For many people, strong storytelling in a video game has become just as important as the quality of the game itself. A couple of decades ago, Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid was more cinematic than any other game at the time, and developers like Naughty Dog perfected this narrative style through games. like The Last of Us 2. However, as the games of 2021 have shown, not every good story is told the same way. Note: Minor disclosures will be required to discuss some of the games listed below.
While many of this year’s best video game stories used a cutthroat-heavy approach, other titles conveyed their stories in creative ways. No format is better than any other, as it comes down to personal taste, but the fact that video games can tell their stories in different ways makes this medium special. how. 2021 offers some memorable stories that take risks, surprise their audiences, and lay the groundwork for future adventures. In alphabetical order, here are the best video game stories of this year.
Deathloop is a great example of how a roguelike approach can add depth to a story. Just like Hades did in 2020, players will end up learning more about the guys they’re fighting and up against on every run. The presentation is outstanding, as the player sees Colt’s memories transmitted through stylized text on the screen. Each of the Deathloop Visionaries has depth, with their motives for wanting the Loop to remain open is understandable.
Like the other titles on the list, dialogue is a major strength, with Colt and Julianna pitted against each other as both actors receive several well-deserved Game Award nominations for their stellar performances. Best. Deathloop is full of style, something seen throughout Blackreef, but it’s the characters that make the story so unforgettable. While certain questions about the Loop remain unanswered, the answers fans have received have been satisfying, with a variety of topics that tie into each other.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Kena’s story: Bridge of Spirits is basically divided into three segments, with the main character helping different souls to travel to the afterlife. The player witnesses a brother confronting his defeat, a woman embraces her mate, and a man destroys his village in an attempt to save it. Whenever Kena succeeds in guiding these souls, an emotional scene unfolds, with several of these moments being genuine heartbreakers. While Kena: Bridge of Spirits’ music and art style is ultimately its biggest draw, it succeeds in making players feel something whenever it tries to do so. so. Given the emotional level of its story, it’s one that most gamers will probably appreciate.
Life is Strange: True Colors
Life is Strange: True Colors moving away from an episodic format was a bold decision, but one that ultimately paid off in the game’s favor through a well-paced story. Alex Chen is one of the best video game protagonists of the year, with her unique, empathy-based powers making her a memorable hero. Her special abilities put her in a number of difficult situations, with players needing to make tough choices where there is no right or wrong. Not only does Erika Mori deliver a strong performance as Alex, but the game’s improved visuals make all the scenes she is in hit much harder. Despite giving players access to some superpowers, Life is Strange: True Colors is also one of the most grounded stories of the year, with its biggest strength being relatable characters that are forced to deal with real-world issues.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
While it would have been easy to copy the MCU given the overwhelming popularity of the connected Marvel movies, Eidos Montreal took some risks when designing its take on the Guardians of the Galaxy. Not only were lesser-known characters like Grand Unifier Raker and Lady Hellbender given the spotlight, but the Guardians themselves all get a chance to shine. Each hero has at least one standout scene, with characters like Drax the Destroyer getting several.
While there has been plenty of well-deserved praise for the Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack and its overall presentation, its story is full of emotional moments and exciting surprises. All the Guardians are well-acted, too, with Rocket’s actor Alex Weiner delivering a performance that builds perfectly off of what Bradley Cooper did for the big-screen version. Most importantly of all, the game nails the banter between the cast, with funny lines being delivered nonstop as players fight the Universal Church of Truth.
Psychonauts fans needed to wait a long time for a proper sequel, as the original game was released back in 2005. Over a decade and a half later, Double Fine returned to Raz’s story, bringing the unique visual style and an over-the-top cast of characters to modern platforms. Picking up where the VR spin-off Psychonauts: The Rhombus of Ruin left off, players embark on a new adventure that is just as fun as what was seen in the original game. However, while gameplay is king in the sequel, its story does a fine job of developing the characters – with Raz, in particular, growing a lot as he becomes a proper Psychonaut. Memorable cutscenes help Psychonauts 2‘s big twists work well, and many will likely want to see more adventures in the Psychonauts universe due to how much depth is added to the world the characters inhabit.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart’s story takes full advantage of the universe Insomniac has built, introducing an alternate reality with dimensional counterparts of the characters fans have come to know and love. While Ratchet’s fears about finding the other Lombaxes make for a solid character arc, it is the other Lombax that he meets on his journey who ends up stealing the show. Jennifer Hale brings Rivet to life through an excellent performance, with the rebel being even more likable than Ratchet in some ways. With Kit being a fun ally that has some great parallels to Clank, and Emperor Nefarious being an engaging antagonist, fans will likely be looking forward to what comes next for the Ratchet and Clank series as soon as they roll credits.
Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village’s best moments may happen at the start and end of the game, but those sequences are strong enough to make for a memorable story. There are plenty of genuine surprises during Ethan Winters’ second outing as a Resident Evil protagonist, whether it be the teasers regarding his daughter Rose or the surprisingly small role of Lady Dimitrescu. However, even with limited screentime, Dimitrescu and the other Lords manage to make an impact. All are memorable in their own way, and the depth of their various backstories keeps players motivated to engage with even the smallest collectibles. The way that the game’s all-important Village setting is connected to the older titles is clever as well, and Chris Redfield’s role in the final hour of the game is sure to excite longtime fans.
Returnal’s narrative is undoubtedly the most confusing on this list, but that is not a negative. In fact, the way in which the game tells its story has kept fans theorizing months after its release, with players divided on whether Atropos is real or a figment of Selene’s imagination. Regardless of which side players take in the debate, there are good arguments to be made for both interpretations, with the various pieces of evidence asking players to look at the game from different angles.
Whether it be the changing text logs on Helios or the numerous first-person house sequences, it is a ton of fun to gather the pieces needed to solve the puzzle that is Returnal’s story. The mid-game ending fakeout is perfectly executed, too, with Selene’s return to Atropos after her supposed escape being harrowing and unforgettable. While some may dislike the convoluted, detail-driven approach, Housemarque does an excellent job of challenging what players think they know about the story with every single run. Further, Selene’s actor Jane Perry nails the protagonist’s fear and confusion, with the audio logs about her many deaths being worth a listen.
Tales of Arise
Tales of Arise, like other entries in the series, thrives due to its excellent cast of characters. While the concept of four resistance factions fighting for control is intriguing, it is the bonds between characters like Rinwell and Law or Alphen and Shionne that will likely stick with players long after the game is finished. Likewise, the decision to blend different genres together makes the setting feel fleshed out and unique, ensuring that players feel engrossed in the world around them and the characters’ attempts to make it a better place. With Tales of Arise also offering a darker narrative than what is seen in most JRPGs, it stands out from its competition, and its commentary on colonialism and hierarchies is surprisingly deep.
The Forgotten City
The Forgotten City is one of the most unique games of 2021, with the game’s backstory only making its success more impressive. Getting its start as a mod for Skyrim, it eventually evolved into a standalone game, with writer Nick Pearce doing an excellent job of making the transition to a Roman setting. While the game joins Returnal and Deathloop as another standout title that focuses on the concept of time loops, it also follows in their footsteps by taking a unique approach to storytelling.
Each time players reset the time loop, they will come across more dialogue, learning about the characters of the game and their motivations as they try to prevent them from sinning. Not only is this concept unique, but it gives players more time to get to know the entire cast of The Forgotten City, allowing everyone to feel fully developed. As such, the game’s writing is where it truly shines. Through the constant rewinds and plentiful dialogue, every character ends up feeling integral to The Forgotten City by the time the game comes to an end, with the classifications of minor and major characters able to be cast aside.
With so many strong stories this year, the fact that a game that started as a mod stands out speaks volumes about the quality of its narrative – and the potential for any kind of game to make an impact through a well-crafted narrative.