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NieR: Automata

Best Story
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Yoko Taro is not a man interested in making the same game twice, which may be why NieR: Automata's story has such a distinct feeling compared to the first. The first NieR has a far more personable story on a much smaller scale. Hints of world-ending calamities were kept on the fringes and were not as much of a concern for the main character. Meanwhile, Automata stars, at first glance, nameless androids whose sole purpose is to reclaim an entire planet from a machine menace on behalf of humanity. A story about family this is not, and Automata may fall victim to not being as emotionally resonant as its predecessor.

What the wider focus and multiple perspectives grant Automata instead is the ability to explore far more interesting themes of identity, consciousness, culture, and the lengths individuals will go to attain these things. These point-of-view changes give different context to events that not only reveal more about the characters, but also the world they inhabit. The true triumph of NieR is how its achievements are entirely tied to the medium it resides in. Its blending of traditional storytelling mixed with compelling uses of gameplay offers more than just a clever twist or trick on a formula, it serves to solidify the game's themes to both the characters and players themselves. NieR: Automata accomplishes that rare feat of being an effective story in a medium that is unable to be replicated by standard storytelling.

While it may have taken nearly a decade for the entire Trails in the Sky series to be available outside Japan, the final entry, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd, stands out with an exceptional story that fans of Nihon Falcom's traditional JRPG have come to expect. Eschewing the typical setup of travelling around a country and solving problems along the way, Trails 3rd is set in Phantasma, a separate dimension that follows different rules. This allows the game, by using mysterious doors to access different types of vignettes, to tell stories about characters from across the series and add to the already extensive lore for which the Trails series is known. At the heart of the game is Kevin Graham, the seemingly happy-go-lucky wandering priest from Trails SC, whose backstory and work for the Septian Church form the core of the narrative. Exploring his past, along with a few other characters, makes Trails 3rd the darkest game in the Trails series, but Trails 3rd also becomes the most fascinating for the ways that it ties the other games together into the overall massive Trails narrative.

Horizon Zero Dawn was quite the darling of a game in 2017, boasting big worlds and a heroine worth loving. Aloy's journey is emotional, thoughtful, and an interesting look at how being an outcast can often give you strength in some of the most challenging situations. She is courageous, curious, and kind, and her desire to uncover the truth is a wonderful undertaking for players. The game also has some side quests that are equally memorable in that they are more story driven then mere fetch quests. Engrossing and mysterious, Horizon Zero Dawn offers an imaginative story, making it an easy choice for story-lovers who wish to see more narrative depth in open-world RPGs.

by Zack Webster, Joshua Carpenter, Sam Wachter


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