Merry Christmas Eve to one and all, or Happy Holiday of your choice…we’re not picky! Today, we have one of our biggest awards of the year: the Best Narrative of 2015. This category includes the cohesive whole of a game’s plot, characters, dialogue, atmosphere…pretty much everything that enthralls us about the game’s story and keeps us coming back to see what happens next.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that behind every great game is a great narrative. It’s certainly possible to enjoy a game with a mediocre or even non-existent narrative, but an emotional, driven, or even silly story can elevate a good game into a timeless experience that sticks with us for our entire lives. And this year has been great for stories, let me tell you. So here are our nominations for Best Narrative of 2015. Be sure to sound off in the comments below with your nominations or on Facebook and Twitter (@Official_OnlySP)
Reid A Gacke, Editor in Chief (@OnlySP_Reid) – Let’s not beat around the bush here. We all know Undertale is my pick for this category and, let’s face it, if it deserves any award, it’s almost certainly this one. Toby Fox’s magnum opus hit so many amazing story points – not just once but three times in three very different play-throughs while still providing a cohesive story that connects all three – that it is a paragon example of how video games can tell stories. I’ve since cooled to my hype of the game and recognize that, while somewhat interesting, the game isn’t really as revolutionary mechanically as I might have made it out to be initially. But its narrative deserves all the praise I’m capable of giving it and more. It is simultaneously amusing, heart-warming, heart-breaking, and fourth-wall breaking in a way that few games have ever been. It is everything good that a video game story can be and I think, many years from now, we will still be remembering the things this game’s story made us feel.
Lance Roth, Editorial Writer (@RPGameX) – While I get that most people play video games for the escapist factor, I prefer a more compelling story, something I can really sink my teeth into. This year, the only game that really did that for me was Life is Strange. Granted, I’m not a teenage girl, nor am I even anywhere close to being a teen, but Life is Strange is the only game I played this year that had enough narrative density to feel immersive. Yeah, there was plenty of weird stuff and Max could rewind time, but all of the main characters seemed like real people. It was even okay to me that Max’s old best friend, Chloe, and even Max to a lesser extent, were annoying. The truth is, most teenagers are annoying, and that’s authentic.
I’d love to see more games flesh out their characters as well as they were done in Life is Strange. I actually think that’s a huge opportunity in video games overall. As a medium, television has come a long way with this over the last few years, and it’s really time video games did the same thing. The truth is most gamers are adults and to that end, the stories in video games should be better tailored toward their audience.
James Schumacher, Lead Reviewer (@JamesInDigital) – Best narrative is a really tough one. Ninety-nine percent of the time whatever has the best story is also going to be my game of the year. I’m still not sure of my final choice for that category either. I have a feeling that if either XCOM 2 or Uncharted 4 had made it out this year, they would have been strong contenders for hugely different reasons.
XCOM2 will probably be more how I see Fallout 4 in terms of narrative. The story that Bethesda presented to us is not very well constructed. When I hit the midway point of the game (if you can call it that), the choices and occupation of a major character coupled with weird factioning bug/scripting made me not really care about their story anymore. But, as I’ve said before, I loved the story I was creating outside of that: a Minuteman general patrolling the wastes, building settlements, helping people and having random adventures with robot pirate ship captains and stuff. It’s that player-created narrative that make games like it and XCOM – where you have a sense of creative control and investment in that character creation – that makes for really interesting experiences.
On the other hand I like a really focused, somewhat linear experience equally as well, which is much what most expect from Uncharted 4. White Night was very cool, a little Noir horror/thriller that stood out for me this year amongst the smaller titles. For me, the outcome wasn’t hard to figure out, but the creepily unfolding journey to get there was a lot of nerve-wracking fun.
Up until the final episode of Life is Strange, I would have agreed with Lance. It was a lead candidate for both my narrative and game of the year. I just feel like it fell apart a little too much at the end to still be in the running. It’s still a worthwhile play, but it joins a long list of of brilliant story ideas that sort of write themselves into corners, and have to attempt to very sloppily write themselves out.
Even my choice for Best Narrative of 2015, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, had a bit of that. The final chapter is somewhat anti-climactic and rushed. However, I can’t argue against 80-100 hours of fun and optional sidequests, with multiple storylines via factions woven through the middle. The entire Bloody Baron/Crones sequence is so brilliant that it’s almost a shame that it comes so early in the game. I played through plenty of side quests that had plenty of heart and genuine emotion, something that your general kill and/or fetch RPG quests often ignore. The Witcher 3 is served well by a set of novels and extensive folklore from its developers’ homeland, and they’ve made excellent use of both.
Additional shout-outs to Until Dawn and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. The former plays well on the cliches of the horror genre, paying tribute and parodying them at the same time, while the latter creates a sense of fear out isolation and the echoes of raw emotion experienced through flashbacks of various inter-connected relationships.
Rhys Cooper, News and Editorial Writer (@Dizzee_Rhyscal) – Like Lance, I am a huge fan of games I can really sink my teeth into. As the games that top lists for the year or indeed all time are generally story-heavy fantastical worlds that allow me to lose myself within the characters and plot-lines. If you’ve been keeping up with my nominations you will know my choice for this is simple which I will come on to, but a few honourable mentions to begin with. Undertale is a fantastic piece of work – as our Editor-in-Chief rightly points out (again and again…for good reason) the game is uniquely brilliant. I can’t make it my choice for this category as I’ve only achieved one and a half playthroughs but so far so very, very good. Life is Strange was well-written as well considering how little I could relate to the characters, but the ending did leave a sour taste in the mouth. Ori and the Blind Forest didn’t use a whole deal of language but the story told through the characters’ actions was beautiful, especially the hard-hitting prologue.
However, yet again Witcher 3: Wild Hunt takes the crown. Not just the main quest, but the hundreds of side quests were expertly written. Each one had clearly been given a huge amount of dedication by the team at CD Projekt Red, meaning even simple fetch quests became morally ambiguous conundrums. The variety of characters we had to deal with were all interesting in their own way, and it meant having enormous amounts of fun for hours without even having to draw one of Geralt’s swords. The DLC ‘Hearts of Stone’ was very light on combat, but still engaging, funny, original and heart-breaking. The more I think about the game, and experience others, the more I realise what an incredible piece of work it truly is.
Nick Calandra, Owner (@OnlySP_Nick) – This year was relatively light in terms of story heavy games in my opinion. The Witcher 3‘s main quest was OK, buy not great and was easily overshadowed by some of the game’s sidequests. Most notably The Bloody Baron. Check out our analysis video here.
However, the narrative I enjoyed the most this year was easily Super Massive Games’ Until Dawn. The characters, setting and overall storyline kept me hooked until the very end. With the multitide of choices on offer in the game, it’s certainly a game I want to revist once I trudge through all the open worlds I have yet to explore this year.