*Major spoilers for the following games: Wolfenstein II, Doki Doki Literature Club, Tales of Berseria, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, What Remains of Edith Finch, Nier: Automata, and Horizon: Zero Dawn.
*Please be aware that suicide is mentioned in multiple entries.
This category is devoted to the best moment or sequence in a game this year. This could be a truly shocking moment, a sequence that affected me emotionally, or something that was just really fun. More than any other medium, the interactivity of video games really allow moments to have a huge effect on me. This is probably my favorite category to think about due to its nature.
#10 - Killing Hitler in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
The introduction of Hitler in the new Wolfenstein series has been an anticipated event. MachineGames didn’t disappoint. Hitler is every bit as terrible as we’d expect him to be. BJ (the protagonist) runs into Hitler while impersonating an actor to gain access to the Nazi base on Venus. Hitler just so happens to be the director of this movie. Hitler does Hitler things (like kill the actors he doesn’t like for example), but eventually he just decides he’s tired and takes a nap on the floor just as it’s BJ’s turn to read lines. While walking over to the scene, BJ passes by Hitler sleeping on the ground. My first thought, like most people I would assume, was that I’m going to try and kill Hitler. To my surprise, the game actually lets you do it. Being in a Nazi compound, I knew it would immediately lead to my death, but that didn’t stop me from trying it two or three times.
#09 - Doki Doki Literature Club Turns
Doki Doki Literature Club appears to be your run of the mill dating sim visual novel. You play as a boy with a cute friend who forces you to join a literature club that’s full of other cute girls. You get to decide who you want to spend time with and who you want to try and impress. Spending time with the other girls, however, has an unintended consequence on your childhood friend, Sayori, that is hinted to by the game’s content warnings. (For a great discussion about content warnings and their relationship with spoilers, check out the Waypoint Radio podcast HERE.) Sayori confesses that she struggles with depression and ultimately commits suicide in a scene that is incredibly unsettling.
After this happens, the game turns. I immediately went to load up a previous save to try and fix this terrible outcome. I could not. All my saves were gone. Also missing from the title screen was Sayori. In her place was a glitched out jumble of pixels. The ‘New Game’ button had also been replaced with a string of unusual symbols, so I clicked it. The game then turns into a subtle horror game. You slowly lose control as the screen flickers, text scrolls at times on its own, or your cursor moves without input. This results in a sense of dread that continues until you finish the game.
#08 - Phi Saves Velvet from Despair in Tales of Berseria
Velvet experienced a truly tragic event that changed her physically and emotionally. She spends the game stepping on anyone that gets in her way to try and enact her revenge. At a certain point in the game, it’s revealed that maybe she didn’t have all the correct information. The antagonist proceeds to talk her into despair. She’s told about all the lives she ruined and the people she’s hurt to get to where she is. Velvet is on the verge of giving up before Phi steps in and tells her how unbearably whiny she’s being. What follows is an unexpectedly emotional scene in which Phi reminds Velvet of her kindness. It is one of my favorite turning points for a character in any game.
#07 - BJ is Sentenced to Death in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
This sequence in Wolfenstein II was just so bizarre. Shocking moments are created simply by subverting expectation. The best shocking moments do this in a way that carries weight. I don’t know if this specific sequence does the latter, but it somehow works so well within Wolfenstein’s heightened universe and narrative.
BJ is captured by the Nazis and sentenced to death. Of course, we fully expect BJ to escape. MachineGames even goes so far as to create an escape sequence that eventually reveals itself to be only a dream. Shortly after, BJ is executed. His head is separated from his body and dropped into an incinerator. However, on the way down, BJ’s head is caught by a drone, brought back to the resistance, preserved, and reattached to an android-like body. It’s absurd. It’s absolutely crazy. It also works extremely well somehow.
#06 - Rachel Amber Starts a Wildfire in Before the Storm
I wrote about this scene when talking about Rachel Amber in my top ten new characters blog, so I won’t spend too much time here. What I love about this scene is how real Rachel’s and Chloe’s reactions feel. Rachel just learned some potentially devastating information about her father and lashed out at Chloe. Chloe is also going through some stuff so she lashed back. Add into the equation that they’re both teenagers who struggle with dealing with such heavy things, and you have a genuinely emotional scene between two characters.
When Rachel comes clean to Chloe about why she had been acting that way, they both struggle with how to talk about it. The final scene is somber. Rachel seems very calm as she talks about her feelings. However, as a physical manifestation of the fire swirling in Rachel’s mind, she lights a picture of her and her father on fire and throws it in a garbage can. Rachel then releases her pain in the form of a scream and kicks over the garbage can setting the forest ablaze.
#05 - Senua Speaks Directly to the Camera in Hellblade
I’m going to be brief with this one, because the heading describes this moment well. There’s a moment at the beginning of the game where Senua talks directly to the camera. I believe she was addressing the voices in her head, but something about the delivery and her big eyes looking directly into mine that made me feel it in my soul. I can’t quite describe it, but it had a lasting effect on me.
#04 - Pascal and His Children in Nier: Automata
Pascal is the robot leader of a small robot village tucked away in the woods. The village is full of the more self-aware robots, and Pascal teaches them about emotions using the only example available, humans. (There are no humans around anymore, only what we left behind.) Pascal is also a pacifist. Unfortunately, the conflict raging outside comes to his doorstep, and he’s forced to move the children to a factory to keep them safe. As a fleet of robots show up at the factory, Pascal has no choice but to take control of a giant Engels bot (like, seriously giant) and destroy the enemy fleet, ultimately breaking his code.
When Pascal returns to the children, they have killed themselves. You see, when Pascal tried to teach them emotion, he taught them fear. The self-aware robots in this game latch on to human characteristics in a way that is exaggerated. The “children” aren’t actually children as much as they are robots who have devoted themselves to live as predefined familial structures that humans created before them. These robots decided that not existing was better than to feel terror. They did not have the emotional knowledge to realize that such a thing will pass.
I’ll be honest; I don’t know if that all made sense, but that is what I took away from it. This scene closes with one final gut punch. Upon seeing this devastation, Pascal decides that he cannot go on with this memory. He tells you to destroy him, but you also have the option to reset his memory. (There seems to have been a third option, but I did not think of it.) Both options were terrible. I couldn’t force myself to kill this character I have come to care for. I also felt that resetting his memory allowed him to avoid dealing with the tragic events that occurred. It was an impossible choice. Nier: Automata is filled with these kinds of moments, but this one stood out to me the most.
#03 - Visiting Elisabet in Horizon: Zero Dawn
I will also be brief with this moment as well, because it is incredibly simple. Aloy grew up without a mother or father. They didn’t die, but she literally did not have them. As Aloybegins learning about the world around her, she discovers that she is the clone of Elisabet Sobeck, a scientist attempting to save the human race. Elisabet is the closest thing that Aloy has to family. When Aloy finishes her mission, she sets off to find the resting place of Elisabet. While watching Aloy ride up to Elisabet’s grave, we hear a voice over of Elisabet talking with GAIA about her own mother and what she’d like her child to be like if she had had one. It’s beautiful. I just watched it again, and I’m crying over here.
#02 - Lewis and the Cannery in What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch had a handful of amazing sequences, but the one that really stood out the most was Lewis’s. This sequence tells the story of Edith’s brother Lewis. Lewis goes to work at a cannery after high school. The job is monotonous. After his brother, Milton, had gone missing and the deaths of his other family members, Lewis is depressed.
The story is told by his therapist. She speaks about how Lewis spent his time working in the cannery imagining himself in a fantasy world; a world where he could mean something. His fantasy starts small as an explorer in a dungeon. It slowly builds as he gains friends and followers, becomes mayor, and finally is about to marry a prince and become king.
This is all too real for me. There have been times when life is hard and sad, and all I want to do is escape into a fantasy world, whether it be a movie, video games, or just my own head. Lewis, however, gets lost in his fantasy. He wants to live there. Tragically, he ends his own life to do so.
The way this sequence plays out is what really stands out. At the beginning, you control Lewis with the right stick cutting the heads off a never ending supply of fish and throwing them on a conveyer belt. As the therapist begins talking about Lewis’s fantasies, a thought bubble pops up and you begin controlling that as well with the left stick. The more Lewis’s fantasy grows, the more real estate it takes up on the screen until it eventually overtakes the entire thing. I made my wife play this game, and it was very interesting to watch her play this segment. When the fantasy first appeared, her focus was still on the fish, and she struggled to navigate Lewis through the fantasy. As the fantasy grew, more fish started piling up as she began focusing more on the fantasy than on the fish. As obvious as this may seem, it was fascinating nonetheless.
Anapurna created something special in Edith Finch, and this segment is the perfect example of how this genre can weave together storytelling and interactivity in such a spectacular way.
#01 - Ending E in Nier: Automata
Nothing in a game has left an impact on me this year as much as ending E of Nier: Automata. When you finish all previous endings, you get some additional dialogue from your pods during the credit. These little guys were companion robots designed to follow your commands throughout the game. Through watching your actions, they learned and gained free will. Instead of deleting all record of Project YoRHa, they admit that they want the androids to survive and spark a battle with the end credits of the game.
That’s right, you fight the names in the credits. While a very good, inspiration song plays, you control a little triangle and shoot at each name in the credits, destroying them. Of course, the credits shoot back. There’s a point at which this become impossible. You play, die, restart, and repeat. As this happens, the game begins to mock you. Instead of “try again?” it says “admit that trying is meaningless?” or something similar to that. Along with that, you’ll start seeing other messages in the background. These are inspirational messages from other players encouraging you to continue. This will continue to happen for way longer than you’d expect. Finally, you’ll receive an offer for help. Choosing yes surrounds you with six other little triangles and the music swells from a single voice to a choir.
I melted at this point into a blubbering bag of emotions. While the message was simple, with the help of others you can overcome anything and give life meaning, it was the presentation that affected me so much. It may sound silly reading this, but it’s an experience that I won’t soon forget. This segment concludes with one final offer. If you delete all save data, you can help someone else through this section. I chose yes without hesitation. There were still a few things that I wanted to go back to, but it wasn’t even a question for me. I deleted all 40+ hours without a second thought.
As always, I want to hear from you! What were your favorite moments playing a game this year? Do you prefer fun sequences or do prefer to be shocked?
Aaron (me) is a lover of games, Extra Life member, Twitch streamer, and husband. I have never written much before, so I apologize if things start a little rough. I hope to improve in time.