I love stories. I read, I watch movies and TV shows, I listen to lyrical music, and I love playing story-driven video games. Don’t get me wrong, I do love mindless, plotless games as well, especially competitive shooters like Team Fortress 2, Counter Strike, and the occasional Call of Duty: Black Ops: Warfighter: Vietnam: Shootfest 13, but I would never list them as my favorite games because they are a temporary experience. You play them and enjoy them, but once you stop playing them, the fun stops, the memories fade, and you go back to doing whatever you were supposed to be doing with hardly a second thought. While I enjoy them, they are not my favorite games by any means. My favorite games, books, movies, or TV shows are the ones that your brain keeps going back to days or sometimes weeks later. This causes movies like V for Vendetta, Gladiator, and Shawshank Redemption to be some of my favorites and Pacific Rim, while enjoyable, to fade into the tangle of “Summer Blockbusters.”
Video games that are heavily story-driven seem hard to find nowadays. With blockbusters featuring engrossing stories like The Last of Us being few and far between, people wonder how I get my story kick from modern games. It really is not as hard as people think, you just have to look outside of the “Blockbuster” category. Japanese Roleplaying Games, or JRPGs, are famous for their attention to story. They are also famous for grinding and boring combat systems, and in my opinion, the people that believe this aren’t always wrong. Final Fantasy X has a great story that I got really involved in, but the combat did nothing but hold it back. I would grin and bear the long sections of grinding and boss fights just to get to the next nugget of story. This is unfortunate, because the story is great, but the game demands that you work for it. On the other hand, the Kingdom Hearts series has an action combat system to accompany the wonderful, if not incredibly confusing, story. The combination of fun play, decent progression, and a story that will entrap you if you allow it, makes the Kingdom Hearts games one of my favorite series. Other games that fall into this category are Persona 4, Riviera the Promised Land, and Ogre Battle 64.
I acknowledge that the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games are not for everyone. The stories, at times, can be VERY Japanese, and some people don’t like the style. There are games for those people too! A few years back I became very interested in Interactive Fiction games, to the point where I began writing my own. They are basically modern text-based adventure games, but with an emphasis on story. Most are fairly short, 4-5 hours of gameplay, but considering they are free and they have given me some of the best storytelling experiences in any media, they are definitely worth checking out. Without the burden of graphics and (usually) combat, IF authors are free to explore whatever storyline they wish. They aren’t held back by technical limitations, only the limit of their writing ability. Settings are varied and the good ones have far better atmosphere than many modern AAA titles, even without high-cost sky boxes and graphical landscapes. Check out Spider and Web or Blue Chairs for some really fun experiences. But let’s say you don’t like Japanese storylines, and don’t want to have to type everything you do. What then? Now it is time to dive into the world of indie games. Which brings me to The Yawhg.
What is The Yawhg, you ask? It is a 1-4 player completely story driven game. It is basically a very advanced IF game, with gorgeous illustrations. Each player controls a character living their lives for the few weeks leading up to a calamity. There are tons of events and options and is designed to be played over and over again. When I got my copy I sat down to play it with my wife. We finished the first game in around 30 minutes and after the credits rolled, we just sat there, silent for a few moments. And then we played it again, and again, and again. After playing for about 4 hours, trying to get the best ending, or getting the worst, exploring some of the many avenues the game offers, we called it quits for the night. The next day we took it to my parents’ house, sat them down in front of my laptop, and watched as they played it. I was surprised to see how many new events they found! Sure, quite of few were recycled, but because the game’s world is persistent for each playthrough, the decisions you make affect which options appear later on. They played it, and then we talked, they played again, and we talked some more. Two days later I received a text from them talking about it some more. And that is the mark of a truly powerful game. Days, even weeks, after I introduced The Yawhg to my family and friends, we still talk about it. Someone will have found a new ending, or discovered how two seemingly separate events actually can interact. Heck, when I am bored at my day job my brain sometimes wanders back to The Yawhg, to the puzzle we never solved, the favorite endings we saw, or the ones we may have missed.
If you are a story driven individual like myself, The Yawhg is a must play, especially if you think videogames aren’t your “thing.” If you enjoy that, I would highly recommend trying out some Interactive Fiction games. They have a competition every year called Xyzzy Awards, so you can use the winners of that as a guide to good IFs. If you are a gamer, give some of the games mentioned above a try, even if it is stepping out of your gaming comfort zone. It’s good for you and who knows? you might find a another world to learn and grow from. And that is never a bad thing.