VR developer focused on creating immersive storytelling experiences.
Follow me on Twitter: @VRHeavenNews
October 25th, 2023
20 of the Best Emotional, Story-Driven Games Right Now
In the vast universe of gaming, there lies a subset of titles that transcend entertainment, offering players more profound, heart-wrenching experiences that can’t be replicated anywhere else. These are the story-driven games: digital masterpieces that flourish through intricate character developments, melancholic tales that tug at our heartstrings, and plotlines that linger long after the credits roll.
Whether it’s the dramas about personal struggles and redemption, or tales that delve into the darker, sadder aspects of the human experience, these games challenge our emotional resilience and redefine the boundaries of interactive storytelling.
Here are the best story-driven games that you must play right now:
1. Life is Strange – A Beautiful “Coming of Age” Story
Life is Strange is an episodic graphic adventure drama game developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square Enix. It’s known for its narrative depth, choice-driven gameplay, and memorable characters.
The central gameplay mechanic involves protagonist Max Caulfield’s ability to rewind time. This power allows players to change the course of events, solve puzzles, and explore different outcomes for their choices.
The game is heavily story-driven, focusing on Max’s return to her hometown of Arcadia Bay and her reunion with her estranged best friend Chloe Price. The duo soon becomes embroiled in a mystery involving the disappearance of a local student, Rachel Amber.
Arcadia Bay, with its Pacific Northwest setting, provides a moody and atmospheric backdrop for the story. The environment, combined with a melancholic soundtrack, sets a unique tone for the game.
Themes: The game touches on a variety of mature and socially relevant themes, such as bullying, mental health, family issues, and more. It handles these topics with sensitivity and depth, making it resonate with many players.
Even after playing this game nearly 10 years ago, I still consider Life is Strange to be one of the best story-driven games of all time, due to its rollercoaster of emotions – offering a ride of mystery, drama, and suspenseful life-or-death moments.
2. Whispers of the Luminaries – Idol Industry Meets Murder Mystery
Looking for games with a dark story? Whispers of the Luminaries is a story that dives into the dark side of the idol entertainment industry, exploring corruption, behind-the-scenes drama, backroom deals and hidden secrets.
The game follows the perspective of a detective, and the girls from an idol group called the “Luminaries” – often switching perspective from detective to idol, blending grit and suspense with idol lifestyle.
Themes: The game touches on both inspirationally touching themes such as overcoming adversity, finding resilience and seeking out light in the bleakest of situations, and depressing sensitive themes revolving around the dark side of the idol entertainment industry.
Gameplay: Whispers of the Luminaries is mostly a visual novel, but contains several gameplay elements such as:
a relationship & trust meter
It’s very text heavy, so not recommended for people who don’t like reading, but the story is well worth it, especially if you like very character-driven, detective mysteries.
3. The Last of Us – The #1 Saddest Video Game Story
Set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by an infection, The Last of Us tells the story of Joel, a hardened survivor, and Ellie, a young girl who may be the key to finding a cure for the infection. The journey they undertake is fraught with danger, but the evolving relationship between the two protagonists is the core of the game.
Themes: The game explores heavy themes like loss, grief, survival, love, and the lengths one might go to protect those they care about. For those looking for a really depressing game, this should be top of your list.
Both Joel and Ellie are intricately developed characters with multi-faceted personalities, and the game devotes considerable time to their growth and evolution. Their interactions, decisions, and the bonds they form with other characters in the game are emotionally resonant and leave a lasting impact.
4. To the Moon – An Emotional Story That’ll Make You Cry
To the Moon is an indie adventure RPG developed and published by Freebird Games. It’s renowned for its touching story, unique premise, and memorable characters.
At the heart of To the Moon is a deeply emotional and touching story about regret, love, and memory. The game follows two doctors, Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts, who work for a company that can alter the memories of dying patients to fulfill their last wishes. They’re tasked with changing the memories of an elderly man named Johnny to make him believe he went to the moon.
Gameplay: The game is mostly a walking simulator with a few puzzles, focusing story over gameplay. A significant portion of the gameplay involves navigating through Johnny’s memories in reverse-chronological order, starting from his old age and going back to his childhood. As players journey through these memories, they piece together the events of Johnny’s life and the reasons behind his last wish.
To the Moon is relatively short, with most players completing it in 4-5 hours, but it is well worth experiencing if you love a good tear-jerker.
5. What Remains of Edith Finch – Short, Sad Interactive Story
The game unfolds as a series of short tales about the ill-fated Finch family. As Edith Finch, the last living member of the family, players explore the vast Finch house to uncover these stories, each shedding light on the life and tragic death of a particular family member.
Themes: What Remains of Edith Finch touches on the inevitability of death and the ways in which families remember and honor their loved ones.
“What Remains of Edith Finch” is relatively short, with most players completing it in 2-4 hours, however, it’s totally worth the experience if you’re looking for a sad, interactive story.
6. Heavy Rain – Atmospheric, Dark Murder Mystery
Heavy Rain is an interactive drama and action-adventure game developed by Quantic Dream and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was directed and written by David Cage, the studio’s founder. The game is known for its cinematic presentation, dark atmosphere, and emphasis on player choices.
The game revolves around the mystery of the “Origami Killer,” a serial killer who drowns his victims during extended periods of rainfall then leaves an origami behind. The story is told from the perspectives of four different characters, each connected to the case in various ways.
Gameplay: Much of the game’s interactive elements are based on QTEs. Players must respond to on-screen prompts during action sequences, conversations, and other critical moments. Success or failure in these events can have ramifications on the story.
7. The Wolf Among Us – A Dark Detective Mystery
The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games serves as a prequel to the “Fables” comics and follows Bigby Wolf (formerly the Big Bad Wolf) in his role as the sheriff of Fabletown, a hidden community in New York City where fairy tale characters live after being exiled from their homelands. The story is a gritty, noir-inspired murder mystery involving various well-known fairy tale characters in decidedly adult scenarios.
One of the game’s standout features is its cast. While Bigby Wolf is the protagonist, players will interact with a range of characters from fairy tales and fables, each reimagined in a modern, often darker context.
The Wolf Among Us skillfully reimagines classic fairy tale characters in a modern, mature setting and is a must-play for fans of story-driven games, especially those who appreciate a good mystery with noir elements.
8. The Walking Dead – Suspenseful, Zombie Apocalypse Story
Also by Telltale Games, The Walking Dead is an episodic interactive drama graphic adventure game based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series of the same name. The game, much like the comics and the television series, is renowned for its intense emotional storylines and character-driven narratives.
At the forefront is the relationship between Lee Everett, a convicted criminal, and Clementine, a young girl he finds alone in the early days of the zombie apocalypse. Their bond forms the emotional core of the first season and sets the tone for subsequent seasons.
Players make critical decisions at various points in the story, affecting character relationships, future events, and even who lives or dies.
Character development: As the series progresses, especially through the character of Clementine, players witness growth, maturity, and change, which is a testament to the game’s storytelling prowess.
9. Firewatch – Best Character Development and Atmosphere
Firewatch revolves around a man named Henry who takes a job as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness to escape his troubled personal life. Over the summer, he forms a bond with his supervisor, Delilah, via walkie-talkie. The story touches on themes of isolation, relationships, and the past’s influence on the present.
Both Henry and Delilah are richly developed characters with depth, flaws, and backgrounds. Their evolving relationship is the heart of the game, and players become invested in their interactions and the choices they make.
As the summer progresses, Henry and Delilah encounter strange occurrences that hint at a deeper mystery. Players will be eager to uncover what’s really going on in the forest.
While the game isn’t a branching narrative in the sense of entirely different outcomes based on decisions (like some other story-driven games), the way Henry responds to Delilah and interacts with the environment can vary based on player choice. This provides a degree of personalization to the experience.
10. The Witcher 3 – Best Story-Driven Action RPG
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, developed by CD Projekt Red, is one of the most celebrated action role-playing games in recent years. Based on the book series by Andrzej Sapkowski, the game continues the story of Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter known as a Witcher.
The game offers a massive, beautifully detailed open world that encompasses diverse regions, each with its own culture, landscapes, and challenges. From the war-ravaged No Man’s Land to the scenic Skellige Isles, players can get lost in exploration and discovery.
The main narrative revolves around Geralt’s search for his adopted daughter Ciri, who is pursued by the spectral Wild Hunt. Along the way, Geralt gets entangled in political intrigues, wars, and various subplots that can vary based on player choices.
The Witcher 3 is an excellent choice for those looking to play an RPG with a good story.
11. Persona 5 – RPG With a Good Story, Relationships & Romance
Persona 5 is a mixture of JRPG dungeon crawler and life sim, perfect for anime fans. The story follows a group of Tokyo high school students who live dual lives as Phantom Thieves. By day, they are regular students dealing with personal issues and school life; by night, they dive into the “Metaverse” to change the hearts of wicked adults by confronting and stealing their twisted desires.
Combat: Persona 5 utilizes a turn-based combat system where players exploit enemy weaknesses using a variety of attacks, including elemental skills and physical moves. By striking an enemy’s weak point, players can knock them down and initiate “Hold Up” attacks, including the opportunity to negotiate with or capture them.
Persona Collection: Players collect and fuse Personas — powerful entities based on various myths and legends. Each Persona has its own set of skills and can be leveled up, fused with other Personas to create new ones, or even sacrificed to strengthen others.
Life Simulation: A significant portion of the game involves living the protagonist’s day-to-day life. Players manage their time by attending school, studying, taking part-time jobs, building relationships (“Confidants”), and diving into the Metaverse.
Themes: Persona 5 delves into social issues, such as the struggles of fitting into society, the complexities of morality, and the challenges faced by the youth in modern society. It critiques societal corruption, apathy, and the nature of freedom in the modern world.
Overall, Persona 5 offers a lengthy experience, often exceeding 80-100 hours for first-time players. This length allows for extensive character development, intricate plot details, and deep exploration of its themes.
Developed by the same team as Persona, Catherine is known for its mature themes on adults, relationships and infidelity. It’s one of the best character-driven games with a cool cast of characters, and a lovable group of friends.
The story follows Vincent Brooks, a man in his early thirties, who begins having strange nightmares after his girlfriend Katherine starts discussing the prospect of marriage. Around the same time, he meets another woman named Catherine and begins an affair. The game delves deeply into Vincent’s relationships, fears, and the consequences of his actions.
Puzzle Gameplay: Most of the game’s action occurs in Vincent’s nightmares. Here, he must climb tower-like structures made of blocks, moving them around to create a path upwards. The gameplay is time-sensitive, with the bottom layers of blocks constantly falling away. As the game progresses, new types of blocks and obstacles are introduced, increasing the complexity of the puzzles.
Throughout the game, Vincent is presented with various moral dilemmas, often framed as questions posed to him in confessional booths within the nightmare sequences. These questions play a significant role in determining the game’s outcome and the nature of Vincent’s relationships.
In this game, you have no superpowers. You’re just an average joe, going through a tough time in your relationship. This makes the characters really relatable compared to most other games.
13. Mass Effect – Epic Sci-fi Narrative Adventure
The series is renowned for its sprawling, interconnected narrative that spans three games. The story is grand in scope, involving galactic politics, ancient prophecies, and a looming apocalyptic threat.
One of the series’ standout features is its cast of richly developed characters, each with their own personalities, backstories, and arcs. Players form bonds with these characters, making choices that can affect their loyalties and even their survival.
Throughout the series, players have the opportunity to foster relationships with various characters, some of which can evolve into romantic entanglements. These relationships add depth to the narrative and further immerse players in the game world.
14. Detroit Become Human – Epic Cinematics and Atmosphere
Detroit: Become Human is an interactive drama and action-adventure game developed by Quantic Dream, the same team who made Heavy Rain. Originally released on the PS4, it’s now available on PC as well.
Detroit: Become Human is set in a near-future Detroit, in the year 2038, where advanced androids are a routine part of daily life. These androids are designed to obey their human masters and handle tasks ranging from domestic chores to intricate professions. However, a series of events triggers some androids to develop “deviancy,” where they start to show signs of human-like emotions, desires, and consciousness, breaking away from their programming.
Players take control of three android characters:
Connor: A police investigator android tasked with tracking down deviant androids – those who have broken away from their programmed behaviors.
Kara: A housemaid android who escapes from her abusive owner to protect a young girl.
Markus: An android who becomes the leader of the android uprising.
Although the story can get cheesy at times, the cinematics are epic and will make you feel like you’re in an intense action movie.
15. Zero Escape: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors – Intense Life or Death Game
In 999, players find themselves aboard a sinking ship and are introduced to the “Nonary Game,” where nine individuals must work together (and sometimes against each other) to escape before the ship sinks. The story is a mix of suspense, mystery, and psychological horror.
Multiple Endings: One of the game’s defining features is its multiple branching story paths, leading to various endings. Your decisions and puzzle-solving successes or failures determine which path you take, and uncovering all endings is crucial to understanding the full scope of the narrative.
Gameplay: Interspersed throughout the story are escape room-style puzzles. Players must explore rooms, collect items, and solve riddles to advance. These puzzles range in difficulty, and successful completion often reveals more about the game’s overarching narrative.
Character Depth: Each of the nine main characters has a rich backstory and unique personality. As the story unfolds, their motivations, secrets, and connections to the Nonary Game are gradually revealed.
Themes: 999 deals with some heavy topics, including betrayal, morality, sacrifice, and the nature of existence. Its narrative isn’t afraid to delve deep into philosophical and existential questions.
If you’re a fan of mystery, psychological horror, and branching narratives, 999 is a must-play.
If you play this game, I highly recommend going with the Japanese voice acting, or turning voice acting off entirely, as the English voice acting is pretty bad and can ruin immersion.
16. Undertale – Moral Choice-Based RPG with Branching Storyline
Undertale is a game that expertly balances moments of humor, melancholy, and tension. It’s a game that can make you laugh out loud in one moment and ponder profound questions in the next.
Gameplay: One of Undertale’s standout features is its combat system, which offers players the choice to “fight” or “act” (interact) with enemies. This means that players can choose to go through the entire game without killing a single enemy, leading to different outcomes and story experiences.
In Undertale, your actions have real consequences – Whether you choose to be violent or pacifist significantly affects the game’s story progression, character interactions, and ending. This moral system adds depth and replay value.
The game boasts a diverse cast of quirky, endearing, and sometimes menacing characters, each with their own backstories, personalities, and roles within the game’s narrative. Characters like Sans, Papyrus, Toriel, and Undyne have left lasting impressions on players.
Undertale also features a beautiful 16-bit soundtrack. Toby Fox’s compositions for Undertale have become iconic in the gaming community. Tracks like “Megalovania,” “Hopes and Dreams,” and “Death by Glamour” are just a few examples of the game’s memorable music.
17. Red Dead Redemption 2 – Best Adventure, Story-Driven Game
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a story-driven adventure game by Rockstar Games. Set in 1899, during the tail end of the American frontier era, players take on the role of Arthur Morgan, a senior member of the Van der Linde gang. The game chronicles the gang’s decline, internal conflicts, and challenges as they flee from lawmen and bounty hunters.
The story is long and slow paced, perfect for those who like to take their time and involve themselves in many side quests. But for those looking for constant action and adrenaline, you might not like Red Dead Redemption.
18. Yakuza 0 – Best Crime Drama & Quirky Comedy
Set in 1988, the game takes place in fictionalized versions of Tokyo’s Kabukichō and Osaka’s Dōtonbori, called Kamurocho and Sotenbori, respectively. Players are introduced to the early lives of series mainstays Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima as they get embroiled in a complex narrative involving power struggles within the yakuza underworld.
Players get to experience the story from the perspectives of both Kiryu and Majima, switching between them as the story progresses. Each character has his own distinct fighting styles and storylines, offering varied gameplay experiences.
One of the standout features of Yakuza 0 (and the Yakuza series in general) is the sheer amount of side content available. From deeply touching or hilarious side stories (known as “Substories”) to a plethora of minigames like karaoke, disco dancing, and classic Sega arcade games, there’s a ton to see and do outside of the main narrative.
19. Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan – Horror, Multiplayer Story-Driven Game
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is an interactive drama horror game developed by Supermassive Games and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. It is the first installment in the planned “Dark Pictures Anthology” series. Those familiar with Supermassive Games might recognize their previous work, Until Dawn, which shares gameplay and thematic similarities with Man of Medan.
The unique thing about Man of Medan is it features multiplayer – it’s like two people going into a movie, with two people experiencing different characters at the same time. It’s a great concept, that’s rarely done in video games.
The story begins with a group of friends embarking on a diving trip in search of a rumored World War II wreck. As expected in a horror narrative, things take a dark turn, and the group finds themselves aboard a ghostly, seemingly abandoned ship.
Cinematic Horror: Man of Medan is presented in a cinematic manner, emphasizing character interactions, quick-time events, and branching narratives over traditional gameplay mechanics.
Gameplay: Players’ choices have significant consequences. Decisions, even seemingly minor ones, can lead to different outcomes, including which characters live or die by the end of the story.
Overall, Man of Medan is one of the best games with a dark story. The eerie atmosphere of the ship, combined with the game’s graphics and sound design, creates a palpable sense of tension. If you have a friend to play with, this is one of the best multiplayer story games you’ll ever experience.
20. Baldur’s Gate 3 – Best Co-op Story With Branching Storylines
Baldur’s Gate 3 is also another story-driven game with multiplayer, except this time, it feels less like a movie and more like an adventure game. It’s one of the best critically acclaimed games of all time and for good reason.
The story begins with the player character and several others being kidnapped by Mind Flayers and implanted with a worm-like creature that has the potential to turn them into Mind Flayers themselves. The story centers around the quest to remove this worm.
Character Creation: Players can create a character from various D&D races and classes, each with its unique abilities and role-playing potential. Additionally, the game offers a roster of companion characters, each with a rich backstory, personal quests, and potential relationship dynamics with the player character.
Multiplayer and Co-op: The game supports multiplayer, allowing players to experience the story cooperatively. This introduces a layer of unpredictability and negotiation as each player may have different objectives or role-playing inclinations.
Interactivity and Depth: One of Baldur’s Gate’s hallmarks is the degree of interactivity in their game worlds. You can do so much in this game – with every action influencing the outcome in some way.
Quests often have multiple ways they can be approached and completed. Players might opt for combat, diplomacy, subterfuge, or other methods based on their preferences and character abilities.
Dialogue choices matter and can lead to a wide range of outcomes. Depending on a player’s choices, they might make an ally, an enemy, gain unique information, or even alter the course of a quest.
Players can manipulate the environment in various ways to their advantage. This can include setting surfaces like oil or water on fire, using spells or abilities to manipulate terrain, or leveraging height advantages in combat.
Many objects in the game world can be interacted with, from simple actions like reading books or opening containers to more complex interactions like combining items or using them to solve puzzles.
Overall, if you’re looking for a compelling story, with great characters and contains a plethora of branching storylines, then Baldur’s Gate 3 is the perfect game for you.
I hope you enjoyed this post and found something great to play! Make sure to bookmark this page in case you want more story-driven games to play. I’ll update this page from time to time.