If you could only pick one game, what would it be?
Sometimes I’m so immersed in my little narrative bubble in the games industry, I forget that there are some people who have never played a story-centric game in their lives! Considering the industry is more flooded with titles to choose from than ever before, it can be difficult to branch outside of the comfort zones of our favorite genres because there’s so much to play. No judgment — it honestly just gets me more enthused that I could have the opportunity to introduce someone to some of my favorite games of all time. That’s exactly what happened this weekend when I got to chatting to a friend who works in esports (something I know equally little about as she does narrative games). She asked me for a recommendation, and in my excitement, I started rattling off a huge list of games before I could stop myself.
I make it no secret that The Last of Us is my favorite game of all time. It has some of the most tight, character-focused writing you’re going to find in games, the mechanics play really well off of the story, and it also just holds a special place in my heart.
However, when I started telling this friend about narrative games, I was surprised to find myself recommending Disco Elysium first and foremost. I think maybe it’s been on my mind recently because I just had an in-depth conversation with a friend about it, but the more I thought about Disco Elysium, the more I thought that maybe it’s a better representation of what narrative games have to offer.
Sometimes your favorite isn’t the best way to go
The Last of Us is a really great game, but I understand some of the criticisms that it’s too linear — although the “playable movie” kind of thing is Naughty Dog’s bread and butter.
Anyway, Disco Elysium is a game that not only has choices and branching narrative, but you can significantly alter the narrative or characters based on how you choose to play. It also has such an organic feel based on what you find or don’t find, and while you can miss out on some cool moments, finding them can make for a magical experience.
While The Last of Us has its merits as one of the greatest narrative games ever made, Disco Elysium‘s story is one that I think is greatly enhanced by the fact that it’s a game, even in its weaker moments. Overall, I think there’s a case for it being the better narrative game recommendation. Of course, it also depends on who your audience is.
I love reading, so a text-heavy game like Disco Elysium is something I naturally gravitate towards. The endless walls of text might make someone bounce off, therefore rendering my recommendation unsuccessful. There’s also the fact that in some instances, the game relies on prior knowledge of tabletop tropes and mechanics.
If the prospective player has never touched a d20 in their life, it might be another reason for Disco Elysium to feel alienating. All of this to say, I think it’s still one of the best examples of game narrative and I’ll gush about it to anyone who will listen.
My honorable mentions
Other recommendations I sent to this friend as some of my favorite narrative games are as follows:
- What Remains of Edith Finch
- Kentucky Route Zero
- Portal and Portal 2
For all my ramblings, I want to know, which game do you think best represents video game storytelling? Which game comes out on top of a story game battle royale as the best ambassador to our non-story-gaming friends? What games make up your honorable mentions list? Let me know down in the comments!
Story Beat is a weekly column discussing anything and everything to do with storytelling in video games.