What makes a good video game story? Is it what makes a typical book or movie? Is it all the same or do video games, as a different media, have a different means of making a good story.
Some of the video games said to have the best stories play like a movie. I won’t claim to have played them all or watched let’s plays of them all, but I’ve done a lot of research, and from where I’m sitting, they mostly just have good cut scenes that are like a movie, then you get to fight the battle scenes.
This would align with the answer, if it makes a good movie, it will make a good video game.
Then why don’t video games make good movies?
So that can’t be what makes it good. So what about what makes a good book. Often, a good book does not make for a good movie.
But then instead of cut scenes, we get endless oceans of text bubbles to read the story. Okay, seriously, do any of us read these bubbles instead of just reading the book? Anyone? I know I don’t. If I’m playing a video game, I want to play, not read. If I wanted to read my story, I’d pick up a good book.
So it can’t be that either. So what makes a good story in a video game?
Let me lead you to one of the most story-heavy acclaimed story video game franchises of all time “The Legend of Zelda” What does this series do right that makes it work? What does Final Fantasy do that make it a similar classic?
Now I’ve only played a few Zelda games and only played a bit of Final Fantasy, but I’ve been doing some watching and researching and let me tell you, it’s not about the text bubbles, it’s not about the cut scenes, and it certainly isn’t in any voice acting or script. It’s in action.
But isn’t all good storytelling in the action?
Well yes, of course, but for video games, it’s still a bit different. For a video game action, I mean it’s in what the character himself/herself is doing. Unlike a good point and click mystery game, the story isn’t just in you solving the right puzzles and getting the right clue to see who did it. It’s in the plot progressing by your actions.
And no, that doesn’t mean it has to be one of those stories where the ending changes by what you do or don’t do. I love those, but it’s not that either.
It’s how your action affects the story. For the best example I know of, Zelda’s “Breath of the Wild” it’s in how much your character is yours. You share the same knowledge of just about nothing at the beginning, and what you do as you move forward grows the story. The Elder Scroll series also does this well, but not because they are both open world.
Think of the original Halo games. They use a similar format of your character knowing as much of the world as you do to help bring you into the world. ANd we all know how ell that did, becoming one of the most popular video games of all time.
Open world is not the answer. Linear can still have a good story. But open world just happens to have a lot of good examples.
Here is a good way to tell how much of the story is good for a video game. How high is the percentage of the game has you go through the story in your interaction vs. reading or watching it. For example, the battles in Elder Scrolls (many of their games, not one in particular), you are fighting and going through it and hearing or seeing what is happening as you get to react to it. You can, if you’re nuts, trying to run up to the dragon or attacking a horde. You are a part of the battle actively, not passively.
For example, in Breath of the Wild, the whole story is in the past. You do have to endure some cutscenes and text, there is just no way around that, but it makes you active in the process of finding it. In Ocarina of Time, a lot of the story is found in clues and things around the dungeons that you might miss. It’s not flat out in your face.
Ori and the Blind Forest also does this well. It’s in the hidden hints that you find and interact with the story. The more interaction, the better the story.
The boss fight should have been well led into. Each mini-boss key to the story, but not overwhelming. Not like Mario or Kerby where one level just leads you there. It should be integral. Like Breath of the Wild where you find and have to unlock each beast, or you can skip in, making open-world easier to work with story-wise but again not needed, as you find the memories and build it all, none of it is done just with the cut scene. The story isn’t happening in a cut scene, it's happening in the action.
For final fantasy, the story is happening during your battle or as you race away, not in the cut scene. Most video games do this well, but in reality, many do it better than others. But if you can only press the ‘talk’ button or can put your controller down and eat popcorn, it’s bad video game storytelling.
But what do you think? Am I missing the point of a cut scene by way too much? Is the text really the key? IF so, why not just read the book. Tell me what you think and subscribe for more content just like this you can debate over.
I love video games. But I didn’t get into them until more recent years. Growing up, the only system I was allowed was a handheld and the only games that ever caught my attention were Pokemon games. So I’d play those off and on, but hardly any at all. Breath of the Wild Changed that.
I could go on for hours about how much I love the game and why. The more personal reasons are it got me into gaming. I got a Switch just to play it after seeing a review talk about how good the game was at doing horses right. It opened my eyes to what real video games were like. (I like Pokemon but in a lot of ways it’s not really like mainstream video games. Why it gets so much hate these days.)
But how did it do this? There were many ways, but it was the amazing example of show not tell. I was brand new to the world of Zelda. I knew nothing other than the names of Link and Zelda and maybe Ganon back then, and that Link and Zelda were like lovers but not, but that was all I knew.
Then I’m thrown into a game where the character knows as little as I do! That is rather rare, and that made the experience all the better and helped me feel like I was living the story. And most of the story was in the past and needed to be found. Sure finding the memories are a lot of telling not showing, but the game has A LOT of showing not telling. Each ruin tells a story of how it became that way. Each side character has a hint to the overall story.
And that show, not tell, live, not read was great. A lot of stories in video games are fed to you as you go. You have to learn who you're playing as as you go. You find and watch cut scenes and that’s it. And Breath of the WIld has that, but not as much as other games I’ve played. (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy where I feel like I’m watching a movie.) And those scenes are even optional. Oh my goodness, there is so much optional things in this game! It made it real. It can be a completely story driven play through, or just a run around play through.
Each character comes alive as we interact with them. The mix of voice acting and read text is a bit off putting at times, but I just find how immersive and choice heavy Breath of the Wild is to be amazing. It’s not like Skyrim either where you have a huge backstory that your character should know but you, the player, don’t. It also guides you just enough to find where to go whereas Skyrim I found too open world. I didn’t know what my goals were or what I wanted to do or how to do it. Fun, but honestly, it needed a bit more guidance.
It even lets you over personalize things like armor with the ability to dye it and do much more. Each has different skills for different times, helping immerse you in the world from needing a jacket or a heavy jacket when it’s cold to needing to keep cool in the heat. It just helps make a world and so much of the world building is hidden and silent. You are your own to explore it all.
Breath of the Wild is a story that shows and not tells more than most (again, ignoring the memory cut scenes). And that is how it sucked me in and I grew to love it. I find the game is so great mere words cannot express how amazing and in depth this all is. It really allows you to make your own world in the land of Hyrule, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I used it for heavy inspiration for an up coming series because it’s that good at spurring us into a new world we make our own.