One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is how it’s become harder and harder for me to dedicate the time and attention to story-focused games. There was a period of time throughout the last decade where you’d get games like The Walking Dead that told a great story, but didn’t really do anything interesting from a gameplay perspective. But despite not being anything special on the gameplay front, The Walking Dead’s story and writing were so good that none of its shortcomings outweighed its strengths. I also don’t want to imply that it’s a one-or-the-other kind of situation where story-focused games can’t have good gameplay or vice versa, because there are plenty of games that have delivered on both elements. Regardless, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite story-focused games that I’ve played over the past few years that I think are well worth your time, if you, unlike myself, can actually dedicate time to these kinds of games anymore…
One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is how it’s become harder and harder for me to dedicate the time and attention to story-focused games. There was a period of time throughout the last decade where you’d get games like The Walking Dead that told a great story, but didn’t really do anything interesting from a gameplay perspective. But despite not being anything special on the gameplay front, The Walking Dead‘s story and writing were so good that none of its shortcomings outweighed its strengths. I also don’t want to imply that it’s a one-or-the-other kind of situation where story-focused games can’t have good gameplay or vice versa, because there are plenty of games that have delivered on both elements. Regardless, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite story-focused games that I’ve played over the past few years that I think are well worth your time, if you, unlike myself, can actually dedicate time to these kinds of games anymore.
WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH
What Remains of Edith Finch tells the story of the Finch family through the exploration of their Seussian-styled home that housed several branches of the Finch family tree. It’s a story told through narration and playable vignettes that explain the mentality of various family members while adding to the grander mystery of the Finch family curse. Without going too deep into it, you are the last remaining Finch, and you’re going back home to understand the secrets of your fallen family members by exploring this comically constructed home that’s rife with secret passageways and impressive craftsmanship.
The game itself is only about 2 to 3 hours long, which is more than enough time for you to understand the wild set of circumstances that led the protagonist, Edith Finch, to explore and unpack her complicated family history. You’ll make your way into the rooms of these family members, and play through a vignette that has its own unique gameplay mechanics and/or art style, while hearing a cryptic story that feeds into the mystique of the Finch family curse. What I really enjoyed about What Remains of Edith Finch was not only how well the story was told, but how the gameplay segments never lingered too long or slowed down the pacing of the story itself. What Remains of Edith Finch is well worth your time and inevitable tears.
Firewatch is one of the few games on this list that I don’t know if I actually want to play again because of how emotionally taxing it actually was. You play as Henry, a man whose life has experienced some, let’s just say turbulence, that leads him to take a job as a fire lookout in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. His only contact with other humans comes in the form of another fire lookout on the other end of his walkie-talkie, Delilah. Delilah and Henry will interact exclusively through these radios, which means you as the player have conversational choices to make in what you ask or divulge to Delilah as you traipse around the woods during your daily rounds.
The story of Firewatch is truly a triumph. The story of Henry, Delilah and their lives before meeting one another is engaging and impressive on its own, but then there are also some other mysteries about the Shoshone National Forest that you’ll uncover that are just as intriguing as anything else in the game. Also, as if if wasn’t preposterous enough for a game to tell several spectacular stories at once and do it well, Firewatch has the audacity to have an incredible art style too. Like, Firewatch in game looks incredible, but also the artwork for the game has been the background image on my computer for years now. Do yourselves a favor and get emotionally wrapped up in Firewatch.
THOMAS WAS ALONE
Would you like to become emotionally attached to a bunch of geometric shapes while playing a fairly straightforward puzzle-platformer while a soothing British voice narrates the machinations of said shapes? Well my friend, I’ve got just the game for that oddly specific request and it’s called Thomas Was Alone. For real, this is a narrative puzzle-platformer where you inhabit various shapes that control differently in order to complete puzzles and move forward. For instance, you’ll need your rectangle buddy to make themselves into a bridge for the other shapes to traverse across. It’s nothing exceptional there, but it isn’t about the gameplay.
Thomas Was Alone is a game that will actually get you to have emotional connections with differently colored shapes. It’s absolutely wild to think that such a thing would even be possible, but it is and you can play it. While I don’t necessarily want to get too into the story, I can say that as the title would imply, the story is about these feelings of isolation and exclusion told through the lens of a small red square and their growing retinue of geometric buddies. Seriously, Thomas Was Alone is a great story layered upon a decent enough game that I think is well worth your time.
NIGHT IN THE WOODS
You’ve caught me. This entire list was just an excuse to talk about Night in the Woods once more. For those who don’t know my history with this game, I considered it my Game of the Year back in 2017 and still stand by that decision. But for those of you that don’t know, Night in the Woods is a story about expectations and reality, set to the backdrop of a dying Rust Belt town. Also everyone is an anthropomorphic animal, with you being a cat named Mae who hangs out with her friends who are a bear, a fox, and an alligator who smokes cigarettes.
There are a couple of competing plot threads that range from exceptional to okay, with the former being about Mae returning home from college to try and rekindle the life and lifestyle she left behind, and some vaguely paranormal stuff that involves a series of murders. One of the things I’ve come to recognize since first playing Night in the Woods however, is that my unbridled love for this game is directly linked to the fact that I was able to relate to so many of the characters in the game cause I’ve gone through and in some cases am still going through exactly what’s on screen. I truly cannot sing the praises of Night in the Woods enough, and you really should play it.
There are way more games that deserve to be talked about in this list, but I wanted to touch on some of my favorites without making this a full blown feature. Games like Celeste, Limbo, Spiritfairer, Papers, Please, A Short Hike and so many more deserve your attention, but I only have so much typing in me. Go play these games and get sad!