Of Hogwarts Legacy on the horizon, gamers of the Harry Potter fandom are ready to go back to school again. While video games are meant to be a distraction from real-world problems, there have been quite a few classics with well-known settings such as workplaces and schools.
Whether it’s the Rockstar classic Bully or horror-oriented chillers like Detention, the best school-based video games feel like anything but homework. While many games have been played in schools, only the biggest players were impressed enough to make them exciting to go back to class time and time again.
School Daze (1984)
Games at school are anything but a new phenomenon, and School Daze was one of the earliest examples in the 1980s. Available on the Commodore 64 personal computer, School Daze casts the player as Eric, a useless boarding school student who is on a mission to steal his report card.
Surprisingly compelling for its time, the game features a variety of NPC characters chasing Eric, and the game got creative with the basic mechanics. Instead of a health bar, Eric gets “lines” and if he gets more than 10,000 lines, the game is over. School Daze is a punishing challenge and takes quite a bit of strategy to master.
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School (2015)
A remake of the 2001 game of the same name, White Day: a labyrinth called school takes a decidedly more gruesome approach to learning institutions. The user controls a South Korean high school student who sneaks into the campus after hours to prepare a surprise gift for his loved one. Once there, he is imprisoned with supernatural powers that want to destroy him.
This is a horror game in which the player is totally defenseless against enemies and has to traverse the game stealth. The non-linear aspects of the game make solving puzzles extra difficult, as collected items must be managed strategically in case they are needed later. The school environment only adds to the creepiness, as well-known landmarks are steeped in horror.
Lollipop chainsaw (2012)
A bit like a twisted version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, lollipop chainsaw brought the hack-and-slash genre into the classroom in one of the strangest games of all time. The game follows Juliet, a college girl who fights hordes of undead zombies in her high school in California.
Melee attacks are the name of the game and it is extremely rewarding to mow down zombies by score. Each level allows Juliet to level up and learn new skills, and there’s a strategy for mashing the buttons. Juliet is accompanied by her friend’s severed head, which can be periodically attached to a zombie body to take out enemies.
Lego Harry Potter Collection (2016)
While Hogwarts may not be an actual school, it’s so beloved by fans of the franchise that it’s as well known as any real-world educational institution. Lego Harry Potter Collection brought the school to life by giving fans the Lego-fied versions of each Harry Potter movie.
While there are tons of Lego video games out there, the Harry Potter Collection is widely regarded as one of the best Lego video games due to the sheer scope of its adventure. Infused with all the charm of the Lego games that preceded it, no other game had allowed players to explore their favorite school of witchcraft and wizardry so much up to that point. While the gameplay suffers from the repetitive nature of most Lego games, the theme couldn’t be beat.
Corpse Party (1996)
The franchise of corpse party is legendary in Japan, but the first game still rises above all the next. Several high school students celebrate their school’s culture day by terrifying each other with ghost stories. An earthquake suddenly takes them to a dilapidated elementary school and they must escape a vengeful ghost.
The game instructs the player to explore and survive the school just like traditional horror games. While it’s far from scary by today’s standards, there’s something eerie about an abandoned elementary school as the setting for a game. The puzzles are just hard enough to keep it interesting, and the action is just thrilling enough to keep the player on their toes.
Lost Judgment (2021)
Unlike most school-based games where the player is cast as a student, lost judgment sees them taking charge of a private detective. Called on to investigate a high school bullying problem, PI Takayuki Yagami unravels a web of institutionalized abuse within a community.
Cinematic in its approach to storytelling, the game’s complicated plot is offset by thrilling action and fighting mechanics. While the school is only one aspect of a much larger game, the entire plot revolves around the school and allows the player to complete side missions that include activities on campus. Although it was overshadowed by bigger releases, lost judgment was high on the list of the best single player games of 2021.
Taking elements of history into its horror, Detention is not only a great school game but also a really terrifying experience. Set during the White Terror period of 1960s Taiwanese history, the player takes charge of a student who hides in a haunted school during a monsoon.
Side-scrolling usually isn’t conducive to modern horror games, but the developers of Detention knew the exact buttons to press to crank up the tension. The gameplay is simplistic, but the storyline is so immersive that it keeps the player captivated. Despite the school setting, the game packs a punch and presents a dark story tinged with mythology and literary influences.
Life is Strange (2015)
Released as episodic parts in the year 2015, life is strange was a unique blend of video game and cinema. The player takes on the role of a young woman who witnesses her best friend being shot in the bathroom of their school. The trauma of the event allows her to rewind time and she stops the shooting.
While the game lacks any action, the clever writing style and wealth of memorable characters keep the player captivated. There are puzzles to solve, and branching dialogue options with NPC characters allow events to unfold in different ways. Among fans of the genre, life is strange is considered one of the best episodic video games of all time.
Rockstar is most famous for their Grand Theft Auto series, but their cult classic Bully was approached with the same amount of freewheel surrender. The player takes charge of Jimmy, a juvenile delinquent who is enrolled in a boarding school. While there, he tries to rise through the ranks of the social hierarchy to take out bullies.
The game’s open-world concept offers a wealth of creative possibilities, and there are a plethora of side missions to exert influence. The unique setting was what helped the game stand out, and it really is in a league of its own. The game was unsurprisingly controversial, but it pushed the boundaries of what was possible in an open world video game and represented the social hierarchy of most schools.
Person 5 (2016)
The Persona series is one of the most unique in gaming history and the fifth installment was a further improvement over its predecessors. The player takes charge of a student who transfers to a new school to escape a bad reputation. Once there, he and some classmates discover that they can manifest powers, and they use them to steal bad intentions from people’s hearts.
With dungeon crawling elements and social simulation, Persona 5 is as much a school play as it is a fantasy epic. The RPG gameplay is immersive and the over-the-top story makes it stand out among its contemporaries. It is an excellent school game because it takes the familiar and makes it fantastic.
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