Splitting the POV between multiple main characters is a device used in storytelling that I simply love. It allows you to get an increased sense of perspective with the regard to the complexity of events and blurs the lines of good and evil, giving readers better insight and empathy into the motivations of characters whose nature may really be different than it appears on the surface. Game of Thrones uses this technique to great effect. However, games, more than any other form of storytelling, are uniquely positioned to use this technique to maximum effect, and they have. Here are 5 examples of Split POV in games:
5. SaGa Frontier
In SaGa Frontier and, in fact, most of the SaGa series, you’re given a selection of a main character at the start of the game. Based on who you pick, even though you’re traveling through the same world, during the same time period, the events that unfold are different. You can choose, for instance, Blue, who’s on a quest to master all the magic in the world, or Asellus, who’s trying to discover the meaning of her mixed-blood heritage. One of the most interesting things about this adventure is that you cross paths with the other main characters as you play, giving you a reason to replay the game and get greater insight into the issues that are preoccupying their minds.
4. Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 2 had a fantastically implemented split point of view. Other Resident Evil games did as well, of course, but Resident Evil 2 sticks out as particularly well done. You choose between Leon or Claire as they both endure the same long night in the mysterious, zombie infested husk of Raccoon City. Since there are events in the game that only one or the other attends, playing through both characters’ perspectives is necessary to get a full understanding of all that transpired that night.
3. Live a Live
Live a Live is a little known jRPG for the SNES that may very well be the first game, alongside the earlier entries in the SaGa Series (Romancing SaGa 1-3) to use this technique, and it does so with great effectiveness. Coming out in 1994, other games on this list are heavily influenced by its narrative structure. Live a Live offers a choice between playing through the scenario of a caveman, a kung fu master, a ninja, a cowboy, a mech, a wrestler and a robot. It traces the continual recurrence of the main villain throughout time and throughout the world.
2. Final Fantasy 6
Final Fantasy 6 successfully creates an atmosphere where the ensemble cast doesn’t feel like it has a distinct main character. An argument can be made that it’s Locke, Terra, or Celeste, but each of those characters is gone for large swaths of the game. Part of the way that the game accomplishes fleshing out so much of such a large cast is by using split perspectives. Early on, the characters split up; Locke goes to infiltrate South Figaro, Terra and Edgar go to Narshe, and Sabin winds his way through Doma and the Veldt. To me, this is always one of the most interesting and compelling parts of the game.
1. Suikoden 3
Suikoden 3 is perhaps my favorite narrative conceit of all time for a game. It’s divided into chapters and multiple main characters, all of whom are on opposing sides of a war. For the first half of the game, each main character has their own three chapters; Chris, who is a bloodthirsty villain in Hugo’s perspective, is more fully fleshed out as a conflicted and dutiful hero in her own. Geddoe, a special agent from a foreign power, sees the angles of the events that are invisible to the biased actors in the war.
After the first half of the game, the three characters come together and team up in a cohesive second half. Finally, after beating the game, you unlock another perspective — the POV of the main villain, where, once again, his motivations come off as more noble and complex than you ever expect to understand after playing through the entire game through the lens of *his* antagonists.
I liked this narrative structure so much that when I made the RPG demo of Gods of the American Wild, I took great influence from it, and remnants of that structure exist in the final book. Actually, the Suikoden series is a big influence on me in general, with its focus on characters as they’re attached to events much bigger than them and the loose interconnectedness of its world.