I’m relatively new to the video game scene. I didn’t get to have a game system growing up and until I found Steam in adulthood, there weren't many ways to find out about interesting PC games. But even in my limited experience, I’ve been impressed by the creativity and variety I’ve found in the indie games I’ve tried out. A lot of times, these games will take a premise that sounds completely laughable or boring and turn it into something unexpected and remarkable. Some of them mess with our preconceived notions about video games and storytelling themselves.
Here’s 4 video games that do these things and do them with gusto. This list serves as an introduction to each game and discusses how they're a lot more than what they seem to be on from the description blurb. I’ll point to each game’s strengths and also potential drawbacks. All of these games are heavy on story- in fact, a couple of them are simply visual novels. None of them require an abundance of gaming skill (as I can personally attest) and only one of them has challenges that require decent reflexes. So, if you only want action and dodging stuff from your games, most of these won’t satisfy you. However, if you’re into stories and role-playing, you might discover a game you’re interested in!
I know these are only a few of the cool indie games out there and this article only dips a toe into the pool of them. So feel free to talk about your own favorite surprising indie games and leave suggestions for a new list in the comments.
A quick glance at “Long Live the Queen” may give the impression that it’s a game about living a cutesy, carefree life as an anime princess with a side of magical girl shenanigans. While you are definitely a cute anime princess, the game is anything but carefree. Long Live the Queen is a game where you desperately struggle to avoid being brutally murdered in a variety of gruesome ways before your coronation day. You have to navigate cut-throat royal politics, choose who to execute, deal with impending war, uncover family conspiracies and fend off attacks from bloodthirsty demons.
The conceit of the game is you have a choice to take various classes each week to sharpen your skills in various subjects. Your skills will unlock options and also help you rule in certain areas and survive the games events.
There are many ways to approach being a Queen-in-training- you can become a ruthless power-hungry despot who murders even her own family, a silver-tongued woman who manipulates the situation perfectly, a ridiculously powerful sorcerer, a warrior goddess, or something else entirely. But the best way to survive to the end is to find the right balance of skills. Your “boring” princess skills like “courtly manners” may end up saving your life, while focusing too much on being good with a sword might leave you vulnerable to more subtle forms of attack.
Long Live The Queen screenshot
The game is really fun in how it mixes cute with horrifying. Your various gruesome deaths are represented by chibi cartoons and you can change into a frilly magical girl costume to better roast your enemies alive. Moreover, the world of the game is fairly complex- your history classes teach you all about the relationships between your family, allies and countries and they’re full of betrayal and intrigue. There’s also a multitude of magical creatures, lore, royal customs and secrets to discover.
There’s a huge amount of achievements to unlock and those alone tell you how outrageous the game can get. Among these achievements is “getting blessed with the favor of cats”, “perform a human sacrifice”, “save the day with the power of music”, “became an evil minion” and “poison a chicken”. You can get 20 different epilogues based on what you encountered, how well you ruled and who you romanced. The game has great replay value and it will be a long time before you’ve unlocked everything.
However, it can get fairly tedious and incredibly difficult after a while trying to balance all of your skills to unlock various things, especially since you’ll have to repeat a lot of dialogue. The game has a fast forward button that cuts down on that a bit. It also relies entirely on strategy and figuring out what actions trigger invisible events, so if you’re weak on that it can get especially frustrating. But walkthroughs can help you if you just want to enjoy the story.
It should also be noted that while you can romance quite a few women and enter a permanent relationships (not to mention you have lesbian side characters), you can only marry one in the updated Steam version, and you have to do a lot of stuff to get there. Also there’s only one dark-skinned person in the game I can recall and he’s…not very nice.
We Know the Devil is horror visual novel and also a great example of how fantasy and magical story elements can serve as hard hitting social commentary. A glance at the description may lead a reader to believe it’s a simple, low-budget superhero dating sim with horror overtones, but it’s a lot more than that.
WKTD stars three students at a camp for wayward magical superheroes- Jupiter, Neptune and Venus (and yes, the Sailor Moon reference is confirmed as intentional). The camp is clearly reminiscent of bible camps fundamentalist parents force their kids to go to so they can “pray away the gay” or otherwise be steered back to a fundamentalist’s idea of a “godly” path. Only the camp takes this way more literally- these kids are made to literally fight the devil, lest it take them.
We Know The Devil screenshot
The game is very much not the dating sim it claims to be. Instead it’s a disturbing game about exclusion, isolation, brainwashing and the abuse kids who break the “rules” of society face. Hooking up two characters is not a happy event because it leads to devastating consequences to the character who was left behind. It’s best to play all three routes to get the full scope of these three flawed, heavily conflicted teenagers and then try to unlock the cathartic “true ending”. The game is likely to have resonate with you especially if you’re part of the LGBT+ community, but anyone who’s ever experienced being a teenager who had trouble fitting in can connect to the characters.
The game is an extremely short one and is entirely about the story- the only actions the player takes involved matching up the characters for various events. The setting and art style are fairly minimal as well. You also have to get a free account at the website to play it. However, it’s also very cheap at 6.66 (get it? Hardy har har.)
If you love symbolic stories, fantastical metaphors, social criticism, subtle writing and psychological horror, this game is for you. You can buy it here.