Remember back in the olden days when Mario first burst onto the games scene as a plumber saving a damsel in distress from Donkey Kong atop a construction site? His adventures went on to the fantastical heights of rescuing Princess Peach from the evil dragon Bowser.
I’ve lost count now of how many times Mario’s gone through this same routine and even again in the new Super Mario Bros. U, however despite the continuous repetition of this very basic storyline, the games are still hugely popular. It really makes you wonder then – do great games really need great story-lines?
Think about the huge success of Angry Birds – nobody cared that the premise of the game is silly, round green pigs stealing some eggs from strange birds with weird abilities. People love these games anyway because they are fun to play; the great gameplay supplants the lack of story. The same can be said of many many other games ranging from the often ridiculous and somewhat tenuous back-stories of fighting games to the boring and pointless single player campaigns of recent FPS games.
In many cases it seems minimum effort has been put into writing once a developer has come up with fun gameplay mechanics. Can you imagine though what could be achieved if those awesome games had equally awesome story-lines?
On the other side of the coin, are the games with admittedly unoriginal gameplay that are absolutely rescued by great stories. Consider the entire Silent Hill series – okay, so the creepy atmospheric horror has always been it’s niche but the gameplay has barely changed for over a decade and a lot of the mechanics really are pretty cumbersome; however the stories have kept things fresh and deeply interesting with crazy unexpected twists and multiple endings.
I still think back to my good old SNES with Final Fantasy III (actually the sixth in the series) and the utterly amazing writing that went into that game. This game is over 15 years old now but I really do believe it to be one of the most fantastic stories even by today’s standards. I mean, the entire world is devastated halfway through playing and the main character disappears for ages.
More recently we’ve had brilliant examples of branching story-lines and player choices having deep impacts on the story’s development, such as the incredible Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead. Without the superb story design throughout, these both would have been decidedly average games. It’s basically glorified point and click but the stories seriously make the games the amazing pieces that they are.
So, you’d think that there must be some developers out there trying to combine innovative gameplay with outstanding writing, right? Well, probably most of note is the RPG genre and the various crossovers we’ve seen.
Remember Bioshock with its cool undersea city, olden day theme – mixing shooting with supernatural powers and the jaw dropping twist in the story? Or how about the hugely acclaimed Mass Effect series with multiple missions, side-quests, characters, RPG style progression and story-lines criss-crossing all over the place? Both series provide not only incredible gameplay, but also incredible stories.
I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks. What games do you love for their gameplay but the story was cack? What games were rubbish but had great storylines? And what games do you think have been brilliant enough to combine both gameplay and writing amazingly?
Do you think a great game needs to have a great story? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter.