Hello once again, Retro Junkers! I know it's been quite a while, and I know I've kind of left that Fall and Holiday Movies of the 90s series hanging. For those of you who were enjoying that series, I apologize for the delay, and I'm afraid it's going to get a little bit longer.
You see, there's been a lot going on in my life lately, positive mostly. There's a new woman in my life, and I'm making some changes, which is why I haven't been present here as much as I used to. Also, this means that my Fall and Holiday Movies articles have been put on the back burner for just a while. Yes, I will pick them up again where I left off, starting with 1994. I just ask for a little more time. The articles are hard to do, catching up with a lot of movies, and they require my full time and attention, which I cannot give at the moment. I promise, I'm not giving up on the series. Just taking a break for now, and I will probably pick it back up later this year.
That being said, I did want to write an article here, and this is one that I have been thinking of for a while. In my long history of playing video games, I am man enough to admit that there are some moments that touched me, or even made me choked up. RPGs are a strong example of this. I mean, after spending 30 or 40 hours with the characters, how can you not grow emotionally attached to them, and then shed a tear when something sad happens. Video games have been successful at making gamers tear up or flat out breaking down for years, so I thought I would share some of my personal favorite emotional moments that have stayed with me.
Before I begin, a couple disclaimers. First of all, this is going to be a very spoiler-heavy article. Many of the games I talk about, I will have to go into depth about the game's plot, or even discuss the ending. So, if you are playing or have wanted to play these classic games, and don't want anything spoiled, move ahead with caution. I simply can't discuss the emotional impact of these games without spoiling them, so you have been warned. Second of all, these games are not ranked in any order. There's no "saddest to least sad" here.
So, with all that said and done, grab some Kleenex, and let's take a look at the sensitive side of video games...
10. "AERITH'S DEATH" FINAL FANTASY VII (1997) PLAYSTATION
Let's kick things off with the big daddy of all emotional moments in video game. Final Fantasy VII was a big first for a lot of gamers. For many, it was their first time playing Final Fantasy, or perhaps even their first RPG. It was also quite possibly the first time a lot of players experienced a genuine loss in a video game. Oh sure, characters die in video games all the time, but they usually respawn, or you can just push that continue button and start all over again. But for the poor flower girl Aerith, there was nothing you could do to save her life.
Aerith joins your party early on in the game, and is with you almost from the beginning of the adventure. The character you play as (Cloud) becomes emotionally attached to her during the course of the game, and let's face it, so does the player. The fact that her theme song is one of the more beautiful pieces of music on the game's soundtrack certainly helps endear her to you. Aerith starts the game out as a girl who sells flowers on a street corner, but she quickly gets wrapped up in Cloud's adventure to stop a corrupt government. She goes on her own personal journey of discovery as well during the course of the game.
And then you reach the end of Disc 1 of this three-disc adventure. Aerth has gone off alone to the Forgotten City in order to find a way to stop Sephiroth, a power-mad villain who is plotting to destroy the world with his dark magic. Cloud and his friends eventually track Aerith down, and find her praying at an altar. Aerith lifts her head up to smile at you, but before anything can happen, Sephiroth leaps out of the shadows and kills her, running his blade directly through her torso. Not only is the depiction of this heinous act enough to get a gamer's blood boiling, but a little while later after a boss fight, you have to watch Cloud and his friends perform a small funeral service for Aerith.
I still remember to this day the impact this scene had on many people the first time they played it. Some people thought that they had done something wrong in the game, and that they had to do something in order to prevent her death. Even more people started rumors on the Internet that there was a way to keep her alive, or bring her back to life at some point in the game. People become obsessed with trying to keep Aerith alive somehow, but sadly, there was no way around it. Aerith has to die, and there's nothing you can do to save her.
For many, this became the first instance many people admitted to getting emotional, or even tearing up while playing a video game. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sad moments in classic retro games.
09. "THE ENDING OF KLONOA" KLONOA: DOOR TO PHANTOMILE (1998) PLAYSTATION
Klonoa is a sadly overlooked platform game that came out late in the Playstation's life. It featured a floppy-eared cat-like creature going on an adventure with his cute little friend Huepow, a "ring spirit" who kind of looks like a green orb with a cute face placed on its surface. In the game, Klonoa and Huepow go on an adventure in order to save the world of Phantomile, a land fueled by dreams. The tone of the game, for the most part, is light and somewhat comical. There are some sad moments, such as when Klonoa's grandfather is killed by one of the villains in order to get his hands on a pendant that can help his evil plan in unleashing a demon. Through many individual hardships, the two friends fight against the forces of darkness to protect the dreams of the good people of the land.
How can a game that looks like this possibly be sad?...
Sounds like your fairly basic adventure, doesn't it? Fun, light-hearted, cute...But then you get to what happens after you win against the final boss. You see, at one point late in the game, you learn that Huepow is actually a Prince of a kingdom on the moon that was in danger, and that he needs Klonoa's help. No big deal. The two have worked together to save Phantomile and rescue Lephise, a magical singer who can keep the world in balance. After the final battle, Klonoa is relaxing in a field, happy to have all of his trials over. Huepow, however, has a sad and distant look on his face. It's during the game's final moments that he is forced to drop the biggest bombshell to his friend and to the player.
Klonoa and Huepow reminisce before the bombshell is dropped...
It turns out that Klonoa is not a resident of Phantomile. In fact, he hails from another world. Huepow summoned him to this world to save it. Not only that, in order to ensure his help, Huepow created fake memories inside Klonoa's head, making him believe that Huepow and him had been friends for years, so that Klonoa would help him. When Lephise sings her song that will restore Phantomile to the way it was before, Klonoa will be pulled back into his own world, as he does not belong there with Huepow.
Klonoa is pulled back into his own world against his will...
Naturally, Klonoa is shocked to hear this. The two have shared a bond during this adventure, and does not want to believe that Huepow and him do not share a past, and that they will never see each other again. Just then, Lephise begins to sing her magical song to restore the world of Phantomile, and sure enough, Klonoa is magically lifted up off the ground, and begins to be pulled into a vortex back into the world where he belongs. Klonoa and Huepow struggle to hold onto each other, but eventually, Klonoa is pulled away by the magical force. Huepow sheds a tear away from his eye once his friend his gone, and the game ends.
This ending really took me by surprise the first time I saw it, as I really was not expecting such a downer of an ending to a game like this. You really did get connected to the two friends during the course of the game, and seeing them being forced to separate and never see one another again was an emotional experience. Then, just to make you feel bad, they play such sad music during the end credits, while it shows you moments of their adventures together in the pages of a book.
Sadly, the Klonoa series has mostly been forgotten these days. It got a few sequels in the early 2000s for the PS2 and Game Boy Advance, and this particular game even got a remake for the Nintendo Wii at one point. But, to my knowledge, that's the last time this character got any attention. I would love to see Klonoa make a comeback at one point. It was not only a fun platform game in the style of Mario and Kirby, but it had some surprisingly emotional moments throughout the series. But nothing will ever top the shock of seeing this ending for the first time, given how light hearted most of the rest of the game was.
08. "THE ENDING" TERRANIGMA/TENCHI SOUZO (1995) SUPER NINTENDO
Released as Tenchi Souzo ("The Creation of Heaven and Earth") in Japan in the Fall of 95, the game was released one year later as Terranigma one year later in Europe, and just about every English-speaking nation in the world...except America. Yes, Nintendo did originally have plans to bring this Action RPG over here, but due to the release of the Nintendo 64, they decided to back out of the US release. This is a shame, as Terranigma/Tenchi Souzo is one of the greatest games ever programmed for the Super NES. I actually wrote about this game previously in an article, "Overlooked Retro Game Gems". In that article, I mentioned that the ending makes me tear up every time. Now you're going to learn why.
The story involves a young boy named Ark, who lives in the village of Crysta, which is located deep underground, as the Earth above has become uninhabitable. One day, Ark accidentally unleashes a curse upon his village when he opens a forbidden door, and the Elder of the village charges the boy with the task to save them all - He must journey to the surface world above, and restore the Earth. He must do this by restoring the plants, animals, birds and eventually humans, and must then guide them to restore and repopulate the world. Part of the fun of the game is performing a wide variety of side quests, where you restore peace amongst animals, help a city perform an election for Mayor, and gradually watch the world grow and prosper, as you prevent a demonic force from leading the world back into ruin.
And just who is that demonic force? Well, late in the game you learn that it is none other than the Elder who initially tasked you with restoring the Earth! That's right, he wanted you to restore the Earth, so he could conquer it! Turns out, everyone in your hometown, even the girl you love, are evil monsters who serve the lead demon Elder. The demons try to kill you, but your girlfriend sacrifices herself for you, allowing you to get a chance to fight back against the demonic forces threatening the world. After many trials, Ark succeeds in destroying the demonic Elder, and saving the Earth once and for all...But not without great price...
You see, with the demon Elder gone, all of his followers will die...And this includes Ark. Because of his heroic deeds, he is allowed one last day in his village before he fades into oblivion, and he gets to spend that day with friends and loved ones, just as they were before everything started to fall apart. Eventually, the day must end, and Ark must go to bed, where he will never wake again. But, as he drifts off to sleep, he "dreams" about his spirit leaving his body, and taking the form of a small bird. As the bird, he gets to fly above the world he created, and watch it progress. This is the note that the game ends on, and the way Ark's flight over the Earth is presented, combined with the beautiful music that plays over the end credits, makes this one of my all time favorite "emotional endings" to a video game.
When I first played Terranigma, I was so grabbed by the ending, that I had to watch it again, immediately pushing reset, so I could fight the final boss and go through the ending a second time. It not only had so much emotion and power behind it, but I absolutely loved the "flight" sequence over the end credits, using some very impressive Mode 7 effects that the SNES was known for at the time. This is definitely one of my top three endings of all time, and easily one of my top three games in the SNES library.
If you have any affection for classic RPGs, you simply must track down Terranigma. It's easy enough to find on line, or through reproduction cartridges that allow you to play it on an American system. The fact that this game was never released here in the U.S. is one of the great failings of the 16-bit era, especially since it received an English translation for its Europe release.
07. "LISA TRANSFORMS" SILENT HILL (1999) PLAYSTATION
Konami's Silent Hill franchise once had a reputation for being one of the scariest games out there, using psychological terror techniques to unnerve the gamer, rather than the traditional "jump scares" that Capcom's Resident Evil employed. However, I also think that the classic Silent Hill titles actually are quite human in nature, and driven by some very powerful emotion in its storytelling. In fact, replaying through the first four games in the series recently is what inspired me to finally write this article. The next four slots in this list are going to be devoted to some individual Silent Hill games, and highlight what are to me the most emotional moment in each individual game.
In the original game, you are Harry Mason, a widower who is taking his young daughter, Cheryl, to the quiet resort town of Silent Hill for a much-needed vacation after a long grieving process after losing his wife. When they arrive in town, the two are involved in a terrible car accident, and Harry is knocked unconscious. When Harry awakens, Cheryl is gone, the passenger side door hanging ominously open, as if she has left the car, or someone has taken her. Even stranger, the entire town of Silent Hill is now seemingly abandoned, and it is snowing out of season with a heavy fog covering every inch of town.
Weird weather turns out to be the least of Harry's worries when it turns out that terrible monsters from some kind of nightmare now roam the streets. The few human survivors Harry finds either have no idea what's going on, or they seem to know, but only talk in riddles or do their best to avoid Harry. At seemingly random points of the game, Harry is also drawn into the "Other World", an alternate version of Silent Hill that is like some kind of demonic mockery of the town itself. The walls and ground are replaced with steel and barbed wire, bits of human flesh hang off the walls, and the monsters seem to be the only form of life in this dark and nightmarish version of an all American small town.
However, there is strangely one human that Harry encounters in this Other World, a frightened nurse by the name of Lisa Garland. Harry first encounters her in the "dark" version of a local hospital, and she strangely seems to have no memories of anything that happened there, not even of the bizarre hidden room that's tucked away in the basement of the hospital that seemed to once belong to a patient that the staff wanted to keep locked away from everyone else. The first time the player encounters her, she is of not much help, and is just happy to see another human in the Other World. She seems to be trapped there, and cannot even accompany Harry to the still evil, but slightly safer real world. This allows her to gain the player's sympathy almost right away, but as we learn her tragic backstory and outcome, she becomes one of the most heartbreaking characters in the game.
Lisa's videotape recording reveals her conflicted feelings about the patient she was looking after...
We eventually learn that the cause of the evil that is plaguing Silent Hill is a poor young girl named Alessa, a girl born with horrific psychic powers who was birthed by an evil cult in order to bring their demonic god to life. At one point, Alessa was nearly burned alive, and locked away in a secret room in the basement of the hospital in order to keep her alive and a secret by one of the head doctors at the hospital, who was secretly a member of the cult. The doctor hired Lisa to look after the girl, not telling her who she was or what had happened to her. At the time, Lisa was addicted to a drug, and the doctor promised to keep up her supply of the drug if she would keep quiet, and not tell anyone about the girl. Lisa obeyed for a while, but soon, the very presence of the girl frightened her. Her burns and wounds simply would not heal. Over time, Lisa became terrified, and the fact that she was strung out on drugs probably did not calm her nerves. Lisa threatened to tell the authorities about the girl, but before she could, she was murdered by the doctor in order to keep her quiet.
The Lisa that Harry knows is more or less Alessa's memories of Lisa taken physical form. She exists only in the Other World, because that is the dark world that Alessa's pain and suffering created, and Lisa is part of it. However, she is human, because she was the only person who was kind to her. Lisa eventually does find out the truth about who and what she is, and at that moment, she begins to physically change, becoming one of the monsters that inhabit the Other World. She pleads with Harry to help her, but there is nothing he can do to save her. He flees from the room, locking the door behind him, and is forced to listen to Lisa's pathetic scratches at the door as she loses her humanity, and becomes yet another pathetic creature to inhabit the Other World.
For anyone who played Silent Hill back in the day, this was remembered as the game's most tragic moment. The game did such a good job at developing Lisa as this tragic figure, and then when we learn that there is nothing we can do in the end to help her, it rams the point home even more that for some characters in the game, there is to be no happy ending. Lisa was a victim in the end. She was used by a boss she trusted, who manipulated her addictions in order to force her to do what he wanted. And then in the Other World, she was forced to be a victim all over again. Lisa was not only one of the more memorable characters in the game, but also easily the most heartbreaking.
06. "THE TRUTH IS REVEALED" SILENT HILL 2 (2001) PLAYSTATION 2/XBOX
2001's Silent Hill 2 is regarded by many to be one of the crowning achievements in video game horror, and if you play it, it's easy to see why. The game has no connection to the original, except for the fact that it's set in Silent Hill, which still hasn't recovered from the incidents in the last game. However, everything has been improved upon over the original. The game is much more intense, the areas you explore are more interesting, and the plot is even deeper and more involving than before. But what everyone remembers is that it has one of the best plot twists to ever appear in a game.
In this game, you are James Sunderland - an ordinary man who has spent the past five years trying to figure out how to move on after his wife, Mary, died of an unnamed disease (likely cancer). James has been leading a solitary and tortured existence, until one day, a mysterious letter shows up in his mailbox. The sender is addressed simply as "Mary", and when James opens it, it seems to be written in her handwriting. Even stranger, she opens the letter by telling James that she is waiting for him in their "special place" in Silent Hill - a town that holds good memories for James, since Mary and him vacationed there before she fell ill. (And likely before the town became a spawning ground for demonic monsters.) James doesn't know what to make of this letter, but searching for answers or perhaps the slightest hope that perhaps his Mary may somehow impossibly be there, he drives to the town of Silent Hill.
When he arrives, he finds the town in much the same state that Harry did last time - Dense fog, unearthly monsters roaming the streets, and the town is largely deserted. The few humans whom he comes across are an odd lot. They are all people who have found themselves drawn to the town just like James was, and all seem to be closely guarding secrets. There's also one bratty little girl named Laura that James keeps on coming across who claims to know his wife Mary, and says that they were in the hospital together the previous year. Naturally, this is impossible, but the longer we play the game, the more we begin to question what is real and what is not. James' story of Mary dying five years ago does not match up with the facts he keeps on hearing from Laura. And as we encounter the other people trapped in Silent Hill, we learn that they are all running from the truth about their pasts, usually involving murder. By the game's end, we learn that there's a reason James is here.
Silent Hill 2 is ultimately a story about facing your personal demons, both literally and figuratively. The town of Silent Hill is basically haunting James with manifestations of his own personal guilt that he has been suppressing all this time. All of the monsters he sees are tied to his past, and there's even a woman whom James meets named Maria, who looks and talks exactly like Mary, only she dresses much more sexually and provocatively. Even she exists to torture James, and to tempt him with forbidden desires. When we finally learn the truth behind James' quest, it is one of the most emotional moments in gaming, as James is forced to confront the truth that he has been hiding.
James confronts Laura, and is forced to admit he killed Mary.
In short, Mary did not die five years ago, and it was not the disease that killed her. Yes, she was sick and dying, but it was James himself who killed her when he smothered her with a pillow in her hospital bed at some point after the two had an argument. As Mary fell into ill health, she became bitter and jaded, and would often lash out angrily at her husband. At some point, James just could not stand it anymore. He wanted his life back. After the deed was done, he fell into despair, and created the story about Mary dying five years ago in order to distance himself emotionally from what he had done. The letter, we soon learn, was written by Mary before she died, and a nurse at the local hospital had dropped it off in his mailbox. When we get to hear the full letter at the end of the game, read in Mary's own voice, it really emphasizes the love she felt for him, as well as the tragedy that tore them apart.
This is the good ending of Silent Hill 2, where James faces down his greatest demon, and gets to move on with his life.
The goal of Silent Hill 2 is to help James come to grips with his own guilt, and to release himself from the torment he lives under. This is but one of multiple endings you can achieve in the game. The ending you see is determined by your actions during the game, and whether or not your actions show that James truly loved Mary. In the game's best ending, James overcomes his demons, and gets to say goodbye to his wife. He leaves the town with Laura in tow, as we hear Mary's letter in full. But, if your actions during the game show that James has given up hope (you don't heal yourself often, and you take a lot of damage), the ending you see will be very different. In that ending, after James gets to say goodbye to Mary, he decides he can't live without her, and he drives his car off the road, killing himself. This was the ending I got the first time I beat the game, and I was shocked, as it was the first time I had seen suicide depicted in a video game. When I learned about the other endings, I immediately started over, and wanted to give James a slightly happier outcome.
Silent Hill 2 is not just a psychological horror masterpiece, it's also a masterpiece of storytelling in gaming. The personal story of James and the other sad souls who find themselves trapped in Silent Hill to confront their inner demons is not only emotionally powerful, but physically draining. You really do feel exhausted when the game ends, because it has taken you through the emotional wringer with everything that has happened. Even to this day, Silent Hill 2 is considered one of the great games to be released in the past 15 years or so, and is considered by many to be the series' finest hour.
05. "THE ROAD TO SILENT HILL" SILENT HILL 3 (2003) PLAYSTATION 2
Silent Hill 3 was successful upon its release, but is not remembered as much as its predecessors today. This is a shame, as it really is a wonderful title. Yes, the plot is much more straight forward and not quite as complex as Silent Hill 2's, but it does a great job of clearing up and wrapping up the story of the original game.
Unlike the last sequel, this is a direct continuation of the original Silent Hill. But what's clever is that you don't figure this out until the game is almost halfway over! In this one, you are Heather Morris, a teenage girl who is spending a lazy afternoon at a local mall as the game opens. While getting ready to head back home, Heather is suddenly confronted by a private detective named Douglas, saying that someone hired him to find her, and that he needs to talk to Heather about something concerning her past, particularly her birth. Not trusting the man, Heather manages to give him the slip, but she soon encounters another strange individual - This one a woman named Claudia who speaks mostly in riddles, and insists that Heather remember who she is, as well as her "true self".
As soon as this bizarre encounter is over, the entire world around Heather somehow transforms into a nightmarish mockery, similar to the "Other World" in the original Silent Hill video game. Heather is naturally confused, and must find her way through this nightmare in order to get back to reality, and ultimately back home where her father is waiting for her. After venturing through a variety of ordinary places transformed by demonic power, such as the mall and an underground subway area, Heather finally manages to make it home, only to be in for the shock of her life. Her father has been murdered, killed at the hands of Claudia, who managed to get there before her. The player gets their own surprise, as it is revealed that Heather's dead father is none other than Harry Mason, the hero of the original game.
Heather finds Harry's body...
Yes, it turns out that Heather Morris is the baby girl that Harry managed to escape with at the end of the original game. At some point, Harry changed his name, because he knew that the cult that was behind the incident in Silent Hill were looking for him, seeking revenge, which explains why the main character's name is Morris, and not Mason. Just like Alessa in the original, Heather holds a great demonic psychic power, and the cult has tracked her down, so that they can use her not just to get revenge on Harry, but to also once again birth their demonic god, and create their vision of "Paradise" by cleansing the current world of all its sins, and the people who currently inhabit it. Claudia tells Heather that if she wants to find her, she will be waiting in Silent Hill. Driven by anger and revenge, Heather must now travel to the cursed town, and try to get some answers.
(Broken YouTube Link Removed) Heather confronts Douglas shortly after the murder...
This leads to a very long and emotional cinema sequence where Douglas (who feels responsible for this, since he was hired by Claudia to help find Heather) is driving Heather to Silent Hill. As they get closer to the town, Heather begins to remember the past that she had forgotten, due to her connection to it. She remembers her past self as Alessa, and she remembers everything that her adoptive father tried to do in order to give her a normal life. These memories, combined with the recent murder of the only man who cared for her, easily makes this the emotional highlight in the game.
(Broken YouTube Link Removed) The road to Silent Hill is filled with painful memories.
I actually really admire the acting during this whole sequence. You can really feel Heather's pain, anguish, and ultimately sadness during the two videos posted above. This whole sequence not only kicks off the second half of the game, but gives you the play a true mission. You really want to know what's going to happen after this point, and it drives you to keep on playing until the end.
This whole reveal was a huge treat for Silent Hill fans, as Konami had made no mention that this game was intended to be connected to the original game. Up to that point, everyone thought it was a new story, similar to Silent Hill 2. From this point on, the entire game changed.
04. "IT'S JUST A DREAM, RIGHT?" SILENT HILL 4: THE ROOM (2004) PLAYSTATION 2/XBOX
Silent Hill 4: The Room was the final game created by the original Japanese development team that started the series, and is largely considered the "odd duck" of the franchise. It originally was supposed to be its own game, and not tied into the Silent Hill series. However, the upper management at Konami wanted a new Silent Hill game, after the previous titles sold better than expected. And so, some references to the series were kind of shoehorned in. This, combined with some gameplay that can at best be described as "experimental" (both in a good and bad way), and further combined with the fact that the second half of the game is essentially one big escort mission makes this largely a love it or hate it game with fans.
My opinion? The game does definitely have some issues, and some ideas that just either didn't work, or didn't work as well as they should have. However, it still has enough to recommend it. The story, for one, is classic Silent Hill, and grabs your attention pretty much from the word "go". This time, you're playing Henry Townsend, an ordinary man who wakes up one morning to find that the door to his apartment has been completely covered in heavy chains, making it impossible to even leave his home. The only clue to this mystery is that someone addressed as "Walter" has written the words "Don't go out..." on the door in blood-red letters. Henry remains trapped in his own home for a number of days, with none of his neighbors seemingly being able to hear him, and no one outside being able to notice him when he bangs on his windows (which do not open, either). Even his telephone is suddenly dead.
After five days of being trapped in his apartment, something strange happens - A massive hole has suddenly appeared in the wall of his bathroom. He has no idea who tore this hole into his wall, or where it leads, but by this point, he is grateful for any means of escape. He climbs through, and after a seemingly-endless amount of crawling, he suddenly finds himself impossibly in the local underground subway station. There seems to be no way out of this place as well, but at least Henry is able to come across another person who seems to be trapped in this place as well. It's a sexy young woman named Cynthia, and she's just as confused as Henry is about what's going on, although she doesn't seem quite as shy. (She offers to give Henry a "special" sexual favor if he helps her escape.) After all, she believes that this is all a dream.
As Henry explores these strange surrounds with Cynthia, he soon comes across a mysterious man with psychotic tendencies. This is none other than Walter Sullivan, the same Walter responsible for Henry's current situation. Walter, we eventually learn, is a psychotic serial killer who is attempting to pull off a ceremony called the 21 Sacraments, a ritual tied to the Silent Hill cult that will give him immortality and power if he kills 21 individuals. He already has power, as he is able to bend the reality around the apartment where Henry currently lives (the same place Walter was initially born). He is using his power to trap people who have been rude or hurt him in the past in hellish situations, and murder them.
Cynthia becomes the first victim of Walter's killing spree that Henry encounters, and his discovery of her body is really a shattering moment. First you have the dying Cynthia still trying to convince herself that she is dreaming, and then you have the haunting vocal song "Room of Angel" playing in the background. Watching Henry trying to comfort and quiet Cynthia as she dies is equally heartbreaking.
Even if Silent Hill 4 is not quite as strong as its predecessors, moments like this proved that the team still did have what it takes. This would be the last time the original team would work on the franchise, as future Silent Hill games were developed by outside companies hired by Konami. The franchise never quite recovered from the original team leaving, and while the later games do have their individual moments, they never reached the heights of the classics. This was the time when Silent Hill was close to dethroning Resident Evil as the King of Survival Horror, and if you play these classics, it's easy to see why.
03. "FOREVER RACHEL" FINAL FANTASY VI (JAPAN)/FINAL FANTASY III (US) (1994) SUPER NINTENDO
I already talked about the death of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII, but there's an equally tragic moment that occurs in the earlier title, Final Fantasy VI (released initially in the US as Final Fantasy III) that doesn't get much attention, and that is the flashback that one of the main characters, Locke, has to a woman he once loved.
Locke joins the adventure early on, and uses his skills as a thief (or "treasure hunter" as he prefers to call himself) to aid you throughout the game. As one of the stars of the game, he comes across as a pretty easy-going character, and usually is the type to crack wise when it is appropriate. But then, at one point in the adventure, you come upon a town that holds a very dark part of Locke's past that he is forced to confront, and which becomes a driving force for the character during the rest of the game.
We learn that in this town, Locke was once in love with a woman named Rachel. One day, the two were exploring a cave together to look for a treasure. At one point, the bridge that Locke was walking upon started to collapse, and Rachel was able to push him out of the way to save his life. However, she fell instead, and although Locke was able to save her, when she awakened, she had suffered amnesia, and did not remember who he even was. Rachel's father blamed Locke for her losing her memory, and demanded that Locke leave. Even Rachel, who saw how upset her father was around him and did not remember him, demanded he leave. Locke hung around for a while, hoping he could get back with the woman he loved, but eventually he came to the conclusion that she would be better off without him in his current state, and left the town.
Then, just to twist the emotional knife further, we learn that when Locke returned to the town a year later, it had been attacked by Imperial forces, and Rachel had died during the battle. Before she died, he memory finally returned, and the last word she uttered was Locke's name. Melodramatic? For sure. But, it really does make you feel for the character. Combine that with Nobuo Uematsu's excellent music score for the scene (the music track is titled "Forever Rachel"), and it's hard not to get just a little chocked up while the flashback unfolds.
(Broken YouTube Link Removed) The music track "Forever Rachel"
From that point on, it becomes the goal of the player to help Locke move on from his past, learn to open his heart again to another, and stop blaming himself for what happened to Rachel. In a game that is filled with a number of powerful and emotional moments, this flashback sequence always stuck out in my mind. I played Final Fantasy III nearly nonstop when I got it for Christmas of 94, and to this day, I still remember the strong emotions the game created within me even to this day. It remains one of the earliest examples of "emotional gaming" for me.
02. "LUCIA MEETS ALTHENA/LUCIA MEETS ZOPHAR" LUNAR: ETERNAL BLUE SEGA CD (1995) / PLAYSTATION (2000)
Lunar: The Silver Star for the Sega CD was the game that introduced me to Japanese RPGs. With its high adventure story, memorable and likable characters, and dramatic anime-style cutscenes, there was no way I couldn't get hooked. When the sequel, Lunar: Eternal Blue, came out in 95, my expectations were higher than high, and they were not let down in the slightest. Thanks to the increased amount of time the developers had working with Sega's CD add-on, the game was even longer, there was more dialogue than before, and the anime cutscenes were not only better drawn, there was a lot more of them, and some of them were extremely long and well thought out. More than anything, these two sequences, which occur late in the game, showed off the dramatic power of storytelling that CD games could provide.
The game casts you as Hiro, a young boy with a love for adventure and seeing the world. While exploring an ancient tower, he comes across a mysterious girl named Lucia, who claims that she is from the Blue Star, a planet orbiting Hiro's world of Lunar. It is said that the people of Lunar originally lived on the Blue Star centuries ago, until an evil Destroyer named Zophar cast it to ruin. The Goddess Althena, a celestial being who protects the people of Lunar, defeated Zophar, and brought the few surviving people to the world of Lunar in order to start anew and repopulate it. Lucia says that she is a direct servant of the goddess, and was created and left behind on the Blue Star to watch over the world of Lunar, and come and warn Althena if Zophar were to ever awaken.
As the game opens, that time has come. Lucia has come to Lunar to seek out Althena, who has been locked away in her private tower for a very long time, but still seemingly watches over the world. Hiro agrees to aid Lucia on her quest, and along the way, they are joined by a party of friends. Over the course of the quest, Lucia (who has lived alone and isolated on the Blue Star for the past few thousand years) begins to learn about friendship and love through the people who help her along the way. Eventually, our heroes reach the Goddess Tower, and head to the top where Althena awaits them.
Luna/Goddess Althena is no more. Only a hologram remains.
Only when they arrive, she is not there. All that meets Lucia is a hologram of the goddess as an elderly woman, and soon we learn the truth. In the previous game, Lunar: The Silver Star, you played as Alex, a young boy on an adventure to save his kidnapped girlfriend, Luna. It was eventually revealed that Luna was actually the Goddess Althena reborn as a mortal, and evil forces were trying to corrupt her mortal form, and reawaken her hidden powers for their own purposes. That game left on kind of an open-ended note, with Alex and Luna pledging their love, but the player left unsure what was going to happen to Luna/Althena from that point on.
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
In this memorable sequence, we get our answers. The Goddess Althena is no more. She gave up her immortality, and chose to leave this existence when her life as Luna ended. Originally, she was to return to her rightful form as the Goddess when Luna passed away, but she did not expect to fall in love as she did with Alex. She could not face going on living without him, and so she chose to give up everything, as she felt the humans had grown too dependent upon her for their everyday lives, and needed to be given the power to control their own destinies.
Lucia is naturally shocked and confused by this information. Finding Althena was her mission, and she does not quite understand what the goddess means, or why she would sacrifice her life and power for the love of a mortal. Not being able to comprehend any of this information, she summons Althena's power, and decides to go off and confront Zophar by herself, without the aid of her friends. And here is where we get the second major moment.
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
When Lucia faces down Zophar shortly after, we learn the truth. it was not Zophar himself who destroyed the Blue Star, rather it was Althena's power. The power of the goddess is the power of creation, but there can be no creation without destruction. And while Althena's power would be able to destroy Zophar, it would also mean the end of Lunar, as well as the death of Hiro and his companions that Lucia has grown to love. This whole confrontation scene, where Lucia hesitates to use the power she has, while Zophar (sensing her hesitation) mocks and insists she use the power is one of the early examples of nail-biting suspense I can remember from a video game.
There was a remake of this game released for the Playstation in 2000, and both are pretty much exactly the same game, right down to the dialogue. So, whichever version you choose to play, you're in for an emotional experience, especially if you play the original Lunar beforehand. In my mind, this is one of the more intense and well-written moments in classic RPGs.
01. "TO THE FUTURE" LUFIA II: RISE OF THE SINISTRALS (1996) SUPER NES
Lufia II was the last major RPG released in America for the Super Nintendo, and was sadly overlooked, due to the fact that the Playstation was dominating at the time, and the Nintendo 64 was right around the corner. I already wrote about this game in my series of "Hidden Gems of 16-Bit" articles, so if you want to know more information, you can look there. But, I want to discuss the game's ending, which is incredibly powerful, even if you played the first game (which is set after this story), and know how this prequel is going to end.
I admit, this line does suck the drama out a little of the final battle, but just wait till what happens after...
In this game, you are Maxim, a young warrior who is tasked with saving the world from the Sinistrals, four evil gods who feel they should rule the world, because they are more powerful than humans, and should be allowed to destroy and do whatever they darn well please. During the course of the adventure, Maxim falls in love with a female warrior named Selan, and the two are eventually married, and even have a child together during the middle of the game. They leave their child in the care of a friend, vowing that they will return to their baby once the adventure is over.
The game climaxes on the floating island fortress of the Sinistrals, Doom Island. When the Sinistrals are finally defeated, your party seems fine, but Selan is gravely wounded. Not only that, but Doom Island is set to crash into Maxim's home city, which would kill their child and everyone they know. Maxim decides to stay behind with the wounded Selan, and try to change the course of the falling island. There are three mystic stones that Maxim must find and destroy in order to save his hometown. Maxim succeeds, but the power that's required to destroy the stones gravely wounds him. As he lies dying, Selan's spirit appears before him, and tells him that they can see their son one last time. Maxim dies, and as Doom Island falls harmlessly into the ocean, saving the lives the people below, we see two orbs of light representing Maxim and Selan's spirits leaving the fortress.
During the end credits, we watch as their spirits visit the different people who have fought alongside them or helped them along the way. In a sad twist, the many people assume that Maxim and Selan survived the final battle, and are planning a victory celebration for when they return. Finally, the spirits of our heroes visit their home, and see their child being cradled in the arms of the friend they left him with. The baby, sensing its parents are somehow near, begins giggling, while the woman caring for the child does not understand what he is reacting to, as she cannot see the spirits. After this brief but poignant visit, the two spirits ascend above, leaving the world behind forever.
As I mentioned, Lufia II was actually a prequel to the original game, and the story of Maxim and Selan was actually greatly detailed in the first game. So, it was not exactly a spoiler for gamers to know how the story was going to end. Regardless, thanks to the strong writing, and the beautiful music track that plays during the end titled "To the Future", it still managed to create a lump in the throat of just about everyone who has played it. It really is sad that this game isn't as well known as the Final Fantasies or Chrono Trigger, as it truly deserves to be listed among those classics.
And that's my list. I hope you enjoyed it, or that it brought back some memories of some of the more emotional moments in gaming for you. I would love to hear some other picks.
Once again, I appreciate your patience with my other works, and I hope I will get to back to them before too long.
Until next time, Retro Junkers, keep the past alive!