End of Year 2022: Favorite Narrative

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

[Hub Thread]

1 Like

Two thoughts:
The story of citizen sleeper seems custom made for me to love it; sci fi that explores large new ideas but is still written on a personal level.

I think it could be argued that Pentiment pulls off the kind of narrative “choices matter” emotionally connective game that Telltale always strived for but never QUITE reached.


This is definitely the GOTY category that’s going to be the tightest for me. I’m with sputnik in feeling like Citizen Sleeper was nearly tailor-made for my tastes in narrative design. Josh Sawyer writing a period murder mystery with Pentiment? Of course that’s phenomenal. And NORCO gave me the feeling of bittersweet nostalgia for a place I’ve never lived. Citizen Sleeper perhaps eeks my win on raw player appeal, but my answer might be different tomorrow.


Immortality could win for me if not for the meta plot, which I could not understand at all if not for some forum posts, and even then felt like a thoroughly less interesting story than what the main plot was telling. I really want to watch that dirty nun movie just as is. A solid runner’s up.

So the winner instead is Pentiment, which is first of all, an exhaustively detailed piece of writing. They have about thirty years of this town’s life and have what feels like a hundred characters, all growing, dying, fucking, or changing. But it’s also a really deep statement on the nature of history and revolutions. You’re seeing the medieval era end and change to early modernity, but also the town’s ancient history lives all around you. The Romans, the Germans, the Christians, the pagans, whatever, it’s all new faces and new shapes to a social dynamic that ultimately is still roughly the same despite a thousand plus years passing. Humans stay humans despite the ruling lord or shape of their god.


The way Pentiment establishes a place and a community of people in a meaningful way is truly incredible. It felt like a game I spent 50+ hours with just because I felt like I really got to know the townspeople’s lives - their motivations, struggles, and interpersonal conflicts. The fact that all of that happened in roughly 15 hours feels like quite the achievement. And that third act is really bold. I could see some people falling off and thinking it’s boring, but the way it explores history and how it can be very subjective only drives home the game’s themes even more. That’s not evening mentioning the fact it’s also a really solid whodunit mystery. Definitely one of my favorite games of the year and the most memorable narrative for me.


I also really loved Pentiment’s narrative. It reminds me of great literature, with its strong, clearly conveyed themes woven throughout the entirety of the work. It’s rare for any work of art, much less a video game to feel thematically complete in the way Pentiment is. Everything from the art style to the game’s title contribute to the main theme of how our history is hidden beneath every part of the way we live. It’s a masterwork of narrative design!

Citizen Sleeper was similarly masterful! It’s a story set on a hyper capitalist, dystopian nightmare world that manages to have deeply human characters and be fairly optimistic, all things considered. The way it presents queerness is really inspiring as well!


In case this thread closes before I’m done with it, I’m just in here to put in a good word for indie parenting simulator checks notes God of War: Ragnarok.

I just finished up Act 2, so there’s still time for it to go completely sideways before the credits roll. But I’m not worried.

Modern video games and modern action movies tend to say “These two characters who were at each other’s throats for two hours just murdered something together and now they’re best friends” and nobody bats an eye. They shovel natural character development out the window in favor of spectacle. We kinda shrug at it because the spectacle is usually, well, spectacular, but when Ragnarok took an hour to have two feuding characters really try to build some common ground and try to understand each other before having them commit some team murder, the incomplete, imperfect reconciliation that followed just felt right. So much of the storytelling/narrative of this game is people shaped by their history and their choices trying to make the best choices they can (I know I basically just described storytelling BUT). It’s a good story and it feels like every part of the story follows logically from the parts and motivations that came before it.

EDIT: Roll credits. Outside of one narrative decision at the end of the game that just didn’t land with me (but was ultimately inconsequential), it does indeed stick the landing.


2022 had a lot of heavy hitters (it is the year of the narrative banger, after all). Immortality was a gripping mystery to lose myself into. Citizen Sleeper established the world of the Eye and the community living on it with incredible deftness. I have just started Pentiment, and I’m really excited to spend more time with it.

But when I’m thinking of narrative, I keep coming back to the sequels to two of my favorite games, that came out almost at the same time. Butterfly Soup 2 is as heartfelt and hilarious as the first one, but its writing has gotten sharper. It digs into the insecurities of its cast of still growing Asian-American teenagers as they try to figure out the messy feelings they hold towards their families or cultural identities. It packs a lot of ideas in a short runtime, plus where else are you going to find a certified brain genius?

Meanwhile, The Grown-up Detective Agency follows the slightly absurd idea of what working as a teen detective would be like in real life (established by previous games in the series) to its depressing conclusion as Bell Park is no longer a teen, and now hit by the curse of Millennial Ennui. The contrast between her eager younger self and burned-out current self is a great source of laughs, but also brings out the emotional punches at the right time. And its off-kilter version of Toronto is a delight to visit.

Other quick shoutouts: A Long Way to the Nearest Star managed to make a “suspicious AI on a spaceship” story feel fresh and unique. The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow builds a striking atmosphere of dread and malaise with its quaint english village where all is not right. I also discovered Stay? this year, which has a very grounded approach to a time loop story. Rather than figuring out and solving the loop, it’s more about getting the opportunity to experience a bunch of different lives and needing to choose which one is the “right” one. It’s funny and touching.


I would love to be able to talk properly about Pentiment here, but I can’t because I’m still only “the first day” into the plot in my personal playthrough, having paused to restart playing with my partner… which has only happened for 1 hour realtime since then.
But! It’s also basically the only game I’ve played from 2022 that I’d potentially worthy of this position even from that brief sample - not just for what looks like being a subtle and intelligent story in itself, but also one which has multiple interesting presentational tools in its kit (mostly derived from the diegetic nature of rendering).
I think I also realised this year and last that I really don’t like most voice acting in games with plot - reading the narrative here is much better than having someone acting it, and there’s plenty of games that, in retrospect, I partly stopped playing because they wouldn’t stop acting at me in them. (I’m looking at you, Divinity: Original Sin 2, in particular.)

(As a negative vote, I don’t think Return to Monkey Island deserves to be anywhere near this list, as for my tastes it squandered most of the interesting narrative things it could have done (for example, the whole “Guybrush is as bad as LeChuck in what he will do for the Secret” thread, which basically goes nowhere) in favour of a meta twist which is far less clever or emotionally poignant or whatever than Ron Gilbert thinks it is.)

However, in terms of “games I played in 2022 even if they weren’t released then”, I’m voting for Heaven Will Be Mine. Again, it’s a purely textual narrative - but it’s beautifully written (and, again, does something a bit clever with the medium, although not as clever as Pentiment) and is a perfectly judged metaphor, as well as being a story about cool LGBTQ+ women piloting complex mecha, politics and relationships. It even made me go and actually watch Mobile Suit Gundam a few months later just to get context for what it’s referencing!


Citizen Sleeper, Pentiment, and Signalis.