While video games started as a way to keep rowdy customers pumping quarters into machines instead of breaking beer bottles and bar stools, game development has increasingly focused on atmosphere and environment, diverting more and more attention to the storytelling aspect and various devices made possible through an interactive environment. In this list, I will be discussing the ten most tragic video game moments I have had the pleasure to experience.

Half-Minute Hero is an 8-bit throwback to the old Final Fantasy games. Players of the original Final Fantasy will recognize the silent protagonist and general storytelling being made fun of, and players quickly get accustomed to two-dimensional characters and humorous storytelling. However, in the penultimate level of Half-Minute Hero, the player is introduced to a new character, Sasha, originally portrayed as a damsel in distress that is later revealed to be a monster transformed into a human in order to distract the main character from saving the world. Sasha eventually begins to show remorse for her actions and asks the player if they will still consider her a friend. Later, however, when the player destroys an altar causing the transformation, they are forced into a battle in which they are almost certainly tricked into killing her.

Though the game presents itself as being lighthearted and humorous, perhaps it is because Sasha's death is such a strong non-sequitor that players have been so greatly impacted by it. The fact that Sasha's death is not entirely deterministic is only another reason for players to feel guilty after killing her.

If you were stranded in a parallel dimension, sealed away from the love of your life, how far would you go to return home to your sweetheart? Media always portrays love as being an unstoppable force and the noblest of all causes, yet Alexander is cast as the antagonist in Amnesia: The Dark Descent. In order to open a portal back to his home world, Alexander must extract vitae from humans, which can only be done through torture. Reading Alexander's diaries as the game progresses, the player comes to understand that Alexander regrets his decisions and has looked for alternative methods of extracting vitae, but to no avail. Though this isn't a specific moment or line of dialogue from the game, the harsh reality of Alexander sinks in as the player continues through the game.

Though not the saddest theme in Silent Hill 2 (or the series for that matter), Angela's suicide captures the most emotion of any scene in the series onscreen. Haunting piano music plays as James confronts the deeply troubled Angela, who puts her long history of physical and sexual abuse behind her as she walks into a burning building. Yeah, you can go ahead and sing, "Cool girls walk into explosions," but it doesn't make the scene any less sad.

This one is a little bit different because the player is only able to comprehend the tragedy AFTER it has already happened. Near the end of the game, the player is forced to kill off Tom Redwood, an insane and paranoid survivor living in an abandoned mine. Though unstable, he serves as the only guide to the player as they wander about in the darkness. Red shows his insanity multiple times, most notably when he tricks the player into traveling through a spider-infested tunnel.

However, when the player finally does honor Red's final request by incinerating him, they soon after find his first diary entry after he became stuck in the mines. After hearing the strange and senseless dialogue from him through various intercom speakers, the player is suddenly inside the mind of someone who has not yet gone insane. Putting into perspective the dramatic transformation Red goes through as he adapts to his solitary lifestyle is not only disturbing but incredibly depressing.

Oh boy, Final Fantasy VI... Picking just one moment from this game is going to be very difficult.

Like other moments on this list, the scene on the Phantom Train is given its power by the silence and mental realization rather than what is shown directly to the player. After navigating through the Phantom Train, a train that escorts the living to the land of the dead, Cyan turns around and sees his family in one of the cars. The suddenness of this moment is what makes it so effective. When I first saw it, all I could do was mouth "no" over and over like a fish out of water.

Shadow of the Colossus is given power through its minimalism. With much of the game being spent riding a horse through eerily silent terrain, hearing nothing more than the wind howling, the player is given plenty of time to take in the atmosphere as they play. Wander's unwavering determination is shown through the gameplay as he slayed sixteen building-sized colossi unquestioningly in the hope of reviving a dead maiden. Only after all sixteen are slain does the player realize that Wander is severely weakened. He is unable to walk, his hair has turned black, and when stabbed, his wound spews a black gas. When Wander transforms into a giant demon, the player is in control of it for a short time before it is overcome and defeated. Wander never even gets to see the maiden stand before he is overwhelmed. Though sequences in which the player is expected to lose are becoming more common, it is perhaps the lack of dialogue in this game that makes this scene most tragic, because more emphasis is put into body language.

Though the moment in which Lee has to choose who to feed in Episode 2 is also an incredibly stressful moment for the player, it's when Lee dies that the tears start coming. After seeing over a dozen other characters being killed, sometimes even having to choose between them, Lee himself becomes one of them. Just when it seems as if Lee has lost everyone, his own life comes to a screeching halt. The fact that Clementine can be the one to kill him only serves to make the moment sadder. Ultimately, it is the immense familiarity the player has with Lee and all of the other characters after over ten hours of completely story-driven gameplay that causes the game to be so sad.

What, you mean this one isn't about Aerith's death? Too right it's not, because Aerith's death is too sudden for the player to even feel sad about it.

After Cloud and his party discover the aftermath of a massacre at the Golden Saucer, they follow the carnage, originally thinking Barrett to be the killer upon seeing bullet wounds in the victims. Barrett informs the party that there is another man with a machine gun for an arm, formerly his best friend and the biological father of Marlene. Once the player finds him, he reveals that after the destruction of Corel, he slipped into a spiral of depression and underwent a nihilistic transformation. Just like the last time Barrett saw him, Dyne disappears off of the edge of a cliff, only this time he doesn't make it. Though not particularly different from a lot of suicides, it is perhaps the lack of voice acting and graphical prowess that accentuates the conceptual undertones of this scene.

For only the second time in this list, the player is forced to kill off the character in question. Ramza has just killed his sociopathic older brother and is searching to find his kidnapped sister when he is faced with his final sibling: His brother, who died trying to protect him. Since then he has been resurrected and is being controlled by a demon to attack Ramza. If killing your own brother weren't enough, Zalbaag is able to speak to Ramza during this encounter, though he says he is without sensation and cannot perceive his surroundings. Eventually he tells of a terrible pain he feels and begs for death. If you have the pleasure of playing the wonderfully translated War of the Lions remake of the game, Zalbaag will give a more colorfully detailed depiction of his mental deterioration. Though there is no body language to speak of in the two-dimensional, sprite-operated world of Ivalice, the conversation between Ramza and his brother more than compensates and paints dark, vivid imagery for the player.

After saving the world from a nuclear catastrophe, Snake is forced to kill his mentor in order to more convincingly dissociate The Boss from American influence. By doing this, The Boss will claim responsibility for the Davy Crockett fired by Volgin, protecting the delicate balance that is the Cold War. But when you strip away all of the politics, it is a man killing his mentor and best friend. After everything The Boss goes through, having been used ruthlessly, being made to kill her own lover, and having her son taken from her, her death is no less tragic as a man she loves takes her life. When Snake defeats her, she is wounded and on the ground. The only thing left for him to do is pull the trigger... Only it's the player that has to do it. Perhaps the greatest reason for this being a tragic moment is the incredibly in-depth backstory between the two characters; a stronger connection could not be imagined.

So there you have it, ten of the most depressing moments in video game history. Because of various limitations, there were a myriad of other games and characters I was not able to touch on. Honorable mentions include Alessa Gillespie, Zack Fair, Kratos, Terra, Locke, Misao, and Viola from The Witch's House.

Video games are becoming increasingly more cinematic and story-driven as time goes on. Already we are seeing games more than capable of moving us to tears. Hopefully we can expect more emotionally investing stories from the industry in the future.

List by Kwing (06/25/2013)

Discuss this list and others on the Top 10 Lists board.

Have your own Top 10 in mind? Create and submit your own Top 10 List today.

Would you recommend this
Recommend this
Top 10? Yes No