What does death mean when it’s not permanent? Can it still make you cry if your character regenerates? Can it be meaningful? Or is it necessarily just an annoyance, a product of “failing” at gaming? In games “The End” is hardly ever true. It’s just “The End” of that attempt, but your character will resurrect itself. Time will turn back. Nothing is forever in games. Death in video games is nothing different. It’s a temporary condition, but it can be pretty awesome to watch.
As a gamer, I am often moved by emotional moments in games. Death can be handled tastefully, tactfully and really cause a crying jag. Or it can be gory and impressive, characters dying on the battlefield in a blaze of glory. So, we’ve shared our favorite moments of gaming death, but we’re excited to hear yours!
This piece contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, Bioshock, Halo: Reach, and Mass Effect 3.
Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core
I don’t know if this is my favourite, but it is the one that comes most easily to mind. It ties together many things for me. The first game I became seriously interested in, past a mild amusement in games, was from Final Fantasy VII—things quickly snowballed from there. So when Crisis Core came out, I was very intrigued to learn Zack’s side of things. What makes this one of my favourites, and perhaps more heart-wrenching for me, is that we know what is going to happen to him. We now where this road leads. And yet, when we reach the final moments of the game, we feel like Cloud, reaching out vainly to stop him. We start that last battle sequence, and we fight. We know how this ends, but we still fight as hard as we can, like we can somehow change the ending.
Having to not just watch Zack’s final moments but actually participate is grueling. The first wave or so is easy. But his strength begins to wane. The waves become more numerous, most difficult. Memories flash by, reminding us of his journey and that the end is coming. And finally, we can’t win anymore. He falls—we fall. And the only one there to care is Cloud, who understands what’s happening to his friend despite his mind being broken. Zack died to protect Cloud. Zack could have left on his own and eluded Shinra for the rest of his life—he had the skills to do it. But he wouldn’t leave Cloud. Final Fantasy VII only happened because of this moment—because Zack made this sacrifice. And I think that’s why it sticks with me so much.
I don’t think anybody goes into a first-person shooter expecting to tear up at the end. In the good ending of Bioshock, should the player choose to save all of the Little Sisters, protagonist Jack rescues them from Rapture and brings them to the surface. The Little Sisters grow up with the opportunity to pursue education, careers, and families of their own, and they become the loving family Jack never had. After all the terrible experiences he’s endured, from being experimented on to facing off against splicers, the ending lets the player know that the rest of Jack’s life was happy, that he was never alone again, and that his daughters were all there to comfort him when he passed away. Usually I don’t like having my plots tied up neatly with a bow, but the confirmation that Jack left his terrible father in the past and became a good father himself was such a satisfying ending. It made all of the splicer jump scares worth it.
The final mission will always stand out to me as the culmination of what that game leads up to. In the Halo lore, Reach is humanity’s last stronghold before Earth, their military bastion and last remaining major colony world after twenty seven years of fighting the ruthless alien forces of the Covenant. Since Halo: Reach is a prequel to the entire franchise, we know what happens: Almost every game in the franchise mentions Reach being invaded and destroyed.
So from the second you hit the start button you know where this is going. This is even further hammered home with the opening scene being your customised character’s helmet destroyed amidst a hellish landscape. And at the end your final mission is simply labelled “Survive.” You’re alone at this point, the rest of your close-knit team of Spartans killed one-by-one. The remaining forces of Reach have fled or burned, as the planet is bombarded with plasma and antimatter charges. You’re left wandering this wasteland fighting off as much Covenant as you can as you’re slowly overwhelmed until the game makes you watch your character be taken down once and for all.
It’s bittersweet in the end. You knew your character wasn’t going to make it, you knew this was going to happen, but the final scene isn’t just what we see at the start. It quickly transitions to your helmet now left lying in a lush and fertile field decades into the future, after the war is over, after all the bloodshed, and you being told that because of your actions, your sacrifice, humanity holds out just enough to survive. And as a way to cap off the franchise with this being the last Bungie-made Halo game, I loved this final death and ending.
Mass Effect 3
The threat of the reapers began three years ago. Commander Shepard was able to fight off the preliminary attacks twice, even surviving a suicide mission and coming back from the dead once. Shepard has already lost many to a war she knew was coming, though few believed her. This time, there is no denying that the invasion is real. The death toll across the galaxy is in the millions and more and more planets are being lost to reaper control each day. There is no reasoning with the reapers. They are made to harvest life as they see fit. The only way to stop them is to fight. When Shepard makes the final run to the Citadel, she knew it was a one way trip. She’s said her goodbyes, but she’s not going down until the bitter end. Battered, bleeding, and bruised, she makes the way to the top of the weapon that is meant to destroy the reapers—though Shepard and her people are uncertain of how it works. There, she learns from the reapers’ AI that she must make the final decision on how this Crucible will work. Will Shepard assume control of the reapers herself? Will she force a new evolution, combining the biological with the technological? Or will she destroy the reapers once and for all?
Each decision comes with a heavy price and ultimately requires her own sacrifice. Some Mass Effect fans are unhappy with such a Pyrrich victory and have even modded their game to achieve a “happy ending,” but for me, I expected no less than the ultimate sacrifice. The ending of Mass Effect 3 suffered significant controversy for other reasons, but once Bioware fixed the execution of Shepard’s final battle, I was in tears all over again. Not merely because I’d lost the character I’d come to love, but because I got to see that loss through the eyes of the people who had come to love and respect Shepard, and would have given their lives for this cause too, but instead, will ensure that her legacy lives on.
Mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.