10 Best Modern Story-Based Video Games

The Greatest Games of Recent Memory

by J.R. Waugh

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Gamers around the world often crave a story when playing, whether it is to enjoy the artistic expression in the writing, the thrill of an amazing plot twist, or the simple achievement of concluding a story as the motivation, but they will not settle for something generic and will seek out the best ones available.  Games as a storytelling medium have become increasingly important in the current day and age, especially when one might need to self-isolate and keep themselves entertained. 

Modern Video Games With The Best Stories

This is a selection of 10 of the best modern story-based video games, across a wide range of subgenres and platforms from the current and previous generations.  

Persona 5 Royal (2020) PS

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Persona 5’s release (bolstered by the Royal version) shot the Shin Megami Tensei spinoff to indisputable mainstream status.  The Japanese Roleplaying Game has developed a massive following thanks to the striking art and aesthetics, catchy music, and clever plot.  The game empowers the protagonist to join friends with shared traumas and enter the distorted psyches of people who are villains for reasons that often hit very close to home. 

There’s no shortage of things to do in the game outside the story, but many of these leads right back to playing out the story as every day is rigidly structured in how many tasks you can perform.  For a game that deals with themes like depression, suicide, and seizing personal power, Persona 5 Royal straddles the line of deeply serious yet fantastical with effortless style.

God of War (2018) PS/PC

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God of War had a fantastic trilogy spanning across the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 generation of consoles, but when news came out about the series shifting from Greek to Norse mythology, players everywhere wondered if it would still be the same franchise they loved.  The result of that wait was a seamlessly cinematic game that takes no breaks in showing Kratos’ roots, exploring both the Greek and Norse themes with which he is involved. 

This is an action-adventure game, with elements of puzzle-solving, skill trees, and nods to RPG conventions carefully added with great execution.  The story concludes on a surprisingly high note while also leaving players immediately demanding a sequel to see how this story ends, which is coming soon.  The game even got a solid PC port this week, and players couldn’t be happier.

Disco Elysium (2019) NS/PS/XB/PC

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Disco Elysium is a game that fully allows players to determine the fate of their protagonist in remarkable ways.  The game plays with otherwise typical conventions in RPGs like stat-building, but prevents you from power-gaming your way to victory, and every choice counts in ways that feel fresh and fascinating, and in some cases, even alarming. 

In many ways, you tell your own story as you use the in-game ‘Thought Cabinet’ system, and instead of simply pushing for the best possible result, you feel encouraged to accept the highs and lows your character experiences all along the way.  This is a truly unique game with an awesome art style that is available now on almost all major platforms.

Detroit: Become Human (2018) PS/PC

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Detroit: Become Human is another excellent title by Quantic Dream, a developer known well for its immersive, choice-based storytelling with branching paths in the narrative depending on what you choose to do throughout the story.  You experience the lives of three separate protagonists, Connor, Kara, and Markus, androids made to serve humans in a variety of backgrounds in Detroit who each discover their paths to sentience. 

It is entirely up to you to determine how far this path goes, with characters being able to die while the story continues, and the plot develops these androids to the point where their actions are so consequential, they could bring about great social change or invite disaster.  Additionally, you can view what choices you made in addition to what other players have made, which can make the experience fun for streamers as well as their viewers, so others can weigh in on the choices you make.

Undertale (2015) NS/PS/XB/PC

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Undertale was an incredibly influential game, and a true success story for developer Toby Fox and has become a cultural phenomenon.  On the surface, it is a top-down RPG but quickly demonstrates interesting twists like a bullet-hell battle system and the puzzle-solving elements can sometimes mess with the player. The dialogue is cheeky and the visual presentation is sometimes rough, but beneath the surface lies incredible depth and nuance to how you can approach a playthrough.

  Most famously, you can choose a pacifist path for yourself by attempting to converse and end combat with enemies upon encountering them in clever ways, but there is also something to be said about the iconic characters and memorable music.  If you never choose to explore a game for its depth and witness greatness like in this title, how else can it be said?  “You are gonna have a bad time.”

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) NS/PS/XB/PC

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CD Projekt Red’s latest epic in their adaptation of the Witcher novels is an absolute AAA tour de force.  Despite some technical issues at release (what’s that like, CDPR) the game showed far more polish and care in their design to offset anything bad one can say about it. Whether it be through large persistent updates including ports to next-gen consoles, or implementing bovine defense initiatives against any players looking to exploit the game’s economy.

The game has all the graphics and effects one would expect of an ambitious open-world RPG set in a bleak, dark fantasy world filled with prowling monsters.  While one can understandably go straight forward into the story of Geralt saving his adopted daughter Ciri from the ruthless Wild Hunt, or finding out how much territory the kingdom of Nilfgaard conquers in the Continent, smaller pursuits can be equally rewarding.  The individual quests can often be rewarding stories to experience, and yes, that includes the tragic tale of the Bloody Baron, whose terrible personal choices lead to tragedy and regret.  

Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019) NS

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Fire Emblem has told some great stories in the past, often also having issues like having predictable archetypes and tropes set for their characters.  While Fire Emblem Awakening in 2013 was the biggest saving grace for the turn-based tactical RPG franchise, the polish put into creating the content of Fódlan in this game is readily apparent. Three primary factions are appearing to coexist while brimming tensions and years of conflicting interests come to a head. 

You are Byleth, a mysterious protagonist whose past is yet to be fully understood, but you are put in charge as a teacher at the Officers Academy at Garreg Mach.  Your students come from all across and even outside Fódlan and are living examples of the cultures and attitudes present, and whoever you choose to ally with will invariably result in having to fight others down the road.  The choices you make can form anything from an empire looking to abolish the status quo of Fódlan, a redemption arc for a disgraced noble bringing glory back to their home, or defeating an ancient, nefarious threat to the continent. 

The game can be enjoyed for hundreds of hours and stories to be experienced in the form of character interactions and epilogues or simply the plot itself, and it’s all up to the player.  Achieving record sales and critical acclaim, was a critical hit for the Fire Emblem franchise.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon (2020) PS/XB/PC

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Yakuza’s latest entry was a gamble, to say the least.  After the long reign of previous central protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, fans were uncertain whether this bold outing would prove fruitful.  But while the game has points where it is imperfect, critics and players can agree it was a win and a positive step forward for the franchise.  The new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, wins players over with his charm, enthusiasm, and the story through which he uncovers the mystery of his attempted murder and becomes a role model to his friends and allies. 

The story takes the series away from Kamurochō to Isezaki Ijincho to further separate itself from the previous entries. Like a Dragon tells tales of Kasuga’s interactions with rival gangs of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese origin, known as the Ijin Three, and the powerful Omi Alliance, whose role in the story becomes more complicated as it progresses.  There’s plenty to love in this experience, not the least of which is the shift over to a roleplaying format which plays wonderfully well into Kasuga’s possibly delusional penchant for turning everything around him into JRPG battle references, which is as amusing as it is meta. 

But like any Yakuza fan will tell you, this is a franchise-best enjoyed from the beginning if you haven’t already.

Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (2017) PS/XB/PC

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This game was what Resident Evil needed, combined with lots of careful polish and several years of development time since the last numbered entry, which indicated the series was beginning to lose touch with its roots – survival horror.  Resident Evil stories are often best experienced when the protagonist is thrust unprepared into a world amid disaster, or a derelict home beset by a menace they’ve yet to understand.

What elevated Resident Evil VII to the greatest heights of the franchise alongside the original two, particularly their remakes, was staying grounded in this fish-out-of-water approach.  What helps this one stand out, however, is Ethan Winters, a protagonist as nondescript as possible, directly immersing you in the experience, especially if you played in VR.  The terror and dread inspired by the Baker estate would not have been possible if it became another zombie shooter where you can inexplicably loot ammo off the dead and kill all the targets to proceed.  You had to survive, and the available supplies felt appropriate. 

Moreover, the Baker family themselves steal the spotlight, specifically the father, Jack, as they chase you around the house while you unravel what brought them to their deranged, near-immortal state.  Ethan gets more detail to his story in the action-oriented sequel, but the grounded choice to make his character less of a focus in this title puts you directly in his place.

Hades (2020) NS/PS/XB/PC

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Hades is a triumph for developer Supergiant Games.  The numerous accolades and Game of the Year awards this game earned go far past the story, but it merits mentioning just how good the story is, especially when considering that this is a modern roguelike.  The best, most organic way in which a story can be told in this genre, and even in games in general, is for it to happen as you experience the game itself. 

The cast of characters in this game, despite being derived from Greek mythology, is vibrant and expressive, and their interactions with protagonist Zagreus tell you various aspects of the Kafkaesque experience of being bound to the underworld.  More importantly, when you complete the game each time, there is not simply a good ending if you achieve everything properly.  Beating ‘the game’ isn’t simply by escaping the one time, you will find, as your repeated attempts become more difficult and it at first feels futile to keep trying.  But every successful escape uncovers a more tragic backstory, and eventually, a path to reconciliation and even genuine positive change for the game world. 

It’s so enticing you have no choice to see all there is to the story, even if on the surface it looks like you’re just punishing yourself over and over.  That is a truly rewarding way to experience a story to die for.

This concludes our list of the 10 best modern story-based video games, but as always feel free to consider what else you would add to the list.  But these are all titles that would be highly worthwhile to play, and which push the medium forward in the present day toward potentially greater stories to come.

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