Top 10 Most Convoluted Videogame Storylines

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One of the most difficult skills to master when telling a story is knowing when to stop telling it.  The temptation to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on until somebody points a gun to your head and tells you to shut up or else is a hard one to overcome.

The videogame industry is chalk full of people who, to be blunt, did not overcome it.  A typical timeline is so cluttered with ret-cons, prequels, sequels, between-quels, and just plain unexplained contradictions that the whole damn thing ceases to make sense after two or three installments.  Here are some of the worst offenders:

10.  Super Mario

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It was fine as a simple “Italian plumber battles giant dinosaur for the hand of a lady” story.  It was even OK when Bowser revealed he was a single dad with seven kids.  But then the kids disappear; they’re replaced with ONE KID, Bowser Jr.  What, did he give them all up for adoption only to adopt one more anyway?  Hopefully he took time to party a bit before settling into fatherhood yet again.

Then we get Yoshi’s Island, a “prequel” where Yoshi is suddenly carrying around a baby Mario.  Yikes; this clashes roughly 10000% with Mario being a regular plumber up until the events of Mario 1, not to mention the part where Mario meets Yoshi for the first time in Super Mario World, when he’s a damn grown-up!  We’re almost afraid to delve into the Galaxy series, where Mario suddenly can bounce from tiny little planet to tiny little planet, for fear our brains would finally melt.

9.  Castlevania

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When does this thing begin anyway?  Never before has a story been flooded with as many first chapters as Castlevania has.  Honestly, every other game is the “first” in the timeline it, seems.  The hero of the first two games, Simon Belmont, is now eighth or ninth in the timeline, due to countless ancestors suddenly rising up and saying “hey!  I killed Dracula first, not this schlep!  Now where’s my game?”  Stupid embarrassing family.

Currently, Leon Belmont is the original Vampire Hunter, though this could change at any time.  For all we know, he’ll be erased and ignored within a year.  Just ask Sonia Belmont, who was the “first” Hunter for a spell until Leon and an unknown ancestor usurped her.  Even better, her story was deemed “non-canon”, so she basically never existed.  And the reason for her erasure from history?  Her game was “inconsistent”.  Like that ever stopped a Belmont before.

8.  Metroid

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It’s tough to continue a series when you kill off the title character, but that’s exactly what they did after Super Metroid.  The last Metroid was dead, the evil Mother Brain was dead so, what to do?  Simple; create a trilogy of between-quels and send Samus to another planet with exactly one Metroid, ignoring the entire planet of them that she doesn’t get around to visiting until the second game.  Mind, Metroids were known to be incredibly dangerous, and a whole planet of them might be considered bad news.  But hey, might as well ignore them for now; it’s not like they multiply easily and turn into giant rabid crocodile monsters or anything, right?

Oh, and once that’s over, and we still need to make money, let’s artificially revive the Metroids!  And when they all die, let’s make some more!  Apparently, Metroids are easier to create than a batch of cookies.  The final game in the timeline ends with Samus blowing up the Metroid’s planet, but we’re sure they’ll magically appear on another planet as soon as Nintendo has another bill to pay.

7.  Mega Man

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After the third installment, why is Mega Man constantly fooled into thinking Wily isn’t behind the latest evil scheme to destroy the world of 2XXX?  Whether the cover is Proto Man, another doctor being blackmailed, or literally Wily in disguise, the end result is always Wily and his stupid Pop-O-Matic bubble spaceship.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me seven times, gamers just roll their eyes

And if that’s not enough, what exactly is Mega Man X?  An upgrade?  A whole new bot?  The whole angle with X was he was supposed to be the first robot with independent thought.  Well, that’s exactly what the original Mega Man had!  He was a house cleaner until Wily showed up; he then volunteered to be modified into a warrior bot.  Same damn thing, right?  That’s like Reese’s advertising a new candy as the first-ever combination of peanut butter and chocolate.

6.  Tomb Raider

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Virtually every one of these game is independent of each other.  Lara defeats one bad guy, the next game gives her yet another to fight.  And all these baddies are supernatural and millenniums old; you’d think they wouldn’t give up after one shapely girl blows them to bits one time.  And yet Lara moves on to the next evil entity, until she goes missing in the fourth game and is presumed dead.

So what to do for the next game?  Hold a memorial service where her friends reminisce about her past adventures, and then you get to play said adventures!  Even though all these tales are in the past and she clearly didn’t die at any point, so how do they explain the part of the story where the stupid player sends Lara careening into the mouth of an angry lion?  “Oh sorry, the whiskey must be talking now.  She actually skinned the lion alive, in front of her cubs!  Oh, that crazy Lara…”

And then, when the series became too bloated and it was time to re-boot, Lara magically went from experiencing a plane crash at age 21 and surviving alone for two weeks, to her plane crashing at age NINE and witnessing her mother disintegrate after young Lara picks up a magical sword of doom.  So much for reboots making things simplistic again.

5.  Street Fighter

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Many people seem to think that just because it’s a fighting game, no plot is necessary.  And they’re right.  BUT, if you’re gonna have a plot, have it make sense.  Street Fighter doesn’t even come close, with characters constantly returning long after being written off, often with no explanation aside from “OK fine, you can play as Chun-Li again, just SHUT UP!”  Bison somehow becomes more and more of a psychotic God with every update, which nobody seems to do much about aside from challenging him to yet another side-scrolling three-round punch-fest.  That’ll learn ‘em.

Oh, and when are they finally going to connect Ken the fighter with Ken the spaceman? This is a twenty-year-old loose end that desperately needs to be tied up, even if Ken just gets tiger-uppercut to the Moon and decides to stay there.  At least it’s SOMETHING.

4.  Mortal Kombat

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Street Fighter’s plot was convoluted, but at least it was in the background; you could ignore it if you really wanted to.  Not Mortal Kombat though!  Their confusing-as-all-Hell story is shoved right in your face and you’re expected to be impressed.

It started out fine; as cheesy as they were, the first three games made sense and were easily connected to each other.  But after that, things went downhill FAST.  The game’s creators fell victim to the same thing that killed Street Fighter’s plot: fans complained that their favorite characters weren’t playable anymore, so they were re-inserted in some of the clumsiest matters possible.  The masked Sub-Zero is the brother of the masked one, who died after the first game but now he’s back!  Liu Kang is a zombie!  Johnny Cage died but managed to resurrect himself by escaping the realm of the dead!

By the time they got to Ultimate Whatever, with every character ever playable, fans had mentally checked out of the series.  Until they rebooted the whole thing by having Raiden the Thunder God go back in time to change history.  He didn’t have to do that; the guys who write this crap could’ve handled it all by themselves.

3.  Legend Of Zelda

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Ho boy.  First game, fine.  Second game, fine.  Prequel, fine, since they never established if Link knew Zelda or Ganon prior to the first game.  Fourth game, that was a dream sequence, so that one gets a mulligan.

But everything afterwards has been total mind-numbing confusion.  Link’s a child.  Link’s an adult.  Link knows Zelda.  Link doesn’t know Zelda.  Ganon’s a pig.  Ganon’s a man.  Ganon’s dead.  Now he’s not.  No two Zelda games are connected to each other in any real way, aside from the basic character template.  Nintendo recently attempted to satisfy this confusion with an official timeline released in coffee-table book form.  Basically, Link’s destiny was split up into three separate parallel universes: defeated during Ocarina Of Time (which spawned the original four games), successful during OOT and then sent back in time as a child, or successful during OOT and allowed to continue on as an adult.  That sounds like an awfully convenient way of saying, “we have no clue what we’re talking about, so here.  It’s something.  Now just shut up and buy the damn games.”

2.  Ninja Gaiden

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This is why prequels can be very dangerous things.  Too often, “awesome” features are added that aren’t present in the original and the fact that they aren’t make the main character look blah.  In the original trilogy, Ryu was a regular ninja.  In the prequels, he is suddenly afflicted with a Dark Curse that can turn him into a Dark Fiend, and there are demon statues and Ryu turns into a falcon and has a hundred different kinds of swords and weapons and metallic armor and he can absorb the essence of dead enemies to become progressively more powerful.

By the time the NES trilogy begins, he does precisely NONE of those things.  He doesn’t even bring them up: “Wow, I’m tired.  Remember when I could absorb energy from dead people and turn into a demon of destruction?  Yeah, that was awesome.  I can’t believe I forgot how to do all that.”  And really, the less said of his post-NES exploits as a tournament fighter in a series of games known for bouncing boobies and not much else, the better.

1.  Pokémon

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In the beginning, there was a set amount of Pokémon, 150 of them to be exact.  But the cash cow came a moo-ing, so suddenly rare Pokémon were discovered, presumably under a rock that nobody had looked under, ever.  Then more came along!  Then even more!  More more more!   Then they rebooted the series and added all-new Pokémon, except once you beat the game, all the old ones came right back!  Bottom line, there are now 649 of the bloody things; any more and they’ll outnumber the humans who are supposed to trap and train them.  And, to be honest, we can’t think of a better way to end this bloated series.


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28 Comments

  1. @Jason: oh man, haha a lot of these take me back to elementary and juniour high school. great list, dunno if you’ve ever played the Oregon/Pioneer Trail on the computer (waaay back in like 2001) but that game would definitely be on this list. Also, I jsut found out that in the original Japanese games Yoshi is gay and his “gf” is actually a transvestite, the translation apparently is “he is confused and likes dress like a girl to fool Yoshi”. hahaha look it up, its worth a laugh.

  2. There’s an explanation why there are a lot of Pokemon. Every game is set in a different region of their world. Every region has its own set of Pokemon. Beating the game then gives access to all, new and old. But yes, they’re really milking up money.

  3. Neat list.

    I think these games should deserve an honourable mention. I know they are quite popular and all but oh man are they a real head scratcher…

    FEAR
    Assassins Creed
    Metal Gear
    Resident Evil
    and Final Fantasy.

    • I don’t know about the others, but Final Fantasy seldom ever makes sequels or prequels. Each game is in a whole different world. In any case, as long as the gameplay is fun and the story keeps being cool, who cares about how many games they make? Actually, the more the better.

      • Good point, guess I should reconsider FF then, to be honest I haven’t played all to many of them. I suppose FF is similar to Zelda franchise, each game takes place in its own story or world and should not be considerd a collective whole. Still though I stand on the rest, you try to make sense of FEAR, mind boggling to say the least.

        • FEAR is fairly simple… Alma is your mother she had supernatural gifts, this is why you have incredible reflexes. Paxton Fettel is the main villain in the first game he is a telepathic who lives on both planes of existence life and death and he is your brother. Throughout the game you have hallucinations of Alma because you are facing your dark past. The second game, Fear 2: Project Origin is just from a different POV. But you find out that Alma is still alive and basically rapes the Protagonist. She impregnates herself. Fear 3 or F3AR has the protagonist from the first pointman reunite with his brother Paxton Fettel to kill Alma and the unborn baby which is basically the antichrist. The companies throughout the game are the ones who tortured/tested you during your childhood.

    • tsk,tsk! Jeff, I’m surprised: you execpt developers to BOTHER with such little implementation details as the particular use of a database column? Attributes? That’s just so old-technology Abstract, mate. Abstract!(rolling eyes )

  4. Not all of them have to make sense as a series. The Zelda guys had said once that their goal was not for it to make sense as a series, but to make each game a unique and unforgettable story. And I think they have succeeded. The timeline is just to shut up the crazy fans. Same thing for Mario. I mean come on, who cares about the Italian plumber’s drives and motives? What matters about Mario games is that they are amazingly fun to play, despite getting killed by turtles, growing up with mushrooms and such the nonsense.

    To us gamers, what matters is having fun and getting a cool story on each game, even if they don’t all make sense as a whole series. Unless they are intended to…

  5. I agree with asgr and Metal Gear, especially MGS2 for the PS2. I just stopped paying attention to the story after that.

  6. i have to absolutely disagree with this list, from numbers one through ten. these games are all awesome and do have the potential for unlimited story telling and display of modern gaming technology. these are proven franchises that are just awesome. this list is not awesome but a joke.

    • The author doesn’t say these games suck. Instead they are insanely convoluted. Look the word up in the dictionary, it fits all of these games.

  7. i still don’t understand any of the storylines in any of the Dragonball: Z games or shows or movies..i thought that series deserved to be somewhere on this list

  8. Tectonichearts on

    I’m not sure I quite understand this list. Really none of these games have convoluted stories. They’re actually quite simple plotlines and most of the series you mentioned have games that are all independent of each other – Zelda, Mario, etc, etc. Pokemon is incredibly easy to explain – they’re all just different regions. Having a lot of pokemon doesn’t make a storyline complicated.

    I think you need to go back and see what convoluted actually means. If you’ve played Final Fantasy XIII, THAT is a convoluted game in and of itself. Unlike half the series you mentioned.

  9. I don’t think you understand what convoluted means..

    The continuity issues of the Zelda series are because most entries are set in a completely different time period where the ‘legend’ re-occurs.

    Super Mario doesn’t have enough of a plot to be convoluted, and if you want to be realistic, I doubt baby mario in prequel entry; Yoshi’s Island, would remember adventuring at that young of an age.

    You missed out 3 huge franchises that have gained infamy based on their convoluted plotlines; Resident Evil, Metal Gear and last but certainly not least, Final Fantasy. Each entry after Final Fantasy X has made very little sense, SquareEnix need to realize that LESS IS MORE.

    • i hope i got u right: FF is not that convoluted, each game its on its own alternate/timeline/world.
      but yeah, i agree that after X Final Fantasy is going downright

  10. Not like I’m a big fan, but about Pokemon… well, there is a world with different regions, or continents, and there are some species you cant find in one region, the same way asia got Pandas, and poles have pinguins and white bears.

    Is it really that hard for you to understand?

  11. On another take… Top 10 Most Convoluted Videogame Storylines, how’s that Kingdom Heart series is not mentioned? Two main games, 5-6 alternate stories (cant remember how many of those are), and the story still doesnt make any sense.

  12. Now wait a sec. With Super Metroid At the end When the metroid dies. That is not the last metroid, see metroids reproduce asexually therefore there can be one left and they will come back. But if you rrealize that throughout parts of Super Metroid you see several other metroids. Metroids dont breath therefore can be in space. It’s all possible they traveled to other planets.

  13. Zach Gillette on

    This list is awful. Better choices:

    Metal Gear franchise.
    Persona franchise.
    Disgaea franchise.
    Max Payne.
    Splinter Cell.
    Ninja Gaiden.

    • Persona: each title is supposed to be on its own world/timeline, exception on P3~4 were they do cameos
      Disgaea: agen, each title/own world, and this is confirmed by D1/D3 where u can open portals to OTHER dimensions/worlds

  14. Megaman Fan: DONT RANT MY MEGAMAN!!!!
    ok, now i got out ^w^

    aboot Megaman/Rockman games:
    >Megaman 1~10 <<~between MM & X series: Willy creates Zero who kills almost everybody, except Dr. Willy & Dr.Light. Gets sealed
    >~before X series: Dr. Lights builds “X”, a next gen robot with conscience and real human-AI, doesn’t follow Asimov’s laws, so he is able to kill humans if the needs arise.
    >Megaman X: X wakes from his slumber, followed by a enraged Zero who goes berserk on some robots & Sigma (who will become later the titular villain)

    after X5 the plot divides in 2 but lets save more rant for later ^w^

  15. I have a big problem with #1, why? Because whoever made this list completely forgot that it’s about STORYLINES yet all he does is complain about how many pokemons there are. And how is it convoluted? The stories in the games are barely connected to each other, except the ”colour” and ”ore” generations where you go to Kanto and fight the gym leaders who are older BTW. Oh and BTW Mario has no storyline and yet it’s #10. It’s just a simple platforming game. Oh and I almost spit out my drink in Ninja Gaiden part, because again the dude forgets what list he’s doing and whines about how Ninja Gaiden changed when it jumped to 3D.

  16. 10. Mario
    First, the Koopalings were not Bowser’s kids, nor did the game ever claim so. They are relatives, nothing more.
    Second, the idea that Mario has never been to the Mushroom Kingdom is a player assumption, not game-text canon.
    Third, the scene where you stop by Yoshi’s house in Super Mario World hints at the fact that Mario and Yoshi HAD met before.

  17. Xenogear has huge amount of story and theme. Kingdom hearts explain more and more in each successive games but it gets even more confusing in each explaination. I would say they will top these 10 any time. These games you mentioned are mostly one game after the other with not much good story for examples, in megaman X, you keep killing sigma in every games. Link also has to kill the green guy many times and Mario have to keep rescuing Peach. And those fighting games aren’t much of a complex story either. They just assemble for some reasons and fight to the death.

  18. A horrible list, super mario does have a cinematic story, and its the same with most of these oter games, pokemon are you taking the pissed its up there as the most overrated game ever, its boring, no story, where isheavy rain, crysis and uncharted, older games like the 1’s on ur top ten list, weren’t made to have a story, so this webpage is invalid

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