Too long; didn't read
Ever had a moment when a game plot leaves you glossy-eyed, unable to connect the dots within the intricate twists of its narrative? Youre not alone; there are several gaming stories that, while excellent, are just a bit confusing for those who arent a part of its dedicated fan base.
In order to shed some light--and allow those on the outside to have a slightly-above-rudimentary knowledge of them--here are 10 of the most complex plots summed up in a few paragraphs and given the tl; dr (too long; didnt read) treatment in no more than 10 words.
Note: This piece is meant to cover the major plot details of key franchises, so smaller details will be left out. Also, there will be spoilers.
Kingdom Hearts (series)
Friends Sora and Riku are wielders of the fabled keyblade. They find themselves caught up in the conflict of an ancient war fought between light and the darkness, seeking to claim hearts and consume worlds. Used as vessels to heal the hearts of two warriors that came before, Sora, Riku, and a host of Disney characters journey across worlds to stop the many villains hell bent on harnessing the power of Kingdom Hearts for their own nefarious means.
All manner of confusing remnants of darkness and a gratuitous amount of body-snatching results in a story rife with depressing sacrifices, multiple sub-plots, big twists, and a main story attesting to the power of friendship and the endurance of light that will always defy the darkness.
TL; DR: Final Fantasy and Disney characters fight darkness using giant keys.
Thanks to multiple entries being excised from official canon, Castlevanias exact chronological timeline is a bit jumbled. The overall arc, however, remains the same. After catastrophic events involving the death of his wife, Mathias Cronqvist becomes Dracula and eventually unleashes the undead hordes of hell upon the face of the earth to exact his revenge on humanity.
Dracula then becomes locked in a never-ending cycle of resurrection every 100 years. The task to stop him falls on the Belmont family, a fabled bloodline of vampire hunters who work to foil Draculas evil plans over a span of centuries. From Trevor and Simon Belmont to Alucard and Morris Baldwin, both the Belmonts and other hunters would continue to defeat Dracula throughout the series.
TL; DR: Draculas resurrection every century gives the Belmont family job security.
Metal Gear Solid (series)
The overall plot of Metal Gear hinges on the world philosophy of one soldier known as The Boss. While operating under orders from the USA, she is wrongly labeled a traitor and killed by her protg Naked Snake (a.k.a. Big Boss). Later, its quietly revealed that the entire betrayal was set up by a secret organisation called the Philosophers.
Seeking revenge on those who manipulated him, Big Boss and two others take out the last of the Philosophers, gaining the organisations money and influence and forming a new organisation called the Patriots. The rest of the series follows these men and their allies as they deal with betrayal, clones, nuclear weapons, and evil AI, all while pursuing The Boss original world vision.
TL; DR: A soldiers world vision is chased by incredibly unconventional means.
The Legend of Zelda (series)
The Legend of Zeldas lore is pretty straightforward. Princess Zelda was originally the reincarnated form of the goddess Hylia, the Triforce is an all-powerful relic that grants the wish of the person that holds it, Ganon is the reincarnated form of an ancient Demon King, and Link is the hero of every game who repeatedly has to take on the daunting task of saving the world.
The series biggest confusion is due to the three timelines that stem from Ocarina of Time: Child Link, Adult Link, and Failed Link. Many of the games star a new Princess Zelda and an evil plot cooked up by Ganon that must be stopped by the hero Link using the Master Sword and the power of the Triforce.
TL; DR: A sword and magic triangle are used to fight evil.
Resident Evil (series)
All of the mayhem in Resident Evil can be traced back to the Progenitor virus and its DNA-altering effects that grant superhuman abilities. Naturally, curiosity got the best of those involved in its discovery, and experiments on various test subjects at the hand of an evil corporation began.
The experiments eventually spiral out of control, with many of the researchers involved betraying each other, stealing the virus, and creating their own unique strains to suit their different motivations. Much of the series revolves around the people wanting control of these viruses to use them as weapons and the people sent in to clean up the horrific mess. Zombies are unleashed across the world, multiple story-lines emerge, and nearly every facility visited in the series will inevitably self-destruct.
TL; DR: Outbreak survivors fight mutants and zombie dogs around the world.
Half-Lifes story begins at the Black Mesa Research Facility, when an experiment gone horribly wrong leads to a dimensional rift opening between Earth and the alien dimension Xen. Gordon Freeman put a stop to the madness, and was then offered employment and placed in stasis by the strange entity known as the G-Man.
Nearly twenty years later, Gordon wakes up to find that the earth has been overrun by an alien race known as the Combine, who had used the rift to conquer the planet. Freeman elects to lead the resistance against the Combine, which culminates in a cliffhanger that leaves us with the Combines super portal almost destroyed after we learn the connection between Black Mesa and their rival Aperture Science. Hopefully, our questions will be answered in Half Life 3. Right? Guys?
TL; DR: A physicist bashes trans-dimensional alien skull with a crowbar.
Mortal Kombat (series)
Featuring new characters with unique story-lines in each instalment, Mortal Kombats universe is a twisted web of disasters and sub-plots fuelled by revenge tales written in blood. However, the overall narrative of the series follows several villains determined to rule the six realms and the brave warriors who would inevitably stop them.
At first, Outworlds own Shao Kahn has plans to rule Earthrealm but, after failing three consecutive times, would eventually give up. Afterward, his buddy Shang Tsung and the sorcerer Quan Chi form an alliance to control the six realms, but are later forced to abandon their evil plans to fight the Dragon King Onaga. From there, things begin to escalate out of control, resulting in an Armageddon that left the god Raiden no choice but to magically reset everything.
TL; DR: Fighters rip out each others spines to defend their realms.
The Witcher (series)
In a time when humans are ill-equipped to deal with the supernatural creatures in their world, pest control duty falls on a group of genetically enhanced warrior monks called Witchers. As time wears on, people are more capable of dealing with the monster threats. Because of this, the Witchers fall out of favour with the humans and radical groups set out to destroy them.
Not surprisingly, the leader of one of these groups was after the very mutative agents the Witchers used to build his own army of medieval X-Men. Battle ensues, and not long after Geralt defeats him, the King is assassinated. Geralt is framed for the Kings death, escapes, and chases down this assassin, all while making new friends and unearthing a massive invasion conspiracy that threatens the realm. It...yeah, just read the books if you want the full story.
TL; DR: A warrior monk eats plants to gain monster-slaying powers.
Humanity is living the good life in space when they make contact with the Covenant, a group of religious aliens who worship an ancient race called the Forerunners. Contact with the Covenant proves to be hostile, and the humans trot out their secret weapon: super soldiers called Spartans.
Eventually the humans discover Halo, a great structure built by the Forerunners to wipe out all life forms when they were overrun by parasites called the Flood. The Covenant, however, are convinced that Halos detonation will take them to heaven. With the humans trying to stop detonation, the Covenant looking for salvation, multiple Halos, and the Flood gnawing everyones faces off, Master Chief and his friends set out to save the galaxy.
TL; DR: Giant floating space rings spell doom for all sentient life.
Mass Effect (series)
Set in a time when humans are another species in the intergalactic melting pot, Commander Shepard discovers a massive threat in the Reapers, a group of sentient machines who emerge out of nowhere every 50,000 years to essentially wipe the slate clean by destroying all organic life in the galaxy.
Naturally, Shepard and friends werent fond of the Reapers plan and set off on a mission to stop them. While on this mission, Shepard resolves disputes, discovers the nature of the ancient Protheans, interacts with different alien races, defeats the extremist group Cerberus, and breaks fraternisation rules by romancing crew members. After the final battle, Shepards final choice and eventual death will lead to one of the most divisive game endings ever made.
TL;DR: Shepard saves the universe from machines while sexing up aliens.
Did you actually read this?
Chronological order and tricky twists can be frustrating, but hopefully this helps clear up some of the more obscure angles of these different franchises and sheds light on the less accessible narratives in gaming. Of course, these are merely tiny synopses meant to provide a taste of the series full story. The only way to fully appreciate each of these narratives is to experience them for yourselves.