'In Medias Res' is a story telling technique, arguably first used by Homer in Odyssey, where the story begins 'in the middle of things', then the narration can choose to go back and explain certain events at some point, or it might even keep going backwards in time, slowly explaining one thing at a time. Usually the story also has a 'remaining' part set after the events, but this is not standard. For the puproses of this Top 10 List, I will take the meaning of this technique more 'liberally'. Instead of finding games that purely use this technique in the same ways that Homer did, I will instead list games that begin with a big 'catch': They throw you into the middle of things, or right after a big event has happened, and only later go to explain what is really going on to the player. These sort of games can really grab you and inspire you to keep playing. Most of the times, such games move their story both backwards and forwards: They intend to not only explain what is going to happen from now on, but what sort of circumstances brought you here. So, will you keep playing? Enjoy these games that defy linear storytelling for something more complex!

Grandia begins not with a grandiose story of a great Hero saving the world. In fact, there is not even a real hero, but a playful child who wants to become one. So where is the 'in medias res' setting? In the fact that the game begins in the middle of a child's play; a treasure hunt. The game has already begun, and the game does not explain to the player what is really going on, and allows the gameplay to unfold along with the story -- as player and main character both seem to search for the items set out in the treasure hunt. Along the way, you discover how this treasure hunt came to, who were the characters that took part in it and what their greater relation to the world is. And while children play, in true 'in medias res', events unfolding elsewhere in the city point out to the greater story unfolding... Grandia is truly a capturing game and a story telling classic, that so many years after its release still defies the typicalities that commonly blot the experience of other similar games. A truly recommended masterpiece.

God of War, based on Greek mythology, couldn't escape without taking a stab at Homer. The game begins right at the end, pitting the hero against Ares, the titular god of war. This magnificent battle hooks the player in and almost hypnotizes them to stay along this incredible ride. The player then is thrust through time and events in a backwards fashion -- in chronological flashbacks -- that explain how events have come to be. Playing almost like a videogame version of the movie Irreversible, God of War is not only one of the best Playstation 2 games, but also an incredible experience in terms of its story telling. Too bad that the actual mythology parts are unfounded... perhaps the game designers did read Homer, but not to the extent that they should have!

How did it come to this? Why is the main hero tied to a chair in a flaming building? What happened between the events at the end of Broken Sword and the beggining of Broken Sword 2? This game begins in a way that couldn't have thrown more at the hands of the player, venomous spiders included! Perhaps one of the finest adventure game series in the history of gaming, quite rightly uses the 'in medias res' technique to immerse the players in the emergency of the situation. Broken Sword 2, though never quite as successful as its predecessor, still remains the only genuine Broken Sword experience alongside the original. A game much recommended to everyone, but only if you have played and completed the first one!

Super Metroid is not using 'in medias res' in any typical way. It perhaps almost cheats its way into this Top 10 List, because the events happening prior to its beginning are actually 'known' to the player -- if and only if the rather obscure and not much played Metroid II: Return of Samus was a previous gaming experience. If not, several questions are immediately posed to the player: Where is this place and how did these events come to take place? Super Metroid begins 'in the middle of things', and right after the end of its Game Boy predecessor, but does not fail on its story telling principles. In fact, its story was so deeply intertwined with not only its previous incarnation but also with the future of the series, as both Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 3 have touched upon story subjects of Super Metroid, and more importantly so, the new installment due soon, Metroid: Another M will finally (hopefully) conclude the story and let everyone understand what truly happened, happens and is going to happen!

Enemy Zero is another case of amazing storytelling, and an unlikely use of the 'in medias res' technique: The player assumes control in the middle of an emergency, right after an unknown pathogenic accident has occured in a cryogenic laboratory in outer space. Though the story unfolds partially linearly, the implications and the reasons of the accident, as well as the back story of the game that explains how this flying cryo lab came to be in the first place, are some of the major reasons that stick the player to their controller. Coupled with one of the most original horror ideas ever [your enemies are invisible and you can only hear them!] make Enemy Zero one of the best experiences on the hugely underrated Sega Saturn.

Indigo Prophecy offers a true 'in medias res' story that begs the player to respond to events without knowing what is really going on. So, here you are, in a men's toilets room, with a murdered person at the floor and the murder weapon at your hands. Police are already on your trail and will soon catch you. But why did you do this? And why can't you remember anything about commiting the act itself? Did you see a strange crow, or was it just your imagination? All these questions and many more will be answered as you play through this incredible game from the makers of Heavy Rain. Someone was paying attention to good story telling techniques...

The second Monkey Island game, ironically just like the second Broken Sword game, begun in the 'middle of things' when our hero, Guybrush Threepwood, is found hanging on a rope, on what appears to be his definite end. He then, just like Homer, talks to his muse, and tells her of how all this has come to be. The player is thrust back into time, helping to understand the events that followed. And just like his homeric counterpart, the player is then also thrown forward as the play continues and unravels one of the finest adventure gaming moments of all time. Truly an amazing experience!

Koudelka is the little known predecessor of Shadow Hearts. Unlike Shadow Hearts though, it is a horror game through and through -- stigmatized by a weird SRPG like fighting system. The game begins in what seems to be a linear fashion: The heroine arrives at an ancient monastery and there she meets the two other main characters and a middle-aged couple of residents. But soon enough the player discovers that nothing is truly as it seems, for all the main characters have very specific reasons to have been here in the first place. As the game unfolds, the player understands that the 'remaining - future' story of Koudelka is only a small fraction compared to the huge back-log of events that brought the heroine to this monastery at the beggining. Why is the middle-aged couple living in a monastery full of evil monsters? What are the devices of torture found randomly across this presumed 'House of God'? Why does one of the main characters know much more things about this place if he has only just arrived here? And in what way are all the heroes connected to each other and to this place? Koudelka would have been the finest Resident Evil clone in terms of story and setting, had it not been for the fighting system that put off so many gamers from a genuine horror experience.

Final Fantasy VII is much remembered for the way it kick starts its story. A main hero whom the player does not know yet, and who is unknown to the rest of the cast too, comes out of a train on a mission to bomb a Mako reactor. You play the role of the revolutionary, but little is known about why you are doing this, who is the enemy, what is the purpose of the reactors you are blowing up, and whether your hero is going to stay with the team afterwards. Even worse so, the more the game continues on, the more 'flashbacks' you are getting that further confuse the story. It turns out Final Fantasy VII used one of the best instances of pure 'in medias res' to really involve the player in understanding that this is something greater than the sum of its parts. The story begins very much in the middle, and continues to explain both past and future right through to the end. One of the best games of all time couldn't have started any better!

Ocarina of Time is only using 'in medias res' if you abuse the principal ways in which this tecnique is implemented: The game begins with a dream of things to happen, and then unfolds linearly until these events actually come true. Then it takes a further stab at genius storytelling and jumps time forward and entices the player to discover what has happened in the meanwhile. But perhaps its most astounding story telling feature that would leave even Homer with his jaw wide open is its ending: Without giving out too many spoilers, the way the game ends is also the way the game begins; suddenly explaining everything, including the dream. This infinite loop that might or might not be broken gives out an 'eternal' spin to how things develop. One of the best games of all time also featured a story that few games have even come close to matching.

Could I have listed more great games? Certainly. Some, like Fallout 3, use an ambiguous form of 'in medias res': The game's story is linear, but the post-apocalyptic events in which the player is thrown require some previous understanding, and little of that is given at the beggining. Other games, such as Tales of Phantasia, begin with a fight and an incantation that the player knows little of: What is happening and why? The game will only explain far later, but for the mean time, players will engage in a linear story. But for the purposes of this Top 10 List, some of the best examples were featured and described, hopefully enticing gamers to play them and developers to keep using this amazingly immersive story telling technique!


List by GreyRainCloud
(04/01/2010)

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