In the latest in the occasional series designed to celebrate and draw attention to the weird and wonderful variety of international and national days, we have April 27th – National Tell A Story Day. If there is a better fit for an article about gaming, I’ve yet to come across it.
I’m never happier than when I am lost in the world of a game, with a twisting plot to keep my attention focused. More than once I’ve actually limited my gaming time with certain titles, as while I want to tear through the story as fast as I can on one hand, on the other I want to savour the game and enjoy it as much as I can, making it last. Of course, the best part of playing games for the story is the unexpected curveballs that the developers like to throw in, the twists in the plot that you’d never see coming. And of course, the very best part of those twists is thinking about them afterward, remembering the little hints and breadcrumbs that the devs threw us to signpost the upcoming shocks.
So, with all that in mind (and I’m not the only one, right?), here are my top 6 twists in gaming that we never saw coming! I present these in no particular order, so please enjoy. And, in case it wasn’t blindingly obvious from this preamble, there will be major spoilers for some games coming up. They are all fairly old mind, so the majority of you out there will probably have played them already, but just in case you haven’t: SPOILER ALERT!
Coming from Square Enix, and also being an RPG, it’s perhaps not surprising to see Nier included here. As I recently touched upon in my Looking Back piece about this very game, the story was completely bonkers and very, very convoluted.
The big twist, however, came from Nier and his daughter, Yonah, not being who we had spent the entire game thinking they were. And the Shade enemies weren’t what we thought either, being instead the disembodied souls of ordinary people. You see, the biggest of twists in Nier is this: in order to stop the spread of disease, people’s souls were separated from their bodies, new replica bodies were grown, and the souls were then stuffed back into the new Replicant body, which was created to be resistant to the disease. So after many hours of gameplay, after suffering with Nier all through the storyline, it is revealed that both Nier and Yonah are, in fact, Replicants, and the giant Shade, Shadowlord, is Nier’s original soul grown twisted through the passage of time.
Back in the day, this was a major head wrecker for me, and even now, if I think about it too much, it gives me a headache. We weren’t Nier, the big baddie was. How weird is that? And also, another twist that is worth mentioning occurs on a subsequent playthrough: if you make a choice at the climax of the game to sacrifice Nier to save Kaine, the game deletes the memory of Nier from the character heads, and then goes ahead and deletes your save data to really finish the job. Good one, Square Enix, I really didn’t see that one coming either.
Bioshock was a revelation when it first appeared on the scene. The way the game looked, the design that had gone into the environment, the enemies and the overall ambience was breathtaking. The whole 1950’s vibe and the way the architecture, even under the sea, flowed together made the Bioshock world totally believable.
And you know what else was totally believable? The guy who was guiding us through the game, that’s who!
When Atlas saved us from our first run-in with the Splicers, and continued to be helpful, giving advice about where to go and basically how to stay alive, you’d think that was the guy you could trust, right? Well, not so much as it turned out. The bad guy of the first game, Andrew Ryan, turns out to be our father, and Atlas’ kind of catchphrase, “Would you kindly…?” is some sort of hypnotic suggestion that makes us do whatever he wants us to do.
As Ryan asks us to kill him with a golf club, using the trigger phrase, we are compelled to kill our own father, who we’d only just discovered existed… the whole hunting down of Atlas, who turns out to be someone called Fontaine, who sent us to the surface all those years ago, is a bit of an anticlimax as far as the story is concerned in my eyes. The whole “I am your father, Luke” storyline was so well done that I feel it deserves a place on the list.
4Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead
Ah, Telltale Games, how I loved all of your titles, with the strong narrative threads you expertly pulled together. There were many games that could have fitted here, from Bigby Wolf becoming the Big Bad Wolf for the first time, to the revelations in the Batman games as you struggle with the divided personality, they have all been very enjoyable. Even Minecraft Story Mode managed to insert some tough choices, about friendship and so on, so I think it’s safe to say that the writers at the studio were very talented indeed.
However, as this is a list, I can only choose one game, and I’ve chosen the first season of The Walking Dead.
All the way through, Clementine and Lee made a great team, taking on walkers and other people, always managing to squeak by. Imagine my shock then when at the climax of the first series, Lee is infected and starts to turn, leaving poor Clem with a very difficult choice: should she allow Lee to carry on existing, knowing that he would never be the man he used to be, or should she put a bullet through his head? I personally chose to end him – I really didn’t think that Lee would want to wander around as a zombie, maybe even attacking his old friends.
It really made me think about the morality of the way we see things in these games: is a zombie just a walking meat machine, or is there anything left of the person they used to be, maybe trapped inside and watching as they did unspeakable things, but unable to exert control over their own body to stop them? It’s a subject George A. Romero touched on in Day of the Dead, when a zombie remembered being a soldier and saluted a superior officer, so maybe I’m not alone in wondering that.
Still, killing off a hero is a big step for any game, and it was handled so sensitively that I’m not ashamed to say I felt a lump in my throat.
3Spec Ops: The Line
Working again with the premise that what we see is not necessarily reality, Spec Ops: The Line was another game that had more of an emotional impact on me than I thought it would.
I thought, on firing it up, that it was another brash, macho military shooter, all gung-ho and gunplay. But it turned out to be so much more.
After a part of the game that almost made me stop playing – a white phosphorus strike on what we thought was an enemy position but turned out to be civilians who had been evacuated – our protagonist, Captain Walker, begins to slowly lose his grip on reality. I’m really not surprised, as walking through the aftermath of the strike, finding a mother sheltering her child with her own body, I had to put the controller down and walk away. Whether that is because I had recently become a father, or whether it’s just the thought of children as collateral damage, the scene really affected me.
After a while, I did return to the game, and found that Walker’s descent into madness was brilliantly handled, with his orders becoming more angry and less professional, while his finishing off of enemies became more violent and so on. All the while, the commander of the opposing forces is taunting him on the radio, but it turns out at the end that Konrad, the voice on the radio, had killed himself some time earlier and Walker’s conversations had all been hallucinations.
This twist really surprised me, but the clues were there, with even the loading screen tips becoming more deranged as progress through the game was made. Spec Ops: The Line did a great job of making me think about war as more than just some pixels on a screen, and if a game can make you think, then it’s not just an empty experience, is it?
2Final Fantasy X
This is the second entry in this list for Square Enix, and to be honest there were a number of titles I could have included.
Final Fantasy VII and the death of Aeris and Final Fantasy 8 and the way the Guardian Forces we use in combat induce amnesia are just a couple of those that could fit the criteria. However, I can only pick one, and in this list I’ve chosen the tenth instalment – Final Fantasy X.
All the way through the story, I had prepared myself that at the end, in order to defeat Sin, Yuna would have to die. I’d hardened myself against the possibility, and even the cutscenes showing Yuna and Tidus’ relationship blossoming were tinged by a touch of sadness, but it was okay.
The twists such as finding out Auron was dead, and that Sin was Tidus’ father, pale into almost insignificance against the big one: Tidus wasn’t real. He was described as just a “a dream of the Fayth”, there to help Yuna on her journey. And Zanarkand, the city we’d been making our way toward? That was all a dream, too.
So the reward for the team, after all the sacrifices they made and the battles they fought, is for Auron to be sent to the Farplane, and for Tidus and the whole of Zanarkand to disappear. But it’s fine as Sin will no longer be reborn, as Yuna rejects the final Summon, which has been the purpose of her pilgrimage. In an almost epilogue kind of way, Tidus later awakens underwater, and swims to the surface, leaving many more questions unanswered. Where is he? What time frame is he in? Can Yuna find him? (Extra spoiler alert: in X-2, yes!)
Resident Evil, back on the original Playstation, was a game that shaped an entire genre of games. The survival horror genre, of which I am a big fan, owes its existence in a large part to this game. There are many twists in the storyline of the original game, from finding out that Barry may not be the good guy you think he is, to the fact that the zombies were created by a virus made by the Umbrella Corporation, thus unleashing doom on mankind. I mean, it’s surely not hard to see what is coming down the road when someone creates a virus that can mutate people into zombies or other creatures, is it? It’s not going to end well, is it?
Anyway, the twist I am referring to in this game is that of the betrayal of Albert Wesker, the erstwhile leader of the S.T.A.R.S. team. While in the beginning he seems to help, by leaving supplies for Chris or Jill to pick up, it soon transpires that the whole reason the team was sent to the mansion was to gather data on the victims of the virus against the trained police team. Wesker even goes as far as releasing the Tyrant at the climax of the game, where he is seemingly killed. But again, it’s all a fake.
Wesker continues to crop up in the Resident Evil series until Resident Evil 5, when he is finally killed. Finding out that the team leader was a bad guy was a bit of a shock, I have to be honest, but given that the series went on to strength after strength, it was a great move.
And there we are then, that’s the end of my list of best gaming twists for National Tell A Story Day. These are all certainly twists worthy of the name, but what about you guys out there? What would your list contain? Have I left out any obvious ones, or do you disagree with my choices? Let us know in the comments!