With Hogwarts Legacy on the horizon, gamers of the Harry Potter fandom are once again ready to go back to school. Though video games are meant as a distraction from real world problems, there have been quite a few classics that feature familiar settings such as workplaces and schools.
Whether it’s Rockstar‘s classic Bully or horror-oriented chillers such as Detention, the best school-based video games feel like anything but homework. While there have been plenty of games set in schools, only the greatest impressed players enough to make them exciting to go back to class again and again.
Skool Daze (1984)
School-based games are anything but a new phenomena, and Skool Daze was one of the earliest examples in the 1980s. Available on the Commodore 64 personal computer, Skool Daze casts the player as Eric, a ne’er-do-well student at a boarding school who is on a mission to steal his report card.
Surprisingly immersive for its time, the game features a variety of NPC characters that hound Eric, and the game got creative with the basic mechanics. Instead of a health bar, Eric is issued “lines,” and if he gets over 10,000 lines, the game is over. Skool Daze is a punishing challenge, and it takes a fair amount 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 Named School takes a decidedly more horrific approach to learning institutions. The user controls a student at a South Korean high school who sneaks onto campus after hours to prepare a surprise gift for his crush. Once there, he finds himself locked in with supernatural forces that want to destroy him.
This is a horror game in which the player is totally defenseless against enemies, and must traverse the game using stealth. The non-linear aspects of the game make the puzzle solving extra difficult as items collected must be managed with strategy in case they are needed later. The school setting only adds to the creepiness, as familiar landmarks become steeped in horror.
Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)
Sort of 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 student who fights off hordes of undead zombies in her California high school.
Melee attacks are the name of the game and it is extremely rewarding to mow down zombies by the score. Each level allows Juliet to level up and learn new skills, and there is strategy to the button mashing. Juliet is accompanied by her boyfriend’s severed head, which can be attached to a zombie body periodically to clear out enemies.
Lego Harry Potter Collection (2016)
While Hogwarts may not be an actual school, it is so beloved by fans of the franchise that it is as familiar as any educational institution in the real world. Lego Harry Potter Collection brought the school to life by giving fans the Lego-fied versions of every Harry Potter movie.
Though there are tons of Lego video games, the Harry Potter Collection is generally considered one of the best Lego video games for the massive scope of its adventure. Imbued with all of the charm of the Lego games that came before it, no other game had allowed players to explore their favorite school of witchcraft and wizardry as much up to that point. Though the gameplay suffers from the repetitive nature of most Lego games, its theming couldn’t be beat.
Corpse Party (1996)
The franchise of Corpse Party is legendary in Japan, but the first game still stands out above all the ones that followed. Several high school students celebrate their school’s culture day by spooking each other with ghost stories. An earthquake suddenly transports them to a dilapidated elementary school, and they must escape a vengeful spirit.
The game tasks the player with exploring the school, and surviving much like traditional horror games. Though it is far from scary by today’s standards, there is still something creepy about an abandoned elementary school as a setting for a game. The puzzles are just difficult enough to keep things engaging, and the action is just suspenseful enough to keep the player on edge.
Lost Judgement (2021)
Unlike most school-based games which cast the player as a student, Lost Judgement sees them take control of a private investigator. Called upon to investigate a high school’s bullying problem, P.I. Takayuki Yagami untangles a web of institutionalized abuse within a community.
Cinematic in its approach to storytelling, the game’s complicated plot is offset by exciting action and fighting mechanics. Though the school is just one aspect of a much larger game, the entire plot hinges on the school, and the player can take on side-quests that involve activities around the campus. Though it was overshadowed by bigger releases, Lost Judgment was highly ranked among the best single player games of 2021.
Incorporating elements of history into its horror, Detention is not only a great school game, but a truly frightening experience as well. Set during the White Terror period of Taiwanese history in the ’60s, the player takes control of a student who hides out in a haunted school during a monsoon.
Side-scrolling usually isn’t conducive to modern horror gaming, but the developers of Detention knew the exact buttons to press to ratchet up the tension. The gameplay is simplistic, but the storyline is so compelling that it keeps the player engaged. Despite its school setting, the game pulls no punches and presents a dark story that is tinged with mythology and literary influence.
Life Is Strange (2015)
Released as episodic parts over the year 2015, Life Is Strange was a unique mixture of video game and cinema. The player takes control of a young woman who witnesses her best friend being gunned down in their school bathroom. The trauma of the event allows her to rewind time, and she stops the shooting from happening.
Though the game feature no action whatsoever, its clever writing and its wealth of memorable characters keep the player engaged. There are puzzles to be solved, and branching dialogue options with NPC characters allows for events to play out 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 known for their Grand Theft Auto series, but their cult-classic Bully was approached with the same amount of free-wheeling abandon. The player takes control of Jimmy, a juvenile delinquent who is enrolled in a boarding school. While there, he attempts to rise through the ranks of the social hierarchy in order to take down bullies.
The open world concept of the game allows for a wealth of creative possibilities, and there are a plethora of side missions to help build clout. Its unique setting was what helped the game stand out, and it truly exists in a class 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.
Persona 5 (2016)
The Persona series is one of the most unique in gaming history, and the fifth installment was a further improvement on its predecessors. The player takes control of a student who transfers to a new school to escape a bad reputation. Once there, he and a few classmates discover they can manifest powers, and they use them to steal bad intent from people’s hearts.
Incorporating dungeon crawling elements as well as social simulation, Persona 5 is as much a school game as it is a fantasy epic. The RPG gameplay is compelling, and the over-the-top story helps it stand out amongst its contemporaries. It is an excellent school game because it takes what is familiar and makes it fantastical.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review: Best In Class
About The Author