the artistry and psychology of gaming


The Top 10 Sub-Plots That Are More Interesting Than the Main Plot

The Top 10 Sub-Plots That Are More Interesting Than the Main Plot

Sub-plots are meant as the foil to the main plot. They might provide comic relief, they might deal with the theme from another perspective, they might let the characters rest between the main events, or at worst, fillers. But what they all have in common is that they are secondary to the main plot, and therefore less interesting and meaningful, yes?

Not always. Sometimes the sideplots happen to be more interesting or meaningful than the main ones. Here are 10 examples.

Remember, spoilers are abound.

10) Gears of War series: Dominic’s Love for Maria

Gears of War series are great for many reasons, but mostly for revolutionizing the gameplay of 3rd person shooters. However, there’s not much to the plot of the games. The games take place in a fictional planet where a war is waged between humans and a group of aliens called Locusts. Some people like the backstory, and I have to give it to them, the series has a very intriguing canon universe. All that being said, it’s still the same sci-fi cliche all around, and there’s not much beyond that. This is not a criticism of the games, you have to remember. The games are valuable for their revolutionary gameplay, superb atmosphere and ugly enemies. This amount of plot is enough for the purpose of the game. No one expects Gears of War to convey true human emotions. Unless it does, but through a subplot.

Most games have a problem with romance. It’s not something we’ve completely mastered. But to me, one of the best romances in video games is in this game. Dominic is one of the companions of the hero, Marcus. Throughout the games he speaks all the times of his wife Maria, remembering his love for her. His main motive is fighting for Marcus is to find her again and reunite. He eventually finds her, but unfortunately she has been tortured and as a result she has become completely traumatized. She is a living corpse. Dominic kills her in order to stop her suffering.

A genuine human moment, a tear jerking scene.

9) Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift: Deulhorne clan story

This game is one of the most disappointing sequels of all times, because it follows one of the greatest games of all times with one of the best written, deepest plots of all time with a mediocre game with almost no plot. (I’m not referring to Advance game, but the original Tactics). There’s a mcguffin in shape of a Grimoire that people run a for round to find and then it is hand of a witch or someone or something. (I wasn’t paying attention). The protagonist, Luso Clemens, is a cliche-ridden protagonist who is exactly the typical protagonist we’ve grown used to [lovely vandal or something like that. Point is, this game is not so good.

But as SirRobX pointed out in the discussion topic I created for this list, there’s a part of the story which is genuinely fun.

Firstly, and most importantly, they are not black-and-white villains. They are your enemies, but you don’t get the feeling that they are purely evil. They are pragmatic and intelligent, which makes them superior to other plots in the game. One of them goes out of the way to make sure that no innocent person is hurt. Their leader, the Marquis, is motivated by pure intentions. He dreams of a world without war.

Everyone knows that these kinds of the games have the merits of their plots in the characterizations. And great characterization is absent from this game, but the members of Deulhorne clan are good characters.

8) Mass Effect series: all the personal stories of the supporting characters

Now, many praise Mass Effect. But if you follow my writings on Gaming Symmetry you will find out that I’m not particularly a big fan. And I’m going to take a lot of criticism for saying this, but guys, the main plot of Mass Effect sucks. It’s the same level of a Z movie film directed for teenage boys with too much hormones. Hot, handsome, powerful, wise commander whom everyone complements all the time and all the creatures of the universe want to sleep with single-handedly saves the universe at least twice (or three times, based on the ending you get in ME3). S/he manages to unite warring tribes, defeat impossible enemies, and survive a buttload of impossible missions. Come on, please. Even James Bond is done more plausibly than that.

But then you come across genuine writing when it comes to the supporting characters. They all have unique, deep personalities, and interesting or at times meaningful and thought-provoking. Is it Liara, coming out from the shadow of Sheperd in the first game to become a powerful shadow broker? Is it the heart breaking story of Thane, the super assassin who tries to prevent his son from becoming an assassin? Tali who is trying to find out the meaning of cultural heritage? Urdnot Wrex bringing civility to a warring tribe? Miranda who has a nice crazy scientist back story? Mordin seeking redemption from his past deeds? Jack trying to find out what does it mean to be human? Morinth who is out to bring justice to her daughter? I couldn’t choose one of them, they’re all great. Also, they’re all better than the main plot by MILES.

7) Tekken series: Nina Williams’s story

The main plot is simple enough. Daddy hates sonny so he throws him into a volcano, sonny returns from the dead and throws daddy in the volcano, then daddy throws sonny into the volcano, then the grandson kicks grandpa in the nuts, then the distant cousin saves the grandson from becoming the devil, the son becomes devil…. something like that. I was too busy randomly pushing buttons. Point is, there is as much family drama as a Colombian soap opera, as much kicking in the ass as a Chuck Norris movie, as much supernatural gibberish as Battlefield Earth, and it all makes as much sense as a J Ron Hubbard wet dream. Is the main plot of Tekken bad? It is. But is it awesome? You bet your ass it’s awesome. It oozes with awesomeness.

That’s not entirely true of Nina William’s story. It’s unique in its handling of cliche. It may not sound much when summarized, and in the games… well it is summarized, but it’s more than that. She loses her parents in her childhoods. She has a love/hate relationship with her sister. She works as an assassin, her memory is erased and she is commissioned to kill her son. My point is, Nina, unlike other characters, shows real personality, goes through interesting events, is haunted by her past, her relationship with her sister is very intriguing. She deserves to have a game of her own.

…. No, Death by Degrees doesn’t count.

6) Fallout 3: Oasis side quest

I am a huge fan of Fallout 3. It’s one of my top 10 games of all times. The gameplay is one of the best in the history. The atmosphere is deep and engaging. The anti-war message is loud and clear. The sad ending is very moving. (I’m choosing to erase that wretched DLC from my memory). But let’s face it, when it comes to moral ambiguity, the game is not really a complex example. You may not mind that, and I agree that the merits of the plot outweigh its flaws but a large margin, but the fact remains that your choices are really between absolute good and absolute bad. To blow up a town or not? (Yeah, that’s actually a subplot too). To boldly sacrifice yourself or send a poor girl? Things like that.

But the Oasis mission is different. Your choice is not between black and white, but three equally good options, and whichever you choose will reflect your ethical values.

As you walk across the desert, you stumble upon a place which is green and full of trees, which is completely strange in the nuclear wasteland of Wasteland. You learn that the reason for this nice weather is Harold. Harold’s genes have become fused with a tree and he is a treeman. He has now roots in the soil of this earth, and he has lived for many decades. in the same spot. He begs for mercy; he is eager for death after all this suffering. The other dwellers of “Oasis” have ignored Harold’s wishes so far, because they want to continue to live in the beautiful environment.

Now you have three choices. You can either kill him, preserve him for the Oasis, or do something which will turn the whole Wasteland to a paradise. As you can see, it’s a tough question. Is the individual’s will more important? Or the individual should sacrifice for the society? But can the individual be forced to sacrifice against his will? Tough questions, no certain answers.

5) Final Fantasy VIII: Laguna Loire Stoyrline

IF we believe that the main storyline of FFVIII is what we see it is in the game…. and the whole second disc does not take place in Squall’s dream before he dies…. then and only then Laguna’s story is better. I personally believe that there is much more to the main plot than it meets the eye. But still, that is not the dominant view. And Laguna is awesome. Plus, I believe he proves the theory as his subplot is entirely surreal.

Laguna Loire is a temporarily playable character in Final Fantasy VIII. He wants to be a journalist but ends up a soldier. He is not a good soldier, and the falls in love with a hotel lounge pianist called Julia. She writes the song “Eyes on Me” for him (check it in Youtube). This romance gets a little screen time, but it’s very convincing. Then he is injured and hospitalized, and when he gets well he finds out that Julia has become a famous singer but has married another man. He then falls in love with Raine, the girl who nursed him back to life. Then they marry. His friend is kidnapped, and he has to go on a mission to save him, while his wife is pregnant. I think so far is enough to tell you the story.

For most of the game the player experiences Laguna through playable flashbacks that are explained to the player as the main characters’ dreams. He could be the hero of his own game. Why is he played like this in the game? Though it is never directly stated, it is heavily implied that Laguna is Squall’s father. And he really closely mirrors Squall, while he is completely different. (If he is the father of Squall, he was in love with the mother of Rinoa).

Can we get a bit crazier and say that Squall and Rinoa are actually the new form of Laguna and Julia? This is a very strange game, and this subplot is central to the true interpretation, whatever it is.

4) Bioshock 2: Mark Meltzer plot

This one was suggested by Eesgoooshee. Now, I think Bioshock 2 is a great game with a great plot and it’s severely underrated. But we digress. In the main plot you are Big Daddy, and you job is to protect Little Sisters. But you were paired with a specific Little sister whom you have lost, and now you must find her. Your enemy is Sofia Lamb, who is the human reincarnation of Utilitarianism. But what is also interesting are the side stories you can understand by finding enough recordings. You have to be patient and also have a good memory to keep track of what has happened so far. But in the end, the process is rewarding.

Mark G. Meltzer is man whose daughter is kidnapped. He abandon his life, divorces his wife, and embarks on a journey in search of his kidnapped daughter. He eventually follows the leads to Rapture, and he tirelessly searches for the underwater city. His path is full of dangers and puzzles. When he finally manages to find Rapture, he travels there with a smuggler on water and after going through a lot of adventures, he finally reaches there. There he searches for Lamb, in hopes she might know something. When he finally finds his daughter, she is a Little sister, and he chooses to become a Big Daddy (a Rumbler) to be with her forever. As the main player, you have a choice to kill him or not.

Why this subplot is special? Let me count the reasons. It is narrated through 19 pieces of writing and 8 audio recordings. It’s much more rewarding to collect the story bit by bit as if you’re a real historian unveiling a mystery. It is really detailed. some games do not have such a detailed main plot. It’s mysterious, suspenseful and emotional at the same time. So it’s a really great subplot and deserves your attention.

(side note: I’m also including the promotional website “There’s Something in the Sea”. You have to read the site for the full info).

3) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: The Dark Brotherhood Storyline

The Elder Scroll series have the best gameplay of all time. (If you disagree, that fine.) The main plot overall is dismal though. Evil bad god rises again and kill him. All characters have little screen time, and none of them have any personality to speak of. The game serves to make you think you are the ultimate badass hero, and lack of plot helps that goal, because it doesn’t turn you to a Commander Shepperd, but a manifestation of the gamer. However, it doesn’t mean there aren’t great subplots.

I would make a movie based on the Dark Brotherhood subplot. The Dark Brotherhood are a group of shadowy assassins who worship a god who is synonymous with nothingness and receive their mission briefings from the dead corpse of the wife of that god. You kill an innocent man. The next time you sleep you wake up somewhere unexpected, and now you can join the scariest and most badass assassin organization you can think of. It has got all the badass things you want- an immortal horse, hidden chambers, secret doors, plot twists, betrayals, “anyone can die” moments, etc.

It’s a Gothic novel in a game where all fantasy is present. It’s fantastic.

2) Fable III: Hollows and Hobbes

I’m not saying the main plot of this game is bad. The game is very flawed but the basic premise is really interesting, you overthrow your evil brother king in a popular revolution and now you realize he was right all along and you either have to be as evil and despised as him or let the kingdom be destroyed (unless you are really rich that is). But whatever you believe about the main story, this subplot is so outside the box and brilliant which really makes it a masterpiece which kicks the rest of the game in the balls and then pisses on it.

The quest begins when the Hero agrees to help three wizards with their game of Hollows and Hobbes. They shrunk him/her by using a magical orb and now you have to navigate through the game board. The Hero has to save the Princess and defeat the evil Baron to win the game. Of course, all your enemies are in paper. But this crazy concept is not what makes this side quest so great. It is the humor which is used in the every line these wizards mutter, and in the crazy surrealistic world and they way that wizards mess things up and create things one crazier than the other. You will not know the depth of its genius and fun until you actually play the game.

Is there any game which is somehow flawed but you totally should buy just for one short side-quest? Yes, this one, and for this side-quest.

1) Dragon Age: Origins: Morrigan’s story

At first I didn’t put this on the list. It was because I’m so infatuated by Morrigan’s plot that to me it IS the reason that this game is on my list of 12 games of all times, and therefore to me Morrigan’s story is the main plot and that other plot about killing dragons is the sideplot. However, objectively speaking, this is a sideplot, so I can name it the best side-story ever told in a video game. The main plot of course is VERY interesting, and it involves killing a dragon. (oh I already told you that? sorry!)

Like Mass Effect, this other Bioware game also has secondary characters more interesting than the main plot and all of them are interesting and complex, but none match the miracle of writing who is Morrigan. She is raised by a witch, whom she doesn’t know should consider friend or foe. She has become really dark and angry in her personality and worldview, yet she has a pure heart. She’s deeply intelligent and pragmatic. She is also very funny. You will help her realize the truth about herself, and her past, and what she is going to do. You can romance her which is the best romance in the series, and it is a very deep and engaging relationship. This continues to the Awakening and later Witch Hunt as her DLC.

You will not see the difference until you play it yourself.

Conclusion: Well this is it! Some very great subplots were not added because the main story was more interesting. Some examples were surely forgotten. You can tell me those.

One Comment

  1. In my deepest heart of hearts, I truly feel that Dragon Age 2 would have been one of the best RPGs ever made if only it had followed the story of Morrigan and her child…

    To this day I have never felt more crushed at the end of a game. Having her leave me and take the child hurt, badly.

    Oh I ended the Blight? Errr… OK whatever. I lost my heart and soul in the process … but an outsider would never understand …

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