Top 10 Narrative-driven Anime Games [Best Recommendations]

There’s truly nothing more exciting, more gratifying than playing a game with a powerful narrative. While the gameplay surely has its perks and exciting moments, it certainly wouldn’t be complete without a strong story behind it all. The moment you’re immersed in a story you’re simply glued to it, almost as if you’ve become a part of it all and are right there alongside the protagonist. Wherever the narrative takes you, it’s surely going to be a promising adventure because everything is so concrete in detail and laid out beautifully. Action packed games like Bayonetta from PlatinumGames take you on a wild adventure, with a story that flows seamlessly and synergizes well with the gameplay. Or the more emotionally gripping Kingdom Hearts series where you’re just pulled in by all of character relationships, and coming to know Sora’s backstory.

10. Digital Devil Saga 2

  • System/Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Developer: Atlus
  • Release Date: January 27, 2005

Before we all came to know the popular Persona franchise by its name, there was the Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga series that took the world by storm. Digital Devil Saga 2 is a spin off of the main Megami Tensei series and the story follows the Embryon, who must now band together to fend off the sinister Karma Society, who are linked to the major disaster that happened prior. It continues from where the original Digital Devil Saga left off, and now you’ll need to figure out how to solve the problem.

Digital Devil Saga 2 during its release felt very invigorating, and created a new universe for us to run through. The turn based RPG style brought back some feelings of nostalgia, while the diverse cast of characters you run into made the story all the more thrilling. While Persona has taken the spotlight as the posterchild for Atlus, we simply can’t forget the impact Digital Devil Saga 2 had on us and perhaps the anime gaming industry as a whole.


9. Mega Man Legends

  • System/Platform: Multi Platform
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: December 18, 1997

Mega Man has been a global icon since the late 80’s when Mega Man 2 released on the NES, and to this day the Blue Bomber continues to shine on in style. While we sit here and pray that Inafune can make up for the mess that was Mighty No. 9, we can look back at some of the more prominent titles in his pretty solid portfolio of stellar Mega Man titles that left a lasting impression on us. Mega Man Legends was one of those games that came in a nicely wrapped package and you knew that once you opened it, you’d be immediately excited and couldn’t wait to dive in.

Mega Man Legends features a robust story that follows MegaMan Volnutt, who’s a digger and archeologist that searches underground for Quantum Refractors which are the heart and soul of his civilization. Unfortunately trouble is a brewing as pirates known as Bonnes are about to enter the picture, and now Volnutt has to put a stop to them before they ruin the town. While the story may sound somewhat bland on paper, it doesn’t truly do the game any justice and really requires you to pick it up and experience it for yourself. Mega Man Legends is one of the few Mega Man titles that takes on a 3D visual, along with a humorous story that will keep you entertained for hours.


8. Dragon Quest VIII

  • System/Platform: Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 2, iOS, Android
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Level-5 | Armor Project
  • Release Date: November 27, 2004

Square Enix just seems to be dominating our list, but that should come as no surprise because they’ve been in the industry long enough to know how to create a title that sells. Dragon Quest is Japan’s biggest RPG title, with Final Fantasy and the Tales series following right behind it. Final Fantasy seems to generate more interest in the west more than in Japan, but we shouldn’t take anything away from the title. Perhaps the main reason why Dragon Quest performs so well is because the art style is stellar and the story reflects that of Japanese culture. Lets not forget Akira Toriyama who’s the one behind all of the amazing character designs, that in itself is what makes Dragon Quest so strong.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King made its way to the PlayStation 2 back in 2004, and featured new improvements to the visual appeal of the time such as branching into a 3D environment. Past iterations of the series had focused on the more traditional 2D aspects but VIII managed to truly create not only a visually appealing world, but an amazing story to go along with it. Dragon Quest titles have always been about saving the kingdom from ruin, but while that may sound cliche to some, somehow it syncs perfectly with Toriyama’s style and creates a wonderful setting.


7. Persona 4

  • System/Platform: PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 2
  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Developer: Atlus
  • Release Date: July 10, 2008

Persona is a series that exploded in popularity all due to the success of the Digital Devil Saga that came before it, and simply created a more refined storyline for everyone to enjoy. In Persona 4, you play as a male protagonist who moves to the countryside for a year and lives with his uncle. During his stay he becomes involved in a large list of mysterious murders that have been popping up in the area, and must now harness the power of his Persona to solve them before widespread panic occurs.

Much of Persona 4’s story actually takes inspiration from murder mystery novelists, and the creators wanted to design a world that allowed you to sympathize with the townspeople within the game. This sheer attention to detail is why Persona deserves a lot of credit, because Atlus goes out of their way to make a title that not only relates to everyone who plays it, but doesn’t come off contrived in any way. The story never felt stale because every new encounter you met would just add more elements to the story, while the gameplay itself kept you glued to your seat for hours on end.


6. Chrono Trigger

  • System/Platform: Super Nintendo, Nintendo DS, iOS, Android
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Release Date: March 11, 1995

Chrono Trigger may be old by today’s standards, but its story stands the tests of time and is widely considered to be one of the best games ever created. Square Enix really knows how to put on a show and with Chrono Trigger that show is absolutely entertaining and mind blowingly exciting. The minute you dive into the game you’re immediately thrown into the action as you work with a large group of devoted allies who are all out to prevent a global catastrophe from taking place.

The dialogue grips you as you slowly get to know more about the backstory, and the characters that play a major role to the main plot. There’s just so much to dive into when it comes to Chrono Trigger that often times you find yourself slowing down just to make sure you didn’t miss out on anything. It’s so finely crafted that despite its outdated state, you could go back and switch on your Super Nintendo at anytime and feel that nostalgia kick in. Chrono Trigger is one of those titles that ages well like fine wine and the more you let it sit and soak in the flavor, the more delicious it will taste in the end. If you haven’t managed to play this classic title, be sure to grab it now because it’s one Square Enix title you don’t want to miss out on.


5. Mother 3

  • System/Platform: Game Boy Advance
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: HAL Laboratory | Brownie Brown
  • Release Date: April 20, 2006

The Mother series, otherwise known as Earthbound in the west, takes players on this crazy emotional ride with a story that deserves praise and gameplay that’s timeless. In Mother 3, which is the final game in the popular series written by Shigesato Itoi, you play as Lucas who must fight alongside his friends to prevent a mysterious army from destroying and terrorizing the world.

What makes Mother 3 such a monumental title in the series is that it’s the final chapter that pieces everything together from its past iterations, and leaves you wondering what could potentially happen next if it were to be rebooted. Mother 3 in a way reminds us of the evils that are currently being dealt with in our modern day society and if we can’t put an end to it, all of humanity will be bereft of freedom and peace. That’s what makes this game so enriching and memorable, the fact that so much of it feels real and deep down inside your soul you too want these psychic powers to restore balance in this corrupt world.


4. Kingdom Hearts 2

  • System/Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Release Date: December 22, 2005

Much like Key and 5pb, Square Enix is up there in the upper echelon of narrative driven titles and still continues to throw out heavy hitters every year. Much like their popular Final Fantasy series, Kingdom Hearts surely takes your heart to a kingdom that’s emotionally satisfying and full of breathtaking adventures. You star as Sora, who must work together alongside Goofy, Donald and other Disney characters to put a stop to the evil Organization XII and the nobodies.

So many people are so passionate about this game that many are desperately waiting for the third installment to come out. When that will happen is still up in the air, but Kingdom Hearts 2.8 is here and will have to suffice for the time being. Be that as it may, hardcore fans of the series will have plenty of play time with 2.8 and perhaps it will provide more details to the story, while hopefully generating some interest in players who haven’t played the series at all. Kingdom Hearts is a title that really speaks to everyone regardless of gender or age, and that’s exactly how stories should be made.


3. Final Fantasy X

  • System/Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Release Date: July 19, 2001

Final Fantasy as a whole is a series that will go down in history as having some of the strongest narrative in the industry, and there’s no denying that. What makes Final Fantasy so riveting is that it never feels the same and you’re always greeted with something new every time. Unlike other games that tend to drag the story along and strip away the importance of the entire premise, Final Fantasy ensures players that everything is under control and that the narrative stays fluid.

Final Fantasy X had such a deep and emotionally impactful story along with a strong cast of characters to help refine it even more. You work alongside these group of courageous individuals who are all out to stop the evil Sin that’s on a rampage and out to destroy whatever it desires. Tidus and Yuna are such a beautiful pair and as you progress further into the story, you can honestly feel their emotional bond grow stronger every step of the way. The ending is where it all hits you in the soul pretty hard, but that’s exactly what a story should do is to leave a lasting impression that sticks with you for all eternity.


2. Steins;Gate 0

  • System/Platform: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Windows
  • Publisher: 5pb.
  • Developer: 5pb. | Nitroplus
  • Release Date: December 10, 2015

There’s no arguing that the Steins;Gate series has done a splendid job of creating a silky smooth narrative, while also allowing us to enjoy the adventure that comes along with it. Steins;Gate 0 is the more recent title from 5pb and Nitroplus, who’ve been well known in the anime gaming industry for creating some of the best narrative driven titles out there. Steins;Gate 0 is no exception and delivers with an impactful story that is relatable and characters that feel very fleshed out. You play as Rintaro who works alongside the Future Gadget Lab team in order to get closer to Steins;Gate, but to also save the world from ruin.

If you’d like to know more about Steins;Gate 0, be sure to check out our detailed review in the gaming section of our site for more. We can’t help but mention that while the narrative in Steins;Gate 0 is spot on, the game is visually pleasing as well. As you play through the game trying to uncover clues and help save the world, you can’t help but stare at all the fine details that are carefully placed throughout the game to give players a closer look at Japan’s evolving culture. 5pb and Nitroplus did an awesome job of ensuring the cultural integrity stays in place, while still providing a nice adventure to go along with it.


1. Clannad

  • System/Platform: Multi Platform
  • Publisher: Visual Arts
  • Developer: Key
  • Release Date: April 28, 2004 [JP] | November 23, 2015

Key and Visual Arts really know how to bring tears to your eyes when it comes creating a strong narrative, and Clannad is perhaps the one game that really tugs at your heartstrings. Clannad looks at the rough life of Tomoya, who just couldn’t seem to get his life together but that all seemed to change when he started coming across different girls at his school. It’s through these interactions that Tomoya begins to slowly understand himself and his purpose in life, along with getting to know the emotional backstory behind each girl he encounters.

While there are some moments of laughter and perverse actions from Tomoya’s point of view, Clannad’s story is carefully woven into a silky fabric that just caresses you in the right way, evoking every emotion possible out of you leaving no room for error. Your immediate response after playing this game is more than just a mere celebration of completion, but rather more of a time of self reflection because this game truly speaks to you on so many levels pertaining to human nature, that you can’t help but question your own beliefs after it all.


Final Thoughts

We just love games that follow a strong narrative because you know that you’re getting your money’s worth 100% of the time. While the gameplay surely helps to create a solid structure, the story is where it all begins and certainly where it all finishes. There’s just so many titles out there to mention but if we had to choose a few off the top there’s Shenmue 2, The World Ends With You, Tales of Symphonia, Shadow of the Colossus, ICO, and Skies of Arcadia. Let us know which story struck a chord with you and leave your list in the comments section down below. Be sure also to share, like, and tweet our articles to your friends to keep the community buzzing!

As always, if you want to know about all the latest buzz straight from the bee’s nest in Japan, be sure to keep it locked here at Honey’s Anime.

Rob

Writer

Author: Rob "NualphaJPN" B.

A passionate fan of gaming, anime, and philosophy. I do lots of graphic design, and stream a lot of games on twitch. I play fighting games competitively, as well as hearthstone. I've lived in Japan for 4 years now and consider this place to be my permanent home. I love ramen, and various types of Japanese style cuisine. Leave a comment if you enjoy my articles! Take care!

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