While lots of games that I have played are filled with frolicking adventure, sometimes you come across a game that is filled with some of the darker aspects of our emotions. The places that hit you right in the feels. There are lots of games that have tried this. There are lots of games that have failed. But I thought that I would focus on the games that stuck out to me the most. The ones who made me feel all kinds of levels of sadness. Some made me think. Some made me reflect. Some made me cry. Here are my top 10. Oh, I should mention that there are a lot of spoilers here, so if you haven’t played some of these games, then you may want to skip this list.
10. Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Now, on the surface, this may make you think – wait, what? How can you call this a sad game? Well, this didn’t occur to me until I got a little older and played the game again, but there is a LOT of really grim things associated with this game, if you read between the lines. Think about this – you have the power to go back in time. The moon crashing into the world is something that you can avoid. But think about this – each time you do that, it is happening. Over and over again, the people of that land are dying. After all, your going back in time doesn’t stop what happens. It just means that you aren’t there for when it does. And since your activities are able to go through timelines, that means that you can’t argue this away. Each change in the timeline is something that you help destroy. This dark undertone is something that a lot of people missed, and it is another reason why this game is a surprising turn of events in a franchise that has been about good vs. evil, with not a lot of subterfuge. While I love Ocarina of Time most, this game comes in a close second, after I got old enough to appreciate just how dark this story was.
9. Heavy Rain
For those of you who think that this game should rank higher, I would agree with you. The problem is that while the story of this game was so unbelievably dark and sad, the gameplay mechanics of this game were awkward as hell in a lot of places. And I can’t get past that. But, with that said, this game and the darkness associated with it are simply amazing. The perspective that sticks out most to me is the story of the father of the boy who was kidnapped. The killer is forcing this man to mutilate himself, suffer to no end, for their own enjoyment. Making this man brutalize himself, it involves the player in a spectacular way, because it makes you feel like you are doing this to him. You are torturing this man. It’s a grim mechanic to work with, and made this game all-the-more intense. And depending on if you do well or not, there may be no catharsis to how it all ends. It’s a grim game, and makes you stop and think about what you have done. Lots of feels.
8. Shadow of the Colossus
This is a game that is another one that is subtle about how sad it really is. It begins with a man going to a foreign land. He is carrying the body of the girl he loves. He lays her on an alter, and makes a deal with the deity force of the land to kill the Colossus, in order to bring her to life. As you kill each Colossus, you see a black mark tear into this man, and it is clear that this is agonizingly painful for him. He is suffering immeasurably in order to bring the woman he loves back. And what is his reward for all that suffering? Well, he is not only betrayed by the deity of that land, but he never gets to be with the woman he loves again. Not only that, but in his mission to save her, he also watches his horse fall off a cliff. It is clear that these two have a powerful bond, and the scene where the horse throws him off to save him before collapsing into the abyss is a tear-jerker. It isn’t blatant with its sadness, but it is there all the same.
7. Bioshock Infinite
Another game whose sadness is subtle. The reasons that this game is miserably grim are not apparent and don’t just come right out. You find out that Booker has been living a lie for a long time. A mission that he undertook to wipe out his debt, it turns out, is a red herring. Unbeknownst to him, he is battling his inner guilt in a memory he blocked out. He not only sold his daughter to Comstock, but also is the reason that Comstock exists in the first place. It is a miserably ugly experience when Booker realizes what he has become and what he will have to do. Even his best efforts to save the girl who he comes to care about are all for naught. No matter what he does, Comstock still wins. In the end, the only way that he can beat Comstock is to kill himself, and therefore deny Comstock the ability to ever exist, since they are both the same person, connected by a decision he made ages ago to reject baptism. The ending to this game is one of the few that has stuck with me and that I still think about. The Bioshock brand has a pedigree of great games, but this one stood out among the rest. While the story did seem rushed at points, it hit all the right notes when it needed to.
6. Final Fantasy X
Another game where you are asking – wait, what? The story of this game was classic good vs. evil, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. This game had a massive undertone of sadness throughout its entirety. I think that Auron’s statement about the state of the world said it best – “Ah, the spiral of death. Summoners challenge Sin, the bringer of death, and die doing so. Guardians give their lives to protect their Summoner. The Fayth are the souls of the dead. Even the Maesters of Yevon are Unsent. Spira is full of death. Only Sin is reborn, and then, only to cause more death. It is a cycle of death, spiraling endlessly.” This game has a VERY dark tone. Your character is thrown 1000 years out of his time, only to find out that he never existed at all. His whole world is a dream of the Fayth. The woman he loves is condemned to die. Everything around him is death. The darkness of this game is part of the reason I like it so much. It is definitely heavy on atmosphere, taking the time out to look seriously at the ugliness of it all. I like that a lot.
5. Silent Hill 2
It was SO close between this game and its predecessor. Both are incredibly dark games. But for me, this game seems the darkest. While the previous one had a dark look at the character, this game is totally invested in the main character, because everything in Silent Hill, the monsters he faces, are reflections of his own subconscious. The lusty creatures are reflections of his cheating heart that was unfaithful to his late wife, even as she died. Pyramid Head, one of the greatest icons of the series, reflects his inner desire to punish himself for what happened. He also is paired with a woman who looks exactly like his wife, who he has to watch die, over and over and over again. Then, the spirit of his wife tries to kill him, to make him suffer for what he did. This game is so heavy on the dark, and not the action. It is a journey into a man’s mind, and it is damn-near perfect. I still get chills playing it today.
4. The Walking Dead
This 5-part adventure game was a tear-jerker if I have ever seen one. A game that follows much in the same vein as Heavy Rain, this game forces you, the player, to make a lot of choices. And all of those choices have lives riding on them. The hardest part of the game was when Clementine dies. I felt my heart being pulled out during that scene. The personal angle of this game, along with the amazing character development makes this game an amazing experience that I still have with me. What makes it all the harder is that there is no way to save everyone. Me and all my friends tried and tried to save everyone, but it was all for naught. We were destined to be helpless to watch characters we came to care about die, often in horrifically cruel ways. The kind of story-telling that we could stand to see more of, if you ask me.
3. Batman: Arkham City
Another game where the sadness of it isn’t apparent, but if you read between the lines, this game is miserably depressing. For starters, you have Batman being faced with his own mortality in a very serious way. Yet he seems pretty okay with that. One of the best parts of the game is when the Joker hears him say that he is okay with dying, and he is intrigued. What’s more, Batman loses so much. He is faced with a choice between protecting the woman he loves or saving the scum of Gotham, and when he tries to abandon them, he is forced to do the right thing, by his butler. The rage in his voice when Alfred tells him that he won’t let him neglect his duty is amazing. Then, the only woman who will ever love him is shot and killed in front of him, by a monster who he needs. And when the Joker dies, it is him that Batman carries out of the theater. Not the body of the woman he loves, but the body of a monster who he should hate. This game’s bittersweet ending left me with a lot of complicated emotions. And it confirmed something I have always believed – Batman needs the Joker. He is a thug, as bad as those he puts away. And now, he has to own up to that. It was an amazing conclusion to an awesome game.
Man, this is a game that did something I didn’t think was possible – it let me get emotionally invested in a character that I never get to know, in any way. I never get to know what the wanderer of the sand’s story is. You never hear this creature speak. You don’t know what gender it is. You know nothing about it. Yet, seeing the cruelty of the journey that it has to take, to a goal that has clearly killed so many before it, is hard to watch. The most emotionally gripping point was the trek up the slop of the mountain. You get out into the open. There is nothing to hide you from the brutally cold wind. You see this character getting beaten around by it, destroyed by it. Finally, the blizzard is going to overtake it, but it does not stop. The creature keeps going, limping along, until it collapses into the snow. Oh my god, I still feel my heart getting pulled when I see that. But the real tear-jerker is after that. Risen from the dead, you are given a way to go to the summit, and to go to your final destination. To rest. When you make the summit trek with another player, who you never know and never get to talk to, it is so emotionally compelling. This game hit emotional levels that most games haven’t been able to, and it is sad but beautiful at the same time.
And the game that gave me the most feels is…
1. The Last of Us
This game is a work of art. The emotional levels in this game are unbelievable. Taking little moments to give us a human look at the two main characters, Joel and Ellie, it then brutalizes you with some unbelievably sad moments. For real, right from the start, it is sad. The death of Joel’s daughter, seeing it destroy him inside. There is just emotionally impacting moment after moment. The final act of this game is the absolute pinnacle of this. Seeing Joel reject what his conscious tells him to do, and to go fight to get the only person he matters back, not caring what happens to the rest of humanity, is incredibly. Naughty Dog has done something truly amazing. I have already gushed about this game in another post, so I will keep it at this – this game will make you cry. If not, then you are missing a part of the human condition. And that is all I have to say about that.
So, what games have hit you in the feels spot? Feel free to comment them below. Add a link to a trailer if you like, so we can see it, if we don’t already know what it is.
Until next time, a quote,
“Joel, I want you to promise me that everything you told me is true.” -Ellie, The Last of Us