As a child, I was a huge fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. There was something about the notion of getting a different story with each read that guaranteed I would keep coming back to these books. Most story-based video games can also be considered as choose-your-own-adventure. Especially those that allow you to personally decide how the story will play out.
Below is my top ten list of video games that offer a lot of versatility with each playthrough.
10) Phantasmagoria (spoiler alert) – An interactive horror game released in the mid-90s, Phantasmagoria tells the story of Adrienne Delaney and her husband Don after they’ve moved into a haunted century-old mansion. The house was previously owned by a 19th Century illusionist who was married five times and whose wives either went missing or died under mysterious circumstances. The game features hours worth of content. There is much to explore to uncover the truth and discover what’s happening to Don when he gets possessed. It’s easy to miss an aspect of the story if you don’t thoroughly examine everything in each chapter. What keeps Phantasmagoria from a higher rank is the fixed singular ending – Adrienne is forced to kill her husband to keep him from killing her.
9) Life Is Strange (spoiler alert) – Life is Strange is a coming-of-age drama game that centers around teenager Max Caulfield and her discovery that she can rewind time–an ability she uses largely for selfish gain. Life is Strange gives you the option to look at both choices of decisions to make throughout the game before locking one of them in. While this game offers two conclusions, the bad ending doesn’t really delve into the repercussions of Max’s decision to sacrifice the townsfolk to an f5 tornado to save her dearest friend. I still love Life is Strange in spite of the lackluster ending for its many different paths over the course of the game.
8) Resident Evil 2 – The first Resident Evil game may have launched the survival horror franchise, but it is the second title that really breathed life into the series. Resident Evil 2 introduced players to Leon Kennedy– a rookie cop on his first day on the force–and Claire Redfield–a college student in search of her missing brother. What sets Resident Evil 2 apart from the rest of the series is that one character’s actions impact how the other’s story plays out. For instance, starting with Leon’s campaign dictates the path taken by Claire through the police station and vice versa. The game’s developers gave players two differing narratives–Leon A\Claire B or Claire A\Leon B–to offer a unique experience with each playthrough. What makes Resident Evil 2 even better is that you can also assume the role of one of the antagonists in a separate scenario or play as a block of tofu armed with a knife–a joke character thrown in by the developers. But like Phantasmagoria, Resident Evil 2 always ends the same no matter which character you start with.
7) the Mass Effect trilogy – Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3 earn top marks for having the most variance in their narrative, but fall flat due to a disappointing penultimate ending. To get the most out of the trilogy, you’d have to play through all three games. Saved data can be imported from one title to the next to keep track of the choices you’ve made, such as whether you saved or sacrificed a given character. I love the trilogy for letting you decide whether your main character will be male or female, peacemaker or badass, or monogamous or field-player. I just wish Mass Effect 3 had featured multiple endings as well.
6) Marvel: Ultimate Alliance – Well before the ongoing series of films featuring Marvel Comics superheroes were on the horizon, the video game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance was the definitive guide to the comic book characters. The game takes you on an epic journey from the bottom of the ocean to the far reaches of space, from the depths of Hell to Asgard, home of the Norse Gods. The basic storyline of the game sees members of the X-Men, Avengers, and the Fantastic Four–as well as other superheroes that operate solo–band together to combat a massive team comprised of their respective arch-enemies. In between missions, you have the option of learning all sorts of trivia about every character–and then some–featured in Ultimate Alliance. What makes the game even more interesting is that you can customize your team at the start of each mission. Even better–each time a hero and antagonist who have a history come face to face, it will trigger a unique bit of dialogue. I would definitely recommend giving this game a look if you’re a big fan of Marvel Comics–you won’t be disappointed.
5) Dragon Age: Origins – Dragon Age: Origins is a game that I have yet to play through to the end, but what little I’ve seen has earned it a spot on this list. The fantasy fighting game starts with you selecting one of six characters to join a warrior faction called the Grey Wardens for the purpose of combating an ancient evil. Each character has their own unique background and origin story–the game gives you a glimpse into their lives prior to their arrival at the academy. I don’t know a whole lot about Dragon Age, but I’ve heard that your character’s gender also has an impact on how the narrative plays out.
4) Beyond: Two Souls (spoiler alert) – Beyond: Two Souls is a game that tells its story in a non-linear format, jumping back and forth to different points in the life of heroine Jodie. She is a character who has lived with a spirit guide named Aiden her entire life, and she has the unique ability to see the world through his perspective. Unfortunately for Jodie, she is taken from her mother at birth and is exploited as a spy by the government due to her ability to obtain information from a distance. The game largely revolves around Jodie’s journey to find where she belongs in an unforgiving world. Beyond: Two Souls is a great game not only for its variant story, but also for its multiple endings. There is even an outcome where Jodie dies and herself becomes a spirit guide to a young girl born during the course of the game.
3) Until Dawn (spoiler alert) – A survival horror game where even the slightest miscalculation can get a character killed, Until Dawn is definitely a nerve-wracking experience. The story follows eight friends vacationing at a mountain lodge owned by one of them, where they are besieged by a group of violent supernatural creatures. Until Dawn is not a perfect game–the story is chock full of plot holes and a few characters are downright annoying–but it does offer a lot of variance. It can end in any number of ways–ranging from everyone making it through the night to zero survivors.
2) King’s Quest VI – The Kings Quest games as a whole chronicle the story of a knight who earned the title of king and his family. The sixth game in the series follows the king’s son, Alexander, on his quest to rescue his true love, Cassima, upon receiving word that she and her kingdom are in danger. What’s most unique about Kings Quest VI is that you can either speed your way through it or take a longer path through the narrative to obtain the best possible ending. While the game ultimately concludes with Alexander and Cassima’s wedding, the ceremony can either have a sparse amount of guests or be a large, joyous event attended by both their families.
1) Heavy Rain (spoiler alert) – Heavy Rain is a dramatic mystery game that largely revolves around Ethan Mars, a father desperately racing against time after his son is abducted by a serial murderer known as the Origami Killer. The game also follows three other characters–journalist Madison, FBI agent Nathan, and P.I. Scott–investigating the killer and their crimes. What I like most about Heavy Rain is that there are dozens of ways in which it can end based on the actions of its four leading characters. There is even a scenario where the killer survives and escapes justice. Heavy Rain offers so much variety with each playthrough that I wish there were more video games like it.
While I love video games in general, the ones that offer flexibility in their story-telling definitely make me want to play through them multiple times. I do wish there were more games out there that let you choose your own adventure, but I am satisfied with what’s out there for now.