What Remains of Edith Finch, box art, video game, title, trees, house, mountain, silhouette

All emotional: video game feels

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.

Gone Home

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.

39 thoughts on “All emotional: video game feels

    1. I love the way the ending contrasts with the rest of the game – the atmosphere in general, and the zombie bit in particular. Such a clever idea but a sad one too. I’ll be interested to see what the devs are up to next…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Funnily enough, I was talking to Chris from OverThinker Y about To The Moon yesterday. I think we were both almost in tears by the end of the conversation… *sobs*

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  1. OId Mans Journey came out a few months ago, and whilst the game is lacking in any sort of audible dialogue, it still delivers an emotional punch in the stomach.

    It does this through music, art design and carefully interwoven memories of the games ‘old man’, throughout his life. It all builds to a very emotional climax indeed.

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  2. A small indy game called Ether One really hit me in the feels. It got an average reception on its release, mainly because of technical issues such as a stuttering frame rate and crashes. But I looked passed all of that an found a truly touching experience.

    I also can’t play The Last of Us without it eliciting an emotional response, the opening sequence especially 😦

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    1. YES, I love Ether One! Whitepaper Games were at the last expo I went to with their upcoming release The Occupation. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t seen it already.

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  3. I watched a play through of shadow of the colossus and it was really sad, it was refreshing being the “bad guy” in a way though, it was a whole new perspective. I really want to play a lot of these games! Adding them to my ever growing list!

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    1. Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favourite games – I’m so glad they’re doing a remake. I’d highly recommend you have a huge stock of tissues ready before attempting any of these titles. 😉

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  4. I have never played life is strange but I have watched youtube gaming and I cried watching that! Bioshock is one of the main games that affected m I’m just gobsmacked at its ending, have you played it?

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    1. BioShock is absolutely awesome! It got voted the game with ‘the most surprising plot-twist’ in our question of the month for June… not a surprise. 😉

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  5. Thanks for the shout out and recognition, that warmed my heart! And as always, you have given me some other games to put on my list to play!😊

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    1. Sorry, I seem to keep increasing your backlog ha ha ha! Let us know what you think of the games if you manage to give any of them a go. 🙂

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  6. Life is Strange was surprisingly good after picking it up for free on PS Plus. The ending made me mad, but I guess that means it was good if I was that emotionally invested

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    1. I received a few messages from people about Life is Strange today… I’m going to end up being an emotional wreck, aren’t I? 😉

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  7. The ending of Red Dead Redemption was utterly perfect as far as I’m concerned. I’ve heard of people who think the last few farm based mission are an anti climax to what’s come before. Actually that simple, family life is exactly what Marston has spent the whole game trying to get to and then it’s taken away from him again. It was actually odd to see Rockstar do something quite understated and simple.

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    1. RDR almost made this list… but then I decided it didn’t count, because I only watched somebody else play it and didn’t play it myself! I think I’m going to have to rectify that though before the next one is released.

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      1. I might have had a tear or two over it.

        But indeed, play RDR before the second one comes out. You should have plenty time, I’d imagine RDR2 will be delayed again before long.

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    1. I’ve never actually played Papers, Please. I watched a friend stream the beginning of it and it dawned on me the sort of decisions the game would eventually force you to make… and I wasn’t sure I was ready to handle the responsibility!

      I’m guessing it would be worth me sucking it up and giving it a go though?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post! *sniffs*

    For me, the entire story of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy got me right in the feelz and changed my life, The Last of Us turned me into an emotional wreck, and I cried like a baby during the end scene of Horizon Zero Dawn. I’m a wimp, haha.

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  9. I’ve heard of most of the games you have on this list, but haven’t had the joy of playing them yet. I think most are on Steam for the PC? I don’t PC game much, which is why I’ve missed out on quite a number of these standouts.

    I think the original Mass Effect series and Final Fantasy XV stand out in my mind as games that gave me the feels. Final Fantasy XV is the biggest surprise to me because I didn’t expect the ending to be as bittersweet as it turned out and then there’s the strong bond Noctis has with his friends and protectors. I needed a week to recover from that gaming experience. I think the best games to play are the ones that leave an emotional impact on you. You tend to remember those better.

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    1. I think most of the games on this list have made their way to the consoles now… except To The Moon. I have a feeling it’s still only available on PC unfortunately!

      All of them are titles that left me with a tear in my eye (or sobbing my heart out) and still thinking about the ending weeks after I’d finished. If a developer can manage to do that, they’ve definitely tugged on the right heartstrings.

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  10. Games that made me feel something? That’s tough. I’ve played most of the games on your list and didn’t feel a thing while playing. Everyone’s different though :).

    If I had to choose games I would go with The Witcher 3 (when Geralt finally found Ciri) and some more spoiler-ish scenes later on in the game. The Mass Effect Trilogy. Mostly part 3 though because of what happened in the end.

    And games like Xcom, and Civilization. It’s hard not to get emotionally invested in a character that I’ve spent the last 40 hours trying to keep alive in Xcom. I gave them a name, a cool nickname, best friends, and watching them get zapped by alien not only pissed me off but made me sad because I had just lost one of my best characters. In Civilization it’s different. I’m in charge of safeguarding my kingdom through different eras and being wiped out is not a good feeling. It’s not a feeling of sorrow, but of defeat. I don’t cry during games, but getting emotional, to me, means more than just shedding a tear or weeping. A game has yet to do that to me. The father daughter moments of Geralt and Ciri come close because I have kids.

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    1. A game has to connect with something personal to you to make it emotional and everyone has their own experiences in their lives, so I guess that helps explain why we’re all affected by different things within video games. It’s lovely that you mention your children; if a developer can make you think of something so personal while playing their title, they’ve done something right. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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