Man, half the challenge in making these lists is trying to come up with titles that somewhat describe what I actually wrote. Doesn’t help that Stian comes up with the weirdest subjects for these.
After I challenged him to reveal his perverted crushes on video game characters, he turned the tables on me and asked if I would share the moments where games made me emotional. What does that even mean??? Well, the way I interpreted it, it would have to be a list of the times where games got me all teary-eyed; be it because of tragic plot twists, being overjoyed at a hard-earned victory, or witnessing the conclusion of an emotional and heartwarming character arc.
And man, had he asked me that for anime, I would have put together a list no problemo. I am way more emotionally invested in the anime I watch than the games I play, so keep an eye out over at Reasons to Anime, where a sister article will be appearing today. Stian had to pull double duty for his list, so it only feels right that I do two as well.
Be warned, the list below will spoil important scenes from these games. For that reason, I am keeping the headlines somewhat vague and the pictures spoiler-free. If you spot a game you intended to still play, consider skipping ahead a bit.
Frog’s Resolve – Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger is perhaps the most emotional game I got to play on the Super Nintendo. I really didn’t think anything made in 16-bit graphics for a machine that has less power than the average wristwatch nowadays could have such a profound impact on me.
Out of all the beautiful scenes in this game, I feel that the one I remember with the most passion is the conclusion of Frog’s initial character arc. Frog is a hero with a lot of guilt, a man who was unable to prevent the death of his best friend at the hands of the evil Magus, and who felt he could never be a true hero. After much questing, finding the Hero’s Badge, and restoring the Masamune, Frog is brought back into the fold and agrees to aid Chrono in his quest; a quest that will once again see Frog confront Magus.
With Magus’ Castle located, Frog displays his resolve in finally accepting ownership of The Masamune, raising the blade to the heavens, and splitting open the blocked path leading to his mortal enemy. It’s a gorgeous and powerful scene, made all the more touching by how brilliantly Frog’s iconic theme song lines up with his actions. It fills the player with hype to finally take the fight to this villain and it’s hard not to shed a tear at seeing Frog finally accept his role as Cyrus’ successor. He is going to carry out his friend’s quest and realize their dream of bringing peace to Guardia.
Final battle – Alice: Madness Returns
“Make your survival mean something or we are all doomed!”
The ending to the original American McGee’s Alice was amazing and very satisfying. Alice had fallen into mental and emotional decline after the death of her parents and sister. After years of failing treatment in an asylum, she delved into her inner Wonderland once again and began to fight back against the influences corrupting it. By the end of the original story, Alice had finally regained her sanity and freedom.
Years later, Madness Returns came around and, once again, Alice’s mind was in shambles. A new doctor is treating her, but it isn’t catching on. Alice’s progress has stagnated and Wonderland is once again falling apart, albeit at the hands of new villains. And the individual responsible for all of it, Dr. Angus Bumby, is perhaps the vilest antagonist I have ever dealt with in a video game. And, by the end of the story, he has all but certainly won
Wonderland is ruined and, in the real world, Alice is powerless to stand against him. However, a final burst of confidence allows Alice’s Wonderland persona to muster the will for one more battle. She dons the classic outfit from the original PC game and finally puts an end to a decennium of torment and abuse, avenging her family in the process. With Wonderland back in her control, Alice solves all of her real-world problems with one final push and walks away.
Gael’s Fate – Dark Souls III
Throughout the player’s adventures in the Dark Souls trilogy, they are afforded scarce few allies. Even those few NPCs who do not betray or outright target the player frequently die or turn hollow before long. Putting them out of their misery is never pleasant, but it’s a necessary task.
Another fate entirely would befall Slave Knight Gael, the player’s friend throughout much of the DLC of Dark Souls III. He begs the player to aid him in his quest, for Ariandel is rotting and a new Painted World must be created. He is a father figure to The Painter, but realizes he is no champion and can’t overcome the challenges ahead. He helps the player in their battle against Sister Friede, reigniting the flame of Ariandel, and sets out to the Ringed City to find pigment for The Painter to use.
Throughout The Ringed City, Gael can once again be relied on to point players the way to safety and aid them in boss battles. However, his search for pigment leads him to the Pygmy Lords, whose blood infused with the Dark Soul was required. At the same time, the player shatters the spell on The Ringed City, allowing time to catch up with it and lay waste to the pygmy capital. The blood of the now-ancient Pygmy Lords became dry and near-useless. Desperate, Gael consumes them and takes the Dark Soul for himself, even though his body is unable to contain it.
To complete Gael’s original request and help create a new Painted World, players have no other choice but to slay Gael and take the Dark Soul from his corpse. It’s a lengthy, multi-phase battle set to an amazing theme song; what better send-off to the final game in the trilogy and its most tragic character.
Awakening – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
“But, verily, it be the nature of dreams to end.”
I was originally going to give this spot to the final choice moment in Bastion, until I got around to finishing the remaster of Link’s Awakening. And here I was, thinking I could finally publish one of these lists without being a Zelda fanboy.
Throughout Link’s Awakening, there is a lot to fall in love with on the island of Koholinth. It’s a pleasant place with kind people and a relaxed atmosphere. The game even hints at a romantic attraction between Link and Marin, the girl who rescued him; the two of them can even go on a date together. It’s a lot of story and character cramped into such a little GameBoy game (turned Switch remasted), but the game also makes it clear that this is not meant to last.
The player discovers hints that Koholinth is but a dream made tangible by the existence of the slumbering Wind Fish, and the only way to escape is to defeat the nightmares and awaken him. However, doing so will also wash away all the people on the island, many of which are not aware of this. The Wind Fish assures they’ll live on in memory, but it’s telling that your guide throughout the adventure explicitly withholds this information, as he fears Link will refuse the quest if he knows.
When the player defeats the final boss and the Wind Fish is saved, they are “treated” to scenes of the islanders being erased before cutting to a final shot of the entire island vanishing. Link awakens on his raft and only in the GameBoy original there exists a semblance of a hint that something of the island lives on. You set out to save the island, but ended up becoming its undoing. It’s unpleasant and painful, but would it be fairer to doom the Wind Fish to eternal slumber to prolong a pleasant dream? I don’t know.
Marberry Shore Aftermath – Valkyria Chronicles
Racism is a prominent theme within the Valkyria Chronicles series, most prominently directed at the Darcsen population which are identified by their black hair. They are an analogy for real-world Jewish people and its this prejudice against them that forms a rift within the ranks of the mixed-race unit 3rd regiment, squad 7 of the Gallian militia.
Many of the soldiers are hostile towards their Darcsen companions and will fight worse if they come near one during battle. Most prominently, Rosie absolutely resents the tank operator Isara Gunther, who drives the player character Welkin around in their customized tank. Isara has to prove herself time and time again, but eventually gets through to Rosie in the aftermath of a fairly normal battle.
Just as Rosie is about to thank Isara for all her help and ask forgiveness, Isara is shot by an Imperial straggler and dies surrounded by the officers of Squad 7. She is the only unavoidable death throughout the story and, while her personal dreams were left unfulfilled, Rosie keeps her promise by singing for Isara at her funeral.
If we needed any further proof that Sega is evil, then that funeral scene would be it.
Rynith’s Reunion – Gears of Destiny
I may be a bit of a cheater by including a tie-in game for a favorite anime series of mine, but Gears of Destiny is an interesting beast that acts as a big melting pot of the entire Nanoha canon. Characters from across the anime, drama CDs, novels, and manga are all drawn to the same point in the series’ continuity and forced to battle one another. This includes a tearful reunion, however briefly, between the long-dead Rynith and her students Fate and Alph.
Fate has endured a lifetime of abuse, as she was born as a clone to her “sister” Alicia, and her mother resented her for her every imperfection. Rynith was brought in to educate Fate and her familiar Alph, and train them both for combat, so that her mother could use the girls for her personal ambitions. After her service was complete, Rynith died in order to give the girls one pleasant memory of their childhoods and faded from existence.
To have her brought back for Gears of Destiny was an unexpected and beautiful gesture on behalf of series writer Masaki Tsuzuki and developer Witch Craft. Long-time fans got to see one of the most lovable and tragic characters of the series once again, and it permitted Rynith a chance to finally say her farewells to the girls she raised.
Subspace Emissary Credits – Super Smash Bros. Brawl
I am not the kind of person to sit around during the end credits of a movie or video game. There are always other things to do, and if I really liked a product I’ll check out who made it at my own pace eventually. The exception here is Super Smash Bros. Brawl and its Subspace Emissary campaign.
After a truly enormous story mode that compiled the worlds of various Nintendo (& friends) licenses and brought together the heroes and villains of these franchises in a quest to save the entire gaming world, the player is tired. It has been a long and difficult path with many labyrinths and powerful bosses. They are ready to end the game, but suddenly this Latin song swells up and captivates them.
The lyrics are a spot-on description of what makes the Smash Bros. series so appealing and the choir puts so much soul into the performance that I couldn’t even imagine skipping it. Much of the performance is just build-up and lyrics on a black background, before finally cutting to the shot of the entire cast gazing at the horizon from atop a cliff; heroes and villains of various legends, all united for a common cause and standing together as friends. Never before has a credit sequence felt so hard-earned and so rewarding.
Dorn’Hazt – Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 caught a lot of flak upon its release and its ending certainly took up most of the debate surrounding Bioware’s conclusion to the trilogy. This is a shame, because the game concludes so many story threads and features a ton of beautiful moments.
For me personally, I always felt very attached to the Quarians and their mission to retake their home planet after generations of living a migratory lifestyle. In Mass Effect 3, players finally get to visit Rannoch and battle against the Geth forces present there. Not long after landing, players come upon a dying Quarian and are unable to save his life. Then, in his dying breath, the man proudly proclaims that he “made it to the homeworld” and asks the player to tell that to his son.
On a list filled with dying main characters and other such tear-jerking moments, the death of a random man who is never seen before or after might seem insignificant. The Quarian, Dorn’Hazt, was not even relevant enough to get his own wikia page. However, his parting words so beautifully illustrate the significance of this moment to the Quarian people. He can die with pride, knowing that he made it to Rannoch and played a part in retaking the planet.
The Quarians are going home.
Red Asphalt – Saint’s Row 2
“I’m sure you’ll do something scary. Do me a favor. When you’re scraping up your buddy’s face, just remember Maero gave you a chance to be his partner.”
Cruel plot-twists are all well and good, but the tragedy is so much more powerful if characters owe it to themselves. The second game in the Saint’s Row series starts off with a young gangster called Carlos getting himself stabbed in order to meet the player character, who just woke up from a coma. From there, Carlos turns into a bit of a protegé; he admires the player and helps them rebuild The Saints, and he takes their advice on how to become a better gangster. When he is then put in charge of dealing with the rival gang “The Brotherhood”, he manages to secure talks for an alliance.
That is when the player character gets greedy and allows the talks to break down, after which they resentfully (and literally) terrorize The Brotherhood and force the two factions into conflict. For revenge, The Brotherhood kidnaps Carlos, tie him up behind a car, and drag him across the city streets for hours. Players are given a mission where they must save him by destroying the car, all while Carlos constantly screams in pain and begs for help.
It’s an agonizingly tricky mission to complete, yet no matter how fast you are, there is no saving Carlos from a painful and drawn-out death. A death that your character is entirely responsible for.
End of the line – Oneshot
The greatest achievement of the curious indie game Oneshot is how it forges a bond between its protagonist Niko and the player. You don’t so much play as Niko as you guide him throughout the adventure and he is fully aware of you. He asks for your advice, he chats with you to alleviate the loneliness, asks questions to find out more about you, and, over time, grows to trust you.
Your quest throughout the game is to carry the lightbulb that Niko carries to a tower in the middle of a dying world. You and Niko meet the inhabitants along the way and forge friendships, but in time, you learn that getting Niko back home and restoring light to the world are mutually exclusive. You place the lightbulb in the tower and the world will be saved. You shatter it into pieces and Niko gets to go home. Worse still, Niko doesn’t have this information.
Do you put Niko’s wellbeing above the fate of an entire world or do you let him be sacrificed for the good of everyone else? Do you even tell him that you’re making a choice here? After spending so much time with Niko, it’s heartbreaking to make an important life decision for him, knowing so little about what will happen besides that the two of you will be forever separated.
That… was taxing on me. A difficult list to be sure and one I hope you all enjoyed. I am going to be nice to Stian for once and ask for a relatively simple list: games that you got to appreciate better when you replayed them at a later age. I certainly know a few titles from my childhood that I didn’t like until I came back to them as an adult. Can you pull it off?