I really love Transistor: a single-player game, wherein you play as a silent protagonist with a speaking sword companion. It’s a turn-based tactics game, a genre I rarely play. Where it really shines is the story and world-building. As you progress through the world, and unlock new powers, you also slowly reveal little vignettes of story and character. The world itself is eerily empty, except for rogue creatures you have to defeat. However, each move you unlock takes the form of an individual: a cloud artist, a racer, a musician. You initially get a short introduction to their story – a quick glimpse into who they are, and the beginning of their story which always hints at some connection between them and whatever event led to the city being so empty.
Where the game really shines is linking this narrative mechanic with the moves themselves. In order to reveal more of the individual stories, you have to use the moves associated with them. This works on a number of levels. First, the moves themselves are aligned with the characters, and are evocative of their career or personality. It genuinely feels like your embodying them, and adds a narrative layer to the combat. Beyond that, tying narrative unlocks to experimenting with different moves really opens up the combat system itself. Ordinarily in these types of games, I end up choosing one go-to moveset, and just kind of spamming my way through combat until I get bored. In Transistor, I wanted more of the tantalizing hints upgrading each move gave, so I experimented with a wide range of abilities and tactics.
Not only did this help center each of the characters as I used their moves, but it also made the strategy in general more engaging by getting me to try out builds I never would have considered otherwise. Aesthetically, this tied together a sense of narrative discovery with discovery of new moves and playstyles. It increased the challenge of the game, forcing me out of my comfort zone as I unlocked new abilities, and made me even more invested in the narrative in turn. It’s a beautifully synergistic dynamic, and ends up creating one of the most compelling stories I’ve encountered, even though it leaves a lot of it untold.