LudoNarraCon is a wonderfully strange beast, and one that unfortunately is often overlooked. Starting 2019, the digital event was an attempt to highlight video games that focus on narrative elements and story. Started by Fellow Traveller (the indie label behind games such as Orwell or Neo Cab), the event takes place on Steam by highlighting free demos, a full line up of speakers and panels, and of course a whole slew of sales.
I love events like this. Like the Steam Next Fest, I am all for game developers who are trying fun and exciting new things with the video game medium. Narrative games as a… I’m not even sure you can call it one specific genre? Narrative games as a mood are incredibly fascinating to me lately. While many AAA games are going for bigger, larger, more expansive worlds, the narrative game movement looks to try and create more intimate settings and stories. They often center on strong themes that can be very emotional, dramatic art styles, or experimental storytelling.
Small topics like Transhumanism, the dangers of Capitalism... you know, non-political stuff.
This year, LudoNarraCon is exhibiting 42 games, many of which have great demos while the developers finish working on full publication. Some look absolutely stunning to me, (I Was A Teenage Exocolonist and The Pale Beyond are too examples), but for this article I want to focus on games already out. The sale going on alongside LudoNarracon goes beyond the new entries, spilling over into previous years titles and other narrative games.
Take some time to look through the steam sale for yourself, but if you want some pointers, here’s four games we can heartily recommend.
This is the game I know the least about on this list, and I might be buying it for the soundtrack alone. Set in space in what can only be described as late-stage capitalism, Citizen Sleeper has you as an escaped worker to an abandoned space station known as “The Eye”. While you have an artificial body, it is designed to become obsolete, breaking down over time, and it is up to you to decide how to try and both keep yourself alive and interact with the other escapees on the station.
Like I already said, the music and art style have already made this a must-buy, and its launch trailer shows off both perfectly. The gameplay looks fascinating, as it reminds me of a dice placement board game; you roll dice at the start of your turn, and those are your actions you can assign to various tasks, with your stats giving you pluses or minuses. Citizen Sleeper makes your choices matter as time moves forward as you choose where your dice go, advancing the story and causing consequences for your actions to build up.
It's usually $20, but its on sale for $18 as it launched on May 5th this year. I can’t wait to play through this one.
The Fermi Paradox
While our previous game has a focused story, The Fermi Paradox takes a very different approach. Labelling you as ‘the galactic gardener’, it is your responsibility to try and help nudge civilizations that pop up throughout the galaxy towards developing and progress. The more anxiety inducing side of the coin is trying to get those civilizations not to self-implode, triggering the existential crisis that the game is named after.
I had a chance to play The Fermi Paradox during the steam next fest, and I absolutely loved it. I’m a fan of big 4x games like Stellaris, so this sort of macro, abstract look at a huge playing field instantly was a hit for me. It is a bit more hands off than Citizen Sleeper and most RPGs where you have direct control of events; you more ‘nudge’ societies and cultures towards better outcomes, having to make choices on where to invest your resources to who has the best chance at survival.
It's currently in early access and is on sale for about $15. It has been getting steady updates, which is good since a game like this really relies on there being a huge pool of events and variables for multiple playthroughs. It might be a bit strange for some, but I love what its trying to do.
Ambition: A Minuet in Power
Moving away from space, Ambition: A Minuet In Power lands much more firmly in the visual novel category than any of the other entries on this list. That being said, the game feels much more – for lack of a better word – ambitious than to be categorized in just one genre. Playing as a commoner in 18th century France, you as the protagonist are pulled into whirlwind of political events, personal greed, and smug aristocracy during tumultuous times.
Your choices of which galas to go to, which events you attempt to gain prestige or cash, or just manage to plan out your limited time might feel strangely familiar to Persona 5 fans. You can sell gossip to tabloids ala Bridgerton, your choices can have you firmly aristocratic or perhaps more revolutionary… there’s a lot to this game that gives it a particular allure. We had a chance to play Ambition at PAX East 2020 when it was still in its earlier stages, and the demos already had many small touches in its music, art, and narrative flair that made it incredibility appealing.
Decisions you make can lead to different endings, different social circles, and different dangers.
The full game came out in August of 2021, and it deserves a lot more attention. Currently on sale for $14, it feels like a must buy if you love playing social characters in ttrpgs… or if you just want a dating sim. Good luck surviving the revolution!
A lot has already been said about Wildermyth, as its unique blend of mechanics and storytelling had it break out into a much wider audience. It’s a Strategy RPG ala Fire Emblem or X-Com, but it focuses more on creating stories centered on the characters in your party rather than one specific plot. You can have characters start as farmers, grow into true heroes, then retire… all while adding their own personality to the results of the adventures you end up on.
Procedurally generating gaming content is usually relegated to creating new maps in more action focused rogue-likes, but here Wildermyth has leveraged it in a way that feels truly unique. Your heroes are your heroes. Events that happen to them alongside your other characters creates what can feel like a one-of-a-kind dynamic, where some characters are in love, others are constantly fighting… hell, when Eric reviewed the game, he made it a fanfic shipping of his other writers while he turned into a rock monster.
I'm still not sure if I should be angry or proud of Eric for managing this.
Wildermyth is usually $25 dollars, and is very worth it at that price. However, it’s currently on sale down to $19, and the game has actively had more free updates to add more events and content since its release in 2021. We can recommend this one immediately, no notes.
Four Games Are Just The Start Of LudoNarraCon
With so many games being shown off, what we’re highlighting is only the tip of the iceberg. There are more games that lean into the visual novel genre, others that are wildly experimental, with enough variety of setting and art style that there’s something here for everyone.
We hope you take a chance to look at the LudoNarraCon Steam page and help support this great endeavor by interacting with the event. Whether its buying a game, playing a free demo, or just enjoying some of the panels (You can see previous ones at Fellow Traveller’s Youtube page), taking the time to support indie devs is a great way to make sure gaming continues to have a chance to tell unique stories for many years to come.