Back in the 1980s, video games were simple and somewhat short. They featured blocky graphics, simple controls, and straightforward goals. Even as games gained complexity, they didn't offer much in terms of story. We knew that Mario was on his way to find Princess Peach (and that she was always in another castle), but we didn't have a ton of specifics. Fast forward to the modern age and gaming is chock full of elaborate storylines and impressive character development.
Every great story needs action, adventure, drama, and, in some unfortunate instances, tragedy. There have been many releases over the years that have tapped into tear ducts and sent us into crying fits. Whether it's a character we know and love, an innocent casualty, or even a villain, some character deaths are so devastating that they leave their depressive mark on gaming history.
As games become even more complex, we begin to grow attached to certain NPCs and their ramblings. Mass Effect provides a great example of this camaraderie, as does Final Fantasy and Halo. Becoming emotionally distraught by the passing of a fictional character is nothing new and video games do a fantastic job of tugging at our heartstrings from time to time.
Some characters stick out more than others and their deaths serve as a grim reminder that even the brightest lights in gaming can be snuffed out without a moments notice. This list serves as a memorial to some of the most beloved NPC that we've lost over the past few decades.
WARNING: This list contains many story spoilers!
15 The Joker (Batman: Arkham City)
Let's be honest, The Joker is undeserving of mourning and remembrance. Still, through all of his heinous acts, the death of The Joker stands out as one of the most tragic deaths in gaming history. His final moments are a massive underline to the toxic relationship between him and Batman.
The Joker had always assumed that The Dark Knight would spare his life, no matter the circumstance. During the final showdown in Arkham City, The Joker believes that he has finally persuaded The Caped Crusader. A subtle moment of weakness suggests that Batman is finally ready to give in, to kill The Joker once and for all (by refusing to give him an antidote that will cure his illness). Sensing the possibility that he will die, Joker attempts to secure the antidote for himself. The antidote is destroyed and The Joker finds himself facing the reality that he's not coming back from his latest brush with death.
In his final moments, Batman takes away The Joker's "victory," letting him know that he was fully intent on saving him.
14 John Marston (Red Dead Redemption)
John Marston was a bit of a villain himself. The Wild West gunslinger was notorious for kidnapping, raiding, murdering, and committing robbery during his early days. It's noted that John lost his father when he was only eight years old and was forced to live in an orphanage as a result. Hating the lifestyle, John Marston eventually escaped the shelter and found himself in the middle of a rowdy gang.
A series of events (which we don't want to spoil) slowly transform Marston from cold outlaw to loving father. We spend much of the Red Dead Redemption journey trying to create a life and legacy at Breecher's Hope. It's for this reason that the loss of John Marston was so heartbreaking.
The manner in which John "checks out" is especially haunting. The gunslinger finds himself backed into a corner, on his own land, in his own barn. His murderous lifestyle had finally caught up to him and, in order to save what is left of his family, John Marston goes out in a blaze of bullets.
13 Zack Fair (Crisis Core: FFVII)
The world of Final Fantasy is teeming with unique characters and rich storylines. In Final Fantasy VII, gamers were introduced to the brooding Cloud Strife. This skilled soldier would become one of the most poignant characters in all of Final Fantasy lore, with many players remarking on his seemingly cold and uncaring attitude.
Throughout Final Fantasy VII, we hear stories about Zack Fair, a close and personal friend of Cloud, who passed on. It wasn't until Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, that we finally got to meet Zack Fair "in person." His cheerful demeanor and caring attitude quickly captured the hearts of many players.
The end of the release sees both characters share an agonizingly sad moment, in which Zack relinquishes his trusty buster sword to Cloud. He speaks softly to his friend, asking him to become his legacy and to live his dreams as if he were still alive. Since Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a prequel to the original release, every diehard fan knew that Zack's death was inevitable. That didn't make it any easier to accept.
12 John "Soap" MacTavish (Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3)
The Call of Duty series is best known for its rampant multiplayer gameplay and military-style action. That being said, each title in the long-standing franchise features a (generally) short but rather engrossing single-player storyline. The Modern Warfare story arc is particularly entertaining and Modern Warfare 3 sees one of the most heartbreaking deaths to grace the series.
Those who've followed Call of Duty since the original Modern Warfare will most likely recognize John "Soap" MacTavish. The S.A.S. soldier began his campaign as a prominent part of Captain John Price's Bravo Team. You get to play as Soap during a majority of Modern Warfare's storyline and he's once again a playable character in the last three missions of Modern Warfare 2. In Modern Warfare 3, he (mostly) fights with us as an NPC.
With such a prominent role in this particular arc, we grew to love and respect Soap. This battle hardened warrior was a great soldier and an even better man. His death was a shock to most, happening quickly and without warning.
11 Lee Everett (The Walking Dead)
We were first introduced to Lee Everett in the beginning of Telltale Game's The Walking Dead. The former history professor finds himself convicted of murdering a state senator whom he found sleeping with his wife. The sudden cataclysm of the apocalypse allows Lee his freedom and soon after he crosses paths with Clementine, a young girl scared and on her own.
It's up to the player to decide what kind of person Lee becomes, through choices and dialogue options. Regardless of his attitude towards others, Lee remains a steadfast protector to Clementine and essentially promises to protect the girl with his life. This is perhaps the main reason that Lee's untimely death is so unsettling.
After suffering an unfortunate bite, Lee finds himself careening towards death. Clementine is forced to handcuff her beloved protector, to ensure that he does not cause her harm when he reanimates as part of the living dead. In this moment, it's up to the player to decide if Clementine shoots Lee to spare him such a fate or spare herself the psychological burden of a mercy killing. Either choice is heartbreaking, for both Clementine and the player.
10 Booker DeWitt (BioShock Infinite)
Booker DeWitt is private investigator turned "bounty hunter." With a serious pile of gambling debts, the unlucky protagonist is tasked with retrieving a girl from a mysterious place called Columbia. If he can complete this task, all of his gambling debts will be erased and he can resume his life. Unfortunately for Booker, his trip to Columbia unravels a complex story of alternate universes, revolutions, and fanatical leaders.
After meeting his mark, Elizabeth, Booker begins the arduous task of freeing her from the grasp of Columbia. Along the way, Mr. DeWitt struggles with his own morality, eventually coming to terms with that fact that the evil dictator Comstock must be stopped. This storyline plays out like a traditional "bad guy turned good guy" scenario, but features an elaborate and heartbreaking twist at the end.
It is revealed that certain alternate versions of Booker would later become the fanatical Comstock. This forces our hero to stop the dictator in the only way he can, by "killing himself" and denying any possible future in which he is rebaptised as the evil ruler. It's beyond depressing to learn that you are both the hero and the villain in this particular story.
9 Mordin Solus (Mass Effect 3)
Let us first start by saying that it is entirely possible to save Mordin Solus in Mass Effect 3. However, the series of events which prelude and the cost at which you save him is probably not worth the struggle. For these reasons, Mordin was most likely to perish on Tuchanka during a traditional Mass Effect 3 playthrough.
Whether Paragon or Renegade, Mordin's death is exceptionally saddening. The Salarian scientist spent much of the Mass Effect 3 storyline working on a cure for the horrible Krogan genophage. A moment arrives during this mission that forces Mordin to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to properly disperse his cure. A quick elevator ride to the top of a rapidly crumbling tower is the only way to put an end to the plague once and for all.
Your choices decide where and how Mordin will perish, but his final goodbye is what makes his death so saddening. Our Salarian friend was always known for his punctuality and hard work. It is those qualities that we hear in his haunting departure. "Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong."
8 Roman Bellic / Kate McReary (Grand Theft Auto IV)
There are two names for this particular spot on the list due to the choices you'll make during the end game for Grand Theft Auto IV. Roman Bellic is the bowling-obsessed cousin of protagonist Niko, while Kate McReary presents a possible future love interest (as well as an in-game dateable NPC).
Players will spend much of the GTA IV storyline becoming close to both of these NPC, although it is important to note that the entire game can be played without taking Kate out on a single date. Regardless of how well the player knows these characters, the final sequence of events proves to be a heartbreaking affair for Niko.
If you choose to take a proposed deal at the end of the game, you'll be forced to agonize over the death of Roman. If you decide not to take the deal, Kate will find her way at death's door. This forces Niko into making the ultimate decision. Does our protagonist value the life of his cousin over a possible future life with a new loved one? Regardless of the choice, this outcome is always bittersweet.
7 Tidus (Final Fantasy X)
Final Fantasy X features a truly elaborate and engrossing story that follows the adventure of Tidus, a young Blitzball star from the beautiful city of Zanarkand. This spunky young go-getter aspires to be the best Blitzball star ever, much like his father was. Unfortunately, a horrid monstrosity named Sin derails the hopeful star and Tidus finds himself in a mysterious land called Spira.
Tidus may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but there is no denying that his heart is pure. There are many instances in which this sports star puts his own neck on the line to save his friends. Ask anyone who's played Final Fantasy X about Tidus and you'll likely be met with a sea of varying answers. Some viewed the teen as an airheaded liability, while others applauded his grit and tenacity.
Regardless of how you feel about Tidus as a character, we can all agree that his death was depressing. This hero spent his time in Spira working towards the elimination of Sin, only to discover that he was created specifically for that purpose. Once the creature was defeated, Tidus found himself fading out of existence. It's not all bad though, as he was reunited with some very special people in the farplane.
6 Noble 6 (Halo: Reach)
The Halo franchise has seen its fair share of heartbreaking death sequences, but Halo: Reach is in a category all its own. The campaign for this release is touted as one of the best single-player experiences in the series and with good reason. You play as Noble 6, a Noble Team member tasked with defending Planet Reach from The Covenant. The mission was of vital importance as seizure by Covenant forces would spell certain doom for Earth.
You won't have to face the bulk of your mission alone and you'll find yourself accompanied by four other Spartan soldiers. Throughout your journey, you'll come to love and respect Kat, Emile, Carter, and Jorge. This makes their inevitable and devastating loss even harder to bear. To make matters worse, you'll find yourself outnumbered and alone during the title's finale.
Noble 6 takes his final breath on Planet Reach, eventually suffering the same fate as his comrades. The ending is bittersweet, touting Noble 6 for his heroic efforts in stopping the Covenant, while also remarking on how agonizingly close he was to surviving the affair.
5 Wander (Shadow Of The Colossus)
Shadow of the Colossus is a beautifully crafted game. The title had players take control of Wander, a heroic young man on a quest to save a young girl named Mono. A mysterious voice gives Wander an epic quest, telling him that Mono will be resurrected if he is capable of slaying sixteen powerful colossi that prowl the surrounding lands. The journey is long and features sixteen unique boss fights.
A faithful steed named Agro accompanies Wander on this quest, allowing him to cover the expansive world faster and slay some of the faster colossi. Along the way, Wander loses his companion, which is heartbreaking enough on its own. The last boss fight is a bittersweet struggle through tough mechanics and timing, with fresh wounds of probable loss tapping against the mind.
What happens next is a shock and quite frankly one of the most painful losses in gaming history. The ending sees Wander perish, right after the conclusion of his quest. He left the world without seeing Mono resurrected, which is a punch to the gut to any player who finished his arduous task.
4 Jenny Romano (The Darkness)
Jenny isn't a character that we are afforded a lot of time with. During the opening sequences of The Darkness, we learn that she is the girlfriend of protagonist Jackie Estacado. The two met when they were both unfortunate residents of an orphanage. It was there that Jenny took a liking to Jackie and she even defended him from an unruly bully. The two were inseparable from that moment on.
Unfortunately, Jackie found himself living an undesirable lifestyle. He worked as a contract killer for a seedy individual named Uncle Paulie. During one section of the game, Jenny finds herself kidnapped by Paulie and dragged to the orphanage where she and Jackie once lived. Our hero (who is consumed by an entity called The Darkness at this point) gives chase, hoping to free her from the benevolent mob boss.
After arriving, Jackie is overtaken by The Darkness, who forces him to watch as Paulie puts a bullet through Jenny's head. This is a classic example of a death caused by association, a horrible situation in which Jenny never deserved the untimely fate she received.
3 Dominic Santiago (Gears of War 3)
The Gears of War universe is chock full of tragedy and strife. The Locust horde is responsible for the destruction of many locations, as well as countless human lives. The second title, Gears of War 2, sees a particularly heart-wrenching moment in which Dominic Santiago is forced to kill his own wife (it's a mercy killing). From that moment on, Dom becomes obsessed with avenging Maria and slaughtering the species responsible.
Unfortunately, his valiant mission comes to an abrupt end during a single-player mission in Gears of War 3. Dom and his squad mates find themselves backed into a corner, overcome by copious amounts of Locust. Although all seems lost, Dominic hatches a plan to save the rest of his team, at the cost of his own life. Moving swiftly, he commandeers a nearby truck and rams it headlong into a fuel container.
This devastating moment is underlined by a small moment in which Dom speaks to his deceased wife, uttering "never thought it would end like this, huh?! Huh Maria?!" A sad instrumental for "Mad World" echoes feelings of sadness as the entire place erupts in flames.
2 Thane Krios (Mass Effect 3)
Thane was a Drell assassin, teammate, and possible love interest in Mass Effect 2. Players came to love the calculating killer for his obsession with spiritual enlightenment and his overall respect. Thane was an assassin (possibly the best in the entire galaxy) that preferred to eliminate his targets up close, making sure the job was done swiftly and correctly.
What made him such a powerful character was how he handled the passing of a target. After each mark was eliminated, Thane would say a prayer and ask for forgiveness. He was so adamant about this practice that he would even do so, even if there were other enemies or people still in the vicinity. His adoration for life and the simpler things was admirable and the Drell had an adoration for the beauty of nature.
Thane has a peaceful but saddening passing, drifting off to sleep in a hospital bed. We have a moment to say goodbye to our Drell friend and that almost makes it harder to deal with. Much like Mordin, it is possible for Thane to escape death, but someone else will take his place as a result.
1 Aerith Gainsborough (Final Fantasy VII)
When anyone talks about sad moments in gaming, this name usually pops up. The tragedy of Aerith's death is perhaps the saddest moment in Final Fantasy history and is enough to make even the most stoic of gamers weep. This simple flower saleswoman had a relationship with Zack from Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and later met Cloud through some very curious circumstances.
If only she knew that meeting Cloud would change her life and then inevitably end it. Later in the game, players would come to know and love Aerith for her kind-heartedness and adorable personality.
Her death was nothing short of shocking and sudden and that may be why it was so devastating to see. When Cloud and crew attempted to pursue the evil Sephiroth, the silver-haired villain tried to slow the hero by "forcing" him to kill his new found friend. When Cloud refused, Sephiroth took matters into his own hand and impaled Aerith on the legendary Masamune sword.