We take a look at the best stories video games have told in 2017.
Video games have grown massively as a medium for storytelling. Every year we get to play more and more games that tell incredible stories, games that portray wonderful characters, games that do it all in memorable ways. In that regard, 2017 was no different- in fact, it was one of the best years in recent memory. From indie titles to big budget triple-A ones, from console games to handheld experiences, from RPGs to shooters, this year was full of games that had incredible stories to tell.
Deciding which game had the best narrative this year was no easy task, though, considering just how many excellent interactive stories we got to be a part of, but we did it nonetheless. We’re going to take a look at GamingBolt’s nominees for the best video game narrative of 2017, before finally revealing the deserving winner. But though only one game can truly win in this category, the excellent of all the runners-up simply cannot be ignored.
Without further ado, we present to you GamingBolt’s nominees for the best story of 2017.
WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH
What Remains of Edith Finch isn’t your conventional game or story in any sense of the word. The heart of the game lies not in one single story, but several smaller ones, all of which come together to convey overall themes of death and loss, and it presents each of these stories with a surprising amount of confidence. It plays with storytelling conventions of video games in unique and interesting ways, and continues to deliver strong stories unrelentingly, each of which will stay with you long after you’re done with them. And though it’s an inherently sad game, full of heart-breaking moments, it’s also a game that will make you smile, a game that will make you glad that you got to spend the little time that you could with the characters it portrays. What Remains of Edith Finch is not the best game you’ll ever play, since it admittedly has issues that cannot be ignored, but if you look at it simply as a story, it’s hard not to take your hat off to its sheer brilliance.
Injustice 2 really is a dream come true for DC fans in every sense of the word, but it its also very surprising how strong its story is- that’s just not what you usually expect from a fighter. And in spite of that, Injustice 2 manages to deliver strongly on that front, in addition to being a benchmark in quality for its genre as well. It has an over-the-top and bombastic narrative, pulling in beloved characters from all corners of the DC multiverse, and it does it all so well. From pop culture icons such as Batman, Superman, and the Flash to relatively less popular but still fiercely loved characters such as Green Arrow, and Braniac, Injustice 2’s massive cast of characters has them all, and each of them is written and portrayed with great style. It also helps that the way the game tells its story is just top-notch, with some of the flashiest, most entertaining cutscenes we’ve ever seen. For all these things and more, Injustice 2 is a strong contender to win GamingBolt’s best story of 2017 award.
ASSASSIN’S CREED: ORIGINS
Assassin’s Creed Origins’ story shows the kind of laser sharp focus and single-minded drive that the series had been moving away from over the last few years. Rather than being bogged down in global political intricacies and modern conspiracy theories, Origins is, above anything else, a deeply personal tale of revenge. Sure, it still tells large-scale stories about the fall of the Egyptian empire, and the origins of the Assassins Brotherhood, among other things, and it does a pretty good job of those too- but it is blessedly unconcerned about so much of the stuff that had started to become something of a burden for the franchise. It never forgets that, in spite of all the shadowy global conspiracies, it is mostly about Bayek’s quest for vengeance. After the convoluted mess the Assassin’s Creed franchise had become over the last few years, Origins’ unwillingness to fall into those same traps and its focused simplicity are a very refreshing change of pace.
Arkane Studios’ re-imagining of the Prey series gets praised for a lot of things, but one of the things you don’t often see it get praised for is its story- and we think that’s a little surprising. Prey’s story isn’t the most complex, nor the most ambitious, even in comparison to some of the games we’ve nominated in this category itself. And yet it’s unbelievably engaging, and captivating in a way that few stories in video games are. The space station Talos I is a haunting place, full of unreal environments and crawling with terrifying enemies. Atmosphere has to be the game’s story’s biggest strength, because when you’re wandering the corridors of the space station, which have been realized so convincingly and so vividly, you can’t help but feel on edge. It’s also worth mentioning that the choices you make as Morgan Yu can often have an actual impact on the way the story unfolds, making you even more invested in the narrative. Prey’s isn’t an excellent story in the most conventional sense, but it is one that will keep you thoroughly intrigued from start to finish.
DANGANRONPA V3: KILLING HARMONY
At this point, people pretty much know what to expect from a DanganRonpa story, and DanganRonpa V3 delivers on all fronts exactly the way we expected and hoped it would. Though the game’s narrative is largely disconnected from the story we’d been following over the previous two instalments, it is every bit as outlandish, over-the-top, and ridiculous we wanted it to be. DanganRonpa V3 is a game that fluctuates between being grizzly and comical, going from being laugh-out-loud funny one moment to ripping your heart out with depressing twists and turns the next. Like its predecessors, it’s helped along the way by a wonderful cast of characters – each with their own personal quirks and charms – and some of the best writing you will ever see in a video game. It’s fair to say that a visual novel like DanganRonpa is only as good as its ability to keep players hooked to the narrative, and thankfully enough, in that area, DanganRonpa V3 delivers in spades.
DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN II
Too many games in today’s day and age claim to have a story that shapes itself based on the choices that players make, but very few do it as well as Divnity: Origins Sin II. Almost every decision you make has an impact on how subsequent evens pan out, every dialogue option you choose has weight, every branching path leads to something truly different. Divinity II lets you craft your own stories in a way not a lot of other games do, so that the tale the game tells really feels like one of your own making. On top of that, it boasts of rich and riveting lore, a fascinating setting that is all too easy to get lost in, and a wonderful cast of incredibly written characters. Even the small, seemingly insignificant stories Divinity II tells, the one that have no impact or bearing on the larger narrative, feel special, making it seem like extra love and care has gone into crafting every aspect of the game. It’s a wonderful achievement not just for storytelling in video games, but for video games in general.
XENOBLADE CHRONICLES 2
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a return to story-focused role-playing games for Monolith Soft, after the much more open-ended Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U, and what a spectacular comeback it was. It has an unbelievable sense of scale, a winding and captivating story brimming with shocking twists and stunning revelations. Its setting, Alrest, is an inherently beautiful world, one that is as much fun to explore as it is gorgeous to look at. The cast of characters is vibrant and colourful, full of personality and charm. And on top of all those things, in typical Monolith Soft fashion, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is never afraid to ask philosophical questions of deeper meaning. It constantly creates riveting concepts and introduces new plot threads, and it explores them all with surprising ingenuity. The game is, admittedly, occasionally let down by its tendency to resort to typical JRPG storytelling tropes, but such minor issues are quite easy to ignore in light of how accomplished Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is in how it tells the bulk of its grand tale.
Persona 5’s is a story about trust and friendship, a story about finding yourself, a story about righting the wrongs in the human society. It’s filled with characters we simply fell in love with, with conflicted antagonists who have stayed with us even months after we finished playing the game, with messages that ring true in our hearts in so many ways. Like its predecessors, Persona 5 manages to strike the perfect balance between simply being a story about teenagers going to high school, and being a story about much larger issues on a global scale. It starts out as a thrilling tale of vigilantes, and escalates till the very end, where it crescendoes with stupendous ambition. Given Atlus’ track record with previous games in the Persona sub-series and the larger Shin Megami Tensei franchise, almost everyone expected Persona 5 to have an excellent narrative. Unbelievably, though, Persona 5 manages to exceeded even those lofty expectations, and in more ways than one.
It’s rare to find a game that is incredibly whimsical and has incredible depth, both at the same time, but that is exactly what Nier: Automata is. The game is never afraid to embrace its quirks, never afraid to go into the realm of deep philosophy, never afraid to hit you with hard-hitting and unpredictable twists and revelations. The world of Nier: Automata is a captivating one, sure, but its the characters that inhabit that world that truly make the game the masterpiece in storytelling that it is. It’s a game that is unequivocally devoted to telling the story it wants to tell, and it does so with great aplomb. Every time you finish Nier: Automata, you learn something new about the world, about the characters, and you’re given deeper contextualization for things in a way that makes you appreciate the story even more. It boasts the kind of crazy, unhinged genius you usually expect from a Yoko Taro game, and it has to be one of the finest stories we’ve seen in video games over the last few years.
HORIZON: ZERO DAWN
Ambition. Escalation. Ingenuity. Such are the words one associates with the narrative of Horizon: Zero Dawn. It takes the concept of a post-apcalypse and uses it in wonderfully innovative ways. It introduces concepts that sound extremely cool on paper, such as mechanical dinosaurs, but then actually gives them weight and meaning through its story. It builds a vivid, fascinating world full of flavour and personality, and it makes you actually care about it. In its opening few hours, Horizon: Zero Dawn‘s narrative doesn’t seem like it’ll amount to anything we haven’t seen a hundred times already, but as the game progresses, it peels back layers upon layers to reveal some shocking revelations, all of which come together to build an extremely imaginative setting that is rich with lore and history. Guerrilla Games’ writing has to be commended- they weave an intricate web of twists and turns, all the while having thought of even the tiniest little details, to the point that it becomes almost impossible to poke any real holes in the game’s story. Looking at all its accomplishments, both in terms of storytelling and outside of it, it’s a little hard to believe that Horizon is Guerrilla’s first game in the RPG genre. It truly is a magnificent achievement.
WINNER- PERSONA 5
While deciding on who the winner would be between our ten nominees for the best story of 2017, it ultimately came down to two games- Horizon: Zero Dawn and Persona 5. And though both stood tall in this category, Persona 5 managed to emerge victorious. And that mostly boils down to one single fact- Persona 5 has an excellent story, yes, one that manages to grab your attention fairly quickly and doesn’t let go until the very last second. But more importantly than that, it is a story that has a very human heart. It features a wonderful cast of characters, one that, by the time you’re done with the 90 hour long story, you’ll truly look at as friends and comrades. It boasts of excellent writing, writing that manages to deftly balance a humorous and charming high school drama story, as well as a darker tale of conspiracies and duels between higher powers. It is a game that knows not to take itself too seriously all the time, but also one that isn’t afraid of tackling challenging topics, such as abuse and real issues that plague even our real world’s society. It’s a game that will make you think, laugh, cry, and cheer, a game that develops all its characters and narrative threads with such excellence that, even during moments when the pace feels like its slogging, you’ll want to stick with it and see things through. On top of all that, it does all of this with an incredible sense of style and panache, so that even if you’re not looking for any deeper meanings or hidden truths and are simply looking for a good, fun time, you won’t leave disappointed. Is it perfect? No. But it’s ridiculously compelling over a massive run time of one hundred hours. If nothing else, that’s an achievement in and of itself.
Note: GamingBolt’s Game of the Year categories, nominations and awards are selected via an internal nomination, voting and debate process. You can check the rest of categories and the respective winners here.