As gamers, we’re all familiar with emotional moments in our games. Developers are no stranger to putting traces of emotion in them and some have even pioneered new ways to tug at our heartstrings. But some games do that without any warning. If you’re happily jumping around in a platformer or tackling a goofy-looking boss creature in an adventure game, you would never expect someone to unload some really heavy subject material in between the cheers of joy or colorful scenery. They catch you off guard in every manner of the sense. Here are five emotional moments from games that you would never expect to be shedding tears while playing.
NOTE: This article contains spoilers for some games. Read carefully!
A Christmas Gift (Elite Beat Agents, Nintendo DS, 2006)
Elite Beat Agents was an overlooked DS gem that merged captivating rhythm gameplay with a quirky and eccentric group of heroes. The goal of the game was to use the power of uplifting cheerleading and encouragement to help people through their daily struggles. It was so goofy and weird that its feel-good vibe was constant…until you get to the final challenge. A father is leaving his wife and daughter for a business trip during the Christmas season. Before leaving, he promises to bring a gift to his daughter. Days later, the wife reveals to her daughter that the father had been in an accident and won’t be returning. With the wife grieving over her husband’s death, the girl (by faith or simple denial) encourages her mother to prepare the home for her father’s return. With each challenge, the girl and her mother clean and cook, with each successful challenge providing subtle hints that her father will return for Christmas, despite his passing. If you succeed, the ghost of the father returns smiling, embracing his family and bringing his daughter her promised gift (if you fail, he doesn’t return, which makes you feel like crap). It’s shocking to see such intense emotion in a game like this. Themes like coping with death and fixing a broken family are deep enough, but the tear jerking and heart wrenching subject matter reaches an all-time high once you realize that the song you’re playing to is the power ballad “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago. If you’re after some stealthily placed feelings, this moment will deliver them and leave you crying on the couch for hours.
Welcome Back, Brother (Luigi’s Mansion, Gamecube, 2001)
Luigi has always been the second fiddle to his brother Mario, but Luigi’s Mansion was the green machine’s triumphant rise to fame. After exploring the mansion and sucking up all the ghosts, Luigi is finally able to defeat King Boo and save his brother from his portrait prison. Luigi delivers Mario’s painting to Professor E. Gadd’s machine to extract Mario from inside. Mario appears, the portrait frame around his neck and dizzy stars around his head. Luigi, in a sense of awe and relief to finally see his brother safe and sound, begins shedding tears and slowly moves into laughter. Luigi’s ordeal was long, arduous, and it forced him to face his fears, all because he wanted his only brother to return. This instantaneous moment of being able to see a departed loved one after such a trial is rare to Nintendo’s vibe. Luigi’s joy quickly replaces that notion, as he can finally be happy and relieved that Mario is okay. It’s one of the briefest and most subtle moments of emotion seen in any game with Mario, but it stands out so incredibly well that you feel like you were fighting alongside Luigi the whole time, all to bring Mario back to safety.
Death of Maria (Gears of War 2, Xbox 360, 2008)
For a series so drenched in bullet shells and testosterone, one wouldn’t expect Gears of War to shed a tear over death. Sure, war games have had their pondering moments where characters wonder what they’re fighting for, but the human element of losing a loved one wasn’t something the series was well known for. Gears of War 2 changed that when Marcus Fenix and his pal Dom finally achieve Dom’s goal of finding his wife Maria. The guys unlock a chamber with Maria’s body inside, with Maria walking out without a scratch or a scrape to spare. Dom embraces Maria, only to discover Maria’s true condition, a near-death figure who’s been tortured and deprived of health. Her grey skin and scraggly black hair emits a cadaver-like vibe, with Dom shedding tears over the fact that he couldn’t rescue her before the torturing began. Dom emits true emotion, a stark contrast to the badassery that he and Marcus had shown up till then. Marcus leaves Dom to perform Maria’s execution, the only way to grant her reprieve from her condition. This moment stands out so much due to its human element, where the gritty and jaded war heroes can finally be human beings again, but at the cost of losing someone they love.
I Just Want You Gone (Portal 2, PC/360/PS3, 2011)
Portal is a funny series that very rarely goes deep in its guts for emotion. It’s playful, snarky and downright witty in its vibe, and no one does it better than villainess GLaDOS. But Portal 2 brought us a goofy, stuttering new villain in Wheatley, who usurps GLaDOS’ control of Aperture Science and places GLaDOS’ digital brain in a potato battery. Main heroine Chell is forced to carry GLaDOS’ spud HUD around throughout the entire remainder of the game, all the way till Wheatley’s defeat. GLaDOS, in sheer shock that Chell would not destroy her in her defenseless state, grabs Chell back through the portal that banished Wheatley into space, saving her life. GLaDOS then claims to have learned lessons about humanity, then sends Chell upward through the elevator and into a golden wheat field, freeing her from her imprisonment in Aperture Science. Up until Portal 2, GLaDOS wasn’t worth sharing sympathy with. She was a mouthy jerk of an AI, but in realizing that Chell didn’t destroy her even when she could have (even after all that GLaDOS did to her), GLaDOS returned the favor and spared Chell’s life as a test subject. Portal 2 was GLaDOS’ triumphant return, a way for a dark, villainous computer to show a sense of remorse, compassion and emotion.
Reunion (Pokemon X and Y, 3DS, 2013)
Probably one of the last games you’d expect to have any deep, emotive meaning, Pokemon is Nintendo’s RPG kingdom of a series. Hundreds of colorful creatures and lots of light-hearted characters meant good times for all. But Pokemon X and Y didn’t play that game. It was thick with symbolism and heavy subject matter, specifically life and death. The mysterious figure AZ possesses a disturbingly mature look at mortality. After losing his Floette in a war, AZ grieved considerably. In an effort to revive his Pokemon, AZ created a massive machine that could bring a Pokemon back to life, but at the cost of other Pokemon’s lives. Though his Pokemon was revived and both it and AZ were given eternal life, AZ was still angry at the fighting and wars that led his Pokemon to its death, changing the machine into a weapon that would supposedly end all wars. Floette was unable to cope with the loss of so many lives for such a purpose and left AZ. After Team Flare’s defeat and the machine’s destruction by the player, AZ challenges the player to a battle. After being defeated, AZ is finally able to truly repent for his rash actions, leading his Floette to return to him. The idea of eternal life with an endless guilt would never have been expected in a Pokemon game prior to X and Y. War alone was only mentioned once before X and Y (with Kanto Gym Leader Lt. Surge). AZ’s story alone is something unsettling, but realizing how long his story has been going on is something spectacularly surreal for a Pokemon game. And the moment where AZ and Floette are reunited, after so long, is something that was guaranteed to leave you in tears or at least shock.
There are surely more! Share your shockingly emotional moments in gaming in the comments!