I have tricked you with the title of this post, you’ve been punk’d by old Micky!
I have no idea what the saddest games of all time will end up being.
Most ‘all time’ countdowns should really read ‘thus far’ as we don’t really have a good idea of what ‘all time’ holds, I reckon there will probably be some amazing books/games/music/films/experiences that dwarf what we currently rank as the very best, if only we could zoom out to view the whole timespan of human endeavour (Quantum Wanks will blow your mind).
The thing is, arranging things into definitive lists is always more intriguing to people, as everyone loves a good definitive list, if only to argue about how undefinitive it is. People don’t give a shit about hierarchy-free subjectivity, they want lists and grades and decimal places.
One of various things that stop this list being very definitive is that I have never played the game Final Fantasy VII, which people always use as a touchstone in these kinds of lists about sad games. I did have the demo on PC, which I played through repeatedly, but nothing sad happened in that ration of the game, and it was hard to tell what was going on; something to do with a sweary black man finding some chickens.
It is too late for me to play it now though. I have come to the realisation that all turn-based RPG’s are just total life sponges that give you the impression you’re growing and achieving things, whilst your life, body and soul suffer irreversible atrophy.
Below there are a couple of spoilers, but most of these games have been out for donkey’s years now. So I can’t be blamed for your complacency.
Also, in classic Tear Blog fashion, none of these games have actually made me cry. Oh well, too late, here’s the list…
5. Silent Hill 2 (PS2)
Silent Hill 2 concerns a man called James Sunderland receiving a letter, from the wife he thought was dead, telling him to visit her in the town of Silent Hill.
James keeps meeting a doppelganger of his dead wife called Maria, who is repeatedly killed before his eyes, before frequently turning up again unharmed. The dialogue and the characters seem to operate using a dreamlike logic that makes you question whether any of the events that take place are actually supposed to be happening. The best Silent Hill games created a kind of horror that is not possible in other mediums, very few jump scares, just a pervasive sense of nightmarish dread and sadness.
The finale sees James coming to terms with the fact he killed his wife because of her terminal illness. What’s interesting is that you can choose to run through the section where James relives a conversation with his wife’s doctor, actively choosing to avoid the truth of what took place. I got the ending where he drives his car into a river, killing himself to be with his wife, which is apparently one of the happier endings.
4. Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360)
Although I can’t say I like Read Dead Redemption all that much, it is way too long and having to routinely kill so many thousands of people just becomes wearying before too long (the older I get, my enjoyment of games has become inversely proportionate to how many people you have to kill to progress). If you have played the game you are probably expecting I have put it on the list for the iconic ending (which is admittedly very good, but got spoilt for me by some turd posting it on Facebook long before I played it).
The main reason it makes my list is for the single most emotionally mature moment I have seen in any game. During a seemingly mundane quest nearing the finale, after John Marston is reunited with his wife Abigail, they go to pick up some cattle from Bonnie McFarlane, a woman that saves John Marston at the start of the game and who he subsequently spends a lot of time with, doing missions and helping out on her farm.
John and his wife buy some cattle from Bonnie and wave goodbye as they trundle off into the sunset. As they leave the camera lingers on Bonnie for quite a while as she waves goodbye; it is at this point that it suddenly dawns on you that she was totally in love with John, she walks back inside her house and you never see her again.
3. Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
You are a young man on a purposely ill-defined quest to bring a girl back to from the dead. In order for this to potentially happen you are told you have to kill the 16 Colossi that roam a sacred, mainly deserted landscape.
Why I don’t mind killing in this game is that it is so minimal, there are no redundant enemies to pad things out, only individually distinct giant creatures that each take around half-an-hour to an hour to bring down. The game has an amazing moral ambiguity. These creatures all look ancient, and most of them don’t even actively try to attack you, merely shake you off or attempt to prevent you from harming them. So the whole way through you’re continually questioning your character’s motivations, and, frequently, felling these creatures feels shameful rather than rewarding.
Aside from the general melancholic atmosphere, the saddest moment occurs right on the cusp of facing the final colossus, when your sole companion on the journey, Agro the horse, falls to his apparent demise. Misfortune befalling horses is always sad in my book as I love horses best of all the animals. Mainly due to the fact that they are my friends.
2. Lemmings (MegaDrive/PC)
Lemmings is so distressing. You have to lead a tribe of cute little green haired creatures across a landscape to safety; they keep walking forward no matter what. You have to save a certain quota of them along the way, in order to succeed and progress. Unlike other games where it is possible to achieve 100% perfection and avoid casualties, Lemmings frequently introduces scenarios where it is impossible to progress without killing some of your lemmings (for example through blowing them up to progress through walls).
I had the PC version of the game, wherein there were a couple of extra devious levels called ‘Oh No! More Lemmings’ which were generally beyond my child-brained capacity to solve. A particularly depressing level called ‘Ketchup Factory’ saw the lemmings marching towards a relentless grinding machine. I wanted so much for the lemmings to be able to progress, but I just had no idea what to do, so the lemmings were endlessly churned up in that machine each time as I fruitlessly tried to save them,. I never got past that level.
I do have a sickened admiration for the really brutal worldview that Lemmings seems to put forward: in order that everyone doesn’t die, some have to die, many will die needlessly, but so long as enough survive it is worth the price. It’s very Stalinist.
1. Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64)
Zelda games are not really known for their emotional maturity and usually get criticised for their adherence to an unaltered narrative/gameplay structure (it is easy to forget that, unlike other gaming franchise protagonists, the Link you play as is seldom the same Link from previous quests. No matter your triumphs in previous games, the world always reverts back to being oppressed and threatened in some way, an eternal recurrence that is quite Nietzschean).
Majora’s Mask is by far the most conceptually interesting Zelda game. Link finds himself cursed and placed in a parallel universe where the world is due to end in three days, at which point a grotesque, ever visible moon will crash into this world, destroying everything. Link attains the ability to postpone this event by learning a song that lets him revert back to the start of this three day period and try again.
Majora’s Mask is unique among Zelda games in that it has a social focus on getting to intimately know the inhabitants of the world and what their routines are, where they will be on any given day and how Link’s actions can affect the trajectory their lives take over that three day period. The forthcoming apocalypse that the inhabitants are sceptical about on the first day causes a hysterical mass evacuation on the third, the closing hours see the skies darken and the music become incredibly ominous.
There are innumerable sad moments in the game (as well as bucketloads of wacky shit like a ghostly hand that lives in a toilet and is desperate to wipe it’s arse), ones that stick out for me now are: Link convincing the postman not to flee despite his paralyzing fear, convincing him of his duty to stay and deliver a very important letter, in the world’s closing hours; the other is the swordsman who earlier in the 3 day period reveals his ambitious plans for cleaving the moon in two with his sword, in the final moments it is possible to discover him cowering and crying in the store cupboard of his shop.
However the whole emotional crux of the game is the quest to reunite the landlady of the hotel, Anju, with her fiancée Kafei; who it is eventually discovered has had a curse put on him, turning him into a child. This is a complex and involving quest that requires many resets of the clock and wider progress in the game before you actually have the assets to solve their dilemma. They are ultimately reunited just as the world is ending, where Anju gets to see that Kafei is a child, and they hug pathetically just before their world is destroyed.
A slight caveat is that, when you complete the game and prevent the apocalypse, if you reunited Anju and Kafei, during the credits you get to see their wedding take place but it is not made definitively clear whether or not Kafei’s curse was lifted. Which could mean that Link had a hand in setting up a paedo honeymoon for the ages.
Regardless, Majora’s Mask is unreal and it is a shame that the games industry is so sterile and risk averse at the minute because I can’t see anything like it being made again any time soon.
If you have any suggestions for sad games I would be pleased to know, I love feedback! Or any other devastating experiences that you can recommend send them my way.