Responsive Narrative Design in Yakuza 0
I have been playing Yakuza 0, and it is, I think, the kind of game that more narrative game folks should look at.
I think The Witcher 3 is still the gold standard, but the combination of production-quality and attention to detail in that game makes it hard to actually recreate that game's success (as seen in so many recent, great would-be successors that still don't manage to hold a candle to what that game achieves.)
But here's what happened in Yakuza 0 today. I had been doing this silly side quest line wherein I helped out a little kid by getting her stuffed toys out of a crane machine. For the most part, this was pretty easy to do.
But then, the last one she asks for is this roughly oval-shaped bird. And damn if it doesn't seem impossible to pick this thing up! It must have taken me 20+ tries.
So I finally get the bird and give it to her. But the next time I see her, she's in tears. What happened? By way of explanation, the game's camera switches to a close-up of that bird, that stupid stuffed bird, lying on the ground in tatters.
It turns out the kid's mother is being extorted by some thugs and in the process, they also tore up her stuffed bird. MY stuffed bird.
So we go and we confront the thugs, and what does Goro Majima have to say to these guys? (I'm paraphrasing here, but this is very close, I assure you): "There's two kinds of people I hate in the world: ones who threaten women and kids and ones who *wreck little birds that I worked so damn hard to get!*"
Sometimes, you don't need to design a lengthy branching questline. And you definitely don't need incredible motion capture, or perfectly-acted VO (though of course these can all add a lot.) Sometimes, all you need to do to make the player feel part of the story is acknowledge their experience.
(I should also add that this game about gangsters in 1980s Japan has heart to spare. Goro Majima is at this point an ex-Yakuza who had the shit beat out of him and lost an eye, and this quest literally ends with him comparing himself to this poor, ruined bird and reassuring the kid that it doesn't matter what shape the bird is in as long as she treasures it.)