By Jeff Neuenschwander / January 23rd, 2014
I think it’s pretty obvious that we here at oprainfall love us a good story. Heck, back when we were a campaign, one of the titles we wanted to come Westward had the word “Story” right in the title. Here to present our Best Story Award is Assistant Editor Hailee Kenney.
|2012 Winner: Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward|
HAILEE: Everyone loves a game with an engaging story, so let’s take a look which games really excelled in the story department this year. The nominees are as follows…
Fire Emblem: Awakening
In Fire Emblem: Awakening, the player awakens to the sight of strangers, with no memory of who he or she is. The player quickly comes to call these strangers—Chrom and Lissa, Prince and Princess of the Halidom of Ylisse—comrades and friends. Unfortunately, it is a dark time for Chrom and his band of soldiers, the Shepherds, as they must rise to face not only the country of Plegia, but also the mysterious undead soldiers known as the Risen. In the midst of this, Marth, a skilled swordsman of unknown origin, appears to aid Chrom in his quest to restore peace to Ylisse. And all the while, the player character’s unknown past weighs heavily on the minds of everyone. A plot surrounding political intrigue, war, and a great cast of characters creates an unforgettable experience, earning Fire Emblem: Awakening a well-deserved nomination.
When you have a game co-developed by Studio Ghibli, you can be sure to expect something great. Ni no Kuni certainly doesn’t disappoint. The game follows Oliver, a 13-year-old aspiring engineer living in the small suburban town of Motorville. Oliver’s life changes completely with the unexpected death of his mother, and when his tears fall upon the stuffed doll his mother gave him, it awakens as a fairy named Drippy. Drippy tells Oliver of the turmoil in his home world, where an evil wizard named Shadar has taken control. When Oliver finds that his mother’s “soulmate” in the other world has been captured by Shadar, he sets out to rescue her and the other world with hopes of saving his own mother, as well. Along the way, he is accompanied by Esther and Swaine and must fix many broken hearts using his newfound magic abilities. All this makes for a charming, heartwarming tale worthy of the Ghibli name.
Shin Megami Tensei IV is the newest entry in Atlus’ popular and long-running Shin Megami Tensei franchise and the first new entry in the main series since 2003’s Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. The game follows Flynn, a peasant from the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, whose life is changed when he is inducted into the Samurai, an organization that protects the Kingdom from demons. Soon, however, peasants begin turning into demons at the hands of books distributed by a mysterious figure known as the Black Samurai. The characters must hunt down the Black Samurai, and their hunt soon leads them to “Tokyo,” an ancient land spoken of only in legend. The characters must explore the city and get to the bottom of the Black Samurai’s actions. Featuring strong characters, a fantastic setting, dark and mature themes, and the always present Shin Megami Tensei choice between Law and Chaos, Shin Megami Tensei IV makes for one of the best stories on the 3DS.
The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable certainly has one of the most unique plots of this year’s nominees, and it is presented in such a novel way that it’s a little difficult to summarize. The player experiences the game through the eyes of Stanley, a worker in a seemingly uninteresting office building. It’s Stanley’s job to monitor data coming in on a computer screen and press the correct buttons when prompted. One day, the screen goes blank, and Stanley decides to explore the building, only to find he’s the only one there. The player then moves Stanley through the building while his actions and choices are described by the narrator. The narrator, who is often guilty of breaking the fourth wall, will direct Stanley, and it is up to the player to follow the narrator’s directions or disrupt the narrative by defying them. This allows the player to drive the story and raises some interesting questions about the nature of choice. The unique narrative offered by The Stanley Parable and the thought-provoking questions it raises make it a clear nominee for the Best Story Award.
If you’re looking for a game with an intriguing story that deals with some dark and interesting themes, look no further than BioShock Infinite. The third entry in the BioShock series, Infinite certainly does not disappoint with its plot, enhanced by its equally interesting setting and characters. The game begins when Booker DeWitt is sent to Columbia, a gorgeous early-20th-century “utopia” in the sky, to “bring back the girl and wipe away the debt.” Booker enters Columbia to find a beautiful and peaceful city, but it quickly turns hostile when Booker is revealed to be the “False Shepherd”. In his attempt to escape the city with Elizabeth, a capable young woman with the ability to open “tears” and jump between dimensions, more and more dark secrets are revealed about Columbia. The game not only features an intriguing plot involving time travel and parallel universes, but also deals with some dark political themes, such as racism, class discrimination, and revolution, allowing it to weave a novel and interesting story.
AND THE WINNER IS…
With an intriguing and exciting plot, well-developed characters, a unique setting, and an exploration of important themes, BioShock Infinite takes home the award for Best Story. Thanks and congratulations to Irrational Games and Ken Levine for giving us such a unique and thought-provoking story.
JEFF: And now, it’s time to debut another new category—we’re going to be doing that quite a bit today. This is for Best Visual Design. Now, it should be noted that Visual Design does not equal graphical superiority. This is for what we thought looked the most intriguing. Here to present our first-ever award for Best Visual Design is oprainfall co-owner Jonathan Higgins.
BEST VISUAL DESIGN
JONATHAN: Here are the nominees for Best Visual Design…
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
It’s the brainchild of Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, originally released on the Nintendo DS (exclusive to Japan), but re-imagined and given new life unlike ever before on the PlayStation 3 (and worldwide). What makes this game’s artistic style so great is more or less synonymous with what makes Studio Ghibli itself so great—which is to say that Ni no Kuni feels like you’re playing through a full-length Studio Ghibli film. Both its characters and its world(s) have a unique charm about them that sets them apart, design-wise, from almost anything else released in 2013. It even has some degree of interactivity thanks to the Wizard’s Companion, which helps you appreciate its design even more!
The Wonderful 101
Platinum Games certainly knows how to make a game super stylish. Just look at their pedigree. If you take anything away from experiences like Viewtiful Joe, Okami and Bayonetta, you certainly should appreciate how stylized/unique each game’s sense of design feels. The Wonderful 101 is just another example of how you can wrap unique gameplay into a very beautiful package that, again, manages to stand apart from its peers. It’s bright, colorful, radiant, and (yes…) wonderful. The Wonderful 101 won’t just stand the test of time because of its gameplay—it will become a classic because it’s confident in its design, and there’s no other game (especially on Wii U) quite like it.
The PlayStation Vita has the power, folks. It has the power to evolve the Ys visuals longtime fans are used to seeing to new heights while keeping the experience on a handheld device. This isn’t me saying, “Oh, that OLED screen certainly makes good graphics better”—I’m asserting that the technology of the PlayStation Vita helps players come away with a greater appreciation for the game’s design by bringing characters to life unlike any previous game in the franchise. Just exploring the world leaves you with a sense of wonder—and I don’t think this world would be as good on any other portable platform.
And here’s the game that helped me see the PlayStation Vita in a completely different light. Unlike Ys: Memories of Celceta, Tearaway doesn’t have the pedigree of a long-running franchise to help set its design apart (from games you’ve played before). Media Molecule was tasked with creating a completely new property, and a world to bring it to life. The paper-ized aesthetic goes far beyond anything it may have been inspired by (I’m looking at you, Paper Mario), because the game’s style (outside of the world you’re watching over as the player) is left entirely up to you. Want pink snowflakes to make a wintery environment unique? Tearaway gives you that prerogative. Media Molecule outdid themselves with this one. Its sense of design isn’t just unique to the PlayStation Vita—it’s unique to gaming as a whole.
oprainfall may be a website that covers a ton of niche games and developers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pay our respects to designs and artistry from a more mainstream title done right. Infinite manages to set itself apart from the two BioShock games to come before it by allowing us to explore a completely different world with a completely different aesthetic. But it still has its moments to make longtime fans of the series feel more comfortable—almost nostalgic for the previous games, and for Rapture. While many have valid complaints about certain elements over time, I think we would argue that everyone has to give its design and artistic approaches the credit they deserve.
AND THE WINNER IS…
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Forgive my horrible joke, but… the oprainfall Staff were truly spirited away by this unique experience for the PlayStation 3. Hopefully there will be more Level-5/Studio Ghibli collaborations in the future, because there’s no artistic charm quite like the re-imagined, yet familiar approaches taken by this wonderful team of people. Ni no Kuni isn’t just a reminder of the child-like wonder you can experience from Level-5 or Studio Ghibli title—it’s a reason to be inspired by a design that will appeal to everyone, young or old.
A Link Between WorldsBioShock InfiniteDead or Alive 5 UltimateDivekickFire Emblem: AwakeningHatsune Miku: Project DIVA FMetal Gear Rising: Revengeancemonster hunter 3 ultimateNew Super Luigi UNi No Kuni: Wrath of the White WitchPandora's TowerPayday 2Pokémon X & YSenran Kagura BurstShin Megami Tensei IVSuper Mario 3D WorldTales of XilliaTearawayThe Last Of UsThe Legend of ZeldaThe Stanley ParableThe Wind WakerThe Wonderful 101Ys: Memories of Celceta