While it’s all well and good that video game stories have made leaps and bounds over the years, it’s undeniable that some have gone to pretty dark places. For proof, look no further than our roundup of nine video game stories that are super depressing.
*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
The Last of Us
The Last of Us is not the kind of game anyone should play if they want to feel happy.
Starting with main character Joel’s daughter getting shot by soldiers and declining in positivity from there, the game revels in putting the darker, bleaker reality of how a world-ending infection would affect people.
Some do their best to survive, only to lose all hope when their loved ones perish; others give in to their darker desires, stealing from and violating any they come across; and others still do whatever it takes to survive and do right by them and theirs.
To be sure, it’s all brilliantly written and portrayed. As dark, depraved and violent as these moments can be, the deftness with which they’re delivered is captivating and created a new standard for video game storytelling.
At the same time though, it’s hard to glean much hope, if any from the experiences one goes through via the game, and players wouldn’t be blamed if they were left in a sullen funk by the time they watched the credits roll.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 2
The first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead may have had its dark and depressing moments, but Season 2’s story makes it seem downright cheery in comparison.
Set after Clementine’s heartbreaking farewell to Lee, the story puts Clementine in all manner of situations that test her innocence and morality.
A wild dog tears her arm open after she tries to give it food and show it kindness, and when she seeks help from a new group of survivors they leave her to tend to her own wounds out of fear that she’s bitten.
She reunites with Kenny, only to discover the loss of his family has driven him mad and made him an abusive, violent man on the edge.
She encounters a tyrannical camp of survivors who, though friendly at first, quickly turn on her and her allies when they try to escape; which, once they manage to do, leads to the deaths of almost all of them save for Clem, a baby and one adult.
Time after time, these blows keep coming, and the player’s spirit gets worn down right alongside Clementine’s.
It’s undeniable that it sells the perilous, grim nature of the game’s world, but by the end, most any player will be ready to see something – anything – good happen to Clementine again.
Red Dead Redemption
For all of its wild west action and theatrics, Red Dead Redemption is a game driven by a bleak and unforgiving story.
Set against the backdrop of the last days of the wild west, the game follows the former outlaw John Marston on his mission to capture his former allies and friends to earn a pardon from the law.
Doing so will earn him the right to live out the rest of his days in peace with his family, tending to a farm he bought in the hopes of providing a better life for them.
To this end, he chases down those he once called allies, condemning them to death either by his own hands or that of the law he hands them over to.
Once he succeeds, he returns home to live out his long-sought after peaceful life… only to be betrayed by the lawmen he assisted trusted.
When the dust settles, he lies dead, his family left to mourn until his son takes up arms against them in a mission of revenge.
It’s a heartbreaking portrayal of not being able to escape one’s past, the inescapable cycle of violence and many other themes that, while impactful and captivating, don’t do much to elevate one’s mood.
By the time the credits roll, players are just as likely to mourn John’s passing as his family, and just as likely to lament the path his son sets out upon after he tried so hard to steer him away from such a violent life.
Shadow of the Colossus
Though Shadow of the Colossus may not spell out its story, the clues hidden in its design weave a grim tale of putting the needs of the one above the needs of the many.
After entering a forbidden land in search of the power needed to revive his love, the Wanderer sets off to track and kill the lumbering colossi that inhabit the land.
Doing so will allow him to harness a dark and ancient power he can use toward his own ends, but it will also undo the seal on said evil and release it back into the world.
As such, the Wanderer embarks on his quest, hunting and attacking any and every Colossi he comes across. Some are pacifistic and try to flee from him, while others try to face him down.
Regardless, all fall before him, with more and more of the dark power they sealed away flowing through him. By the time the last Colossus falls, he is no longer human, warped by the powers now flowing through him.
Though he succeeds in saving his love as a result, he is then killed by those seeking to keep the power sealed away, leaving his love to live out her days in the forbidden land with a remnant of her love left to keep her company.
It’s groundbreaking, evocative and romantic, but heartbreaking all the same.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
As much as people may herald Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’s story, there’s no denying that it’s quite the downer all things considered.
Throughout the game, players are tasked with tracking down and killing Big Boss’ mentor The Boss, it having been discovered that she betrayed her country and helped launch a nuclear attack against Russia.
This, of course, provides some moral dilemmas, as players come to learn of the care and affection she’s shown Snake over the years and share in his hesitation to take her out.
All the same, they ultimately succeed, taking her down in a one-on-one fight at the game’s end. It’s heartbreaking, but ultimately far from the darkest and most depressing story out there.
Or at least, it is until players learn the truth of the entire game’s plot.
After the nuclear strike on Russia, the U.S. decided to cover its own tracks by framing one of their own as a traitor. Not only that, but The Boss voluntarily stepped up to the role, fully aware of what would happen to her as a result.
Worst of all is that Snake and the player carried it out to the letter, left to be some of the only ones to know the truth of the heroism their former mentor showed.
Silent Hill 2
Though it’s a masterclass in crafting a dark and dismal world with a story to match, there’s no getting around the fact that Silent Hill 2’s story will leave players feeling emotionally drained by its conclusion.
As the recent widower James Sunderland, players make their way through the town of Silent Hill in search of his deceased wife Mary; who, despite being deceased for some time, sent him a letter imploring him to come to the town to find her.
During this journey, James encounters several other people who have come there for one reason or another. One by one though, they reveal themselves to be unhinged, warped by past traumas and crimes that they can’t escape.
Before long, James’ own crimes are revealed: He killed his wife Mary out of loathing and desperation, eager to see her freed from her illness and move on with his life.
To that end, the town is less an actual location and more of a purgatory, created by James to punish himself for his crimes. Even if he finds and confronts Mary, he can’t outrun his mistakes and never will.
As undeniably original and provocative as this is, it’s also more than enough to leave players crestfallen. All of their and James’ fights, their struggles and suffering, were for not, their doomed fates sealed from the start.
What Remains of Edith Finch
As uplifting as the final message of What Remains of Edith Finch may be, getting to it requires a fair bit of emotional stamina.
Telling a tale of a family cursed to be killed off in all manner of strange ways, the game sees players uncover the final accounts of most every family member.
Some tried to escape their fate, only to embrace it like an oncoming train once they became tired of running. Others were taken before they even realized it, drowning in a bath while they were left unattended to in a bath.
Regardless, all were taken at some point or another. This includes Edith Finch who, despite players playing as her throughout most all of the game, met her own death at some unknown point and left her final account for her child to read.
As stated above, there is a silver lining to all of this doom and gloom. Edith leaves her child with the lesson that life is short, and that they should aim to live it as best they can while they still have it.
Still though, by the end of this brief journey, players are likely to be in emotional tatters, dealing with the aftermath of wandering through so many tales of death, loss, and heartbreak for one heartwarming message.
Dark Souls 3
From Software isn’t known for happy, cheery games, so it should be little surprise Dark Souls 3‘s story can crush players’ spirits without a second thought.
Set in the kingdom of Lothric, the story sees the world in shambles. After ages of lighting and re-lighting the First Flame, the world is fading fast due to the refusal of the land’s champions to extend the world’s life any longer.
To that end, the player has been summoned as an Unkindled, tasked with killing these champions and using their ashes to reach the first flame, re-lighting it themselves to keep existence from fading away into darkness.
And yet, the further players make it through the world, the clearer it becomes that the end is long since overdue. Madness reigns over the populace. Once mighty cities are crumbling, their greatness having run its course long ago.
As a result, the wishes and motivations of the champions become all the more understandable. Yes, not lighting the flame will lead to one final ruin, but is it really as bad as letting the world limp on in its ruined, hopeless state?
This leaves players with a less than favorable decision by the journey’s end, either prolonging the inevitable or cleaning the slate with themselves along with it. No matter the choice, their emotional batteries will be running on empty, if not depleted.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Admittedly, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn’t the most depressing game out there. When held against every other entry in the prolific series, however, its story stands out as uncharacteristically bleak.
Players take up their usual role of Link in a bid to take down Ganon, but it comes with a twist: They’re doing so 100 years after Ganon successfully defeated them, killing Hyrule’s champions and possessing the Divine Beasts that once protected the land.
Before he could kill Link though, Zelda used her magic to hide Link away in safety while also sealing Ganon away until the day he could once again be faced down and brought to justice.
To that end, Link is left with a far bleaker quest than usual. While he may defeat Ganon, he can never revive his fallen comrades, instead, left to make amends for their defeat and the ensuing century of struggle the land suffered as a result.
Not only that, but he’s left to piece together what happened to Zelda, unable to reach the person he cared about most until the very end of his journey, if at all.
Needless to say, this can lead many a player into the doldrums while on their way to the game’s ending, the gravity of the story’s implications bearing down on them.