Are you interested in playing some of the best story based indie games? Well guess what, y’all? So are we!
Story focused video games are some of my favorite.
I mean, not all video games need to have a deep message or elaborate story to be valuable entertainment. But when they do, man is it an incredible experience.
Video games are a unique medium of entertainment that stands on its own.
Like films and music, it can emote a wide variety of emotional responses… excitement, fear, sympathy, joy.
And I happen to be drawn to video games that do more than straight forward entertainment. I love it when a video game can make me feel something.
I recently had a request from a friend to suggest a handful of indie games on Steam that have good storytelling behind them. Apparently, my guy Vitor trusts my tastes in games. And I happen to agree with him… I do have pretty good tastes in games. 🙂
So I am happy to step up to the task of vetting some of the best story based indie games out there (In this case, those that can be snagged on the Steam store).
These are in no particular order, cause I’m an anarchist.
Oxenfree is a “supernatural teen thriller” by Night School Studio that was released in 2016.
This indie gem has some of the coolest game art, great music and sound design, and of course… some incredible storytelling.
This unique tale is full of quirky teen dialogue, mysterious supernatural phenomena, and a fun journey into the unknown that has a wonderful payoff in the end.
Game play is low challenge and just lets the players move through the wonderfully crafted experience without major difficulty roadblocks.
It’s a fun game that is a joy to look at and it gets progressively more strange as you go along.
For fans of Stranger Things.
With the sequel Oxenfree II: Lost Signals on its way later this year, it is a great time to experience the incredible storytelling of Oxenfree.
Inside is one of my favorite games of all time… one that I recommend every chance I get.
And it is a game that has an incredible story without doing any form of traditional storytelling at all.
You experience the truly unique story by doing just that… experiencing.
No dialogue. No reading. Just go and live it.
We can’t promise you will understand it. Or survive it. But it will be worth your effort to try.
Inside takes a young boy through a series of unnerving events that will coalesce at one of the most unexpected finales you will ever see.
And it’s one of those games that never tries to explain itself for the sake of the player.
I can promise that every challenge in this puzzle-platformer will be worth your effort, and the reward is huge.
I never fail to mention Inside in any conversation about “bests”, and this list will be no different.
One of the best story based indie games and it is available on most platforms.
The awesome team behind Inside have moved on to create several of their own indie studios and games, including the upcoming title Somerville, which we mentioned on our list of the 10 Best Upcoming Indie Games.
Portal 2 (2011)
Talk about a freakin classic.
One of the cool things about the Steam store is that it is a huge repository of video games from the past.
And if I made a top 100 of all time list, there’s one game that would for sure be near the top… and it’s Portal 2.
The Portal series was pretty ground breaking at the time of its release and focus on first-person perspective puzzle solving with some awesome graphics.
Both games in the series are incredible, but I think it was in the second title where they really got it perfect. Improved graphics, better puzzles, and the character and storytelling really shined.
Portal 2 packs some of the best storytelling and presents it in a unique way as you progress through the game. That is one of the best parts of the experience: the way they present the story through the game play.
I kinda forgot about the “indie” part when I picked this one. It was developed by a AAA studio. But because it’s now a few years old, it is going for indie prices. So I will let this be my one exception.
The Portal: Companion Collection just came out on Nintendo Switch for $19.99, or you can grab the games one at a time on the Steam store for $9.99 and play them on your personal computer.
The choice is yours, but don’t miss out on this classic game franchise if you have yet to experience it.
Disco Elysium – The Final Cut (2019)
Disco Elysium will surely be one of the most unique games on this list in terms of game play style.
Created by novelist/musician/video game designer Robert Kurvitz… Disco Elysium is a role-playing game that has a strong focus on story and dialogue.
There is no traditional combat here. You can literally talk your way out of trouble.
“The Final Cut” rounds out the experience with full voice acting and an expansion on game content, making this the definitive experience for this instant-classic.
The game won a ton of awards for its incredible art and storytelling, and is even being developed into a television series. So that tells you a lot about the quality of story here.
Disco Elysium has been received with almost universal praise and love.
So this is gonna be an easy recommendation for anybody looking for a great indie game with a focus on story. And it’s available on Steam right now for both Windows and MacOS.
Her Story (2015)
Your task in Her Story is simple… learn the story of a woman as told entirely through her interview footage in the police archives.
Game “play” is the very realistic experience of sitting at a workstation and browsing the hundreds of short clips that are categorized by keywords.
There is no particular order at which you will view these clips, and you can start to piece the puzzle together however you stumble across the details yourself.
The game could be described as interactive investigation, fiction, or experimental. But above all, it is a game about listening, learning, and not jumping to conclusions.
Firewatch is a first-person experience that puts you in the shoes of a lone ranger in a national park.
This game mixes chill & casual exploration with clever & impactful storytelling through your conversations with the person on the other end of your two-way radio.
The visuals are beautiful, the voice acting is great, and the payoff as you progress through the story is well worth the effort.
This is a perfect example of an indie team making the most out of their available resources to deliver a high quality game.
Where the game lacks in overall length, it more than makes up for in beauty and intrigue.
Firewatch won the Best Narrative award at the 2017 Game Developers Choice Awards, so that should give you some indication of the level of storytelling going on here. Top of the line.
I highly recommend this game play experience to anybody seeking a great story.
What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)
Anytime a game is produced by Annapurna Interactive, there’s a good chance you got a cool story ahead. Annapurna Pictures (the game studio’s parent company) is responsible for some of the coolest indie films, so they know a thing or two about storytelling.
As told from the perspective of Edith Finch’s life experiences… we literally can jump through time and space into those events and start to unravel this unique tale.
It is a short game play experience that can be complete in about the time it would take to watch one of Annapurna’s films.
But it packs in a ton of unique game play in that short time, delivering varied game play mechanics and game genres as you learn about each member of Edith’s “cursed” family.
This is a prime example of a relatively new lane in video gaming… interactive cinematic storytelling. And a perfect addition to this list of story based indie games.
Life Is Strange (2015)
Life Is Strange is a game franchise that may now be considered mainstream. But at one point, it was a mysterious episodic game experience by the indie studio Dontnod Entertainment.
Life Is Strange (the first series) was delivered in 5 episodes, with a beautiful story that focuses on a female protagonist with supernatural powers.
Like with Firewatch, the small indie team behind Life Is Strange made the most of what was available to them and placed emphasis on strong storytelling and voice acting.
The story behind Life Is Strange touches on some pretty serious topics, so it was important that it was wrapped in one of the most beautiful, thoughtful package possible.
At the time of its release, Life Is Strange was described as “one of the best interactive story games of this generation” by Eurogamer, and received over 75 Game of the Year award nominations.
It won the best Story award at the BAFTA Games Awards of 2016.
Like Disco Elysium, Life Is Strange is possibly going to be turned into a television series. So again.. further proof of the quality of the story here.
Another wonderful addition to this list of story based indie games, and one not to be missed.
Soma is a game that will surprise you if you take the time to play it in its entirety.
Not that I had any hesitation in doing so once I started it.
This first-person horror title will start out like others in the genre…
Mysterious circumstances. Deadly consequences around every dark corner.
But as you start to unravel the intricate story that is at the heart of this incredible game, you will realize just how special of an experience this will be.
It’s one of those that you just have to play to really understand (aren’t they all?), but really… this is one of the most impactful gaming experiences I have ever had.
The story is truly unique, full of rich detail, and actually had me playing for hours at a time late into the night because I absolutely had to find out what came next.
I promise it’s a game you will love if you are okay with your stories being wrapped in a sci-fi horror package.
You will race to the ending to know what happens, and then immediately wish you could play it again for the first time. The sign of a great game.
An easy addition on any “best” games list for me, especially for a list about the best story based indie games.
Eastward is a game I will bring up in conversation any chance I get. It is one of my favorite games in recent years, and I will tell ya why…
It’s not because it has the best game play I have ever experienced (it doesn’t), and it is not because it has some of most beautiful pixel art I’ve ever seen (it does, obvious winner on my list of the 15 Best Pixel Art Games)…
But what makes Eastward so special is one very important thing: character.
I am talking about character as in the charm in the storytelling and in the actual characters of that story.
Eastward has some of the most lovable characters in any game I have ever experienced, and the game is absolutely overflowing with them.
Game play will have you taking control of two main characters. The supporting cast is another ten or so characters. And the amount of additional NPCs is probably another one hundred.
Each character has their own beautiful pixel art design, individual personalities, and quirky dialogue to interact with.
The amount of care that went into every detail of this game truly shows, and the storytelling is no exception.
With nearly 50 hours of game play available (around 30 on average), that’s a ton of content for an indie game by a small studio and an indie game price tag.
Since its release, I’ve gotten a ton of messages along the lines of “I hear you talk about Eastward a lot, I’m gonna check it out, but I’m waiting for ______________.”
Well I’m here to tell you to stop waiting. It’s now available in digital and physical. And at about $25, it isn’t gonna hurt your bank account. So no good excuses left.
Anthony has been a video game lover ever since he can remember. He became a fulltime nomad in 2018, living throughout most of Asia. He focused his passion in retro gaming and began creating a game for the Game Boy Color while living in Nara, Japan during the 2020 pandemic. He is now in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he spends most of his time gaming, going on long walks and meeting as many stray dogs as possible.