Video games used to be simple. Saving the princess, beating the high score, or taking down the evil overlord was as complicated as it got. As video games evolved, however, so did their storytelling. Just as movies evolved from a 50-second shot of a train, so too did video games.
Video games are an incredibly unique medium for storytelling over anything else that exists right now. The lore of video games such as Elden Ringis expectedly deep. However, some games are seemingly simple on the surface but have massive secrets simmering underneath the fun gameplay.
The Just Dance franchise is a full-on party game with friends and a fun fitness game for solo play. With its vivid colors, catchy songs, and the entire premise predicated around dancing, most people assume that’s all Just Dance is. A party dancing game with no real meat to its story, if it even exists.
As it turns out, Just Dance has a fully realized story that’s been happening in the background. The Danceverse is vast, and all of it is constantly threatened by the vivaciously sinister Night Swan. While it’s not Dark Souls levels of deep, it’s far more lore than anybody would have expected out of a dancing game.
Ring Fit Adventure
This game exploded in popularity during the pandemic era as people needed new ways to stay fit at home. Most people wouldn’t be blamed if they expected it to just be a sort of evolution for Nintendo’s previously big fitness games such as Wii Sports. Still, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
The game does start as more simplistic, with the player character being given workout challenges. After a few stages, however, the game turns into a sort of Pokemon-style gym conquest, each with its own special forms of exercise to conquer. There’s also the whole underlying evil beneath it all, but that’s for the player to find out for themselves.
Nintendo is pretty much the king of “cutesy video games with surprisingly dark lore”, and Pikmin is no exception. Most people who see the trailers and the gameplay assume it’s nothing more than a quirky real-time strategy game. However, the actual premise of the game is surprisingly grim if taken at face value.
An astronaut crash lands on a radioactive planet with his ship in tatters. He only has 30 days of oxygen to work with, and he must command armies of the native population to help him escape. As far as “lore icebergs” go, Pikmin’s runs surprisingly deep, getting into the concepts of multiverses and supernatural phenomena.
Despite being touted as a “life simulator”, The Sims world is hilariously, and sometimes terrifyingly, over the top. Perhaps the most obvious one that people are aware of is that Death is not metaphorical in The Sims. The Grim Reaper is an active entity in the world, reaping the souls of Sims when their time is up.
In addition to the Grim Reaper, many supernatural creatures such as vampires, mummies, and ghosts exist. Perhaps the deepest well came from the infamous StrangerVille pack, which adds the possessed sims. Not only that, there are a whole host of mysteries for the player to unlock, giving a rare story arc in the otherwise “make your own story” vibe of The Sims./
Fighting games are usually light on the lore in games themselves, with many being relegated to comic books, spin-offs, or quirky arcade mode endings. Not for Guilty Gear, which is famed for having a surprisingly in-depth story mode, far more so than most other fighting games. It is incredibly expansive, with each character introducing bits and pieces to flesh out the world.
Whether it’s Bridget and her famously superstitious town or Sol Badguy’s bounty-hunting adventures, there’s plenty of lore for fans of the franchise to sink their teeth into. For some perspective, the YouTube channel WoolieVS has a seven-video series sponsored by ArcSys, detailing the expansive lore.
It’s time for yet another “cutesy video game with messed up lore” from Nintendo, and this time, it’s Splatoon. For starters, the world takes place after the end of humanity. They had driven themselves into extinction, and the eponymous races of squids and octopuses have evolved to take their place.
That goes a long way in explaining why most of the stages are abandoned cities and settlements. In Splatoon’s present day, the squids and octopuses are in a constant turf war, as seen with Splatoon’s various game modes. For players that want to learn more about this post-apocalyptic world, the Sunken Sea Scrollsgive a lot of needed context for this new marine life.
The Remedy Universe
While Remedy games have never been light on story, the reveal that all of them take place in the same universe came as a shock to most gamers. The AWE DLC for Control basically confirmed the suspicions that hardcore fans have had over the years. Alan Wake, Control, Maxy Payne, and Quantum break exist in the same multiverse.
The biggest clue, before Remedy made it official, was Max Payne and Alan Wake’s connection. The story of Max Payne is revealed to be one of Alan Wake’s own book series. However, in Control, one dream notes that “in one world, a writer wrote a story about a cop. In another, the cop was real”. This implies Alan Wake was tapping into some multiversal memory, and that’s a whole other rabbit hole.
Disco Elysium was a massive hit in 2019 against all odds. Disco Elysium was a text-heavy new IP from an indie studio with no real combat, and yet, people fell in love with it. The game can easily be played exactly as it presents itself, a traditional cop procedural with only minor splatterings of the supernatural.
However, two traits really help flesh out the world of Disco Elysium. Encyclopedia gives literal facts about the world in every interaction, such as the different continents and cultures. Shivers, on the other hand, provides more abstract explanations for the stranger aspects of Elysium itself. Players who find out about the pale quickly realize this isn’t just some alternate Earth.
It’s a dating sim about pigeons. That’s really all that most normal people will ever find out about the game, and go “Oh, Japan!”, putting a hand on their hips and comically wagging their finger with the other. Still, the lore is far deeper than any dating sim about pigeons should be. One route, in particular, is famed for its sudden tonal whiplash.
Without spoiling anything major, this new route gives a lot of previously unknown context about the world of Hatoful Boyfriend. Things such as “fated prophecies” and long-waged wars between the pigeons are revealed here, and it goes far past its initial premise of “goofy bird romcom”. As expected, this has given Hatoful Boyfriend a huge cult fanbase.
The Kirby franchise is the undisputed king of “cutesy video games with messed up lore”, standing atop the likes of Splatoon and Pikmin. Kirby is such a cute character that most people wouldn’t believe for a second he’s the key to saving the multiverse. Kirby has casually taken on unironic, eldritch beings and won.
Of course, Kirby is able to do this because he himself is an eldritch being. Think about it, he’s an all-devouring entity that casually rides around on stars. There are also death cults, aliens, ancient civilizations, and dead planets galore. To lighten all of this, it’s still portrayed in a rather cutesy way. Well, except for Zero Two, but that’s its own bag of horrors.