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Stories in games can be good. They should be good. But this list isn’t about the whole – grand scale, interwoven plot threads or dramatic storytelling – this list just about the words that carry the tale.

It’s also worth mentioning this isn’t too definite a top 5 and might be more of a list of games with writing that I personally liked. With that bit of criticism nullification swiftly out of the way, let’s get on with the list!

5. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted 2 was praised for it’s funny, charming, Whedon-esque dialogue. Unfortunately, as is the nature of the polished “summer blockbuster” style, it doesn’t provoke much thought or emotional response. It does provide enjoyable exposition and likeable characters, however.

This exchange between Nathan Drake and a female companion is mainly what earned it a place on the list:

“So, on a scale on one to ten – how scared were you that I was gonna die?”
“Four.”
“Four?!”
“Yeah, why?”
“A four?”
“Yeah.”
“You were at least an eight.”
“An eight?”
“You were a total eight.”
“An eight? Those Guardian things were an eight.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Yeah, those were terrifying.”
“Then what’s a ten?”
“Clowns.”
“…Clowns over my death?”
“I, I hate clowns.”
“Clowns?”
“I hate clowns.”
“Oh my word. You thought I was dead.”
“No…”
“No, you thought I was gone.”
“No…”
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I had you all along.”
“I saw you shed tears. You shed a bunch of ‘em.”
“Tears?”
“Um-hmm.”
“It was raining.”
“No it was not.”
“You were unconscious and it was raining.”
“It was totally sunny out and you were bawling.”
“It wasn’t sunny and you were unconscious.”
“Whatever, I kept your tears in a jar. I have proof.”
“…I’ll give you a five, how’s that?”

4. Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto has always had humour and absurdity in the dialogue. No one who’s played the games can say they’ve never enjoyed the radio stations or general satire on western culture.

Here’s a typically beautiful exchange between Niko and Roman:

“I don’t want to die, man! Not like this!”
“How would you like to die?”
“Having a threesome on my hundredth birthday? I don’t fucking know, you cold bastard!”

But Grand Theft Auto IV showed that the writers could handle more serious matters pretty well too. A lot of Niko quotes could apply here, but here’s two that sum that up without the need for 20 hours of context:

Ileyna: He did not used to be like this. When we were young, at home, he was beautiful. He was happy. He made me happy. But then something changed. Years ago. I never quite knew what it was. So many years I wondered what it was, or what was wrong with me that I did not see it in him, or I changed him.
Niko: Life is complicated. I…I never thought I’d live like this.
Ileyna: No?
Niko: When the war came, I did bad things, but after the war I thought nothing of doing bad things. I killed people, smuggled people, sold people.
Ileyna: And you don’t worry about your soul?
Niko: After you walk into a village and you see fifty children, all sitting neatly in a row, against a church wall, each with their throats cut and their hands chopped off, you realize that the creature that could do this doesn’t have a soul.
Ileyna: God is very complicated. You mustn’t give up hope.
Niko: Well, I don’t know about that.

Niko:
“War is where the young and stupid are tricked by the old and bitter into killing each other.”

The majority of the dialogue in any GTA is the protagonist dealing with assorted criminals in a Tarantino meets The Wire kind of way. It’s a unique and enjoyable touch that helped make Rockstar the kings of crime games.

It’s worth noting that the quality applies across the entire Grand Theft Auto IV  trilogy, and that Red Dead Redemption matches up too.

3. Vagrant Story

A game famous for it’s articulate and quote-worthy writing. It isn’t too flowery and isn’t purple prose unlike the sudden faux-Shakespearean shift midway through Final Fantasy XII.

Every line says something about the story or the characters. From Ashley’s “I am the reinforcements” straight talk to Guildenstern’s eloquence, Rosencrantz’ riddles or Sydney’s omniscient words.

The opening quote (that is a fictional quote from the world of Ivalice) technically isn’t dialogue but it sets a tone and is frankly just mandatory if we’re talking Vagrant Story quotes:

“The body is but a vessel for the soul, a puppet which bends to the soul’s tyranny. And lo, the body is not eternal, for it must feed on the flesh of others, lest it return to the dust from whence it came. Therefore must the soul deceive, despise and murder men.”

Here’s an actual conversation, for good measure:

“Where did he go?”
“Through the wood, he says. You will follow him?”
“I must avenge the foul murder of my brother, Duane.”
“Of course you must. But be wary, your foe is strong.”
“God is stronger.”

Here’s a few unrelated examples of Sydney’s very quotable lines:

“Warping the minds of men and shepherding the masses has always been your church’s domain. You lure sheep with empty miracles and a dead god.”

“Yet mark your savior well, for he is one of the demons that you so fear.”

“In my dreams, I see an evil tyrant’s hands, which would choke the world. And he is the only one blind to his own folly.”

“A tyrant always dies alone, Guildenstern. Surrounded by silver-tongued leeches, he is utterly alone. He sows sorrow and reaps death.”

Finally, this is a personal favourite from when, to buy time for his partner’s escape, huge knight Tieger faces off against his now undead comrade in the collapsing Undercity:

“Now the slowest dance begins, partner! …’Tis a fine tomb we shall share!”

2. Metal Gear Solid

No, seriously. Not the series. Just the original Metal Gear Solid. With the writing and voice acting, even barely animated character portraits could convey a surprising amount of emotion. Let’s take a look at a pretty important piece of story told purely in the codec screen:

Snake: Naomi, please talk to me. Say something to take my mind off the pain.
Naomi: What can I say?
Snake: Anything.
Naomi: I…I’m not a very good talker.
Snake: Please…Tell me about yourself.
Naomi: Myself? That’s a tough one…
Snake: Any family?
Naomi: (Sigh) That’s not a very happy topic for me.
Snake: I don’t have any family. No wait, there was a man who said he was my father…
Naomi: Where is he?
Snake: Dead. By my own hand.
Campbell: Big Boss.
Naomi: What!? Big Boss!? I had no idea.
Campbell: There was no way you could. It happened in Zanzibar 6 years ago. Only Snake and I know the real truth of what happened there.
Naomi: So, is it true? Was Big Boss really your father?
Snake: That’s what he said. That’s all I know.
Naomi: And you were able to kill him, knowing that?
Snake: Yup.
Naomi: …How?
Snake: He wanted it. Besides, some people just need killing.
Naomi: That’s patricide.
Snake: Yup.

Notice the interaction and pure character in each line? Could you even imagine anything like that in any recent Metal Gear Solid game?

Here’s some more random quotes that strike a very unique tone compared to the sequels:

Solid Snake:
“Unfortunately, killing is just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it.”

Revolver Ocelot:
“We live in a sad age. Imperialism, totalitarianism, perestroika… 20th century Russia had its share of problems, but at least they had an ideology. Russia today has nothing. They’re struggling between freedom and order. And with that struggle, a new spirit of nationalism has been born.”

Sniper Wolf:
“I watched the brutality…The stupidity of mankind through the scope of my rifle.”

Gray Fox:
“Snake. We’re not tools of the government, or anyone else! Fighting was the only thing…The only thing I was good at, but…At least I always fought for what I believed in.”

Liquid Snake:
“Foolish man. He prayed for death, and it found him. You see, Snake? You can’t protect anyone, not even yourself!”

A lot of this is probably down to the translation by Jeremy Blaustein (re: Shadow Hearts), who wasn’t hired for any of the other games in the series, explaining their ‘off’ feel.

Although you can’t help but wonder if series creator Hideo Kojima is partly responsible for the worse dialogue later on in the series. Try contrasting this sometimes flirty and very human Solid Snake with the robotic protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4.

Here’s two snappy exchanges between Snake and Meryl as one final example of the dialogue:

“Okay, let me try to say this another way…Stay the hell out of my way.”
“You’re a real bastard…Just like my uncle said.”
“Ha, I told you. The real me is no match for the legend.”
“It looks like you were right.”

“You’ll just slow me down. You don’t have enough battle experience.”
“I won’t slow you down. I promise…”
“And what if you do?”
“Then you can shoot me.”
“I don’t like to waste bullets.”

1. Grim Fandango

Every line in the noir/comedy/adventure Grim Fandango crackles with style. Almost every sentence seems like it was masterfully engineered to be clasy, smart and funny. Naturally, all packed in a very original world from the brain of Tim Schafer.

Here’s some one liners from protagonist Manuel “Manny” Calavera:

“My scythe… I like to keep it next to where my heart used to be. “

“This deck of cards is a little frayed around the edges, but then again so am I and I’ve got fewer suits… “

“I just locked an open door…Strange, yet symbolically compelling.”

“As a rule, I never touch anything more sophisticated and delicate than myself.”

“He doesn’t even HIDE his booze in a file cabinet. What kind of salesman is he?”

“Bound only by the paper-thin wrapper of mortality, a soul here lies, struggling to be free. And so it shall, thanks to a bowl of bad gazpacho, and a man named… Calavera.”

“You know, sweetheart, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: nobody knows what’s gonna happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip. “

Two exchanges between Manny and Eva:

“Could I take your hole punch?”
“Ha! I doubt you could take my HALF punch.”

“Well, I gotta go hit the bricks.”
“Okay. You go show those bricks a lesson.”

Of course it has a more serious side:

Manny and Meché:
“Buenos días.”
“You’re not the nurse.”
“No.”
“You’re not here to give me my medication?”
“No, but I am here to ease your pain.”
“Guess they couldn’t save me, eh?”
“No, but there’s still a chance you could save me.”

Salvador Limones and Manny:
“Manuel? Are you… in love with her?”
“Love? Love is for the living, Sal. I’m only after her for one reason…She’s my ticket out of here.”

Membrillo at the morgue:
All day long, Manny, I sort through pure sadness. I find evidence, and I piece together stories. But none of my stories end well – they all end here. And the moral of every story is the same: we may have years, we may have hours, but sooner of later, we push up flowers.

And finally there’s Manny and the beatniks:

“So what did you think of my poem?”
“I liked it. It was sad and beautiful, like my mother.”
“I despised it. It was too short and said nothing to me, like my father.”
“I had no feelings about it. It was aloof and licked itself too much, like my cat, Mr. Trotsky.”

Credit for most of these quotes goes to IMDB and Gamefaqs. Perusing them for these games was like a trip down memory lane. In a jetpack.

Maybe you should check out some quotes from your favourite games and let us know what games you think had the best dialogue.

8 Comments

  1. Haven’t played Grim Fandango or Uncharted 2, but I have to strongly disagree with your pick of GTA IV. I constantly felt like conversations in the game existed so people could say “fuck” or “feckin’”, and they always ended the same way, with Niko asking how much money would he get for doing this job.

    • How odd. A lot of people said they got unusually attached to the morally bankrupt criminals Niko pals around with.
      Did you complete the game, by the way?

      It can be formulaic, but I think it’s still fun to see colourful, drug-addicted over the top psychos met by Niko’s sheer cynicism.

  2. I love this blog.

  3. I’m appalled by the lack of Mass Effect/2 in your list, but of the games I’ve played that are on it, I think you’re pretty much spot on. I haven’t played Grim Fandango, so personally I would’ve put MGS’ dialogue in first place.

    It makes me sad that this is the last post, it’s been a good run. I’ve enjoyed just about all of it. Find a way to get paid for doing nothing and write more articles ;D

    • Bioware games were ruled out of the list because the sheer amount of dialogue in those games means the dialogue becomes a very mixed bag with cliché slipping in. It’s sadly unavoidable with that volume of wordfulness.

      And thanks for the kind words!

  4. Dude! Dudee! DUUUUUDE!

    FF12 had some of the best dialog ever! The “faux Shakespearan” was spoken by the elite class (Ashe, Vayne,etc) only Vaan and other “commoners” spoke plain english. Alxendar O Smith, the same guy who did Vagrant Story did that translation as well. He’s great!

  5. blasphemy… Uncharted 2 takes it. But I do agree with the rest.

  6. What universe do you live in where those MGS quotes count as well-written dialogue?


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