Dennis: Undertale really just tells a pretty average little story: After monsters lose a war against humans, they are imprisoned in the Underworld. The only access to this underworld is on a mountain, into which your game character – a small human child – falls right at the beginning of the game. Your goal is then, of course, to somehow get out of there alive again.
The thin plot is fortunately made up for by the great worldbuilding. Add to that the many varied and memorable characters, who are pretty well fleshed out for such a relatively short game.
– Undertale was created almost entirely on his own by solo developer Toby Fox. Even the soundtrack, with 101 different songs, was penned entirely by him. – The soundtrack is still extremely popular seven years after release. On Spotify Toby Fox has twice as many listeners. Listeners like Herbert Gronemeyer. – After Undertale, Toby Fox published the first chapter of Deltarune in 2018, followed by the second of seven chapters in 2021. – Although the two games share many characters, it's not yet clear how they're connected. Many fans currently ame that Deltarune could be a prequel to Undertale.
49. Persona 5
developers: Atlus P Studio |
Genre: JRPG |
Release: 15. September 2016
Heiko Klinge: There is probably no story game with more glaring narrative contrasts than Persona 5. On the one hand, my cat turns into a bus with which I explore a distorted version of Tokyo's subway shafts. On the other hand, I convict a perverted gym teacher who stalks his students.
On the one hand, I live through the everyday life of a student during the day – including homework, exams, but also first side jobs and the odd flirtation. On the other hand, at night as a phantom thief I plunge into the mind palaces of my adversaries, which have been converted into dungeons, and thus dive into their human abysses – whether sadism, gambling addiction or vanity.
Narratively, Persona 5 also constantly oscillates between deliberately over-the-top anime lightness and heavy themes without losing its balance. So also the phantom thieves have to fight with inner demons, sometimes even literally.
This mixture of high school life simulation, classic JRPG storytelling and adult themes was already present in the equally excellent predecessors in a similar way. But never before have these elements intertwined in such a logical, motivating and virtuosic way as in the fifth installment of the series. A Metacritic score of 93 speaks for itself. So don't let the cat bus scare you off. Give this game a chance – you won't regret it!
– Persona 5 has been released exclusively for the PlayStation to date. But since 2020's equally excellent Persona 4 suddenly appeared on Steam twelve years after release, there's still hope for the fifth installment in the series as well. – The animated cutscenes of the game were created by Production I.G. created – co-producers of the legendary anime Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
48. The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios |
Genre: roleplaying game |
Release: 24. March 2006
Geraldine Hohmann: "He lets his eyes roam like an eagle, trying to spot a sign of Harveus. After half an eternity, as it seems to him, he discovers the completely destroyed Temple of the Nine. He slows down. He tells his horse to stop. This is Harveu's dagger. He lies in front of the gates in a bloody puddle. It could have been any other dagger … if it couldn't see the red ruby sparkling in the sunset."
You read: an excerpt from my very mediocre Oblivion fanfiction called "The Warriors of Dragonflame" from the distant year 2007. I was absolutely obsessed at the time. Not an afternoon I didn't spend in Tamriel or the hellmouth of Oblivion. But at some point that was no longer enough. I wanted more. Like a madwoman, I wrote page after page of my own fantasy epic in the universe of my favorite role-playing game to fully immerse myself in the lore.
Much like said fanfiction, the main stories of the Elder Scrolls series are often known more for mediocrity. But the story about the lost emperor's heir, the hell dimension Oblivion and the extinguishing dragon's flame just grabbed me at that time. And if that's not enough for you, you can always be kidnapped by pirates in your sleep, immerse yourself in a painting or escape from a stranger's nightmare. Oblivion's side quests tell some of the most impressive stories I've ever experienced in a game.
It's no wonder that every time I set out for Tamriel, I still say the intro out loud: "These are the last days of the third age. And the last hours … of my life! Dededeee dededee dedededee . "
– The crazy fan who follows you everywhere as a great arena fighter, Geraldine liked to leave him somewhere in an inn and then forget about him. She hopes that he will be well taken care of there. – The young Rothwardone who trains near the arena with her Argonian buddy has a tragic tale. In a crumpled letter at the arena armorer Owyn confesses to him that she is his daughter and will one day fight in the arena herself to earn his love.
47. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Developer: Starbreeze Studios |
genre: Adventure |
Release: 28. August 2013
Natalie Schermann: It doesn't always take epic narratives, spectacular productions and a chosen one who has to save all of humanity. Sometimes it is the very small stories, the very small details and the very small games that touch us the most. So did Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which would go much higher on my personal top list.
The indie gem tells of brotherly love, loss, fears and the tragic twist will not leave even the hardest gamblers among us dry-eyed. But even more than the touching story itself, another element completely knocked my socks off and catapulted the short game into my all-time favorites: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons manages to combine story and gameplay in a unique way.
The player controls both brothers simultaneously, each with their own buttons. This underlines family cohesion and shows that I need both brothers equally to get ahead. At the same time, I learn about the little brother's greatest fear – he can't swim. This becomes an obstacle in the game, especially at the end, when only one last, seemingly impregnable hurdle lurks between its goal: water.
Now how do I get to the other side when my character is terrified of going into the water? By having to press the older brother's button, which gives the little one the necessary courage and strength. What may seem banal to many, broke all the dams for me. The rest of the game I could only see through a veil of tears.
Never before has pressing a button felt so emotional and profound. I wish video games would use mechanics like this more often to marry story and gameplay together. Because it creates a moving experience that only works like this in video games.
– The gibberish spoken by the characters in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was created by Josef Fares. The Arabic language served as inspiration. In this way, he wanted to create a reference to his Lebanese-Swedish origin.
Developer: Valve |
genre: First-person shooter |
Release: 19. November 1998
Petra Schmitz: 1998, what a gaming year! And not least because of Half-Life. Valve's first game (first! Game!) revolutionized shooters back then. The term "environmental storytelling" didn't exist back then, but the reviews were full of paraphrases that put just that into words. While other games (and not only shooters) relied on cutscenes and advanced the plot in this way, Valve went a different way.
The studio told the (admittedly rather thin) story about Gordon and the experiment and the aliens mainly in the levels. During the game.. Not detached from it. And not detached from it. We rode the train into the Black Mesa research station (oh god, how that annoyed on the second and third and fourth playthroughs), already seeing sections that we would later traverse. We experienced aliens eating scientists or turning them into monsters right before our eyes. We interacted with switches, pipes, researchers.
We didn't tell our own story, but we felt like we were in ours, because the environment reacted to us even when we weren't pumping bullets into enemies. Valve didn't reinvent the wheel, Valve just took a logical step forward in game development before anyone else could do it. And still you have to give it a lot of credit.
– Half-Life should have been released on the Dreamcast as well. The port was already ready. But has never come on the market. Allegedly, because Sega had announced to stop the production of new Dreamcasts. – In the original story of Half-Life, Gordon should have had a wife: Gina Freeman.
Developers: Valve |
Genre: Action |
Release: 10. October 2007
Markus Schwerdtel: Nowadays, even your mom and her budgie probably know what's behind the term "environmental storytelling". That's when the level design of a game tells half the story. The concept already existed before the Portal release in 2007, but Valve's action gimmick used the tool to – literally – tear open chasms in the clean world of the Aperture Laboratories.
For as the heroine Chell puzzles her way through the 19 test chambers with her portal gun, she keeps coming across the legacies of other test subjects. Sometimes these are warning scribbles on the wall, sometimes food supplies, and sometimes simply arrows pointing the way to the exit. We quickly learn: This is no normal laboratory, here people fight for their lives.
This is finally made clear by the sayings of the AI GlaDOS, which sometimes emotionlessly, sometimes sardonically, sometimes underhandedly and sometimes openly hostile comments on our escape attempt. Honestly, I found the puzzles almost annoying towards the end of the game, I just wanted to hear more from GlaDOS and know if Chell's escape would succeed.
Portal manages to tell the gripping story of an insane AI without any cutscenes or text panels – and is also an excellent puzzle game. If our hit list of the 250 best games of all time is to be believed – and of course it should be! – Portal even stands lonely on place 1. Whereas for me it belongs there just because of "Still Alive".
– Portal started its career as Narbacular Drop from the student team Nuclear Monkey Software. – You can also hear the voice of the GlaDOS-voice actress Ellen McLain in games like Left4Dead 2, Dota 2 as well as in the movie "Pacific Rim".
44. Final Fantasy 7
Developer: Square |
Genre: JRPG |
Release: 31. January 1997
Heiko Klinge: Final Fantasy 7 and yours truly have a very intense love-hate relationship that has lasted for 25 years now. It all started in my basic military service days, when comrades in the permanently smoking neighbor's room threw this game into their PlayStation every end of the day. Actually, I didn't want to set foot in this nicotine hell, but Final Fantasy 7 just looked too stunning with its render graphics for me to keep up my non-smoking principles.
In June 1998, this story masterpiece that everyone was talking about was finally released for my beloved PC. Full of euphoria I plunged into the JRPG adventure, until I encountered a bug after about 30 hours, which always crashed my score at the same point.
Since then I keep trying to finally finish this milestone of storytelling. On the iPad, on the Xbox, most recently on the Switch. But well, Final Fantasy 7 hasn't really aged well, which is why I quit sooner or later every time I played it. The static render backgrounds and clunky polygon characters were technically groundbreaking in 1997, but nowadays seem far more out of time than the pixel art of Chrono Trigger, which is two years older (ranked 84).
Final Fantasy 7 is still the game I started the most and played the longest without ever seeing the ending sequence. And it speaks to the quality and drama of the story surrounding Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth that it remains on my gaming bucket list. Why only the remake must be so different from the original?
– Final Fantasy 7 was delivered on three PlayStation CD-ROMs at the time. Technically, the complete game was on each CD-ROM, only the cutscenes needed the additional storage space. – There are now 11 movies and games with the name "Final Fantasy 7" in the title, including a snowboarding game for cell phones.
43. To The Moon
Developer: Freebird Games |
Genre: Adventure |
Release: 1. November 2011
Steffi Schlottag: To The Moon (and its successors) has carved out its own little fan niche. The small adventure game comes from the creative pen of developer Kan Gao and actually consists only of pixelated scenes, simple puzzles and dialogues in text form. And yet the story creates a tremendous pull, so that I had to play through To The Moon in one piece. And then I spent the rest of the day crying because it was such a bittersweet experience.
It's about two scientists who offer a very special service: They alter the memories of dying people to make them believe their greatest hope has come true. Their mission leads them to Johnny, who wants to fly to the moon – but doesn't know why anymore himself. To find out and fulfill his last wish, we travel through his memories all the way back to his childhood. Of course, I won't tell you exactly what we'll find there, but it's guaranteed to be etched in your memory.
To The Moon confronts us with difficult questions: Where exactly is the border between reality and our thoughts – and does it really matter?? Does true love have to be perfect? What makes a happy life? If you like to philosophize about such topics, then by all means please get the game. And when you're done, write me if you see the moon bunny in the night sky now too.
– To The Moon to become animated film, announced in 2018. However, there have been only a few signs of life about the project since then – and no release date is in sight. – Kan Gao was inspired to write To The Moon when his grandfather fell seriously ill and he thought a lot about dying and missed opportunities.
42. A Plague Tale: Innocence
Developer: Asobo Studio |
Genre: Action-Adventure |
Release: 14. May 2019
Natalie Schermann: A Plague Tale: Innocence I caught up with two years ago, shortly after the pandemic began. I don't have to explain that a tale about the plague is particularly close to my heart then. The developers succeeded in recreating the France of the 14th century. Skillfully Setting the Stage for the Twenty-First Century. The locked and marked doors and windows of the sick made me feel uneasy, the stacked carcasses on the streets made me feel horrified and disgusted.
Amidst this atmospheric setting, I was introduced to the highlight of the stealth game: the sibling pairing. What at first seemed like an over-the-top escort mission soon turned out to be a uniquely emotional journey. I take on the role of 14-year-old Amicia, who is left to fend for herself after an unannounced visit from the Inquisition and also has to take care of her brother Hugo.
At the beginning of the game, Amicia, who hardly got to see her brother because of his illness, (as well as I as a player) has little relation to Hugo. We build this relationship together as we search for a cure and defend the boy from the greedy hands of the Inquisition.
A Plague Tale: Innocence feels so realistic after just a few hours that my heart starts beating faster every time Amicia can't hold Hugo's hand. Because the little boy, like any child, is curious and naive, and even behind the screen I develop a sense of responsibility and a protective instinct.
The story of A Plague Tale: Innocence is carried by the great characters and their relationship. Although the events are on a much grander scale, it's this intimate family story that is so strongly remembered and earns the stealth title a place in our top list.
– Child actors Charlotte McBurney (Amicia) and Logan Hannan (Hugo) helped the developers rewrite the dialogue to make it sound more childlike and thus more realistic.
41. Divinity: Original Sin 2
Developer: Larian |
Genre: Role Play |
Release: 14. September 2017 / 31. August 2018
Petra Schmitz: I can't remember how many times I laughed out loud at Original Sin 2. Rarely enough is there a classic role-playing game that is so deep and satisfying on a gameplaying level, tells a really nice story, but then shows so much humor in the details.
My favorite scene is still the one with the lizard prince and the skeleton, who quickly retreat behind a screen to do things together. I played the prince (because I've only ever touched pre-made characters in Divinity 2), and it was intense for both him and me in front of the monitor. While Fane (the skeleton) handled the whole thing rather analytically and unimpressedly. Pfff, skeletons! I laughed tears.
Or the moment of the first almost-kiss between Lohse and Ifan. Or the moment when I discovered the talking cows. Or the killer chicken! Or, or! Divinity 2 is so full of insane situations that you can almost forget how well Divinity 2 plays and the wealth of opportunities you have to win battles while gushing about it. Please try this if you haven't already. It still costs 45 Euros on Steam, but as a modern classic it can afford to do so.