As you read this list, you’re going to notice something: the thing I most care about in a game isn’t the gameplay, but the plot. I just love a well-told story. Thus, my personal top 10 list is largely full of either plot-heavy games or those that told their story in a novel way.
Set in modern day Akihabara, the plot follows a man who accidentally discovers that he can send emails into the past—altering time itself. Moreover, when he does this, he is the only one to remember the previous timeline. And while the game starts out lighthearted enough, the man soon discovers that his invention has not only doomed the world to a looming dystopia but will also have dire consequences for those he holds most dear.
I have a weakness for time travel stories, but even if I didn’t, I’m sure I would still be in love with Steins;Gate. This visual novel is simply the best one I have ever played. It is filled with deep, complex characters and builds a time travel story that truly explores all the consequences—both major and minor—that come from playing with time. And it doesn’t hurt that it includes some amazing romances as well.
Dragon Age Inquisition
With two games, a movie, and numerous books, Dragon Age: Inquisition has a lot of lore to draw from. Then it takes this extensive setting and builds hundreds of stories large and small across a hundred-hour plus plot. The game has an excellent cast of characters that are all a joy to get to know. The world is massive and the gameplay is well thought-out—allowing you to rush in with the AI controlling your party members on the easier difficulties but giving you the tools for a more hands-on, almost turn-based approach for when things get tough. If fantasy is at all your cup of tea, you won’t be even a bit disappointed if you pick up this one.
Fatal Frame V
When it comes down to it, I really don’t like horror games—I’m just not one of those people who enjoys getting scared. That said, I have played and enjoyed every game in the Fatal Frame series. Don’t get me wrong, Fatal Frame V is very much a creepy game as you explore a haunted mountainside with nothing but an old camera to protect you.
Moreover, it is often a bit terrifying as simply taking a ghost’s picture isn’t enough, and you have to wait until the last possible second—i.e., the scariest possible moment—to snap your shot if you want to do the maximum amount of damage. But what the game does best is building dread. No matter how often you have passed through an area, you know, just know, that the moment you let your guard down, something is going to come for you. By the end of the game, even walking through your character’s home is a nerve-wracking experience.
A Bird Story
A side story to 2011’s To the Moon, A Bird Story does something that is nearly impossible sounding on the surface: tell an emotionally engaging story with only 16-bit graphics—and do so without a single written word. From the moment you press start in A Bird Story to the moment the credits roll, there is not even so much as a letter of text in the game. Moreover, the game does a great job of telling the story as if through the memories of a child—with one event fading into another and surreal adventures being commonplace. For a game only 80 minutes long, it sure does make every second count.
The Wolf Among Us
While I have been a comics reader all my life, I had never read Fables (despite all the good things I had heard about it). However, after finishing the prequel game The Wolf Among Us, I was driven to read it all—including every side story and crossover. That is how excellent the storytelling is in The Wolf Among Us.
In this dark, gritty, noire-style adventure game, you play as the sheriff of an insular society of people living in 1987 New York City. And as it always is with crime noire, soon there is a murder and a looming mystery with connections to the dark underbelly of society. Of course, The Wolf Among Us has a twist: All the people involved are fairytale characters exiled from their storybook worlds; as for the sheriff, well he is the original fairytale villain: the Big Bad Wolf. It’s even more awesome than it sounds.
Zettai Zetsubo Shoujo: Danganronpa Another Episode
With both Danganronpa 1 and 2 on my top 10 list for last year (as I played them in Japanese), it’s likely no surprise to see the newest game in the series on my list for this year. Danganronpa Another Episode is far different from its numbered predecessors—trading its courtroom drama visual novel roots for third-person shooting and puzzle action. However, despite the change in gameplay genres, the plot of the game remains on par with the other games in the series.
Set in a city gone mad—where children are mass murdering all the adults—the game focuses on the sister of the original Danganronpa’s hero and also one of the survivors from that game. It is very much a dark and disturbing game, but one where character building is the key to the story, not the extreme violence or gore.
Transistor is a great example of minimalist storytelling. You actually begin partway through the story with one character mute and the getting used to being a talking sword. From there you take the pair through the city, all the while learning little bits about each of them and the world they inhabit.
It is only by listening to the sword and reading the information you find that you are able to piece together not only the greater plot but also the very nature of their world. It doesn’t hurt that it also comes with excellent gameplay that is all about experimenting with different combinations of attacks to find what works for you and how you play.
Bayonetta 2 is great for one main reason: It takes its main premise — a woman killing demons and angels en masse — and then dials it up to eleven. Everything about Bayonetta 2 is over-the-top: the opening level involves her fighting angels on top of a fighter jet before moving on to fighting a demon dragon wrapped around a skyscraper. In fact, each boss fight feels like it would be the final climax in any other game. And while the plot is nothing special, it does add a lot to Bayonetta's lore in a fun way. But for me, the highlight of this one is the co-op. Because for a game as fast-paced and full of action as Bayonetta, adding in a second person can only make it even more fun.
Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart
Not often being one for SRPGs, I am as surprised as anyone to find how much I enjoyed this game. A spinoff of the Neptunia series, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart stars the anthropomorphic personification of the PlayStation 3 as she gathers an army of famous game series made flesh and sets out to save her world.
What makes this game so great is that it is a love letter to gaming history. Everything from character designs to special attacks is a callback to other games—often with a bit of nostalgic humour thrown in. And on top of all that, it's a solid strategy game that makes great use of terrain, the ability of flight, and the myriad of special moves each character possesses.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
When I was in school, my friends invited me over to watch a marathon of this new cartoon on satellite TV — that was my first introduction to South Park. Eighteen seasons and a movie later, I am still watching. Moreover, as one raised in Colorado, I have to admit I love the tons of in-jokes the series throws about.
So needless to say, at this point, I am more than a little invested. Honestly, The Stick of Truth didn't have to be a good game to get me to play it, but the fact that it brings the humour the series is known for while supporting it with solid—and often self-deprecating—RPG mechanics makes it one of my favourites this year.