Everyone plays games for a variety of reasons. Some love the challenge, some enjoy competing, and others love the just turning off their brain and playing something fun. Personally, I love story-driven games and it’s the primary thing I look for when picking up a new title. What this means, however, is that sometimes they begin the game with an emotional ass kicking to get you more invested in the characters/story.
After watching all the great story trailers from this year’s E3, and looking forward to the excellent looking story-based games coming in just a couple months, I wanted to use this month to take a look at the best storytelling moments in gaming. To start things off I’m examining the games that delivered an emotional heart wrenching right off the bat, while still keeping you hooked and ready for more.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Don’t let the whimsical Ghibli animation and cartoony designs fool you, the first Ni No Kuni does NOT mess around when it comes to delving into a deep/emotional storyline. While everything starts off hunkey-dorey as you explore the town and meet up with your best friend to drive about in his home built race car.
It seems lighthearted, but this is all to lull you into a false sense of security before your mother dies after saving your butt from crashing the car! It’s sudden, unexpected, and designed to make you feel like you (or your character, I should say) are partially to blame. Her death serves as the catalyst for the rest of the story, as the character’s grief helps open the portal to the other world, wherein you learn about coping with that grief and growing beyond. While it makes for an incredible thematic journey, it gets the waterworks going early.
The Last of Us
Naughty Dog started The Last of Us a little differently, putting the focus on Joel’s daughter, Sarah, before things start to get crazy. It’s not long before things get chaotic, but it’s quieter opening does a stellar job of instantly endearing you to the characters and investing you on an emotional level.
When the outbreak happens and we’re thrust into a mad dash to escape the town, there’s a white-knuckle tension that’s practically palpable. Despite having a general idea of what would happen (after all, Joel’s daughter never featured in any of the game/gameplay trailers), my heart wasn’t prepared for the scene that unfolded as Joel held Sarah while she died.
Having only played as her for a short while, the setup manages to hook you completely, and thus it’s devastating to watch as the first playable character in the game is taken away in such a heartbreaking sequence of events. From there, it’s not hard to see how/why Joel has turned out the way he has when the time jump kicks in and it casts a shadow over the rest of the story throughout.
Though it’s on the shorter side, and takes place completely within the first cinematic, Bioshock 2’s opening sets an emotional tone for the game, while teasing all new mysteries. Where the first Bioshock game opened up with an awe-inspiring look at the underwater city, this one wastes no time getting you invested on an emotional level.
We’re used to seeing Big Daddy’s as the enemy, so seeing a Little Sister lovingly talk to one (you) and grabbed your hand to drag you into playing, is at odds with our experiences. Now we’re getting the chance to see the relationship from the other side, and when things go South, hearing her cry for help, there’s a gut instinct that hits you. Couple that with the unsettlingly visual of watching your character being forced to shoot himself in front of the horrified Little Sister, and you have one surprisingly emotional start to the game.
Mass Effect 2
Coming off the incredible ending of Mass Effect and knowing you’re saved story info would transfer over into the next game, we were ready to see the ongoing journey of Reaper killing badassery. The game opens up as your crew is sent out on a mission to track down some of the remaining Geth, but just when you think it’s time to get the robot destruction party started, a mysterious ship shows up and blasts a hole in the Normandy.
From there it’s a race to try and get your crew evacuated and traverse your once pristine ship as it falls apart in an effort to save Joker, your pilot, from sacrificing himself. When you think it’s all working out, it goes from bad to worse as Sheppard dies in the vacuum of space. YOU DIED!
The story picks up two years later as you’re revived, but your crew has been scattered, leaving you to start over in a surprisingly emotional introduction to the game. It’s shocking to have your character, someone you spent several hours with previously, die and lose all of the companions we grew close to. While we came back rather quickly, so many questions about the event remain and you’re left picking up the pieces throughout the rest of the story.
This might technically be cheating, as the opening for the game, the “Prologue” isn’t all that sad (aside from some foreshadowing with the pet bird dying). That said, it’s not very long and the central story doesn’t start until the next section…so I’m going with it as being part of the opening ‘act.’
The entire premise of Quantic Dreams’ games is to put you firmly in the mindset of the story/characters. By forcing you to choose/decide the fate of the story along the way, with very real consequences on the story. In doing so, it doesn’t take long to attach you to characters, and there’s a very real tension/fear as you search the crowded Mall in an effort to find your son, Jason.
The sense of danger is palpable and the tension runs thick as you track down red balloon after red balloon. Just as you find Jason, you realize the danger isn’t over, but just as you reach him you’re both struck by a car, resulting in Jason’s death and a whole host of other problems that plague the character throughout. It’s a sobering start to a game designed to make you uncomfortable every step of the way.
There are some other games that start off on an emotional note (hell I could have filled up this list with all kinds of JRPGs), but none, I feel, as strongly as these. What are some of the games you think had the best emotional video game introductions?