Discussion on Non-linear Narratives in RPG Games

During the past ten years as a RPG player, I used to be quite immersed in the RPG virtual world where a great story structure is of great importance. Using Non-linear Narratives in RPG makes the whole story more complex and in-depth, resulting in a game with a high entertainment value that anybody can enjoy.

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As two milestones of Chinese RPG development, JX3 (JIANXIAQINGYUAN III) and PAL (Chinese Paladin) all set the background story in ancient China. And they are all famous for their touching stories. JX3 is MMORPG while PAL is single-player game. There are two main non-linear narratives in RPG games: open world and branching narratives. Open world means no matter which kind of sequence players choose, they can all experience part of the whole story and even step in some more independent stories. JX3 is a typical example. In JX3, the whole story is through the leveling of players and scattered in various NPCs. Narration interposed narratives are common because it seems that all the NPCs are there to tell you something: the start of another storyline, some narrative clew or simply some complaints. JX3 also use flashback narratives in its dungeon, allowing players to slowly understand part of the story in backward time, like HuaQing Palace Memoirs and Artikel Dhrtarastra Memoirs. The latter, in particular, until the end of dungeon players start to know the one who released the evil are the players themselves. This brings players a certain degree of spiritual impact and in the mean time players are more engaged in the game. In the part of task storyline, even Rashomon narrative is used in JX3. Best instance of this is Fragrance princess task in Kou island map. There are seven NPCs telling the same story in different views, which enriches and forms a plentiful story.


Branching Narratives are split into two types: one has different endings like PAL3, player can chat with different girls to build intimacy. According to intimacy level the girl who accompany player to the end will be different.


Another type is parallel narrative. In parallel narrative, no matter how story line splits, it will finally leads to the same goal just like PAL5. In linear narratives, players will follow the storyline prearranged by designers till the end. On contrast, branching narratives give players chances to affect the overall direction of the development of the story. When reviewing each game of the PAL series separately, each PAL game does have a set beginning and ending point. While throughout the whole PAL series, each PAL game is more like a sectional narration. PAL1 tells the story of young Li and how he grew up to be a hero. PAL3 tells the story of Li’s master. PAL5 tells the story of old Li and his apprentice. The whole series is not simply describing the whole life of hero. It continues to innovate and the great theme of the whole series is everlasting love and chivalrous spirit. Like JX3, flashback narratives are also used in PAL5. Players all travel through the time back to 20 years ago to find what indeed happened. On top of that, the PAL series are also famous for its circular narrative. The hero keeps searching for truth through four seasons. And finally back to the origin, witnessing the fate and rebirth.


Non-linear narratives expand linear narratives’ advantages and improve the interactivity of RPG games. The diversity it brings enriches the experience of players. When players are given the ability to control the story development, they will give more affection on their roles and get more immersed. Indeed, games are increasingly showing a fast food trend nowadays. Many people focus more on leveling up and ignore game story. In order to change this situation, many games start to use voices acting NPC dialogues like PAL5. And in JX3, some wonderful stories are even acted by NPCs. Also, players have the choice to watch or not.


Ben McIntosh, Randi Cohn, Lindsay Grace.(2010).Nonlinear Narrative in Games: Theory and Practice, Retrieved from: www.gamecareerguide.com/features/882/features/882/nonlinear_narrative_in_games_.php?print=1