You know, as much as I love to stand on my soapbox and declare to the world that video games are the best, most advanced medium for storytelling, I have to admit that I don’t always have a lot of evidence to back up my claims. Unfailingly the best-selling games year after year are first-person shooters and sports sims, and sometimes they’re not even that fun. The great thing about video games generally, though, is that even if a story is terrible or totally forgettable, the game can still be a blast to play. Consider these five games – favorites for many – with terrible or nonsensical stories.
Can any of you tell me the main, meta, overarching, pre- Taken-King story of Destiny in non-vague terms? I mean really, can anyone? I’ll try. A giant white moon-thing called The Traveler showed up a long time ago and ushered in a golden age, and then “the darkness” came to wipe out humanity and destroy The Traveler because… the darkness. That’s the best I can do. If you really want to dig into the lore and make sense of anything, Bungie forces you to farm Grimoire cards and read them online. We have no idea why we’re fighting, but we sure do love to fight. An abundance of loot, an ever-present urgency to complete daily quests and bounties, and sporadic events make Destiny one of the most fun and most beautiful time sinks we’ve ever played, even if the story sucks.
I wanted so badly for this story to blow me away. As a pianist and as a fan of Chopin and his compositions, I expected this to be my RPG of the year when it came out in 2008. If you’re unfamiliar with this little gem, Eternal Sonata takes place mainly within the dream world of Frederic Chopin as he lay on his deathbed. Sounds awesome, right? Each part of the story is influenced by the music and life of the man, who joins a very colorful cast in a journey that, while beautiful and at times very moving, ends up trying way too hard to be something it’s not. Eternal Sonata is still worth playing, and has some really innovative combat mechanics based on whether your character is positioned in the light or in darkness, effecting his or her moves and magic respectively.
As much as I love Dark Souls, I’m willing to admit that the story here is even more obscure and obtuse than in Destiny. But Dark Souls isn’t really a game that you play for the story. Instead, the appeal is in getting completely lost in this beautiful, Gothic, hostile world. There is pretty much zero exposition, and you’re left to fill in, or imagine, all of the details as you come across various wanderers and entities throughout the course of your journey. You get a keen sense that you’ve stumbled into a world that has existed – unchanging – for centuries before you came along, like a nightmare materialized and preserved; attempt to illuminate it if you dare.
Resonance of Fate
If you played Resonance of Fate you probably don’t even remember the story. Something about an experiment to control the forces of life and death in people in order to bring back a lost lover, I think? Honestly, even when it was fresh in my mind it gave me a headache – all I know is that the combat system was incredible. Developer tri-Ace has been in the game-making business for over 20 years, and Resonance of Fate proves that. It has the polish and difficulty of an old-school SNES JRPG, and the action and flare of a modern, AAA action game.
I’ll probably catch some flak for this one, but can we all admit that the first Kingdom Hearts is really lacking in the story department? It gets so needlessly convoluted that it’s almost impossible to keep track of everything that everyone is doing or trying to do. It’s like they started out with a bunch of concepts and then tried to hack together a story that allowed for every concept and mechanic to fit in somehow. The keyblade, Maleficent and the Princesses of Heart, King Mickey and friends, Sora and friends, the heartless, Ansem… it all makes sense after you’ve finished the game, but things don’t exactly fall together gracefully as you play. The game was fun, no doubt, and there are few games that bear with them the nostalgia payload that Kingdom Hearts offers, but damn if it couldn’t do with some consolidation. It’s kind of ironic, since Disney is known as a company that tells stories masterfully.