On the best games of generation 7, part 2: Digital, Journey, 999

And here begins the list

5.  Digital: A Love Story

Digital is a free PC visual novel created by notable indie game designer, Christine Love.  The game is set 5 minutes in to the future of 1988 and you assume the role of an adolescent who has just received a new Amie (based on the Amiga) Workbench PC.  You are given a BBS number to access with your 14k modem and that sets off a story of love, sentient AIs, hacking the Gibson, and a lot of other early internet goodness.  The gameplay largely involves dialing in to various BBSes, reading and responding to messages, and cracking systems.  Through all of this, the player meets several characters and becomes involved in a fairly simple, but engaging love story that early internet users are sure to enjoy.

Digital is, in my opinion, of the most successful experiments in melding game play and linear storytelling in Generation 7.  While the mechanics not particularly challenging or complex, they feel natural, and deeply connected to the story that Love is trying to tell.  There is nothing in Digital that happens outside the game’s narrative — the Amie interface is what the player uses to interact with everything in the game’s world, and there is no view on the story that the player can have aside from the interface and the BBS services they connect to.  The only aspect of the game that breaks this is that the player is not capable of actually writing responses to messages and is limited only to hitting a reply button.  That said, Christine Love is able to effectively communicate both sides of the conversation.

I urge everyone who enjoys video games to try out Digital, particularly since it’s free.  It consistently surprises and thrills me (I’ve played it several times since my first run in 2010), has great visual design, an awesome story, and pushes my internet nerd nostalgia buttons.  What more could a girl ask for?

4.  Journey

In the past several years, there has been a lot of discussion in the video game community about whether or not video games can be art.  I generally tend to fall somewhere in the middle of this argument, where some games are and others are not and I think Journey is one of the best examples of how games can be art.

As I said in an earlier post, one of the best things about Journey is the use of the game’s controls in creating an emotional response.  From the elation and freedom that you feel when you’re sand surfing to the abject horror and despair you feel when avoiding enemies and climbing the last peak, the game’s controls push these feelings to a level that I haven’t experienced very often while playing games.

The addition of beautiful visuals, music, atmosphere and animation to the emotional depth the game offers and you have something very special.  I am so excited to see what Jenova Chen and his team work on next.

3. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Yet another visual novel, 999 is an adventure game with room escape puzzles and a dense, complicated story.  You play as Junpei, a university student who, along with 8 other people, is abducted and brought to a mysterious ship.  As a group, the 9 of you must play a life or death puzzle game in order to figure out how to leave the ship.  It is a true visual novel where making certain decisions will allow you to only view certain aspects of the story and it requires, at minimum, 3 separate play-throughs to see the true ending.

While some have argued that the puzzles in 999 are unimpressive, I found them to be a nice balance between challenging and intuitive.  Its atmosphere is also quite remarkable, and despite being a handheld game, it succeeds at making you feel a great sense of dread and fear without subjecting you to cheap jump scares.

The real star of 999, however, is its story and characters.  The narrative in 999 goes to some pretty far away places, but once its true secrets are revealed and you start to think about it, you realize that, within its own universe, it makes perfect sense and given all the information you were provided with, you should probably have guessed its outcome in advance.  This is, in my view, sheer brilliance.  I don’t think I have ever been so impressed by a story in a video game as I was when I played 999.


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