5 of the Best Indie Game Stories
Often, big-budget video games have you fight wars, kick butt, and save the world. However, indie games are where you might go to scratch the itch for a good story. While many of them have been ridiculed as “walking simulators,” indie games come in all shapes and sizes. And the best ones are memorable narrative experiences.
If you want to experience these captivating stories for yourself, then get some PlayStation Gift Cards – we assure you it’s worth it! With point-and-click adventures, 16-bit RPGs, and first-person mysteries, our list will have you do more than just walking.
Kentucky Route Zero
Platforms: PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
The stakes in Kentucky Route Zero are low. You play as Conway, a truck driver making the final delivery for an antique shop. But the way in which your journey across “Route Zero” and conversations with strange people is presented makes the game unique. The point-and-click adventure — released in five acts from 2013 to 2020 — tells its story in a dreamlike fashion. The voice acting is limited and there are walls of text. That, however, doesn’t take away from the narrative, which unfolds from one bizarre conversation to another.
Equally bizarre characters join you as the game progresses. Estranged artists, traveling musicians, shopkeepers, broadcasters, and eavesdropping cats. There are themes of labor and debt, originality, and simulation. Everything is conveyed visually with the mysterious locales and design.
Developers Cardboard Computer called their game a “magical realist adventure game.” They were inspired by writers and artists such as Gabriel García Marquez, Flannery O’Connor, and David Lynch. They also studied theatre scripts to help with lighting, movement, and characterization. Unsurprisingly, Kentucky Route Zero is a work of art as well.
Platforms: PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, Android
The supernatural horror game is about a group of kids at an overnight island party. You control the protagonist Alex who is trying to get over her brother’s death. The four other teenagers in the group are detailed characters with genuine motivations as well.
The mysteries of the island span decades and parallel universes. You can communicate with the supernatural and transform the world. But the mechanic that really helps Oxenfree’s storytelling is the dialogue system. There are no dialogue wheels. The action doesn’t stop till you make a choice. Instead, bubbles appear above Alex’s head and you make the choice… or not, if you want to stay silent. Life goes on around you while this happens, making it a lot more realistic.
The choices matter too. You can strengthen relationships with some and destroy others. There are no cutscenes, and conversations take place during the gameplay. There is no game-over screen which means you have to live (or die) with your decisions. On the surface, Oxenfree is a classic teen horror film. With great mechanics, however, it becomes a coming-of-age story with creepy twists.
Platforms: PC, Mac, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch
Speaking of choices that matter, Undertale is a tribute to the classic 16-bit RPG. But instead of taking down enemies with swords and spells, you can pacify, seduce, or show mercy to them. Each decision you make in Undertale changes things. It means a single playthrough is just not enough to see everything the story has to offer.
You play as a nameless child who falls into the Underground, a world of monsters. Rescued by a kind creature, you then make your way back to the barrier that separates the two worlds. On your journey, you will meet (and fight) memorable characters. You learn more about the wars, how monsters were driven underground by humans, and the bitter relations between them.
Undertale is a well-written, touching adventure with tons of funny one-liners. On the surface, it is a simple RPG. There are layers, though, which will have you returning to the game till you see how the story plays out from every angle. Talking anymore about the story will be spoiling it. Just know that Undertale will win your heart and show you how monsters too can be extremely human.
Platforms: PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
In complete contrast to Undertale and its cast of characters, Firewatch is a lonely experience. You play as Henry, a man who decides to leave his troubled past to become a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. Henry’s only human connection is his female superior. The two characters, who only converse over a walkie-talkie throughout the game, are brought to life by wonderful writing and spectacular voice acting.
Firewatch is also an example of good environmental storytelling. The gorgeous wilderness surrounding you can be inviting and intimidating, breathtaking and chilling. Exploring the forest, you uncover gruesome conspiracies and encounters. You will be forced to make choices, which will affect the only relationship Henry has, among other things.
The game grabs your attention with great performances and effective visuals. The pacing and atmosphere support the tonal shifts beautifully. It’s a grown-up game with adult conversations and heavy themes. Firewatch is a gripping reminder that video game storytelling can be serious too.
Platforms: PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS
Where it all began. Sure, Dear Esther preceded Gone Home as a “walking simulator.” And What Remains of Edith Finch, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and Soma perfected the style. But Gone Home was the first example of how video games can provoke thought and tell stories by sacrificing traditional gameplay.
You play as Katie Greenbriar, a 21-year-old who returns home after a year… with nobody there to greet her. What follows is an exploration of the Greenbriar home. The gameplay is limited to going from room to room and interacting with objects. But through moving the boxes, and going through the books, notes, and cassette tapes, you answer the questions. What happened in the house? Where is your family?
The house is lived-in and full of 1995 nostalgia. The thunderstorms and flickering lights add eeriness. Players will immerse themselves in the setting and slowly get to know the family members personally. The narrative relating to Katie’s sister, especially, is a powerful, heartbreaking journey not often represented in video games.
The graphics are dated and the gameplay is slow. But even eight years after its release, Gone Home remains a masterpiece in storytelling.
As means of entertainment, video games are increasingly on par with books and movies. Gamers want stories they can immerse themselves in. That’s why, away from the high budgets and flashy graphics, indie games have been making a space for themselves. We hope that our list of indie game stories finds you a world to get lost in too. With that said, do let us know your favorite indie games with captivating stories in the comments below!