[Warning: I will be talking about a lot of spoiler moments, but nothing terribly new. Here's a list of games I am discussing in case you want to avoid one of them getting ruined: Final Fantasy 7, Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, Gun, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, Journey, To The Moon.]
Ever since the days of SNES, games have started developing better storylines and characters. This is a trend that has happily continued and improved into the current generation and will continue into the future. As gamers age, we want more mature and deep experiences from our games. However, it seems like that is the exception, not the rule. The most important areas that can make or break an engaging story is how a story handles relationships and how it ends.
The best place to start is the PSOne era, as it is when I first noticed this idea of a complex story and had one of the most highly regarded RPGs. Final Fantasy 7 was the first game that felt like an epic story with fleshed out characters. However, the biggest thing that bothers me even nowadays is that Cloud has all those women throwing themselves at him and he acts like a scared high school freshmen. Granted, that might be part of his reluctant hero archetype, but they built the groundwork for interesting romantic relationships between Tifa and Cloud and even Aeris and Cloud. Aeris' death would have been more tragic if the player felt like not only they lost a character but that Cloud lost something more than just a party member. This game is supposed to be taking place as the end of the world is looming. What is more natural and human than getting it on one last time.
This is perhaps where I thought Indigo Prophecy had its one great moment. On the night of the final battle, Lucas and Carla make love in case the worst should happen. In a game that did not impress too much elsewhere, this was one time I felt that a video game captured what would really happen in that situation. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Heavy Rain, whose love story felt very trite and forced. That maybe could be that teenagers fumbling around in the dark has more emotions than that game. The controls also felt like teenagers fumbling around in the dark.
By now you must have already begun to think of games you think did a amazing job at producing an emotional connection and as have I. The first game that I remember playing that I thought might attempt to tackle this idea of a proper love story was Gun. I will always have a special place in my heart for Gun because it pulled one of the greatest twists I have seen. I am, of course, talking about Jenny, the girl you escort to Empire City and after you get betrayed, gets her throat slit. It was a very shocking scene at the time and was the first time I was ever shocked by a video game's story. Maybe others saw it coming, but I was definitely caught off guard.
Since we are on the subject of cowboys, it is time to discuss the inspiration for this blog. Red Dead Redemption nailed emotion completely. The whole game all John Marston talks about his getting back his family. From that first moment in Mexico when 'Far Away' by Jose Gonzalez plays and you feel that you are even further away from your goal and that John might never get home to the end when 'Compass' by Jamie Lidell plays and it feels like the perfect finally going home song. These moments in and of themselves are fantastic and emotional in their own right, however, it is after this homecoming where Red Dead shines the brightest.
The final missions are simply chores around the farm and that is amazing. Red Dead could have ended after 'Compass' plays and just do the rest of the game as cinematics, but it didn't. It showed you what the life John wanted back and how much the relationship between him and his family felt real. The ending of the game could have easily been predicted from the beginning, but I think that's what works the best because it was an ending that had to happen. The entire message of the game was that people like John could no longer be tolerated in a more civilized West. But the humanity that you feel as you play the game and especially at the end, makes it an amazing ending.
Unlike LA Noire's twist ending that felt forced. I felt no connection to Cole Phelps the entire game because he went from good cop in one scene, to screaming lunatic, to cheating on his wife, back to good cop. His actions in the end is supposed to redeem his character, however I did not feel connected to any of the characters. I'M A BELIEVABLE CHARACTER!!
The two games that I had the greatest emotional reaction to were both indie games. The first is Journey, which might not be a surprise to some. Part of the charm of Journey is not only the simplicity of communication with the other player, but how a bond almost forms between the both players without and words being said. I managed to play through the majority of the game with the same guy. We called out when we found symbols, we called out to show where we were, we called out just to even say hello. When we got to the snowy mountain and things are looking at its bleakest, we called out to each other as almost a way of saying, "Hey, I'm still here, I'm with you, keep going." When you reach the ending level and everything is bright and shiny again, I lost track of my friend. I sat at the entrance to the final walk into the light for minutes. I sat and waited for the companion who traveled with me, but he never arrived. I was crushed. This was the ending, the time when I should be happy, yet here I was, sad because I had to finish the game alone. Watching the one lone figure vanish into the light, I felt as though part of me was missing.
The only game to ever make me cry is To The Moon and if you have not played it, I highly recommend it. It captures the whole idea of a lifetime of love and it made me sad that a dying man was having his memories of his love for his wife changed because of his dream of going to the moon. It covers the man's entire life and it is full of happy and tragic moments. Some of it might feel cliche, but taken as a whole, it is heartwarming.
This is a topic I could write about for a long time and never say everything I want to say. My hope is that more developers take time to make more realistic relationships and love stories into the plot because it will lead to more believable characters which will make the ending truly mean something, not be just the end of the game.
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