[Caution: Major Spoilers ahead including Death Stranding]
We have previously given you our Top Saddest Games, games that take you on an emotional journey from start to finish but this time we will be look at those precise moments or scenes in gaming that have rendered us silent. Therefore, there will be a level of overlap but also a good number of entries from game series which are not sad but still deliver powerful tear-jerking moments.
How we determined the saddest video game moments:
- Is it a genuinely sad moment that isn’t forced or contrived?
- Have the characters involved been developed well, heightening the payoff?
- Is the moment enhanced by art, dialogue and music?
- Does the moment make the player reflect and think on the moment?
Of course, what makes one sad varies from person to person; video games are a very personal experience. Yet there are undeniable common factors which can elicit a sense of sadness by highlighting the struggles of the human experience. So, without further ado let us dive into some of the Saddest moments we have ever experienced in gaming.
12 Halo Reach – the Death of Kat-B320
|Initial Release Date:||September 14, 2010|
|Platforms:||Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows|
|Publisher: :||Microsoft Game Studios|
For Halo fans, Halo reach was a game that showed the human fragility of the Spartans and the sacrifices that they made to defend humanity. Playing as Master Chief it is sometimes hard to see the Spartans as anything other than invincible demi-gods of war.
However, in Halo Reach you step into the shoes of an expendable Spartan-III and witness the fall of one of humanities most important plants – Reach. You aren’t on the winning side and you will witness cities being glassed and heroes losing their lives left right and center. Noble team is your squad and every one of them is an interesting and well written character; which is why it is so difficult to watch them die as nameless heroes.
Personally, none hits as hard as the brutal and unceremonious slaying of Kat who is simply silenced while mid-sentence. Noble team are being redeployed as the city around them is being glassed, which also happens to knock out their spartan shields. At this moment Kat is running side by side with our protagonist and is simply sniped through the back of her skull. I remember going silent as she slumped into the player’s arms and then the team quietly carries her body away and signals for evac.
The silence, the music and the suddenness of her death is powerful, and it reminds us that Spartan’s are just humans as we are.
11 Dark Souls – The Death of Solaire
|Initial Release Date:||September 22, 2011|
|Platforms:||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch|
|Publisher: :||Namco Bandai Games|
Dark Souls is a game full of tragic characters and brutal truths but after having played all three games several times, the first moment that comes to mind when I think of ‘sad’ has to be the fate of Solaire. When Dark Souls debuted and discussions began, rampant speculation began regarding the character Solaire; who is he? What are his aims?
Part of the interest in his character is the fact he is just so damn likeable and indomitable; ‘in a land brimming with undead’, he is always full of hope and bombast. When you are struggling through the cathedral of Anor Londo for the first time, it is comforting to find him by a bonfire. He raises your spirits with his humor and his optimism. He is even by your side when you take on the feared duo; Ornstein and Smough.
Yet it turns out he isn’t a god, or a legendary hero or the first born of Lord Gwyn. He is nobody, he is just an exceptional warrior searching for his place in the world as you are. He is here to find his own ‘Sun’, without really knowing exactly what he is looking for. Unless you take certain steps, this chore will eventually break him down.
You find him questioning himself in Lost Izalith – this in itself is bleak and disheartening. What’s worse is when you learn of his ultimate fate; he allows himself to be taken by an Izalith parasite. He is driven mad by the spider like creature which burrows into his brain but produces a light – his ‘sun’. Definitely one of the saddest video game moments.
10 Final Fantasy VII – Aeris’s Death
|Initial Release Date:||January 31, 1997|
|Platforms:||PlayStation, Windows, iOS, Playsation 4, Android, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One|
Final Fantasy remains one of the most beloved games of the franchise, which is why the game is so widely available (including on mobile) and why it is getting a remake. Jumping into the shoes of Cloud was one of the most memorable experiences of the 90’s.
However, there is a moment in the game that is spoken of more than others and that is the devastating scene where the endearing Aeris is murdered by Sephiroth. The scene was so devastating at the time because it’s delivery and unexpectedness is perfectly executed.
Aeris death is a great injustice but it is the injustice of it that makes it powerful; you can feel Cloud’s despair, shock and rage. It drives you forward for the remainder of the quest. It makes defeating Sephiroth personal and it makes Aeris a memorable character whose death will never be forgotten.
9 The Last of Us – Joel’s Daughter
|Initial Release Date:||June 14, 2013|
|Platforms:||PlayStation 3 & PlayStation 4|
|Publisher: :||Sony Computer Entertainment|
Joel is a little bit crabbit during the journey of the Last of Us, but he has good reason to and in exploring his past we find one of the most heart-breaking moments in all of gaming. We first witness the world through the eyes of Sarah, the daughter of Joel, twenty years before the rest of the game.
We witness Joel and Sarah struggle through the early days of the outbreak, when they are forced to flee their home as the world begins to fall to madness. Joel is very different at this point in his personal history, he is warm, caring and loves his daughter.
This is what makes what happens so tragic; as Joel and Sarah flee the infected, they are saved by a soldier. This is only a temporary respite as the soldier is ordered to open fire on the duo. Tommy intervenes and kills the soldier but not before Sarah is fatally wounded. Watching Joel say goodbye to his daughter, who dies in his arms is painful and is only exacerbated when you consider the fact he never recovers. 20 years into the future he still mourns her and has changed into a brutal and cold survivor.
8 Telltale’s the Walking Dead Series – Lee’s Fate
|Initial Release Date:||April 24, 2012|
|Platforms:||Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Linux and OS X|
|Publisher: :||Telltale Games|
No matter what you think of the Television adaptation of Robert Kirman’s work, it is widely accepted that Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’ is one of the games that does character development perfectly. The protagonist of the first season, Lee Everrett, is an engaging character to get behind; a fallen university professor who was convicted of murdering a state senator who was having an affair with his wife.
The outbreak occurs as Lee is being transported by the police and he soon finds himself fighting for survival. Early on in his journey he meets Clementine, a girl with a heart of gold who finds herself alone. Lee becomes her protector and as they go through trauma together, they create a deep bond that is moving and emotional.
Lee redeems himself from being a convict; himself to be a leader, a father and a hero and watching him grow into a truly great man is a privilege we have as players. Sadly, this is not to last and when Clementine goes missing, Lee rushes to save her and in throwing caution to the wind he is bitten by a walker. What follows is a heart wrenching scene between father and daughter, where Clementine must shoot her protector before striking out on her own.
7 Ori and the Blind Forest – The Passing of Naru
|Initial Release Date:||March 11, 2015|
|Platforms:||Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows|
|Publisher: :||Microsoft Studios|
Ori stands out from its Metroidvania peers as one of the most dynamic and visually stunning to be produced in the sidescroller style. The game drives atmosphere with lighting, music and beautiful art but many people will remember Ori as an emotional adventure that has the player welling up at several points.
The story is presented in and endearing and childlike manner which makes the loss that Ori suffers all the more poignant. Ori is an orphan and the way she interacts with the world is very childlike and this only heightens the sadness that we feel in her moments of loneliness.
There is no moment that encapsulates this more than the moment when Ori’s guardian passes. Naru raised Ori when she found her by herself after a great storm. Their bond is beautiful, the animations do an incredible job of conveying how pure and good hearted Naru is. She playfully throws Ori around and cuddles her at night as they rest from a day’s work. All of this is shattered when a cataclysmic event traps the pair in their cave.
Hope never came the narrator tells us as we witness a dejected and starving Naru leave the cave desperately in search for food. She gives her last bit of fruit to her child and falls asleep, never to reawaken. This prologue has a charm to it, but watching Ori bring some fruit home to Naru, only to find she has already passed is still hard to think about.
6 The Witcher 3 – The Bloody Baron’s Child
|Initial Release Date:||May 19, 2015|
|Platforms:||Microsoft Window, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch|
|Developer:||CD Projekt Red|
|Publisher: :||CD Projekt|
No surprise that one of the greatest story driven RPGs of all time makes it on to the list, as it boasts some incredible emotionally driven storylines. The voice acting helps contribute to the impact of some of these moments and is further enhanced by the atmosphere and soundtracks.
A couple of moments come to mine, Vesemir’s death for instance; here is a character we know and love from the books and the previous games. Geralt and the other heroes are incapacitated while the Wild Hunt closes in on Ciri. Vesemir heroically puts himself between them and her before purposely instigating his own death so that Ciri doesn’t need to choose.
Yet the moment that really tugs at my heart strings is the story of the Bloody Baron and his broken family. The backdrop to this story is heartbreaking but incredible; here we have a very bad man, an abusive husband and yet we sympathize with his pain because he realizes the loss of his wife and child is his fault. He wants to make amends and so the Witcher helps him by pushing the Baron to fix it.
This culminates in an atmospheric scene where the Baron reunites with his lost child, who has since become a monstrous Botchling. He holds the creature in his hands and embraces it as his daughter, giving her a name before she passes over. The rain lashing, the music and the quiver in the Baron’s voice is just a sublime set piece and will stay with the player for months to come.
5 Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – Dillion’s Murder
|Initial Release Date:||August 9, 2017|
|Platforms:||Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows|
|Publisher: :||Ninja Theory|
Senua’s Sacrifice is probably one of the most powerful and affecting games that I have ever played. It is a journey into the mind of Senua, a skilled celtic warrior who suffers from psychosis and who is traumatised by the events of her life.
Not many games have the courage to deal with the difficult subjects that surround mental health but Hellblade takes it head on and Senua’s character is more powerful for it. The strength of this game not only comes from the themes that it explores but also the way in which it does it.
Ninja Theory uses ambient noises to accentuate the harrowing journey deep into the underworld of Senua’s mind. The voices that whisper from all directions, the howling wind and the mocking voice of her father help create an incredible oppressive atmosphere.
Yet the reason for Senua undertaking this journey is for her lover, Dillion, who was mercilessly sacrificed to the Norse gods via the blood eagle execution. His death is brutal and violent and having to watch Senua collapse before her lovers’ body is heart wrenching.
Not only because of the brutality of the scene but also because of what it means for her; she believes his soul to have been taken and this forces her undertake the harrowing journey that we witness. To save her lover she will cut off his head and travel all the way to Hell but in the end we realize her husband could not be saved, but perhaps Senua could be.
4 Gears of War 3 – Dom’s End
|Initial Release Date:||September 20, 2011|
|Publisher: :||Electronic Arts|
I’ll admit that when I was first sitting down to write this article, this is actually the first moment that popped into my head. Probably because Gears of War was a dear franchise to me and my gaming buddies when we were younger and how Dom’s ultimate fate took me by surprise. No one is going to argue that Gears has the best written plot of all time but there was a certain charm about the original trilogies characters that made the campaigns a joy to experience.
Dom is almost the lighter side of Marcus in Gears of War one; poking fun and laughing while Marcus remains stoic and serious. This takes a tragic turn in Gears 2, when part of the story deals with Dom searching for his missing wife; Maria. He finds her but she has been tortured and mutilated beyond recognition and sense. Dom is forced to put her out of her misery, and we see our happy go lucky warrior go down a dark path.
By the time we get to Gears of War 3 Dom is a very broken man, a far cry from the man we first met at the beginning of the series. The team eventually gets trapped at a gas station between Lambant and Locust forces, for which it is only a matter of time before they are wiped out. Dom takes drastic action by jumping into a lorry and speeding away.
He screams for the rest of the team to get clear and as we see him speeding towards the Gas Station, we see sheer panic in Marcus’s eyes as he realizes what his dear friend is about to do. The instrumental of ‘Mad World’ plays and it could not have been any more beautifully done.
Dom’s sacrifice saves the team as the resulting explosion wipes out the enemy position but the moment that follows is painful. The gritty and unemotional Marcus goes wide eyed in sheer pain as he scrambles towards his old friend. He can’t accept his death and must be dragged away by Anya; a powerful scene to see such a solid character to be rocked by the death of his closest friend.
3 Mass Effect 3 – Mordin’s Death
|Initial Release Date:||March 6, 2012|
|Platforms:||Microsoft Window, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii U|
|Publisher: :||Electronic Arts|
Mass Effect 3 is the conclusion to an involved and emotional journey with commander Shepard and his rag tag group of heroes. The journey has always been one that has meant sacrifices, including the choice in the first game where you need to leave Ash or Kaiden behind. Yet Shepard generally manages to keep his team alive; if you prepare properly in Mass Effect 2 then you can get everyone out alive from the suicide mission.
That all changes when the reapers arrive in Mass Effect 3 and just start glassing entire planets and wiping out entire civilizations at will. For once Shepard does not seem invincible and he must struggle from one point to the next, just to survive and gather allies.
It is during this desperate bid to find allies that one of Shepard’s companions, Mordin, seeks to right the wrongs of his past by curing the Krogan Genophage that has so decimated the Krogan species. This becomes his singular focus, especially in light of impending extinction and the guilt that this logical and practical man displays is moving. The sequence ends with the Salarian entering an elevator and saying farewell to Shepard: “Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong”.
With those final words Mordin undoes his war crimes and breaths in a new brighter future for the Krogan, he makes it right at the cost of his own life. God speed Mordin.
2 Death Stranding – Clifford’s Unjust Fate
|Initial Release Date:||November 8, 2019|
|Publisher: :||Sony Interactive Entertainment|
[MAJOR DEATH STRANDING SPOILERS]
Death Stranding is the game on everyone’s lips and for good reason; the game takes an all stars cast and spins an incredible tale that spans across post-apocalyptic America. While the gameplay has the player base divided, there aren’t many who can deny that it looks beautiful and provides compelling characters whose stories keep you coming back for more.
The America we experience has been rocked by an event known as the ‘Death Stranding’, where the dead (BTs) press themselves into our world, hunt down the living and cause a voidout; a cataclysmic explosion that results from a living person combining with the anti-matter found within the body of a BT.
To help navigate this world, a forbidden technology was developed; BBs or Bridge babies, which are undeveloped children harvested from brain dead women. They are put in pods and hooked up as a kind of early BT detector, but while they look cute, they are a constant reminder of the harshness of the world.
Then there is Clifford Unger, the soldier played by Mads Mikkelsen (to perfection) who is a warrior that seems to hunt down Sam at intermittent points and suck him into his own personal purgatory (Beach) which is modelled after WW1 then WW2 and then Vietnam.
Cliff initially is terrifying, like a Demon who has control of the dead and hunts down his target with skeletal warriors at his command. He seems to be after his ‘BB’ and one initially assumes that this is Sam’s BB.
It is revealed that Bridges lied to him, they took his unwell wife and unborn son and used them in the early BB experiments but did not tell Cliff. He had to watch helplessly as his wife never awoke and time passed. He eventually tries to break his BB out of the facility but is gunned down but we get a tender moment; Sam gets to observe this event and watch Cliff trying to protect his young child. As he slips out of consciousness, he sings his baby a lullaby and then breaks through the third wall and speaks to Sam.
Here he reveals the heart-breaking truth…but some things need to be experienced and so I will save that last secret for now. Go watch the scene and play the game, it is truly moving and the whole of Cliff’s tragic fall will stay with me for months to come.
1 Undertale – Asgore
|Initial Release Date:||September 15, 2015|
|Platforms:||PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch & OS X|
|Publisher: :||Toby Fox|
There is very little doubt that Undertale is one of the greatest games of the last decade (check out its placing on our Best Games of the 2010’s list) and part of that is the way in which it delivers a great cast of endearing characters and puts their fate directly in your hands. From the moment that Toriel sadly challenges you to a fight to stop you from proceeding, I was hooked.
Each of the ‘monsters’ that you encounter in the game show more humanity than any human character in any game that we have played. Sans and Papyrus take you under their wing and keep you entertained with their back and forth banter. Undyne is a powerful hard faced warrior and yet once you befriend her, she is one of the most loyal and warm hearted ‘person’ that you could ever meet.
All of these characters are tragic in their own way, as you learn despite the fact the ‘monsters’ sometimes seem intimidating to you, it is actually you who are the more powerful and is you who can show cruelty or understanding.
Out of all of the characters in the game, none deserves mercy and pity more than Asgore Dreemur, the King of the Underground. Asgore was once married happily to Toriel and they had a child together; Asriel. However, through tragic circumstances he lost them both when Asriel passed and then Toriel left him when he gave way to anger.
Yet despite his appearance, Asgore is a good ‘man’ who speaks to the player with respect and affection, making it clear he is fighting because he has no choice. The man is tragic and when defeated he kneels before you, not expecting mercy. Giving him mercy and then working towards the pacifist ending gives Asgore the peace the poor man deserves.
Jump into the underground and meet this memorable character who’s story and pureness will warm your heart.
So, grab your handkerchief and discover some of the most moving moments in gaming.
If you liked our list of the saddest video game moments, you may enjoy this article as well:
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