So I've "played games for the story" for a long time now. Started with immersing myself in bethesda games and then loving Fallout: New Vegas especially, then kingdom hearts' edgy nonsense being the deepest thing since I hit the deep end of the pool, and so on so fourth. I've played a lot of games considered to have good stories, some hitting me more than others. My personal favourites I've played in recent memory are probably FFVII and Persona 4 golden, not because I'd consider them masterfully crafted all around but because what they did do well hit me really close. Other games I've played and enjoyed (to not the same extent) could be Yakuza 0 (and the kiwami's, though they werent as good),the bioshocks, the niers, every single Kojima game but Policenauts (I'll do it one day), undertale, and many other games that had great stories.
I think theres two I'd like to compare to explain what exactly I'm looking for here though: Final Fantasy XIII and The Last of Us.
First off, in this thread TLoU Part II doesnt exist. This isn't a discussion about it, strictly the first game. Anyway, TLoU is a game that on paper I wouldn't give a shit about. Another linear adventure game with cover shooter mechanics travelling across america in a post apocalypic zombie setting, not very original. FFXIII to my memory is set on two planets incredibly close together, where mechanical gods force orders upon individuals who either become horrible creatures if they refuse or become crystallised eternally if they do listen. Lots of conflict between the two planets and overall a really interesting setting.
But, I think my first issue here is the fact I have to say "To my Memory". FFXIII has these great ideas but does an absolutely awful job at expanding on them. The game drops you into an escape sequence bouncing back and fourth between the characters for the first few hours, and if you dont go into the menus and read each new data log dropped onto you you will have absolutely no fucking idea what is going on, for basically the entire game. In the last of us, the story is simpler but they let it unfold organically and naturally. Within the first minute you'll begin to like the two characters presented, and instead of just being told the world is going to shit you get to see it all happen, and watch the characters react right in front of your eyes. Not to mention the brilliant ending to that sequence I'll leave unspoiled in case somebody hasn't played it yet.
Gameplay wise, FFXIII opts to have linear corridor-like areas with many enemies to fight along the way. The combat is similarly ambitious to its story, with a system based around changing "jobs" on the fly and basically giving orders while fighting, and I wont lie at first it was snappy and fun. But as the game goes on it doesn't evolve from this, the game doesnt require much thought in its very linear upgrade path and you'll wind up not doing much other than hitting "auto battle" for the vast majority of the game. You go through towns and the like in the game but instead of actually getting to explore them, and watch the world build around you with how people in this world live and react, you instead often just walk along very linear paths around everything that would be interesting, a big missed opportunity in my eyes.
In the last of us, which I played on hard, supplies are short and every shot counts. This isn't new to survival horror games,and I dont think its combat is perfect but it works well, is thrilling and supports the story pretty well. you need to scavenge, craft and fight, often at the same time. The enemies also have great sound design, clickers, runners and bloaters all sound terrifying and the hunters communication with each other in combat and out, the way they sometimes even beg for their lives as you fight them really sells the idea that everyone in this world is a survivor, not a hero or villain. The levels are fairly linear but they do leave a small window open for exploration, enough to house the best bit of the in-game moments imo: the banter. Characters constantly talk about things, comment on the environment, and theres scenes touching, sad and hilarious that simply happen as you are walking about, and you are free to engage/ignore them as much as you please. Especially some in-game scenes towards the game are pretty emotional, and honestly suprised me as I was expecting the game to reserve those moments for cutscenes.
All in all, where FFXIII struggles to execute its great on-paper story, the last of us takes something thats been done 100 times before and executes it in a way thats so beautifully done it'll almost certainly stick with you for a long time. In fact, I thought it'd just be lumped into the "only great" category that most games go, where I think "wow that was good", while I let it sink in and start looking for my next game. But, as the game played out its last three lines, they executed what could have been just a simple conversation in such a beautiful way that it turned the game from a good journey of two characters to a question on both what is and the value of humanity and morality. Its really that fucking good. FFXIII's ending on the flip side, I can't even remember (and I only played both this year).
Basically, I just want something thats well executed. A story thats told well. Gameplay that supports it. So on, so fourth.
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