It’s not true that every great game has a great story, as Mark Fujii explains. Here are six video games that were great but for one small, shared detail – an absolute howler of a story.
Resident Evil 5
Resident Evil 5‘s story is simply terrible. Even if you ignore the abysmal script that has the characters spouting cheesy lines of dialogue over and over, you’re still left with a paper-thin plot that eventually boils down to an evil, trench coat and sunglasses wearing bad guy wanting to destroy the world. And the foundations for this paper-thin plot are even less sturdy; the vague explanation for Jill Valentine’s abrupt appearance is that she was kidnapped by Wesker – at some point or another. If you want to have any real understanding of Resident Evil 5‘s story, you’re forced to consult each character’s lengthy text file for supplementary plot information – not exactly the best form of narrative. As for the characters: protagonist Chris Redfield’s character is poorly developed, sidekick Sheva is so devoid of personality that she lives up perfectly to the accusations of being the token African cast member Capcom tossed in to stave off the detractors – and then there’s Wesker. The persistent, enigmatic foe of the Resident Evil franchise is diluted into being a supervillain cliché, complete with sinister laugh, sultry sidekick and plan for global destruction. Of course, any pretense of Resident Evil 5 entertaining a quasi-serious story goes straight out the window at the end of the game, when a mutated alien Wesker shoots down your plane with a rocket launcher. Into an active volcano. It’s pretty clear that at that point the writers just stopped trying.
Gears of War 2
If you have a video game about marines, with chainsaws attached to machine guns, fighting an army of underground aliens, I really don’t think anyone expects you to have a solid, dramatic storyline. If your game is all about bloody violence and macho posturing, trying to imbue it with anything that could be remotely interpreted as deep probably isn’t going to go over well. That’s where Gears of War 2 screws up. It tries so painfully hard to be edgy and deep, to develop its cast into characters players can empathize with. It goes to extremes in a desperate, cheap attempt to transform Gears of War 2 into some kind of emotional, memorable experience. Except it fails miserably because, at the end of the day, the underlying premise of the game’s story is so ridiculous that it’s impossible to take it seriously. Its supposedly shocking moments, involving minor characters being murdered or committing suicide, clash so horribly with the game’s penchant for gratuitous, gory violence, that they come off as being absurd rather than tragic. Their inclusion makes about as much sense as Duke Nukem breaking down and talking about his feelings after massacring an army of pig aliens. It just doesn’t go.
Final Fantasy VIII
There’s about a hundred different reasons to hate Final Fantasy VIII‘s storyline. The characters are cliché and one-dimensional, there are plot holes you could drive a truck through, and more random Deus Ex machinas than the ending of The Tempest. But the real reason why Final Fantasy VIII‘s story fails so miserably is because nothing is really explained with any competence. Maybe – and I emphasize maybe -some of the less logical points of the game might make sense if things were detailed a bit better, although it will always difficult to see the rationale behind promoting a socially-repressed teenager to be principal of a high school. Sadly, Final Fantasy VIII has a terrible habit of jumping from one plot point to the next without ever bothering to fully explain the connection between them. Why the heck does Ellone keep inflicting Squall and his friends with seizure inducing dreams instead of just meeting them personally? What is a futuristic warship doing floating around in space? Why do the Guardian Forces cause amnesia? Why the frick does Ultemicia want to compress time and annihilate all of existence? Why does everyone talk like an idiot in this game? Why is Squall such an incorrigible moron? I could go on, I really could. Yes, I do understand that any game with Final Fantasy in the title probably requires a degree of suspended disbelief, but the eighth entry in the series doesn’t even make an effort at coherence. Instead, it’s like the writers at Squaresoft dumped a hundred plot ideas in a box and then started picking them out and gluing them together at random.
Rainbow Six Vegas 2
Tom Clancy novels are pretty casual reads. They usually use the same recycled plots with interchangeable characters and plot devices, but they’re worth reading in the same way that a mindless Michael Bay summer flick is worth watching. They may not have a whole lot in the story department, but they’re still entertaining thanks to their reliance on explosions and big guns. Rainbow Six Vegas 2 starts off well enough with a nice, typical plot that involves a potential nuclear threat against Las Vegas, but it quickly becomes unbearable thanks to one of gaming’s most annoying villains ever; Gabriel Nowak. God, even his name is terrible. The guy is a prick – seriously. While he’s a part of the Rainbow team, all he does is act like a giant turd, whining and bitching once his shit gets ruined during a mission he screwed up. He then disappears after the first chapter, but before long he’s back as a sort of rogue agent who wants to destroy Rainbow, all because you were mean to him when he was a rookie. What happened, Ubisoft? Did you guys get so tired of us fighting dictators, neo-Nazis and communists that you decided to pit us up against this angsty, emo douche? Seriously?
Mirror’s Edge‘s story isn’t really that terrible, but it certainly fails to live up to its potential. Mirror’s Edge had a unique concept. Its script was penned by Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of famed fantasy author Terry Pratchett, and acclaimed author and journalist in her own right. Great game idea plus great author should equal even more greatness, right? Wrong. The game is set in a polished, futuristic dystopia where the only way to escape the government’s oppressive censorship was the use of runners, couriers who utilize parkour to elude the police and military. The premise was original and interesting enough for a potentially engaging storyline, but instead what we get is a generic, poorly-constructed plot that would feel more at home in a B-grade action flick than in a game written by a celebrated novelist. The choice of narrative, namely ugly animated cut scenes between chapters rather than anything more creative or expansive, sucked pretty hard too.
World of Warcraft
Ask any of its many, many fans and they’ll tell you that Warcraft has one of the most expansive. in-depth lores in gaming, rife with memorable heroes and infamous villains. However, having the most epic fantasy story this side of Lord of the Rings really means nothing if the tale isn’t told well, and that’s the real problem with World of Warcraft. There’s a great storyline and some great writing in the game, but it’s buried deep, deep beneath scrolling text and mundane quests that most gamers will never experience. Why are we storming Black Temple? Why are there robots in Ulduar? Who is the Lich King? Hardcore Warcraft gamers might know, but anyone whose experience with the series is limited to World of Warcraft probably won’t have a clue. The other huge gripe is the way the game trivializes some of the greatest, most powerful characters in Warcraft lore by making them bosses. While it’s understandable that Blizzard would want to include as many canonical characters in the game as possible, killing the Blood Elf Prince Kael’thas with an army featuring heroes like “LovesDong” or “Karpetmunch” robs detracts from the impact of such a significant character’s demise. Instead of being able to appreciate the tragedy of such a tortured soul’s untimely end, the only thing players are likely to care about is what kind of loot he dropped.