What’s the Story, Gaming Glory?
I am, of course, referring to the end. After the defeat of Sin, everything seems to be great. The world around Tidus, Yuna, and friends is finally going to reach the Calm that has been talked about for most of the game. As the melodic music echoes through the beautiful cutscene, we watch our fears start to become reality. Tidus, once defeating Sin, would disappear, and by the look on his face, it is his time. After telling everyone he has to go, the entire feeling you had of defeating the game is washed away with one shake of Yuna’s head, refusing to believe. As Tidus walks on and Yuna charges towards him, my entire world shifted and I fell completely into the moment of the game. As the music became intensely beautiful, the only characters on the screen were Tidus and Yuna, and the lump in my throat was joined with a deep hatred towards the creators for making me relive the feelings I had with Cloud and Areith from FFVII. Then, with a salt into the open wound move, Tidus phases through Yuna before taking his leap from atop the ship to join his father on the other side with a high five.
The screen cuts to black, and then we hear someone whistling, and instinctively I knew who. Tidus once told Yuna that if she ever needed him, all she had to do was whistle. For what felt like forever, you watched Yuna standing in front of the ocean whistling. Her whistles sting your heart that much more. At the end, and I mean true end after credits, you get some form of closure with the hope that maybe Tidus is alive, though some I know said the tears were too heavy at that point they didn’t really see that hope. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy 10 is one of the games that will always stay with me no matter how many times there’s another that claims to be better.
Jonathan Marx, Freelance writer
High quality storytelling in games has typically been secondary to compelling gameplay. This isn’t always the case, but it should be. When a game’s story becomes more interesting then the gameplay, usually the game is not very fun, it’s just long and boring. Obviously, the reason we play games in the first place is for quality gameplay. If we want great stories, then we’ll read a book or watch a movie. Over the past decade their has been increasing emphasis on good storylines and twisting plots, however, in order to further engage the gamer in a world that is richer and more plausible. When a good story backs up fantastic gameplay then a video game hit has been born.
The main reason why good storytelling is so important to a game’s success is it gives the gamer a greater sense of achievement. Blasting baddies in interesting ways with inventive weapons is fun, but doing so while saving your ravaged planet from the Locust Hord is the stuff of legends. Additionally, sequels and trilogies are possible if a story is sufficiently engaging. That means a lot more money for the industry and happy, sated gamers.
As technology improves and greater attention to detail continues, games will concomitantly become more story-oriented. In the era of the side-scroller, it was possible to get away with saving Toad seven times and hear, “Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!” because the technological tools did not exist to expand the complexity. Gameplay in those days was the determining factor of whether the title was successful or not. Today it’s drastically different. Technology has come such a long way that companies must focus on both the gameplay and the storylines in order to make premier titles. Games that concentrate solely on gameplay can still make for great arcade play, but in order to be considered a top title it is imperative to have both great gameplay and an intriguing story.
Jason Nimer, Freelance writer
Video games with actual stories – if you had told me 20 years ago that some games would have narratives that could even eclipse some of the fiction on the New York Times bestseller list, I probably would have thought you were nuts. I remember a game called Kid Nikki for the original NES and asking the kid up the street what it was about. “About?” he asked, “You’re a kid with nunchuks and an orange shirt. What else do you need to know?!” These days, when a curious onlooker asks what a game you are playing is “about,” you often have to press pause due to the length and detail needed to provide an adequate explanation. Could you sum up any post-FFV Final Fantasy game in a paragraph or less? I know I couldn’t.
Now that so many games have such rich stories to them, picking the best one was a baffling task. The usual candidates jump to mind – Chrono Trigger (SNES), Final Fantasy VII (PS) and Earthbound will be the most popular answers. As special treat to the reader, I’ll stay away from those because how many times can you be told Sephiroth or Kafka were awesome without immediately losing interest? Like a Tootsie Pop, I not sure how many licks it took to get to the center, but suffice it to say that it happened 5-7 years ago. So what is my pick for the best game story ever? That honor goes to (drumroll) Lee Travino’s Putting Challenge. No, just kidding. It actually goes to Kingdom Hearts for PS2.
If you aren’t familiar with the Kingdom Hearts story, first drive to the store and buy it. Oh, you’re back already? Ok, here is the abridged version: Three orphans on an island find a magical key/sword and are swept into the problems and fights between characters on various planets and a mysterious evil force referred to as “the darkness.”
So what sets Kingdom Hearts above all the rest? The main reason I selected this game is because before even putting the disc into the PS2, most people have some kind of emotional connection with at least one of the Disney or Final Fantasy characters in the game. Seeing Squall, Aeris, Jack Skellington, and a ton of others feels like a friendly visit with old friends. Some characters have changed names or even changed clothes, but all are instantly recognizable and in some cases, they actually look cooler in Kingdom Hearts than they did in their own games (ex. Cloud Strife and Sephiroth). I would have preferred a Black Cauldron level instead of the uninspired Tarzan outing, but that’s a story for another time.
Back to the story. The player enters into the Kingdom Hearts world with already strong feelings about some of the characters, and by the end of the opening cinema, you’ll have a soft spot for the three island inhabitants, Sora, Riku, and Kairi. This is in part thanks to the excellent song “Simple and Clean” by Japanese recording artist Utada Hikaru. The song stirs such emotion that even though you know next to nothing about where the game is going, the player will still feel a deep connection with the characters they haven’t even gotten control of yet.