The best thing you can say about 2020 is that this year might make for a pretty good story at some point. At the very least, the year gave us some of the best video game stories in recent memory.
Popular perception suggests that the industry is dominated by multiplayer games, but 2020 showed that there are enough storytellers left in the industry to ensure the state of narrative-driven games is bright despite whatever concerns remain about its future.
If you’re looking for some of entertainment’s greatest adventures, you’ll find them in our look at the best video game stories of the year.
5. The Last of Us Part 2
The Last of Us Part 2‘s biggest issue from a storytelling standpoint is the game’s length. This sequel’s messages and themes are stretched thin across the length of a 20+hour game, and large sections of the campaign drag on without contributing anything substantial to what makes the story work.
That doesn’t mean the story doesn’t work, though. While The Last of Us Part 2‘s bloat hurts its grander ideas, the personal adventures of the story’s best characters and the little moments along the way work as intended. Ellie’s tragic growth reflects the scars of her twisted upbringing and Abby’s journey proves to worthy of the time it is afforded despite the vitriol the character endures from fans who feel she “doesn’t belong” in the game.
The Last of Us 2′s triumphs as a vehicle for smaller stories makes it easier to overlook the times it fails to stick the landing when making its most ambitious leaps.
4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Yakuza games generally feature excellent stories, but their impact is negated somewhat by the fact that the game’s long-running mythology can often make it difficult for new players to really feel invested in the universe, certain characters, and what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming number of callbacks.
That’s why Like a Dragon is so special. It not only converts the Yakuza series into something closer to a JRPG, but it uses that gameplay conversion as an excuse to establish a fresh Yakuza story that invokes this series’ ability to balance absurdity with heartfelt drama.
It’s easy to judge the quality of a video game story by its weight, but there is something to be said for how Yakuza: Like a Dragon tells what is a fundamentally enjoyable narrative in a way that still leaves you feeling invested in its wide cast of characters and unable to stop playing until you’ve seen what happens next.
The brilliance of the Half-Life franchise’s stories isn’t necessarily found on the pages of its scripts but rather through Valve’s in-game storytelling methods. Half-Life helped pioneer the art of immersive video game storytelling that doesn’t rely on an onslaught of cutscenes or text.
Half-Life: Alyx retains the series’ storytelling methods and translates them into the still-wild frontier of VR. The result is a compelling narrative that retains Half-Life‘s trademark methods but uses the enhanced immersion of VR to further all of the things that this series already excelled at.
It’s been a long time since we’ve played what you could consider to be a “true” Vale game, and while Half-Life: Alyx is a VR title, it’s also a glorious return to form for a legendary studio. The game’s ending also offers a terrific cliffhanger that we hope Valve doesn’t wait another decade to follow up on.
2. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
Final Fantasy 7 Remake‘s hype was teetering on the edge of a dangerous tipping point ahead of its release. What could have once been little more than Final Fantasy 7 remade with modern graphics took longer than most fans ever anticipated. With each passing year, the expectations for what the remake should be started to dangerously grow.
In its own way, Final Fantasy 7‘s story is all about expectations. Without diving too much into spoilers, it acknowledges that the original Final Fantasy 7‘s story not only exists but was this monumental event that forms the backbone of the remake’s adventure. The remake then attempts to somehow recapture the glory of its predecessor and simultaneously forge a new path.
Final Fantasy 7 doesn’t always make the most of its ambitious set-up, but it still stands tall as one of the best examples of meta storytelling and one of the boldest remakes in any medium.
The idea of a roguelike with a substantial story is already hard to believe. The idea of a roguelike that boasts the best story in a year that certainly wasn’t lacking in compelling tales feels like an impossibility.
Hades manages to take the sting out of roguelikes by almost making you root for the next death in order to see what little piece of this compelling universe is going to reveal itself next. While the game takes you on a grand adventure of mythological proportions, it’s really a collection of little adventures and examples of personal growth that so happen to form a grand tale you simply can’t see from the outset until you’ve taken the time to assemble the pieces.
Hades’ mechanics would make it one of the greatest roguelikes ever, but it’s the game’s story that makes it one of the most essential gaming experiences of the last decade.