Since recently playing What Remains of Edith Finch, Caitlin has been discussing indie games over on Proud Gamer Girl. I had the opportunity to try a demo during last year’s EGX event but haven’t yet had been able to play the full title, although it sounds as if I’ll need a box of tissues when I do. As written by Caitlin herself: “It’s a good game but the ending won’t give you a happy feeling when you see the credits roll.”
This got me thinking: what are some of the most emotional video games I’ve ever played? You know a developer has told a good story when you become so emotionally-invested in their project that you actually feel real sadness and get a tear or two in the corner of your eye. So grab your hanky and get ready to let it all out as I take you on a journey through a number of releases which will properly tug at your heartstrings.
Warning: some minor spoilers are included below so if you haven’t played a title, you may wish to skip forward to the next entry.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Here’s a story about a boy and his younger brother, who embark on a journey together through a fantastical yet dangerous world to find a cure for their ailing father. As if that wasn’t melancholy enough, this comes at a time after their mother’s death – her drowning witnessed by the youngest sibling and the grief of which manifests in his ability to swim.
The player must guide the brothers in tandem using each of the controller’s thumb-sticks and shoulder-buttons to overcome obstacles so it’s a test of coordination. But it’s also a test of emotional strength: this mechanic is disrupted in a final, poignant act in a way that will have you struggling to hold back the tears. It’s such a moving moment conveyed brilliantly in a dialogue-less game about loss, coping and growing up.
What do you expect to find after coming home from a gap-year? Not an abandoned house in the middle of a raging storm, no sight of your parents and an apology note from your sister stuck to the front door – that’s for sure. The premise might sound like a horror game at first but what unfolds in front of the player is a heart-wrenching story about relationships and finding out who you really are.
The Greenbriar’s home is full of hidden secrets and it’s up to Kaitlin to discover what’s happened to her family. This is a game where it’s better to go in blind and so it’s difficult to say more without spoiling it; but reading your younger sibling’s journal entries and hearing her voice in your head as she feels she has nobody to turn to is a hell of a way to tell an incredibly emotional story. If you haven’t yet played Gone Home, do it soon.
Shadow of the Colossus
As well as featuring one of my favourite couples within a video game, here’s a beautiful title that starts off as a tale about love but turns bleak. The only thing Wander wants in the world is to bring dead lover Mono back to life; and the only way he can do this, according to shadowy deity Dormin, is to kill 16 stone colossi found throughout the land.
Is this the right thing though? After all, the mysterious titans are doing nothing to harm anyone: they aren’t rampaging through cities or murdering any citizens, but basically minding their own business. Eventually the player realises that Wander isn’t necessarily the good-guy – just a grief-stricken partner who made a terrible choice and now has to see it through to the end.
To the Moon
This has to be the most bittersweet game I’ve ever played, and one which left me crying like a baby. It tells the story of a dying man Johnny whose final wish is to go to the moon and it’s up to ‘memory doctors’ Eva and Neil to make this happen. The only problem is, their patient isn’t entirely sure why he wants to make a lunar visit and that makes their job a whole lot more difficult.
The doctors must work their way back through Johnny’s recollections in order to discover his wish’s root and implant the artificial memory which will make him believe his dream came true. Along the way they view moments of joy and sadness with his wife River, almost all of which are entirely ordinary; but it’s the ‘realness’ of their relationship which makes it all so touching. To The Moon is an emotional and understated masterpiece.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Similar to Gone Home above, here’s a title which starts off almost as a horror. Players step into the role of paranormal investigator Paul Prospero who receives a letter from 16-year old Ethan Carter and is inspired to visit his hometown of Red Creek Valley. After his arrival he begins encountering some unsettling phenomena and well as evidence of recent violence in the deserted mining village; can he make it to Ethan before it’s too late?
It’s the ending of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter which earns it a place on this list. Again, it’s difficult to say much without spoiling it but you’ll find out who you really are along with young Ethan’s fate. It’s hard to believe a game that’s a bit like Twin Peaks crossed with Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture – with a couple of zombies thrown in at one point for good measure – can be emotional, but its conclusion will leave you speechless.
Honourable mention: Life is Strange
I can only include Life is Strange on this list as an honourable mention because I haven’t yet played it for myself – I know, I’m extremely late to the party. Several bloggers have recommended I give this one a go so it’s currently waiting for me on the PlayStation and in the meantime, I’ve read so many good things about it. James from QTX wrote back in May that it’s an ‘exceptional, compelling and ultimately rather useful examination of the human condition, and a genuine insight into how our actions can impact upon the world around us’. How could I turn down playing something like that?
Hopefully you aren’t too much of a quivering wreck and are able to pull yourself together enough to be able to leave a comment below about your favourite emotional games. Let me know if you need a hug.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.