What's the most original recent video game story?


#1

So, what is it?

So many of them seem pretty reductive. Which one really sticks out to you as something new and fresh? And why? Also, I’m not sure that games that require you to read item descriptions, play through it 20 times, or look up lore videos should count (these might seem like direct shots at particular games, and, well, they kind of are, but also I’m interested in games that present something interesting rather than bury it, and I think that’s fair). These should be games where anyone just playing through it once gets a really interesting story and/or perspective.

Thoughts?


#2

Nier: Automata. It does not fall under any of your three examples of games you wish to exclude, nor under the umbrella of ‘burying narrative rather than presenting it’.

Edit to add: Although the more I think about it, I’m not really sure what that means – burying narrative rather than presenting it. Do you mean that you are thinking primarily of games that present linear narrative without player choice or exploration? Say, a certain type of JRPG that is essentially an anime with playable combat in-between scenes. If you’re limiting the pool to that, then I can’t really think of one.


#3

NieR: Automata is the freshest game in my mind that presents an original story and does so clearly and in an organized fashion, not requiring a lore video or digging through item descriptions to understand. It starts you off with a palette of different gameplay experiences, telling you “these are the ways you will interact with the game.” It starts you off with a set of truths about the world.

What it does over the next 20-30 hours, comprised of three big chapters, is examine those truths deeply, make you question them and turn them over in your mind as the story progresses. It also takes great advantage of the gameplay options it presented you to (much like Undertale in 2015) continually scramble and flip them as the story requires, catching you pleasantly off guard multiple times with revelations that resonate both in the story and gameplay.

I wish that more games would have such a strong vision for their story and be able to make it so important through the gameplay, a thing ONLY games can do.


#4

Hmmmm, good question! I think I’m asking that if you beat the game, beat the final boss or whatever, do you see a unique story or must you dig into peripherals to find what makes the game interesting?

Obviously, peripherals, subsequent playthroughs, and digging into every little detail for side quests can elevate something from a good to an excellent experience. But at some level anyone can add enough obscure and hidden things to make something “interesting,” but I’m just curious to see what games people think are more original and interesting in their up front and “obvious” presentation. I genuinely don’t have an answer I’m looking for with this question, looking for things I’ve missed.


#5

I don’t actually think this is as easy to do as you’re implying. Case in point, Dark Souls 1 and 2 and Bloodborne are so far and away more successful in this approach than anything else I’ve played. It’s hard to overstate how much of a revelation playing my first Souls game was in terms of examining a fictional space.


#6

Yep, what I said was probably unfair, too reductive. That said, were Dark Souls/BB that original in their stories?

Legitimately curious. I played and loved BB, one of my favorite games ever now, and the environments were enchanting, but I still am not sure the premise was anything remarkable.

I’m not trying to be an ass with this thread, really am interested in some smart folks on here talking about things I have overlooked.


#7

Depends on how deep you want to go. The true ending of Bloodborne and subsequent revelations of the DLC were pretty unique for me, but I also don’t read a lot of horror novels. That said, in terms of “hey let’s drown a world in severely Catholic aesthetics but then make it about the horrors of blood intoxication and the duality of fear/worship,” I would LOVE to know if any other fiction has gotten that far because I will consume the hell out of it. I mean, I’m reading Hellboy now, which is a start. But that true end of Bloodborne is like… ugh, it’s such a good ending, jeebus


#8

I can’t speak with certainty on Soulsbornes, as I bounced off Dark Souls 1 once I got to Anor Londo and I lack a context for horror in general (I don’t like it, and that’s part of why I bounced off). That said, of what I DO know of the world of Dark Souls and the general themes/motifs running through it (the flame, cycle of life/death/undeath, devouring/corruption, the fall of old gods, etc.), I can’t think of much in recent games that is similar to it. In that sense, it seems relatively original. It’s possible that I don’t know horror genre conventions enough to see what is generic though.

That does make me wonder what originality really means though and how well equipped I am to judge it. Is it enough if the plot beats are unpredictable or unusual/differ from more generic narratives? For instance, Horizon: Zero Dawn had some plot twists that were actually surprising in terms of the world history (post-post Apocalypse, the role of Hades, role of Sylens, etc.), but my general impression walking away from it wasn’t that I’d played something really, really different. On the other hand, Nier: Automata was startlingly new to me, but I haven’t played any other Yoko Taro games. Perhaps it’s old hat for those who’ve played his other games (which seemingly shared many themes with Nier: Automata)?


#9

I liked Pyre a lot. Good use of flavor text without putting too much emphasis on it, and while you do technically have to play through it a few times, it’s in built into the game in a way that makes it entertaining. With Pyre, each time you complete a Liberation Rite, the game gets faster, and that really cuts down the amount of frustration that you’d get from having to repeat a cycle. Each time, you get lore in the book about places, groups and the environment surrounding you, all the while having fun interacting with each character on your team of exiles.


#10

Dark Souls has some really interesting absurdist themes to it if you delve into it. It’s reinforced perfectly by the possible endings, both of which are completely meaningless. Every character is doomed to a horrible fate but it still frames having hope and struggling to find your own purpose in a meaningless world as a good thing. A personal purpose for living is the only thing keeping you from going hollow. It’s about persevering and living in a world that’s indifferent or often even hostile to your existence. Every character that you see that goes hollow has lost the battle to maintain meaning in their life.

Despite the macabre visuals it was beautiful and such an uplifting game to play when I was depressed.


#11

I dunno how “recent” it is but the Ar tonelico/Surge Concerto universe is probably more original than most.

Probably didn’t get to need as detailed in things like the physics of the universe or inventing their own language, but hey, they did.

Apparently the whole thing is from a scrapped DND project the producer had in university.


#12

How recent is recent? (I’m also one of those weird people who thinks that originality is BS, so I’m interpreting the question more like “this hasn’t really been done in a game before” than “this hasn’t been done at all.”)

I think Hyper Light Drifter is an amazing narrative about illness and trauma set against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, expressed through a lot of little touches in its world (the character coughing up blood after every death, the heart motifs that crop up around the game), but if you don’t know about its developer’s history with heart disease that might not come across.

I think SOMA is a fantastic meditation on consciousness and humanity that leaves all of its cards on the table from the get-go, and would probably be my #1 answer to this question when all’s said and done. I think Prey also does some similar things, albeit they’re way more subliminal and only really come to the surface after its post-credits ending.

I think Life is Strange is super-derivative of detective fiction and YA (specifically boarding school) fiction, but there really aren’t any games that do what it does, and it does some really creative things with the tropes that it borrows. Similarly, Firewatch is nothing original by contemporary fiction standards (dude has personal problems, goes to the woods to find himself, stumbles upon a tragedy) but by game standards it’s pretty unique.

I think Overwatch has an extremely reductive and derivative story, but its commitment to actual optimistic futurism in an almost Disney-ish vein (which is really, really rare nowadays) and diversity (across gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, etc.) in its characters still makes it feel very unique and fresh. But I don’t think that’s really what you’re looking for here.

(Also, between this and the GILM nominations I’m convinced that I really need to play Nier: Automata.)

Edit: see the replies.


#13

Whoah, I did not get vibes of Southern Gothic from Life is Strange. That’s like the most Northern game of 2015. I mean there’s rural decay but certainly not the deep sickening life and spirit draining decay of the Southern Gothic style and Max’s powers lack the mysticism of Southern Gothicism enough that I’d hazard to even call them magic. Southern Gothic doesn’t do power fantasies.


#14

Gone Home really ought to get more praise/spawn more imitations for telling an emotionally truthful and engaging story that’s also really small in scope.

Triple A games have the same problem as most blockbusters in that the steaks are too ludicrously high and divorced from the reality of the audience, so it was real refreshing to play something where the people were people, with the problems of people, and that – outside of the central mystery – there was a lot of background information which wasn’t spelled out for you.


#15

Dujanah. It’s a magical realist game set in the middle east blending the real-life horror of the war on terror with talking spiders and giant robots. It’s the rare game that it truly unlike anything I have ever played before.

I see a lot of people in this thread mentioning AAA games like NieR: Automata or Dark Souls and while those games might be original when compared to the background of AAA games, in the wider space of all games IMO games come out on itch.io every day that blow them out of the water in terms of weirdness and originality.


#16

Yeah, the noncommercial indie space is pretty wild. Pretty much every widely lauded text game, for instance, is likely to have had a pretty original story/narrative experience. (I distinguish “narrative experience” from “series of plot happenings”. And it’s not every text game because, surprise, text is used for things other than conveying pure story.)

edit: Just going through the IFComp 2015 entries (since that was the last IFComp I played through in more-or-less full) – I would say Birdland and Sub Rosa both tell stories that would have caught my eye even if they’d been told through a static medium (though of course it wouldn’t have been the same narrative experience), while SPY INTRIGUE (which I wasn’t able to finish personally due to the visual style) by all accounts was an extraordinarily unique narrative experience all-around and probably couldn’t be adapted to a static medium if you tried.


#17

So my sleepy 1 AM brain apparently thought “detective fiction” then went “True Detective” then went “oh Southern Gothic.” You are very right on all fronts. I think it borrows tropes from detective fiction especially in later episodes, not Southern Gothic. Going to edit my post to reflect that.


#18

A little while ago Ian Danskin made a video essay about how absolutely batshit Life is Strange is genre-wise. I still don’t really like that game but it definitely changed the way I thought about it.