previously published on 30plusgamer a no longer active site
THIS ARTICLE WILL CONTAIN MAJOR SPOILERS
I will admit it, I am a bit of a baby. I cry fairly easily when it comes to games and other media. That being said, there are some shining examples of heartbreaking, tear-jerking video games. The following will contain major spoilers. Also realize my own personal experience and bias has helped to shape this list.
1: Valiant Hearts
Not surprising a game about people fighting in World War 1 is sad, I mean shocking really? Valiant Hearts really manages to tug on the heartstrings in many powerful ways. Carl’s struggle to leave the German army and get back to his French wife and child. Anna’s desire to be back with her father, but also use her skills to save as many lives as she can. Freddie’s hopelessness. All of this leads up to Emile not wanting to fall to the horrors of war and hoping to find Carl. These are powerful and heartbreaking stories. The entire game is a series of highs and lows that then ends with Emile being put to death. The ending of this game made me sob, not cry, sob the first time I played it. The score, his final words, and watching the character die is one of the single most depressing experiences I’ve ever faced in gaming.
2: Shadow of the Colossus
Much like Valiant Hearts the overall plot is pretty bleak. You play a character that is tasked with killing the various Colossus of the land. While the gameplay of doing so is enjoyable, there is something a little heartbreaking each time you succeed. After you finish your task you realize that what you were doing didn’t just feel wrong, it was. It’s a very bleak ending, that leaves little hope. Oh, and your horse dies.
3: Silent Hill 2
Some will argue that the ending determines how sad this game is, and it’s a valid argument. That being said I think it’s pretty bleak and sad regardless. James is pulled back to Silent Hill, haunted by the death of his wife that he killed, and in almost every ending he is punished for this in some way. In one he kills himself, in another it’s foreshadowed that the woman he saves will end up with the same illness of his dead wife. Silent Hill 2 also presents the idea that Silent Hill is itself a punishment. That the reason the town is so twisted is because those brought there are being physically tormented for the guilt they carry on their hearts and in their minds.
4: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
The brothers in the game are off on a quest to find special healing for their father. They’ve already lost their mother, and are unwilling to lose another parent. Through their journey it’s clear that the younger brother is dependent almost entirely on his older brother. The older brother has to save his life many times, must help him overcome fears, and actually carry the younger brother at times. So it makes perfect sense that the older brother then of course dies. I wasn’t entirely surprised, the game seems to really build up to it, but it’s still heartbreaking none the less. The glimmer of hope that comes with the younger brother finding his inner strength to finish their journey is then shattered by showing the father and younger brother completely heartbroken by the loss.
5: The Walking Dead: Season 1
The story of Clem and Lee is extremely well done. Lee’s instincts to help the young child, and her trusting nature means the two of them develop a deep love for each other. While Clem never really let’s go of her parents, Lee fills an important hole in her life. The final episode has two massive hits right one after the other. Clem is forced to face her dead, and zombified parents. Right after that she is then forced to face Lee’s death. Their final moments together are pretty killer.
6: To the Moon
The game is about an organization that uses the memories of people on their deathbed to help them get their final wish. Two doctors are working to help Johnny with his final wish (to go to the Moon), but the memories didn’t collect right so they don’t know WHY Johnny wants this. The doctors try to implant the desire in his memories, it of course doesn’t work, and then plays out a journey through Johnny’s memories and a story that talks a lot about desires, memories, friendship, love, etc etc. Basically it just pulls at your heart.
7: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
Based on the short story by Harlan Ellison, I Have No Mouth is pretty heavy. A supercomputer has four victims that it keeps for it’s amusement, constantly torturing them. Ellison stands by his belief that the short story ends in a mostly positive way and I do actually agree. The game itself is also the same, the problem is mostly positive doesn’t change the fact that it’s still pretty depressing. The characters must face their inner demons, and then in the “good” ending they still ALL die, just one gains enough power to prevent the total destruction of the world at the hands of supercomputers from happening again. Bittersweet?
8: The Novelist
This one might seem like a weird choice, and frankly I myself debated including it. However, while this game lacks any real “tear-jerking” moments, or heartbreak, it doesn’t have the happiest of messages. It’s very very difficult to get “the perfect” ending in this game. One choice will throw the game off completely from that happening. Even if you do manage to get “the perfect” ending, it’s still not that great. The question The Novelist presents is can Dan Kaplan have it all and the answer seems to be “no he can’t”. He can’t be a great American novelist, have a happy marriage, and raise a happy and successful child. Something has to give. That’s well… that just sucks.
9: The Last of Us
Like TWD it’s a look at father daughter relationships. Unlike TWD Joel had already lost a daughter in a heartbreaking scene. He then fights for Ellie only to find out it’s Ellie or the world. Joel chooses Ellie in yet again one of the saddest yet sweetest endings ever.
10: Mass Effect 3
Aside from just not liking the ending, the build up to that point is still rather sad. Multiple beloved characters die (or can die), the galaxy is falling apart, and you’ve had two games to build up to these sad moments.
A lot of people might be mad that this is not on the list, which is why it’s an honorable mention. I didn’t particularly care for Aerith so the major heartbreaking moment was kind of “meh” to me. However I do acknowledge why this game is sad for others and what the overall plot is trying to say.
The moment that really kills people with this game is of course James’ death. It’s sad, don’t get me wrong. However there is just not enough build up to this moment. It’s sad but not earth shattering, and could have been a lot worse.
Red Dead Redemption
The reason this didn’t make the cut for me is because it was just so expected. I am not saying it was bad, but I just knew the whole time I was playing that John would die. It’s sad, but wasn’t able to really grab me because I was prepared.
The Oregon Trail
SOMEONE ALWAYS DIES. I mean come on! Also, I just wanted to end this thoroughly depressing article with a giggle.