Not Every Game Needs a Story
Can you imagine if Tetris had a story to it? That’d be ridiculous! There doesn’t need to be a reason why blocks are falling from the sky and why it’s important to stack them into rows. Any kind of narrative would just be out of place, as it is in so many other puzzle games that attempt to give meaning to the experience. A recent example that comes to mind is Raskulls, whose cutscenes tried too hard to be funny and broke up what I was ultimately wanting to accomplish: to play a game and have fun.
Back in the NES days, a lot of games just plopped you right into the adventure and said, “You’re smart. You’ll figure out what’s going on.” Super Mario Bros., Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda are all good examples of this, and they didn’t suffer any from not setting up the story beforehand or making you periodically sit through cutscenes. Of course, later additions to these franchises have since beefed up their stories considerably, but who, honestly, cares about the story in a Nintendo game?
Running through a platformer or gunning through a shooter are their own reward. I don’t need a story to justify my actions, because my actions (assuming that the game is good) are already fun. If I’m playing a game purely for the story, then I’m doing it wrong. I could spend two hours watching a movie or reading a book and get a much better story than I could by investing twenty hours into a game. I can’t think of a single game whose story was so good, it eclipsed everything I’ve seen from other mediums.
You could argue that, because video games are interactive, the story is more personalized. I don’t see it that way. Unless it is a very dynamic story with a lot of possible outcomes, all I’ve done is a bunch of busywork so the game can continue telling me the story it wants to tell. That doesn’t mean I don’t get attached to any of the characters along the way, though. Whenever I play a Final Fantasy game, I’m always sad to see someone leave my party. But it’s not the cutscenes that make me care about the people. If anything, Final Fantasy cutscenes make me hate them. It’s tweaking their skills and watching them kick ass in battle that forms this bond.
The thought of a story-less RPG is probably rather unappealing, though (unless you’re a fan of traditional Western RPGs, but then who is anymore?). While a solid battle system can compensate for a weak story, an RPG still needs a purpose. I’m not suggesting stories should be taken out of games completely, but there are definitely some genres that warrant them more than others. And it would be nice if game designers would stop wasting their efforts on putting in stories where they’re not needed, if they’d use that time to make the game more fun instead of trying to win an Oscar for best screenplay.