all these interesting characters and having straight up boss fights with anime vampires.

These are both fairly old for me, I was maybe 14-16 when I played them for the first time. For something I played more recently, I liked Metal Gear Solid 3 a lot. It's a super fun spy movie, and unlike the other Metal Gears sans 1 and Revengence, it doesn't drown in its own retcons and lore.

For games I played this year, Tales from the Borderlands and Spider-Man were both way above average. Borderlands suffers from ugly-ass presentation, with awful animations and cheap-looking, glitchy graphics, which severely harms its storytelling abilities, and also the writing style is maybe a bit too much of a day-time television quipfest for my taste. However, it's also got some very compelling writing in there and impeccable comedic chops, but knows when to reign it in for an emotional moment. Spider-Man is visually exceptional, but kinda boring when it comes to direction and pretty dull as far as the main plot goes. You spend a lot of that story just looking for Mr. Negative and/or Devil's Breath. Big props for the portrayal of Spider-Man, Peter and Doc Ock tho.

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#15 Edited by JohnyMyko (1898 posts) -

The Last Of Us,

Grim Fandango,

Metal Gear Solid (the whole series but specially 3),

GTA Vice City,

Mass Effect trilogy (despite the garbage ending),

Chrono Trigger.

I'm not saying these are the best ever, but they are definitely my favorites. I think it's interesting how some of these stories aren't exactly groundbreaking and often rely on clichés for the genre but, somehow, they managed to be told in captivating and interesting ways.

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#16 Posted by pompouspizza (1563 posts) -

The first game that came to mind was SOMA. While I’ve only played it once and I couldn’t tell you specifics about the story now, the effect it has on me at the time was profound. It really blew me away. I should play it again soon.

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#17 Posted by Efesell (4571 posts) -

Planescape Torment is a masterpiece of story just for being incredibly detailed and well written. It's a great example that even a trope like amnesia can still stand above so much else.

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#18 Posted by BrunoTheThird (844 posts) -

@efesell: Totally -- it's the way it slowly unravels why he has amnesia that makes it so harrowing and brilliant and original. It blew me away even as someone who played it for the first time in 2016. It holds up.

SOMA is extremely good, too, I agree. It towers over The Dark Descent.

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#19 Edited by p4r4digm (25 posts) -
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#20 Posted by Animasta (14948 posts) -

Someone already mentioned Nier and Nier: Automata, which are... probably my favorites? I dunno, it's been a long time since I've played them. Just listing off some other ones though:

Persona 2 is really, really good; easily the best story that's ever been in an Atlus game. The way they use both games to tell a complete, engaging story while also being stand alone is really impressive.

Undertale does such an excellent job with gameplay/story integration, as well as it's ability to flesh out the characters within a pretty short play time puts it up there.

999 is probably the most complete and well told of the three Zero Escape games, but Virtue's Last Reward is my favorite by far. The places that story goes, the way they tie things together, is insane. UGH. That game is so good. It's so dumb, but it's SO GOOD.

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#21 Posted by BaneFireLord (3570 posts) -

Red Dead Redemption 1, though much of that might be because of how bloody good its ending is.

Does The Beginner's Guide have a story, per se? Because that was also very good.

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#22 Posted by Stonyman65 (3812 posts) -

Deus Ex

Metal Gear

Fallout 1-2

Wasteland 2

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#23 Posted by fisk0 (6954 posts) -

I still think it may be Wing Commander 1, possibly 4 (or the continuous story through those four games - though I think 2 and 3 don't stand as well on their own).

Fallout 1 and 2 are definitely up there too and maybe The Darkness?

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#24 Posted by symbyosys (88 posts) -

Bloodborne. I don't think this is the correct answer. But, Bloodborne does some incredibly ambitious things, integrating its history with its environment and gameplay, that few works attempt.

Yeah, work is required to get anything out of it.

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#25 Posted by cikame (2916 posts) -

I know there are games with better stories, and i really don't know how RPG's fit into a story discussion, since usually the overarching story is meh and all the little quests and conversations in between are more interesting, but i really like Half Life 2 and Max Payne... I play those games repeatedly because i like the gameplay, and also because of the events in the game and its characters.
Games like Nier, The Witcher series, Yakuza, SOMA, Fallout 3, VA-11 Hall-A, they've all got really detailed and interesting stories with loads of characters and exposition, but Max Payne's monologues mean more to me :P, i'll extend it to Max Payne 3 too because Max's journey in that game is EXHAUSTING, and a perfect end to the series.

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#26 Posted by deckard (364 posts) -

Grim Fandango is a only game to ever give me an genuine emotional reaction to events in the story. Chrono Trigger is also very good.

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#27 Posted by BoOzak (2648 posts) -

Another vote for the entire Metal Gear Saga. It might not be the best. But it is the greatest.

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#28 Posted by Big_Denim (845 posts) -

In recent memory, probably SOMA, Witcher 3, and Last of Us.

I also think there's a very intriguing, rich narrative in Bloodborne...somewhere. But I still can't tell you exactly what that story is because of the nonsensical manner in which its presented to the player.

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#29 Edited by NTM (11872 posts) -

The Last of Us, Bioshock. I like that people are mentioning SOMA.

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#30 Posted by The_Last_Starfighter (510 posts) -

Some standouts for me over the years have been

Night in the Woods
Last of Us
Witcher 3
LA Noire
Bioshock Infinite

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#31 Posted by Rorie (5882 posts) -

I always look back at NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer as being up there for an epic fantasy storyline. You start off really powerful (lvl 18 in DND terms) and wind up extremely powerful, like "casually chatting with gods in the higher planes of existence" powerful. Highly recommended if you never played it!

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#32 Posted by frytup (1346 posts) -

@rorie said:

I always look back at NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer as being up there for an epic fantasy storyline. You start off really powerful (lvl 18 in DND terms) and wind up extremely powerful, like "casually chatting with gods in the higher planes of existence" powerful. Highly recommended if you never played it!

Definitely in my top five. Not only the story, but some great dialog.

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#33 Posted by TakyonDG (59 posts) -

Metal Gear Solid (2 especially), Last of Us, Bloodborne all come to mind immediately. To be honest, I think Banner Saga and Tyranny had underappreciated stories as well.

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#34 Posted by FrodoBaggins (2105 posts) -

What Remains of Edith Finch

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#35 Posted by TwoLines (3654 posts) -

It's Planescape Torment, SOMA and Silent Hill 2. Those are the big three.

Planescape- it's incredibly text heavy, but man oh man, it's clear that Chris Avellone was going all out. The dialogue is memorable and elegant, the characters are fleshed out and colorful, and the world is incredibly well realized, unique, and just so darn interesting. It never veers into absurdity, which is quite a feat, considering the sheer amount of ideas on display here. It doesn't turn into a hodgepodge of half-finished concepts and ideas (cough, Numenera, cough). Every story they tell has an emotional core, is well-honed and carefully crafted. The text is never overly drawn out, or at least it doesn't feel overly drawn out. It strikes a good balance between weird and familiar. There are a bunch of one-off stories that sometimes give off a "philosophy 101" kinda vibe, but that's usually by design, as most that seem anecdotal and amateurish are presented as anecdotes told by... well, amateurs. The game's not really ever interested in utilizing the interactive aspect of the medium, except for some choices to be made here and there, but It's an older game, so that's fine.

SOMA- some of the voice acting is a little iffy. And the middle part of the game drags a bit. But it doesn't treat the player like a complete doofus. It's a really smart story, told and presented in a smart way. It frequently provided answers to some questions before I could come up with plausible theories, and does so without fanfare (which, in an era where everything has to have a twist, felt like a breath of fresh air). It's less about shock, and surprise, and more about building a realistic-feeling world around you. It builds that foundation in order to play around with more abstract ideas down the line. It's also very creepy, in an existential sense, and has an amazing ending. Oh, and the characters are well written, and the dialogue is snappy.

Silent Hill 2- honestly, I have not played through all of it, I just read about it a bunch. It seems very dream-like and fascinating. One of these days, I will play through it. If they ever port it to anything. Come on Konami.

Now, which games TELL the best stories, that's a whole different thing. Games like Bloodborne, NieR and Undertale do some really cool stuff with narrative and gameplay, but don't have an exceptionally riveting plot.

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#36 Posted by capnhaggis (66 posts) -

We clown on Dan a lot, but I'd probably have to say Metal Gear Solid...the whole saga. Having recently played through them again with a friend who'd never seen them before (much like Metal Gear Scanlon) those games are real special to me.

Also Silent Hill 2, but give me Metal Gear any day.

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#37 Edited by BrunoTheThird (844 posts) -

@frodobaggins: Yes, it's a stunning example of Snicket-esque charm, black whimsy, and familial strife. That, Sands of Time, and The Unfinished Swan are my favourite of the storybooky games. Braid, also.

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#38 Posted by Rejizzle (1137 posts) -

Suikoden 2 is good. Uses the game mechanics well at climactic moments, nice use of foils, good characters. Like the pseudo-episodic storytelling where plot points are introduced and resolved within a larger overarching story. Some of those "episodes" are straight up bullshit though.

Sly Cooper 2 would be the dopest Saturday morning cartoon ever made, and works well in videogame form. Likable characters, solid execution on themes, bittersweet ending.

Rusty's Real Deal Baseball is some kind of brilliant satire on game monetization. It kind of has it's cake and eats it too, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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#39 Posted by MonkeyKing1969 (7655 posts) -

Mass Effect 2.

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#40 Posted by thegame983 (66 posts) -

The Original Deus Ex.

Maybe not so much 'story' but the twists and turns and how they are introduced in the game were pretty jaw dropping.

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#41 Posted by Darkaileron (205 posts) -

Final Fantasy 6.... too many reasons to name.

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#42 Posted by Ungodly (449 posts) -

The Legacy of Kain series for me, with Soul Reaver 2 being the best bit. It’s very heavy handed, but it works because of the stellar voice work.

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#43 Posted by Atwa (1690 posts) -

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice for me. Marvelously intimate, deeply moving. It just grabbed a hold of me completely, all the way to the end which was immensely satisfying. The characterization of Senua is just so masterfully done, and the way her trauma is unraveled slowly as you progress through the game is damn near what I consider perfect.

Also agree with SOMA, for many of the reasons people have already said.
I am also fond of Amnesia A Machine for Pigs which has one of the greatest endings of any game to me, I still rewatch it every now and then. Also really liked Enslaved, maybe not for the story though, but the character interaction between Monkey and Trip is among the best of any game. Which is largely due to the wonderful acting, particularly by Andy Serkis.

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#44 Posted by BrunoTheThird (844 posts) -

Hellblade was my favourite story of 2017. They really did an unbelievable job considering their budget; very thoughtful and kind of frightening at the same time -- it makes you feel like your mind is unraveling. That game put Ninja Theory so much higher in my good books.

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#45 Posted by hans_maulwurf (642 posts) -

Last of us is definitely up there. I also really like the clear and consequential narrative throughline of Life is Strange, even more so after Before the storm was such a letdown in that regard. Binary domain tells a nice, stringent story as well, with some good betrayals and unexpected alliances. Saboteur is one of the better, more focused open world stories with a killer ending. A dark horse candidate for strongest story across a whole series would be the Blackwell games - they tell really interesting and unique stories within each game but also up the stakes with every sequel.

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#46 Posted by mezmero (3788 posts) -

There are actually a lot of good ones that have already been named. It's kind of hard to pin down without taking into consideration varying genres of stories. Like does the greatest one HAVE to be dramatic and serious, can an actual best story be comedic and funny? Does the ending of said story HAVE to be 'great'? There are so many different narrative tones that game makers have been dabbling with in the past few decades.

One that I fear will not get mentioned but would hang in a best story discussion is Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. My goodness that game is just one of the most wonderfully bizarre tales of an identity crisis in all of media, not just games. That ending put the biggest smile on my face.

I could still be riding high on something this recent but the story in Pyre is pretty amazing for many reasons. One of my absolute favorite credit sequences of the past several years.

Other personal favorites are Zero Escape, NieR: Automata, Silent Hill 2, Tales From the Borderlands. These specifically feel like games that are only enhanced by being presented as video games and are worth calling out for that. I want to say Metal Gear Solid but the more time that passes the more I like the weird directing than the actual plot of the games.

When it comes to JRPGs specifically I think I'm more of a fan of convoluted stories like Xenogears, Chrono Cross, and FF8, than I am of the more straight forward and well told ones. I'd probably say Chrono Trigger in a broad sense is probably the best in that genre though not my personal favorite.

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#47 Posted by Redhotchilimist (2973 posts) -

@mezmero: I think anything Shu Takumi has written deserves at least a mention. Ghost Trick is a delight, maybe even more then Phoenix Wright.

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#48 Posted by OMGFather (1061 posts) -

The first Mafia will always stick with me.

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#49 Posted by FrostyRyan (2924 posts) -

I'm gonna say Silent Hill 2 and Shadow of the Colossus for entirely different reasons.

I think SH2 highlights traditional written narrative strength and SOTC highlights minimalist "story told in action" strength

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#50 Posted by Aegon (7313 posts) -

Outside of those already mentioned, Okami, Ghost Trick and Persona 4 come to mind.

Okami might be my top game of all time. Breath of the wild could have outdone it if it delved into the story and characters further. It captures the surface feeling, but doesn't go deeper. Same complaint for most Zelda games.