1. The Last of Us
You can find a million games that take place in a monster-infested post apocalypse. But you won’t find many that come with a story as memorable and gut-wrenching as The Last of Us.
A big reason The Last of Us is so affecting is the acting. The game stars Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, who deserve tons of credit for their voice work and motion capture performances. By the end of the 16-hour game, you’ll feel like you’ve been through the ringer right along with them, fighting tooth and nail for survival. Whether you agree with the decision at the end or not, it’s so cathartic and emotional that no one would blame you for shedding a few manly tears.
2. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
In most games, you control a single character onscreen. Not so in Brothers, a game that lets you play as two characters simultaneously. You control one with the left stick and left trigger, and the other with the right stick and right trigger. The sticks move the brothers around onscreen, and the triggers let them grasp items in the environment.
From there it’s all about solving environmental puzzles to further the story. The brothers are on a journey through a somber fairy-tale world to find a cure for their father, who has become incapacitated with illness. The game is gorgeous and fantastical, yet dark and serious, too. Although they don’t talk, the characters are so likable that, by the end, it’s like someone’s cutting onions right next to you.
3. Gone Home
Gone Home isn’t a traditional game. It’s more of an interactive short story, and that’s what makes it so unique. You play as a young woman visiting her family’s new house after spending a year traveling through Europe. No one’s there when you arrive, so you take it upon yourself to explore the new dwelling and find out what your family has been up to since you’ve been away.
The result is a deeply touching narrative that unfolds as you make your way from room to room, opening drawers and closets, and finding keys to unlock new areas of the house. As you inspect the items you find, you piece together one of the best stories in all of video games. There’s no shame in sobbing after that.
4. Red Dead Redemption
When Red Dead Redemption first came out in 2010, developer Rockstar was already known for producing amazing open-world games with plenty of gun-slinging action and enticing gameplay. And although Grand Theft Auto 4 had its tender moments, Rockstar wasn’t exactly known for telling touching stories.
Then along came John Marston, and everything changed. Marston is an ex-convict who’s trying to get his life back on track. Unfortunately for him, some corrupt federal agents kidnap his wife and child and force him to help catch some criminals. Things don’t always end well for heroes of Westerns, so you’ll have to play the game to see who lives and who dies. Just make sure you have a box of tissues on hand.
5. The Walking Dead: Season One
Not to be confused with the TV show or comic book of the same name, The Walking Dead: Season One is very much a video game. It’s set in the same zombie-filled world and tells a similar sort of bleak story of survival, but the big difference here is that you get to make the choices.
And tough choices they are, because you often determine who lives and who dies. With a large cast of well written characters, this game pulls you along to see how things turn out. Just try not to get too attached to anybody. Chances are, they won’t be around for long. And you’ll be a sobbing mess.
6. Halo: Reach
If you’re familiar with the story of Halo, then you knew going into it that this one was going to end badly. Halo: Reach is a prequel to the entire series, depicting the events that occur before the start of 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved.
Your team’s goal at the end of Reach is to launch the UNSC Pillar of Autumn. Once you succeed, setting in motion the events of the rest of the Halo series, your fate is sealed. You’re left behind, vastly outnumbered by Covenant enemies. You lose the battle, you lose your life, and humans lose the planet. It’s a big old downer.
7. Final Fantasy VII
If you have even a faint interest in video games, you’ll know exactly the moment that makes Final Fantasy VII a tear-jerker. It’s when the villainous Sephiroth up and stabs a certain member of your party to death. And unlike every other time someone dies in battle, this time it’s for keeps. No phoenix down will bring her back. All you can do is weep quietly as Cloud lays her down to rest. Then you have to get up to put in disc two.