Game On! Story-Driven RPGs Part 2 

Game on!
Game reviews by Brandon, Kristin, and Stacy. 

Hello everyone! If you’re looking for games that are longer in length, heavy with plot, and driven by story – these games are for you! These games are our all-time favorite story driven games; we hope you’ll enjoy these reviews and recommendations! 

Today's theme
Story-Drive Role-Playing Video Games

Game One

Last of Us Pt. 2
Available on Playstation 4
The Last of Us

So, this game garnered a bit of a reaction, didn’t it? Some time has passed now, and I have been able to sit back and reflect on what took place during The Last of Us: Part II. I will try to avoid spoiling any specifics about the story while I detail my thoughts. 

This game might have earned itself a divisive reputation, but gameplay, graphics, sound design and the soundtrack played no part in that division. Naughty Dog have once again proven they are masters of their craft when it comes to game design. The story, however, is what I had to sit on for weeks and think about how it really made me feel. As I played through, two emotions remained constant: sadness and anger. Staff behind the game have gone on record, stating that “this is a game about hate”, but I never expected it to genuinely incite that feeling from me. I absolutely hate some of the story elements of this game, but I do not hate them due to their poor delivery or setup. I hate them in the same way that I would hate it if my friends and family went through what these characters did. The traditional heroic arc of a protagonist is nowhere to be found here. This game made me uncomfortable. Characters I originally despised, I began to sympathize with, and I did not know how to process that. In fact, as I type this, I am realizing that I still cannot quite put to words what my final feelings are about this game.  

This is what I can tell you. I have been sincerely affected by a few games in my life. There are a few games that have made had a real impact on me. Games that made me rethink how I conduct myself, what I place value in, and even how I think about life and death. This game can now be added to that very small list. I have spent hours and hours thinking about the themes of this game and what it had to say about humanity. This game does not provide escapism, and it does not provide your traditional sense of fun. If you are looking for either of those things, this game is not for you. If you want a game that will challenge you mentally and emotionally, and that will stick with you long after, then please give this game a try. - Brandon

Game 2

Final Fantasy IX
Available on Playstation, Switch, PC, and mobile

Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy games have a habit of getting a bit... out there. Plotlines that start out with relatable stakes tend to escalate and escalate until space-time collapses on itself and suddenly you're one universe over fighting the physical embodiment of Entropy or Sin or... some faceless time-sucking monster. It's a bit much. 

Final boss aside, though, I think Final Fantasy IX had the most grounded and engaging story, and it's my favorite in the series. The game gave us characters that were goofy and endearing, but also capable of real growth. Instead of a story that aimed to span universes, this story focused (for 3 discs at least) on a classic adventure in a fantasy world. Zidane is a member of a band of thieves disguised as a theater troop. They've been hired to kidnap a princess, but find the princess wants to run away with them. How convenient! Except her mother, the Queen, seems oddly bloodthirsty about getting her back. Now the thieves are on the run (with the princess's perpetually confused royal knight in tow), and as they flee they discover more and more evidence of the terrible things the Queen was up to as war breaks out across three kingdoms. The tone stays mostly lighthearted and adventurous throughout, which was a welcome shift from the gritty angst of previous games. However, FFIX still manages to hit home with scattered moments of bittersweet existentialism.    

FFIX was the first RPG I played as a kid, and it had an impact. It taught me to hoard Ethers after miserably trying to escape Kuja's castle with only Quina as physical dps. But it also gave me a sense of what RPGs could be, at their best. The way you can have a tactical adventure driven by story beats, and that sense of anticipation when the screen cuts to black and you hear your console whir as it loads a new FMV. I recommend this both to new players and RPG veterans alike (but what RPG veteran hasn't played FFIX yet!). It's everything wonderful about classic RPGs in a ~30 hour package. It was originally released on Playstation, but it's been remastered and ported multiple times and is now available on PC, Switch, PS4, and even mobile devices. -Kristin

Game #3

Mass Effect
Available on Xbox 360, Windows, and Playstation 3
Mass Effect

Without a doubt, my favorite video game series has to be Bioware’s Mass Effect. I picked it up my freshman year of college while crashing on my mom's couch for winter break. Sure, I liked sci-fi well enough. The plot sounded solid - in the original trilogy(we can talk Andromeda later), you play as Commander Shepard, a space soldier with Earth’s Alliance. You embark on a mission to save the galaxy from a race of ancient and all powerful extraterrestrials known as the Reapers - your typical sci-fi "oh no, aliens are invading earth" story. Its a 3rd person over-the-shoulder shooter role-playing series that spans over three video games, plus a fourth game spin-off (which I won't be discussing in this review). I can dig that. 
I fell in love. I cannot stress how unprepared I was to genuinely enjoy these games as much as I did -  and still do. What got me most was the story - well, stories. While there is one overarching story of "oh no, aliens are invading, someone has to stop them," there is a complete beginning, middle, and end type storyline structure that’s uniquely created for each game. Mass Effect, and most Bioware games, have this unique dialogue system that allows you to choose what you want to say next and in what way. This allows you to really roleplay your Commander as friendly or as professional or just plain mean as you want them to be. Your different dialog options create different relationships with your squadmates, leading to enemies, frenemies, friends, and even romance. Mass Effect separates most of its dialog into Paragon choices and Renegade choices, and they love to utilize this by giving you extremely difficult ethical issues you have to handle. You know that good old ethic question where you have a train and the tracks that split into two paths – one path as only one person you know but the other path as five strangers. Who do you kill? The kind of questions that really make you sit and think about morality. 

And if your someone who cares about gameplay mechanics, the first game has a pretty solid combat system and an enjoyable dialogue interface with some really great NCPs - for it's time. While I didn't mind playing the game's dated mechanics the first way through, it's fairly inarguable that the 2nd and 3rd games get way better and way smoother. The combat system advances considerably, as does the dialogue options and relationship progression of your character and your squadmates. Not to mention that this was one of the first games I had ever played where my save game transferred to the next game. It was so mind blowing to me that my Commander Shepard with her backstory I chose and all her decisions I made got to legitimately be my character for the 2nd and 3rd game. 

While I would always recommend that someone starts with the first game to get the full experience, I realize how difficult it can be to get invested in a game with pretty dated controls. If you are someone who just cannot get through the first games controls, but wants to experience the entire story from start to finish, Bioware released a DLC for the 2nd game that allows you to play through the first game in a graphic novel style. It tells you the main story and all the major plot points, it also allows you pick major decisions that ultimately affect the outcome of second and third games. If the first game doesn’t catch you, I highly recommend giving the second game a try anyways – the developers really took the time to learn what their audience didn’t like in the first game and improved on those features in the second and third game. If it were up to me, I’d be playing the series right now – but I’m holding out hope for a remaster! - Stacy

Tell us what you think!

Have you played any of our favorite story games? Know of any games we missed? Let us know!
Posted by svanholb@auroragov.org On 10 October, 2020 at 8:50 AM  

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