End of Year 2019: Favorite Narrative/Performance

Favorite Narrative/Performance

If there's one aspect of video games that's most improved in the past decade, it's probably writing. We used to get by with a hero's journey and maybe a big twist, but over time the bar has been raised significantly. We now expect fully-fleshed-out characters with complex motivations, rich backstories and authentic dialogue, intricately detailed worldbuilding and gripping plotlines. The discussion for "best narrative" has become fiercly competitive as a result, yet a small handful of games stand out above the rest because their narratives speak to us at our core and stick with us for months, if not years.

But this discussion would not be complete without also considering the performances that bring these characters to life. Whether through voice acting, full-motion video, or motion capture, a fantastic performance can take a well-written character to the next level. Pairing an excellent narrative with an excellent cast can make a game be truly memorable. Naturally there are many games that did not employ actors at all, but still had great narratives and are of course relevant to this category - we just felt that there were so many superb performances this year and they deserved to be highlighted in this thread as well.

Which narratives and/or performances stood out most to you this year?


Discussion Thread

This thread is all about discussing your favorites! The end of the year is always a great opportunity to look back and reflect on what we loved, but it’s also a great time to remind ourselves of what we missed and want to come back to next year. So give a recommendation, get a recommendation, and above all please be respectful and have a good time!

Be sure to check the Q&A section below if you have questions, otherwise feel free to reach out to one of us! We hope you enjoy this event and we’re excited to see what sorts of discussion each category inspires!

Please Note: We’re planning to write-up a summary thread at the end of the event and include various members’ quotes from the discussion threads, just like last year. The quotes that we select will be attributed to their authors and only posted on this forum (forum.waypoint.vice.com). If you would prefer to not be quoted in the summary thread, please indicate this in your posts.


Q&A

Q: End of Year? What's that?

A: I’m glad you asked! Just head over to our pinned topic if you need a catch up! You can also find details on the process for the event here.

Q: What can I discuss in this thread?

A: Anything that you think fits the topic! Feel free to share your favorite experiences of 2019, whether they occurred in media that released in 2019 or media from a previous year.

Q: Where are the nominations?

A: This year we’re structuring things a little differently: we’ll be posting discussion threads over the second half of December, and nominations won’t begin until January. This will give you a few more weeks to play more games before you’ll need to lock in your votes. We also hope that by focusing on open discussion threads, the event will be more inclusive of folks who haven’t been able to play many games from this year.

Credits

The voice acting in Eliza is incredible and really elevates the humanity of the writing. Maya in particular, her writing and voice acting really stuck with me

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In terms of single best performance, I gotta give this one to Matthew Porretta as Dr. Casper Darling in Control. Beyond how much I love that he’s in live-action in this game so he gives hammy FMV-style briefings, his performance is so wonderfully earnest. He’s like an easily-excited middle school science teacher who gets way too into his lecture of valence electrons and doesn’t notice his class fell asleep.

Huge spoiler: Turns out he’s SHREDDED LIKE LETTUCE under that lab coat too. Goddamn.

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Never forget—

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I think there are about ten thousand words across a dozen GOTY lists on Giant Bomb waxing poetic about Disco Elysium, so I’ll be brief and just say that this game has set a new standard, a high bar for other dialogue-heavy RPGs and narrative-focused games in the coming decade.

My favourite performance of the year comes from a game I found otherwise a little lacking in the narrative department, and that’s Ashly Burch’s voice acting for Parvati Holcomb in The Outer Worlds. The writing for her is some of the best in the game, but Burch really brings it to the next level with a very endearing and sweet performance.

Disco Elysium is not infalliable for me but it’s so extremely not-the-usual that I hope it encourages more RPG writers to try and hone what it does best: a main questline that provides an actual thrust, and prose that’s so colorful and unpredictable that my screenshots folder is overflowing.

Also, Kim is bar-none the best companion I’ve ever had in an RPG. Not a huuuge line of competition, but he makes the idea of a tag along buddy look like it’s never been attempted before.

I think Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the best Star Wars narrative of the year.

As to individual performances, everyone in Fallen Order who isn’t Cal Kestis is terrific, with a special nod to Debra Wilson for 1. being omnipresent in video games nowadays and 2. bringing her A-game every single time.

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I played Return of the Obra Dinn on the Switch this year and as a unique narrative experience it kicks so much ass.
Re: the voice acting, here’s a quote from Lucas Pope in a steam forum:
“ In every case where I could, I auditioned native actors for each character’s lines. I needed to balance casting based on both accent and performance though, which wasn’t always an easy choice. Someone that sounds perfectly Irish might not give as good of a performance as non-native actor faking the accent.

This was especially tricky for the non-British roles because most of the lines are delivered in English and it’s just more difficult to act outside your native language. Tim as the bosun is a good example of an (American) actor with great chops beating out the native German/Austrian actors that auditioned.

All of the non-English dialog in the game was translated by friends native to the character’s origin, and I ran all of the good auditions by them to tell me who sounded native and who didn’t. These friends are listed as “Language Consultants” in the credits.”

Considering how brief a lot of those lines were it’s an impressive attention to detail.

Anyway, always appreciate when I come across new ways of storytelling, in games or whatever, and this one was so good and so clever it blew me away.

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Casper Darling’s musical career aside, as much as I enjoyed Sekiro and Control and (perhaps a little despite itself) Death Stranding this year, Outer Wilds was is hands-down my favorite gaming narrative of 2019. It might be my favorite video game narrative ever. As such, I’m about to write a thousand words about it, so buckle up (or skip to the next comment).

I have spent… so much of this year wracked with a kind of general anxiety about the future. For a few years now, it’s been something that just comes unbidden into my mind and sets up shop there for a while. Anxiety about dying, about other people dying, about the planet dying, the universe dying far beyond anything I’ll ever see. And it took me most of the way through Outer Wilds to realize that that theme—or the reverse of it—was what the game had been setting up its narrative around.

(I’m going to write about some themes broadly after this, so if you haven’t played it and want to remain wholly unspoiled, stop here. Anything that’s a real specific beat I’ll spoiler tag.)

Anyway, Outer Wilds about the ways that history and the mistakes of the past can bleed unbidden into the future (oddly enough, this was a common theme this year). There was a thread here a while back about The Last of Us: Part II where I remember discussing whether apocalyptic narratives could ever be told without violence. And Outer Wilds is that, in the moment at least. Its violence is the kind that happened long before any of its living characters were born, and the kind that was never intended, never direct. Instead, it was the result of hubris and a certain kind of colonization—the kind motivated by the need to learn and understand, to solve every single one of the universe’s mystery. The kind that ends with scientists accidentally destroying a population of organisms because they unknowingly carried a pathogen into their habitat.

More than that, Outer Wilds is about hope in the face of the End. Not just some flimsy, flighty notion of hope that exists on the periphery as a shallow motivation to continue onward, but a full, overflowing vision of endings as new beginnings. The ending, once you realize that you can never stop the sun from blowing up, and instead decide to just share marshmallows around the fire with your friends, moved me to tears. It still does whenever I listen to the game’s soundtrack. It’s comforting in a way bright and cheery visions of the future never quite can duplicate, because there’s an impossibility inherent in those, a lack of the messiness inherent to the universe. Outer Wilds gets that. It’s about that messiness and unfairness, and finds away to be okay in spite of that.

Outer Wilds is also interesting because it largely lacks anything we can call a performance. There are barely any characters you interact with, and the ones you get to know most are long-dead and gone as a result of their own catastrophic accident, which has continued to spill over into your future. That sets up a feeling of distance that permeates that game—the loneliness of a clockwork universe filled with larger than life systems and no one to share it with. And that of course, makes the Travelers, your four musician/astronaut-friends, feel so comforting and homey. The entire game is this incredible seesaw between the comfort of those little spaces and the terror of the unknown.

And finally, I think the partial non-linearity of the way the game tells its story is part of what makes it so effective (in hindsight, it reminds me a lot of how Return of the Obra Dinn built its mystery). There are some things you will find later than others—you’re almost never going to find your way to the Sun Station before Ember Twin, or find the core of Giant’s Deep before entering Dark Bramble, but the agency the game gives the player in piecing together its story and the ways it helps you keep track of it places you uniquely at the center of this mystery. In short, it makes you feel powerful as the player character before ultimately revealing your powerlessness in the face of the past, and I don’t think this story could be told without that juxtaposition.

Anyway, I’ll probably just link this comment on the GOTY thread as well, because Outer Wilds is my game of the year, and one of the most moving narrative experiences I’ve ever had.

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Control Is the best FMV adventure game of the year.

But the Outer Wilds was such an incredible experience from head to toe and told such an incredible story.