So, non-readers, I’m still trying to get used to this whole blogging thing. So, I figured that a fun way to practice would be to create a top 10 list. That’s pretty much an internet staple, right? So, for my first list, I thought I would talk about something that often gets overlooked in video games: death. I know, fun, right? In a medium where death can often equate to resetting at the last checkpoint, and where it’s common to gun down waves of enemies without a second thought, there still exists the possibility for death to have meaning. Now, I’d like to preface this by saying that this is obviously a list filled to the brim with spoilers. So, you really shouldn’t proceed if you care about that type of thing. Also, this list only extends to games that I have personally played. So, if it seems like there are any obvious examples that I overlooked, it’s most likely because I’ve never played the game in question (for instance, anything Final Fantasy related). But, anyway, these are the gaming deaths I’ve witnessed that I feel have the most weight. Speaking of weight…
Runner Up: Weighted Companion Cube (Portal)
Now, okay, this one obviously shouldn’t count for several reasons. First of all, it’s an inanimate object (that cannot speak). Second, it’s supposed to be more funny than sad when GLaDOS forces you to euthanize your only friend. And, third, the cube is returned to you alive (?) and well at the end of the second game. For all of those reasons, I’m only making the cube a runner up on my list. However, there is something sad about the effect the cube’s “death” had on Doug Rattman, a person who went through the test facilities before your character. The hidden rooms you can find in the game make it clear that Rattman believed the cube to be an actual, living thing and he was clearly devastated when he was forced to “kill” his only friend. So, hey, even if its just a joke to most gamers, it affected somebody. You monster.
“Not in cruelty, not in wrath,
The reaper came today;
An angel visited this gray path,
And took the cube away.”
10. Yamask (Pokemon Black and White)
Pokemon isn’t exactly a franchise that’s known for its depictions of death. Yes, there have always been ghost Pokemon and the original games’ Lavender Town was themed around the death of Pokemon. But, those are exceptions to the rule. In general, it’s a pretty happy series about young children entering a society based entirely around making animals fight each other. The most recent generation, though, includes a new Pokemon named Yamask. The Pokedex description for it makes it clear that Yamask is, in fact, a tortured human soul. No, it’s not the soul of a Pokemon. It is very explicitly stated to be a human soul that you’ve added to your collection of pocket monsters. It will either spend the rest of its life fighting for you or you’ll put it inside of your PC where you store all of the other Pokemon you don’t use. To top it all off, Yamask appears to be very aware of it’s situation and it is not happy. So, my number ten spot goes to whatever poor, unfortunate souls died to create these things.
9. Kathryn (The Company of Myself)
The Company of Myself is one of those flash puzzle games that seems to have been made for the sake of art. In it, you play as a man who can repeat actions, leaving copies of himself behind to help him. This helps him accomplish things alone that most people would need the help of several other people to do. He continues forward this way in pursuit of a green box. At some point in the game, you learn that he used to be different. He used to depend on his lover, Kathryn to help him through life. That is, until the only way to progress was to sacrifice her. This is similar to the Companion Cube, but it isn’t played for laughs. This is a game about how the protagonist can’t deal with people anymore after having killed his wife. The entire thing is supposed to be part of a psychological evaluation. It all works very well. However, I can’t justify putting it any higher because the game is only about ten minutes long. Still, though, it’s a very good ten minutes.
8. The Joker (Batman: Arkham City)
You know, this death shouldn’t really be sad at all. The Joker is a psychopathic serial killer who, even moments before his death, admits that he will never stop spreading misery. His greatest desire is to go on endlessly torturing Batman. And his death is caused entirely by his own actions. He gave himself the disease that is eating away at his body throughout the course of the game and even (accidentally) destroyed the cure that Batman would have used to same him. Why, then, is it still sad to see him die? Maybe it’s the shock that the developers would really kill one of the most famous and longest-lasting villains in any medium. Maybe it’s the pathetic state he’s in by the time he finally passes away. Maybe it’s the look on the face of Harley Quinn (who observant players will know is pregnant with the Joker’s child) as Batman carries the body away. Whatever it is, this death was surprisingly effective.
7. Crono (Chrono Trigger)
This death is depressing because it serves as a demonstration of how futile your quest to save the world really is. Your party has traveled through time, facing great obstacles in every era of the world’s history. You’ve overcome them all on your way to face Lavos, the monster that will cause the end of nearly all life on the planet. And then you actually come face to face with it and… it promptly defeats all of the heroes with almost no effort. But, wait. Crono, the main character of the game, is still able to fight. He continues to stand in the monster’s path and is completely vaporized. This is one of the few games where the main character is actually killed before the conclusion. Of course, the rest of the party then launches a mission to save him using their time machine. So, the death isn’t permanent, which is why it’s relatively low on this list. Interestingly, though, reviving Crono is entirely optional. Yup, moving on without him is actually a viable option.
6. Briggs and Half of the World (Golden Sun: Dark Dawn)
This is one that I really was not expecting. Up until this point, the stakes of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn seemed pretty low. I mean, you spend the first half of it on a quest to get a feather because one of your idiot party members broke a hang glider. Then, the Grave Eclipse happens. This is an event that casts a large shadow on a huge section of the game’s map. And everyone within that circle dies. Simple as that. Your characters fail to stop this and have to escape the formerly bustling city that was at the center of the disaster. Monsters are everywhere, the streets are littered with corpses and, thanks to the mind reading powers of one of your characters, you get to hear the thoughts that these innocent people had as they were brutally slaughtered. You even see a little girl die right in front of you. And this is a Nintendo game. Probably the most significant casualty, though, was Briggs the pirate. He was a likeable character from the previous game, but he was not safe from the Eclipse. At least he died on his ship like he wanted…
5. Milla Vodello’s Orphans (Psychonauts)
Psychonauts is a game about a ten year old kid named Raz learning to be a psychic secret agent by entering the mental worlds inside other people’s heads. It’s also about conspiracies, insanity, and father issues. Every mind you enter is damaged in some way, even before you start helping patients at the local insane asylum. Psychic instructor Milla Vodello definitely has the cheeriest of all of the minds in the game, though. It’s a colorful dance party that’s meant to teach you to use your levitation ball. However, you can find some hidden memories of Milla’s that tell the story of how she used to run an orphanage. And then the orphanage burned down. With the orphans still inside. Given that pyrokinesis is one of the abilities you can learn in the game, this could easily be interpreted as the moment when her powers were awakened. Milla’s pretty good at keeping these memories repressed, but it is possible to enter the part of her mind where she keeps her nightmares. They take the form of twisted monsters that represent the children Milla failed to protect. And they talk. “Milla, why did you let us die?” “It’s hot. It’s burning.” For a funny game, Psychonauts can get pretty dark.
4. Toroko and King (Cave Story)
You wouldn’t think it from the cute, 8-bit art style, but a lot of characters can die in Cave Story. The friendly Doctor Booster can die falling down a pit. Curly Brace, a robot girl who cares for orphans (weird coincidence, considering the previous entry) can drown in order to save your life. You can even choose to escape the island early, dooming almost everyone. However, these deaths are preventable. Toroko and King, on the other hand, have to die and there’s nothing you can do about it. They’re Mimigas, the rabbit like inhabitants of the village at the center of the island that the game is set on. King is the village leader and Toroko is a little girl who often gets into trouble. The game’s villain, The Doctor, decides to exploit a weakness of the Mimiga species: they turn into mindless, blood-thirsty monsters when exposed to certain red flowers. He transforms Toroko (who, may I remind you, is a little girl) and forces you to kill her. Yes, not only does she inevitably die, but you’re the one who kills her. Shortly afterwards, King rushes in and tries to kill the Doctor for what he’s done. He dies for trying to interfere with The Doctor’s plans. The rest of the deaths can be prevented if you know what you’re doing, but these two set the stakes high in what initially seems like a pretty light-hearted adventure.
3. Wander (Shadow of the Colossus)
Shadow of the Colossus is a pretty amazing game, if only for the unbelievable size of the obstacles you must face. As Wander, you are tasked by a mysterious voice to hunt down and kill sixteen colossi in order to bring your girlfriend back from death. The deaths of each of these creatures are actually pretty sad, in and of themselves. Each colossus is really just a gentle creature that wouldn’t be hurting anyone if you weren’t trying to kill them. At least one of them doesn’t even try to attack you back. But, despite this, you kill them. You, a normal human, kill creatures that are so immense that it’s a wonder they even notice your existence. After all of this, you find out that it was all a trick. The colossi were mobile prisons for fragments of Dormin’s (the voice who instructed you) soul. After you release them all, you are consumed by his evil and you have to be killed and sealed away forever. What really makes this one sad is that the game lets you fight back. You can try to force your way forward, towards the girl you were trying to save, but you can never reach her. Eventually, you will fail. True, you are immediately reincarnated as an infant and the girl does come back to life to raise you (weird). But, from Wander’s point of view, he has failed completely, despite the great odds he’s overcome.
2. The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3)
From a series with quite a few tragic deaths, it’s strange to say that the one I remember the most belongs to a villain. Well, she wasn’t really a villain. You see, The Boss was portrayed as a traitor to her country throughout most of the game and, as her student, it’s your job to hunt her down and stop her plans once and fro all. You take out all of the members of her unit, including the ghost of her former lover, who makes you face all of the people you’ve killed in your mission a second time. You destroy the prototype nuclear tank she helped the Russians get their hands on. And, finally, you face her one-on-one and defeat her. She lies on the ground and asks you to kill her. The main reason that this ranks so high on my list is that the game returns control to you just so that you have to be the one to shoot her. This game actually allows you to take a pacifist route and avoid killing any enemies you encounter through a combination of sneaking and tranquilizers. But, not her. You have to kill The Boss. And, afterwards, you find out that she was really following orders given to her by the government. She was a patriot until the end, but her actions ensured that she will always be remembered as one of America’s greatest traitors. This series has some really cheesy moments, but that’s really tragic.
1. Eli Vance (Half Life 2: Episode 2)
The Half Life 2 games have a policy of having no cutscenes. Everything happens while you’re in control of your character unless you’re actually incapacitated in some way. This, combined with Gordon Freeman’s silent protagonist status, makes the games really immersive. It makes you really care about the characters. Alyx Vance is probably one of the most likeable side characters in video game history. And that’s why it’s incredibly sad that you have to watch her father die right in front of her. And this happens right at your moment of greatest triumph. You’ve just defeated a huge army of some of the toughest enemies in the series basically single-handed. Just as you’re celebrating your victory, some even tougher enemies that you don’t even know how to fight burst in, hold you and Alyx with their psychic powers, and kill Eli. You’re completely helpless during this moment and you’re only saved by the robot D.O.G.’s sudden appearance. Then, Alyx cries and hugs her father’s lifeless body. And then the credits roll. That’s how it ends. And there hasn’t been a sequel yet. For the past five years, there has been absolutely no closure to this story. That’s why I feel that this is the saddest death I have ever witnessed in a video game.