Nintendo is making some of the best video game stories around. That’s right — I said it. And it’s a damn shame the company is often overlooked in this category. Not many people go to Nintendo platforms for a deep, thought-provoking narrative experience. But they do exist on Nintendo hardware, and Nintendo itself is behind them. While a lot of Nintendo’s core franchises like Mario, Animal Crossing, and Pokémon aren’t pushing the envelope in terms of storytelling in any way, other, more niche series like Xenoblade Chronicles and Fire Emblem are.
Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem: Three Houses isn’t only my 2019 game of the year, but it’s my favorite Nintendo Switch game of all time. And as much as I enjoyed the turn-based combat, that’s not why I fell in love with the game. Fire Emblem: Three Houses tells an epic tale of three differing factions at odds with each other in the land of Fódlan. The game is a journey of self-discovery with main character Byleth, but there are also dynamic relationships and heartbreaking twists along the way. Even the quieter moments between characters are expertly written.
There’s nothing quite like a story that catches you completely off guard, and that’s exactly what Fire Emblem: Three Houses did to me as a best-in-class Nintendo game. I can’t recommend the game enough, even if it’s outside your wheelhouse. However, that’s not the only epic JRPG franchise with lovable characters and a riveting story Nintendo is responsible for though.
I have fallen in love with Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles series over the past two years, starting with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. In a standalone story, Rex, an orphaned salvager, gets way in over his head with a job that leads to an adventure of epic proportions. While the main story is quite a ride, the characters are actually my favorite aspect of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Pyra, Mythra, Mia, Tora, and many more have interesting backstories and funny quirks about them that make for a deeply entertaining journey.
Then last year, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition hit Nintendo Switch, and I loved it just as much as XC2. Shulk embarks on a revenge quest that inevitably leads to unraveling greater mysteries and threats on the Bionis. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition shouldn’t go un-played either.
It’s easy for people to write off Fire Emblem and Xenoblade Chronicles — or JRPGs in general. It definitely happens in gaming media. Fire Emblem: Three Houses barely made it into the strategy category at Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards, despite being one of the highest-rated games of the year.
To me, it seems like Nintendo is aiming to become more than just a “family-friendly” company. It has that whole market on lock at this point, and it makes it look easy. So it makes sense that in recent years the company is starting to market its mature and/or story-focused franchises like never before.
To close out this discussion of Nintendo publishing some of the best video game stories around, I’d also like to give a shout-out to two more games, Astral Chain and Metroid Dread. Astral Chain’s world is fascinating, and the story told within it kept me engaged until the end. Meanwhile, Metroid Dread capped off the 2D game storyline and managed to give Samus more personality than any other protagonist this year — and with only a few lines of dialogue from her. It’s an impressive feat. It’s also good to note that Astral Chain and Dread are two of the best experiences on Nintendo Switch.
I think people are sleeping on the stories in these key games / franchises from Nintendo. I believe Nintendo is telling some of the best narratives in video games. But what do you think? Have you played Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Xenoblade Chronicles, or any of these other narrative-heavy Nintendo experiences? Let us know in the comments below!