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ClassicRadar: The Best Videogame Stories Ever

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

(Xbox/PC, 2003)

The Story:
The story changes depending on the choices the player makes throughout the game - gender, class, good/evil, etc. - but the “canon” play-through still makes for a good story and many of the main plot points remain the same.

You start out as one of the few survivors of a botched mission run by Jedi badass Bastila Shan with no memory of who you are or what you were doing on her starship. You fall in with one of the good guys, who’s out to save Bastila after her escape pod crash lands somewhere on a Sith-controlled planet. Bastila is captured and handed over to the Sith lord Darth Malak, the evil badass who overthrew his own Sith master, Revan, for a chance to destroy the Jedi. Through events of the game - played either as a good guy or an evil one - the quest to get a hold of Bastila morphs into a quest to find star maps that will lead the player to the Star Forge, a battle station that will decide the outcome of the Jedi vs Sith conflict.

A little more than halfway through the game, a major plot twist is revealed: you are Revan… or you were until your prick of a team-killing apprentice Malak offed you. With this newfound knowledge, players have an even greater incentive to destroy Malak, regardless of whether they’re playing as a goody-two-shoes or the ultimate bastard. Then Bastila turns to the Dark Side - despite being the hoity-toity good-girl Jedi - and the player has a whole new set of plot points to navigate through to one of the game’s multiple conclusions.

Why it’s the Best: 
Knights of the Old Republic has a lot to offer in the way of a good story - setting, plot, characters, a killer climax - to name a few elements. Developer BioWare had a leg up in setting on the count of borrowing almost everything from the Star Wars canon - but they did go the extra mile to make their own fan fiction and make it work for Star Wars. So even if you can bring yourself to dispute our claims that the climax is awesome and the characters were compelling, you can’t deny that this game felt like Star Wars in a way that Jedi Knight and Shadows of the Empire never did.

KOTOR is filled with interesting and talkative characters but the most compelling one in the whole story is you. In other games, your character is made for you - even if they do let you pick out the color of your hair and let you name yourself Pr1ncess McWh00pass. But KOTOR gave the player real choices that had real effects on the story. From being a girl to being totally evil, to making a Wookie kill his Twi’lek best friend, KOTOR’s story never ignored your choices. Instead they stretched the linear events to accommodate whatever you came up with and it made you, the main character - and the plot - that much more interesting.

Now the plot doesn’t sound like anything special: galaxy in turmoil, kidnapped chick, huge weapon, stuff happens. But when you actually sit down to play the game, the pace of the story keeps things from feeling like an endless grind and you will willingly suffer through side quests just to find out what happens next. Then comes the plot twist: you are/were/are going to be again the baddest of bad guys in the galaxy. Even if you had been playing as the perfect paragon of Jedi goodness until that point, the great reveal gives you pause. First you experience a barrage of philosophical questions: what makes a man evil; can evil be unlearned; etc.

And then you find yourself asking: “Wait, am I supposed to be evil? Have I been playing the game wrong?”

It’s a funny thing to see an entire generation of gamers grow up in one moment. That moment came when we poor souls who were conditioned to follow where a game led us stopped dead in our button mashing and realized that, no, we hadn’t been playing KOTOR wrong; we had a choice in the story. And whatever we chose, it would be effin’ awesome.

So of course KOTOR makes our list of best game stories - because it was our story, whoever we were when we played it on whatever path we chose to take.


Astro Boy: Omega Factor

(Game Boy Advance, 2004)

The Story:
Astro Boy is a cute, super-powerful robot with no memory of his past. Guided by a kindly old scientist, he takes down a theft ring, witnesses the assassination of the first robot president of Antarctica - and then, he's suddenly transported tens of thousands of years into the past to battle for an ancient civilization. Then things get weird. Astro comes back to the "present" five years after the assassination, where a robot-human war has destroyed 80 percent of Earth. He defeats the robot revolutionaries, but just then a giant robot space-skull shows up and blasts Earth to a cinder. Roll credits.

After the credits, Astro is resurrected, given the ability to transcend time and retraces his steps with full knowledge of what's going to happen. Ultimately, he becomes a robotic Christ figure, sacrificing himself to save everyone else before being given a third chance at life.

Why it’s the Best: 
Yeah, we know: licensed games suck, and Astro Boy isn't an original story. But hear us out: Omega Factor is fantastic, and while it's tied to the 2003 Astro Boy cartoon series, it's not actually based on it. Instead, developers Treasure and Hitmaker decided to create a completely new storyline that brought together what seemed like every character ever dreamed up by Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka. Omega Factor was much darker and more involving than anything we'd ever associate with kid-friendly Astro Boy; over the course of the game, Astro witnesses human and robot genocides, a violent assassination and a flaming apocalypse at the hands of a floating skull with creepy theme music. At the same time, the game is filled with moments of sweetness - enemies become allies, Astro reconciles with his seemingly evil "father" and, ultimately, nobody is beyond redemption. Not even Astro's rival Atlas, who shows up repeatedly to try and kill him, or Sharaku, the three-eyed, time-traveling prince whose scheming causes the apocalypse in the first place.

The "transcending time" gimmick also makes the game a lot more interesting, as it enables you to reshape events by revisiting them repeatedly. In one timeline, Rag, the robot president we mentioned earlier, is assassinated; in another he's denied office and becomes the revolutionary leader Blue Knight. It's all about watching the repercussions of your latest set of actions, and then figuring out how much closer you are to setting things right and averting horror.

If nothing else, the game's writers deserve recognition for finding a fun way to essentially force players through the same levels multiple times, thereby padding out the run time. It's so satisfying to watch Astro surprise everyone with his knowledge of their plans and deceptions, you'll barely even notice that you're on your fourth trip through the moonbase level.




Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

(PS2/Xbox/PC, 1998)

The Story:
Carl "C.J." Johnson is a small-time crook and former gang member who returns home to Los Santos after his mother is murdered - only to be immediately harassed by his old nemesis, an outrageously corrupt cop named Officer Tenpenny. Over the course of this epic, which spans an entire state and three major cities, Carl takes his gang back to supremacy in Los Santos, only to be knocked back down by Tenpenny and a few of his own backstabbing "friends." Carl then falls in with wannabe rappers, his old gang, a blind Triad boss and a crazed CIA spook played by James Woods. Over the course of his adventure, he'll learn to sneak like a thief, fly planes, romance women and get really buff. And then, one by one, he'll get revenge on the people who betrayed him, ultimately taking down Tenpenny himself.

Why it’s the Best: 
GTA's rags-to-riches stories are always compelling, and San Andreas did it better than any of them - over the course of this epic, Carl will have gone from a penniless thug to one of San Andreas' most respected citizens, ultimately becoming a wealthy mogul with a house in the game's equivalent of the Hollywood hills. And the scope of the missions he'll take on will become similarly ridiculous; you might start out beating up thugs in a neglected Los Santos neighborhood, but by game's end you'll be hijacking VTOL jets off of aircraft carriers, knocking over casinos in daring heists and infiltrating an Area 51 analogue to steal a jetpack. Somewhere along the way, it's got something for everyone, with a gangsta fantasy that's far more epic, accessible and far-reaching than most of what the hip-hop industry has come up with.

But what really drives the game's story is its characters, and while it's easy to dismiss them as ethnic stereotypes, they're really much more than that. Carl, for all his gang-banging thuggery, is the most moral character the series has produced so far. He comes off like a decent person in his interactions with others, he's a pushover when it comes to doing favors for friends and he's dedicated to the idea of keeping drugs out of his neighborhood. Carl's buddies, gang leaders Wu Zi Mu and Cesar, are genuinely likable and fun to watch, and James Woods' acerbic Mike Toreno steals every scene he's in. Meanwhile, Tenpenny - voiced by Samuel L. Jackson - is so cartoonishly and irredeemably evil, it's impossible not to want to see him get his comeuppance - which happens in a wildly satisfying high-speed firefight at the very end.

53 comments

  • CataclysmicBane - May 30, 2011 9:43 a.m.

    Legacy of Kain...nuff said
  • DreamWeaverPL - March 18, 2011 7:26 p.m.

    GOD OF WAR? ASTROBOY? SAN ANDREAS? Seriously guys, come on! That's not even funny, those are lame excuses for a storyline. _^_
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - March 18, 2011 1:31 p.m.

    San Andreas is my favorite GTA, glad it's in there. As for any new games, I think that Assassin's Creed II had a really good story. As long as you leave out that crazy stuff about the gods or aliens or whatever they are, there's really nothing wrong with it. There's always something to do, and the plot was really compelling. Red Dead Redemption also deserves to be on here. I still remember the end like it was yesterday...
  • Gene - March 18, 2011 9:24 a.m.

    @ happymasksalesman I approve of your username. Also, I believe Gamesradar will be with me on this one: Braid. The story in Braid, and the way it links with the gameplay is of a rare quality.
  • Yeager1122 - March 18, 2011 1:05 a.m.

    Ah KOTOR love that game my first pc game and one of my favorites actually playing it again right now.
  • gilgamesh310 - March 17, 2011 11:07 p.m.

    Okay, something that needs to be pointed out here and much elsewhere besides is that the story in Bioshock is a carbon copy of Irrational games earlier and superior System shock 2. It's 95% similar, with mainly just different characters and a different setting. It's an outrage that Bioshock's story is celebrated and the game itself as well when SS 2 had the same story and done the game itslef was much better too. System Shock 2 should be on this list and every other list like it and NOT Bioshock. Secondly, where is Deus Ex? Thirdly, why is Portal here but not Half Life 2? God of War gets a mention here but not either of these games.
  • LordZarlon - March 17, 2011 9:09 p.m.

    What about any of the Wing Commanders, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Warcraft 3, Full Throttle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Monkey Island 1 or 2 or Halo. There's too many to choose from.
  • FrozenImplosion - March 17, 2011 8:43 p.m.

    Well put together list! Also, the piece about Bioshock was superb, couldn't have said it better myself.
  • CandiedJester - March 17, 2011 8:43 p.m.

    You know, I came in here thinking I was gonna have to berate you for neglecting Planescape: Torment and the old Fallout games, but I was wrong! I am surprised!! Well done. I can still berate you for including a grand theft auto game, though...
  • happymasksalesman - March 17, 2011 8:42 p.m.

    @Gene I read your comment, and thought to myself "is that me?" You nailed all of the great things about Majora's Mask, my personal favorite game of all time. Also, I too was hoping to see Chrono Trigger on this list.
  • scsmith1 - March 17, 2011 8:08 p.m.

    1998 was a great year for the PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox, apparently...
  • acehard - March 17, 2011 6:40 p.m.

    um halo? its pretty deep with a shit load of books and background stories, and all the games follow a good steady storyline. And i would say gears, dead space, and mass effect would be good contenders too pretty
  • MancisFrorkYorgan - March 17, 2011 5:36 p.m.

    Deadly Premonition. I'm a massive fan of the game, so it probably seems like I'm plugging it, but the story was absolutely stellar.
  • CAPST3R - March 17, 2011 5:19 p.m.

    Any game where a dog dies. Especially if it had a name.
  • ArPi - March 17, 2011 4:53 p.m.

    ehmz, where the heck is Diablo? or Vampire The Masquerade/Bloodlines? also Warcraft.
  • Clovin64 - March 17, 2011 3:53 p.m.

    Awesome article guys. Final Fantasy VI and Silent Hill 2 are two of my favourite games ever, and SH2 in particular has my favourite story of any game. You guys should do a new updated list sometime that includes stuff like Bioshock 2, Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption, and also Enslaved (the ending was a bit out of the blue, but until then the story and characters were fantastic).
  • Tasty_Pasta - March 17, 2011 3:52 p.m.

    Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne would have been good additions to the list.
  • dcbernman - March 17, 2011 2:18 p.m.

    Ah, stories. They may be the main reason why I love games. Definitely agree with what was said about Majora's mask. I remember reading this article and thinking to myself "wow, I have hardly played any of these, and they all look awesome!" And so, two years ago, I began playing through as many greats on as many platforms as possible since the snes era. And so far, it's been one hell of a ride. I'm hoping to get started on The Longest Journey soon and I can't wait! As far as stories go, for some reason, one of the ones that gripped me the most is one of the simplest I ever encountered... Grandia. I only played it a few months ago, and despite it being fourteen years old, I got super excited every time I went someplace new. Nothing in gaming up to this point has made me literally drunk on euphoria than the entire Ship to the New World segment of the story, among other great parts. I know the cast isn't the most... badass, and that there are more than a few anachronisms and plot holes, but hey, this was a FF7 rival, so it's no surprise it should suffer some of the same flaws. In any case, if I had to add stories to this list, I'd personally add Grandia and Starcraft (the original). I've still got a long ways to go on my own personal list (still have maybe half a dozen more titles I want to churn through from the SNES and PSX before continuing on to the PS2 and more PC games. Maybe in a year I'll be able to make a more educated addition to this Top 7.
  • h4wkrapt0r - March 17, 2011 12:17 p.m.

    Havent played a good few of the games on the list, but wheres mercs? Mass effect? Starcraft(love the starcraft story, i do)? Ace combat (4 was best imo with 5 then zero)? And PORTAL?! Are you $%~*! serious?! The mystery was good for the time it lasted (60 mins max? - to figure it out). The ending song was class, but jeeze.... Prey was better imo, I just got bored of portal towards the end (ok boss battle was fun-ish) No zelda game?!
  • philipshaw - March 17, 2011 11:50 a.m.

    Great list and I would add ME2 and RDR to this list

Showing 1-20 of 53 comments

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