Video games have come a long way in recent years as the medium has transformed into one of the most elegant and compelling forms of storytelling. In the past, video games would prioritise action, platforming and puzzling to the extent that when I think of some of my favourite games from the 90s, I seldom remember the story line. However, in recent years we have seen the emergence of a more narrative-driven gamer. Those who not only play games as a form of escapism but who play games for their engaging stories, interesting characters and emotional experiences.
One of the reasons I love video games is their ability to make you feel an emotional connection with their characters. Some games are so good at this that they can often move me, bring a tear to my eye or leave me an entirely broken shell of a man (yeah, thanks a lot Last Guardian).
Whilst there are undoubtedly more than five games that have brought the feels, below are five of my most prominent and most played.
The Last Guardian
When I first saw the early trailers for The Last Guardian I remember thinking: “Dear God, please don’t let that giant bird/dog thing die!”. When I eventually got round to playing the game in 2016 I learned that that giant bird/dog thing was named Trico and that it didn’t matter if he lived or died because either way the ending to The Last Guardian was always going to be a bittersweet conclusion.
Almost a decade in the making, The Last Guardian tells the story of an unnamed boy and his bond with a giant Griffin-like beast, Trico, as they work together to navigate their way around a crumbling ancient ruin, solve a range of puzzles and form a friendship that, if you’re like me, will leave you emotionally spent after the 12 hour gameplay time.
Whilst the game does suffer from technical flaws it is the relationship-driven narrative that is the standout. The two characters depend on each other to make it out of the derelict setting and this form of reliance strengthens their bond. As does Trico’s reluctance to listen to your commands; reminding you he is a wild creature and not some household pet. Where Team Ico has succeeded is through the creation of an intelligent and spontaneous in-game companion that will stay with you long after the screen fades to black.
Read the full review of The Last Guardian here.
Buy The Last Guardian from Amazon.
Life is Strange
When Life is Strange begins we are introduced to Max Caulfield, a shy aspiring photographer sat in class. From the outset the game establishes itself as a teen drama revolving around a private art school in fictional Arcadia Bay and its student inhabitants.
Early in the game Max learns she can manipulate time and with that can rewind conversations and use her time travel powers to save her friends and erase her mistakes. However, the supernatural element to the game takes somewhat of a backseat as the game is ultimately about the two leading characters; Max Caulfield and Chloe Price.
The two set about to uncover the dark secrets of the quiet town but it is in the quieter moments the game really shines as you feel the bond between the two grow. The game utilises its choice mechanics and in particular leaves the player with a very hard decision in the game’s finale.
Read the full review of Life is Strange here.
Buy Life is Strange from Amazon.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
The opening sequence of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is the younger sibling sitting by his mother’s grave guilt-stricken over her death. Within mere minutes you can tell this is going to be an emotionally draining experience.
The game follows two brothers on a quest to find a cure for their dying father and takes the two characters across an incredible world filled with friends and foes. The game allows the player to control each sibling simultaneously using the assigned analogue sticks and despite the fact neither character speaks English, you can feel their bond as you urge them on their quest.
Ultimately Brothers is a game that addresses both loss and grief. Without giving too much away, the final act of the game is incredibly powerful and heartbreaking.
Read the full review of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons here.
Buy Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons on Amazon.
The Last of Us
Within ten minutes after The Last of Us begins, lead protagonist Joel is holding his dying daughter, Sarah, in his arms. Whats more, the game made us spend the past ten minutes playing as Sarah; sending a message to the player that they are in for an emotional roller coaster.
The game flashes forward a number of years and Joel is somewhat of a broken man still harrowing from loss of his daughter and trying to survive the apocalypse. He is tasked with escorting 14 year Ellie, who is seemingly immune to the virus that wiped out most of humanity, across country in a bid to find a cure. What follows is an intense story that is filled with danger, challenges and nuanced moments that forms a powerful bond between the two characters.
The game purposely draws comparisons between Ellie and Sarah; enabling the player to really get a sense of how much Joel cares for Ellie and to what lengths he will go to to protect her. Likewise, when the player briefly assumes the role of Ellie we can sense how much she cares for Joel and that the two ultimately need each other to get by in this post-apocalyptic world.
Buy The Last of Us Remastered from Amazon.
At just three hours long, it’s difficult to explain the emotional pull felt after playing Journey. With no dialogue or straightforward narrative to follow, it should be one of those games that left me scratching my head, not reaching for a tissue. Yet, the game blew me away in a visual, mechanical and emotional way.
We start the game as a lone figure in the middle of the desert. In the distance we see a mountain and with that realise our mission is the reach this peak and make our way through the harsh and solitary terrain. An hour into the game and another figure appears, another player from the real world has joined you on your, ahem, journey.
With no way to communicate beyond emitting a single ping, the two of you make your way across the landscape and, without even know their name, you develop a bond with this other player. In fact it isn’t until the final section of the game when the second player disappears that you realise how strong that bond was.
In its short game time Journey lets the player experience this character’s entire life. From seeking purpose, discovering a companion, the sadness felt when they’re gone and finding the strength to continue on your journey without them. It’s a unique experience that deserves your attention.
Read the full review of Journey here.
Buy Journey (Collector’s Edition) from Amazon.