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March 8th, 2024

20 of the Best Emotional, Story-Driven Games Right Now

In the world of gaming, there is a subset of titles that transcend ordinary ‘fun’ entertainment. These are story-driven games. They might involve dramas about personal struggles that will tug at your heartstrings after the credits have rolled, or storylines that dive deep into the darkness of human nature, exploring places where many are afraid to go.

I’m a huge sucker for these types games and I have compiled a list of my favorite games over these years.

Here are the best story-driven games that you must play right now:

TL;DR: Games With Great Storylines

  1. Life is Strange
  2. Whispers of the Luminaries
  3. The Last of Us
  4. To the Moon
  5. What Remains of Edith Finch
  6. Heavy Rain
  7. The Wolf Among Us
  8. The Walking Dead
  9. Firewatch
  10. The Witcher 3
  11. Persona 5
  12. Catherine
  13. Mass Effect
  14. Detroit: Become Human
  15. Zero Escape: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
  16. Undertale
  17. Red Dead Redemption
  18. Yakuza 0
  19. Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
  20. Baldur’s Gate 3

1. Life is Strange – A Beautiful “Coming of Age” Story

Life is Strange is an adventure-drama game that’s mixes slice of life and drama with thrilling suspense.

The story is about Max’s return to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, reuniting with her best friend Chloe Price, where they find themselves in a mystery involving the disappearance of a local student, Rachel Amber.

The gameplay involves the protagonist, Max Caulfield’s ability to rewind time. This power allows you to change the course of events, where you can rewind time to solve puzzles or see the different outcomes of your choices.

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 blend of mystery, drama, and suspenseful life-or-death moments.

2. Whispers of the Luminaries – Idol Industry Meets Murder Mystery

Whispers of the Luminaries

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 themes such as overcoming adversity, finding resilience and seeking out light in the bleakest of situations, as well as darker and more sensitive themes revolving around the idol industry.

Gameplay: Whispers of the Luminaries is mostly a visual novel, but contains several gameplay elements such as:

  • a relationship & trust meter
  • dialogue choices
  • investigation gameplay
  • free-time events
  • Danganronpa/Ace Attorney style deduction gameplay

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

the last of us

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, 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.

Themes: The game explores 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 well-written, multi-dimensional characters who get considerable growth and evolution. The story really focuses on how the relationship between these two characters evolve throughout the story and devotes a significant amount of time to it, making a good choice for those who want a character-driven story.

4. To the Moon – An Emotional Story That’ll Make You Cry

to the moon

To the Moon is an indie adventure RPG about fulfilling one’s last wish before they die.

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 memory of a man named Johnny to fulfil his dream of going to the moon.

Themes: Regret, love, and memory.

Gameplay: The game is mostly a walking simulator with a few puzzles, focusing story over gameplay. A significant portion of the gameplay involves going through Johnny’s memories in reverse-chronological order, starting from his old age and going back to his childhood. By doing this, players will piece together the events of Johnny’s life and the reasons behind his last wish.

5. What Remains of Edith Finch – Short, Sad Interactive Story

Play as Edith Finch, the last survivor of the Finch family. Edith is 17 years old and revisiting her ancestral home for the first time in 7 years. Here you must explore the house to find clues and stories about the series of deaths that occured in the Finch family. The story is told through a series of short tales or vignettes, where the player is made to question the authenticity of the stories told.

Themes: The game touches on the inevitability of death and the ways in which families remember and honor their loved ones. It’s quite short, with most players completing it in 2-4 hours, but it’s totally worth the experience if you’re looking for a sad, interactive story.

6. Heavy Rain – Atmospheric, Dark Murder Mystery

heavy rain

Heavy Rain is a drama, action-adventure game by Quantic Dream. The story is a dark, detective mystery revolving around the ‘Origami Killer,’ a serial killer who drowns his victims during extended periods of rainfall, then leaves a origami behind.

In this game, you play from the perspectives of four characters, each connected to the case in different ways. Much of the gameplay is based on QTEs (quick time events) where players must respond quickly to on-screen prompts during action sequences, conversations, and other critical moments. Success or failure in these events can change the outcome of the story.

My favorite thing about this game is the use of cinematography – the camera angles, shots and scene composition are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game. The soundtrack is also fantastic and suits the dark, noir atmosphere perfectly.

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 such as Snow White and Beauty and the Beast.

One of the game’s strongest aspects is the strong cast – being already from well known fairy tales, we already know who they are, allowing for the story to develop them much further. The story, whilst focused on the mystery, is also very much character focused, with many dialogue choices altering the opinions of characters about you.

Overall, The Wolf Among Us is a story about what if you put classic fairy tale characters in a modern, mature setting in a murder mystery. It is a must-play for fans of story-driven games, especially if you appreciate a good mystery with noir elements.

8. The Walking Dead – Suspenseful, Zombie Apocalypse Story

The Walking Dead by Telltale Games

Also by Telltale Games, The Walking Dead is an episodic interactive drama – focusing on intensive emotional storylines. This game really pioneered the genre of ‘interactive movies’ and I still consider this one of their best games. It’s a character-driven story that puts you in many situations of drama, suspense and conflict – forcing you to resolve them through timed choices.

You play as Lee Everett, a convicted criminal who finds himself in the early days of a zombie apocalypse, where he meets Clementine, a young girl who finds herself alone. The game focuses on developing the bond between these two characters in the first season, which sets the tone for the rest of the seasons. I still found season 1 to be the best.

In this game, you can make choices that can affect the life or death of other characters, but don’t expect too many branching points in the story.

9. Firewatch – Best Character Development and Atmosphere

firewatch

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. Much of the game is just you doing your ordinary job as a fire lookout whilst talking to Delilah through walkie-talkie, with several dialogue choices.

What I like about this game is the character development. The characters have depth, flaws and backstories that make them feel human. The voice acting and dialogue writing is superb, feeling very natural like a real life conversation, and you can become invested in the choices you make. 

But that’s not all to the story. As the summer progresses, Henry and Delilah start encountering strange events that hint at a deeper mystery, which I can’t spoil. This makes the story more intriguing as you become eager to find out 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.

10. The Witcher 3 – Best Story-Driven Action RPG

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the most celebrated action role-playing games of our time. Based on the book series by Andrzej Sapkowski, the game continues the story of Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter known as a Witcher. 

What I like about the game is the massive open world – which is beautiful and has many regions with their own unique culture, landscapes and troubles.

The main narrative revolves around Geralt’s search for his adopted daughter Ciri, who is pursued by the spectral Wild Hunt. Along the way, you find yourself involved in political struggles, wars and subplots/sidequests based on your 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 stealing their evil desires.

Gameplay:

  • Combat: In the dungeon crawling component, Persona 5 uses a mixture of stealth gameplay and 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, which gives you the choice to pile on them with all your members or negotiate with them/capture them.
  • Persona Collection: There’s also a Persona collecting component to the game where you can collect and fuse Personas. Each Persona has its own skillset and can be leveled up. Unlike previous games, some can even be sacrified 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 and building relationships (confidants). Other times, they can choose to dive into the metaverse and take on the dungeon crawling.

Themes: Persona 5 delves into social issues, such as the struggles of fitting into society and breaking free. It focuses on the challenge faced by youth in society.

Overall, Persona 5 offers a lengthy experience, often exceeding 80-100 hours for first-time players. This length allows for extensive character development and in-depth exploration of its themes.

Related: Games like Persona 5

12. Catherine – Best, Lovable Characters

catherine

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 having an affair.

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.

As he’s climbing the tower, the bottom layers of blocks are constantly falling away, forcing you to act quickly to solve the puzzle. It does a good job at creating a sense of urgency and fear, and as the game progresses, new types of blocks and obstacles are introduced, making the puzzles even harder.

Throughout the game, you are presented with various choices – moral dilemmas presented to Vincent in the confessional booths within the nightmare sequences. These questions play a significant role in determining the game’s ending and how his relationship with Katherine/Catherine plays out.

Even though this is somewhat an odd game, I really like it because in this game, you have no superpowers. You’re just an average joe, going through a tough time in your relationship. It feels very humane and relatable.

13. Mass Effect – Epic Sci-fi Narrative Adventure

mass effect

An action shooter with richly developed characters, each with their own personalities, backstories and character arcs. Even though the game is about space battles, intergalatic politics and a world ending threat, players form bonds with characters and make choices that affect their loyalties. Some of these might even turn into romantic relationships.

14. Detroit Become Human – Epic Cinematics and Atmosphere

Detroit become human

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 androids are a daily part of life now. These androids are designed to obey their human masters and handle tasks ranging from chores to certain 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. (Abit cliche, I know).

Players take control of three android characters:

  • Connor: A police investigator tasked with tracking down deviant androids. The irony is you’re an android yourself. 
  • 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

Zero Escape 999

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.

In this game, everyone is wearing a bracelet with a number on it, which decides which doors you can go through based on maths. There are many branching paths and endings you can get based on the choices you make, but what’s unique about these endings is that each one reveals part of the mystery, slowly revealing the truth behind the incident. Getting all the endings is vital to understanding the narrative.

Gameplay: Interspersed throughout the story are escape room-style puzzles. You 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 have their own backstory and unique personality. As the story unfolds, their motivations, secrets, and connections to the Nonary Game are gradually revealed.

Themes: 999 is a game focused on betrayal, but it isn’t afraid to dive into deeper philosophical aspects and existential questions, which I can’t spoilt.

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.

Related: 10 Games Like Zero Escape

16. Undertale – Moral Choice-Based RPG with Branching Storyline

undertale

I love Undertale for its sense of humor. There aren’t many funny games, and Undertale does a great job at balancing humor with more serious moments. The strongest aspect of Undertale is undoutbly it’s unique gameplay mechanic:

Gameplay: During combat, it 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.

In Undertale, your actions have real consequences – whether you choose to be violent or pacifist significantly affects the game’s story progression. This morality system means tonnes of unique endings, easter eggs and replayability.

The cast is mostly a diverse group of quirky or sometimes menacing characters. They all have their own unique backstories and role in the story. Characters like Sans, Papyrus, Toriel, and Undyne have become iconic among its fanbase.

The music is also iconic. The game features a beautiful 16-bit soundtrack by the creator, Toby Fox. Tracks like Megalovania, Hopes and Dreams, and Death by Glamour are just a few examples.

17. Red Dead Redemption 2 – Best Adventure, Story-Driven Game

RDR 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a long and slow paced story-driven adventure game by Rockstar Games, perfect for those who like to take their time and take on the many side quests. If you’re looking for constant action and adrenaline though, this might not be your cup of tea.

Set in 1899, you play as Arthur Morgan, an outlaw and a senior member of the Van der Linde gang where you experience the gang’s decline, internal conflicts and troubles with the law as they escape from lawmen and bounty hunters.

18. Yakuza 0 – Best Crime Drama & Quirky Comedy

Yakuza 0

Set in 1988, players are introduced to the early lives of Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima as they get go through power struggles in the Yakuza underworld.

Players can switch perspectives between Kiryu and Majima as the story progresses, with each character having their own fighting style and storylines, keeping the gameplay feel fresh and dynamic.

I love that there is so much side content available in this game – many hilarious sidestories, sometimes touching ones, and many minigames like karaoke, disco, or arcade games. You won’t run out of things you can do in this game.

19. Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan – Horror, Multiplayer Story-Driven Game

Man of Medan

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is one of my favorite drama horror games, due to its unique concept of having multiplayer. There aren’t too many multiplayer story driven games and this is one of the good ones. It’s like two people going into a movie, watching it two different perspectives and making life or death decisions for each character. It’s a great concept that’s rarely done in video games.

Those familiar with Supermassive Games might recognize their previous work, Until Dawn, which shares gameplay and thematic similarities with Man of Medan.

The story begins with a group of friends going 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.

Gameplay: Oh boy do players’ choices have significant consequences. How fast you react during action sequences and decisions you make, even seemingly minor ones, can lead to different outcomes, including which characters live or die by the end of the story. It can be really punishing, but it really keeps you on edge and I really love this about the game.

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, does a great job of creating tension. If you have a friend to play with, this is one of the best multiplayer story games you’ll ever experience, especially if you love stressful games.

20. Baldur’s Gate 3 – Best Co-op Story With Branching Storylines

Baldur's Gate 3

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 RPG adventure game.

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. You are on a quest to remove this worm from your brain.

What I like about this game is the RPG gameplay:

Character Creation: Players can create a character from various races and classes.

Party Members: There is a roster of companion characters which you encounter through the story who may or may not join your party based on the choices you make. Each character has a unique backstory and their own personal quests. There’s even a potential for romantic involvement with some of these characters.

Multiplayer and Co-op: The game supports multiplayer, allowing for very interesting things such as player conflict, different objectives and negotiations.

Interactivity and Depth: The degree of interactivity in this game is unbelievable. There’s so much you can do and each action can influence the outcome in some way, for example:

  • Quests often have multiple ways they can be approached and completed. You can opt for combat vs diplomacy. You might even get a third option based on your abilities.
  • Dialogue choices matter 
  • Players can fight in various ways e.g. setting surfaces like oil on fire, using spells to manipulate terrain, or leveraging height advantages.
  • Many things in the game can be interacted with, you can combine items or even use them to solve puzzles.

Overall, if you’re looking for a compelling story, with great characters and a plethora of branching options, 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.