games / Columns

The 8 Ball: Top 8 Harrowing Games – The Last of Us, God of War, More

May 1, 2018 | Posted by Marc Morrison
The Last of Us

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! This week I’m here to talk about harrowing, or emotionally impactful games. This can be a tricky topic since everyone is different and what one game might evoke from a person might be different from someone else. So, here is my list of the more emotionally impactful games out there. Enjoy:


#8: This War of Mine

This War of Mine’s central basis is on how war & grim actions can have an effect on you and your characters. There are times when you don’t have enough food, or water, or your party members are badly injured, this can create a bad situation for you. On the flip side, even if things are going “well”, it’s still never great. The biggest hindrance is violence, not against your party members, but when they commit violence against others. Even one act of violence will cause them to become depressed, and the more acts you commit, they further they will decline. If you try to walk into a house and kill everyone in it, your character will get unhinged, and likely will leave the party when the mission is done. This creates a lot of drama about your party needing materials and resources, but the available bases might have bad guys in them, so violence will occur, which will have an effect on your party.

#7: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

There’s another game further down on this list, which share some of the same emotional beats as Brothers. Brothers is a tad lower though because of some of the weird technical issues people had with it. Still, the conceit of the game involves the brothers, Naiee and Naia on a long quest to get medicine for your ill father. There are trials, of course, and the emotional journey comes from what happens to the brothers and the situations they encounter. It’s also just a damn fine game to look at, as the game’s beauty helps with the pastoral quality of what is going on.

#6: The Walking Dead: Season 1

This might be much higher on this list, if not for two things: 1. The technical issues I (and other people) ran into during the game. Like, my save file getting erased after episode 4, and having to go back and replay episodes 2-4 to get to 5. And 2. The successive sequels that have really diluted and undermined what made Season 1 so special. Season 1 had the emotional journey of Lee and Clementine as they faced off against the new zombie threat. They met allies, made enemies, but generally survived as they made their way across the zombie-infested landscape. It culminates with Lee getting bitten, and you (as Clementine) having to make the choice of whether or not to kill him in the end, which can help show that Clementine has grown up. If season 2 had been completely different characters, that would have been one thing, but it went back to the Clementine well and somewhat lessened her character. Season 3 continued this, only magnified, with Clementine not being a huge part, but also throwing in a bunch of characters you don’t care about.

#5: The Last of Us

On the surface, The Last of Us and the Walking Dead (Season 1) share a lot of the same basic ideas. A world with zombies, and an older guy trying to protect a young girl from both the zombie(ish) threat, and against the human threat in an apocalyptic world. The big differences between the two, aside from the obvious gameplay systems, is that Elle is needed to hopefully stop the threat and that Joel is a sociopath. The most affecting sequence is when Elle is on her own, with David as he turns evil and is trying to harm her. The ending of the game is also good, but the restaurant sequences are the best, I think.

#4: Life is Strange

This is the “What if Telltale games actually evolved?” part of the column. The friendship between Chloe and Max is key to this game, as you actually do feel for them both. It has a few Deus Ex Machina’s in the game, but overall, the game does have a real harrowing choice in the end if you want to save the town, or the friend you’ve grown close to over the past 5 episodes. Aside from that, there is the mystery of what happened to Rachel, the attempted (or not) suicide of Kate, and dealing with Chloe’’ kind of crappy family life. Most of these threads to wrap up in a satisfying way but it all gives dramatic weight to what is going on, especially when you hit the final choice.

#3: God of War (2018)

Wow, a God of War game where I could care about the story and characters, who could have imagined that? The thing I appreciate about this game, aside from the obvious gameplay systems, is the story focus. It’s not the “Kratos angry, kill gods!” story of the past half a dozen or so, God of War games. This one, the story is Kratos and Atreus trying to climb a mountain to spread the ashes of Kratos’ wife/Atreus’ mom. That’s it. That’s the ultimate goal of the two. True, they get embroiled with various Norse mythological figures and end up on a much longer quest than initially thought, but it gives you time to actually care what happens to Kratos and Atreus’ relationship and see it grow and change as the game goes on.

#2: NieR: Automata

There can be a lot of semi-pretentious stuff in Nier: Automata but there are enough emotional beats to make the game really work. Anything involving Pascal can help drive the emotional core of the game. Aside from Pascal, 2B, 9S and A2 all go on journeys together that can help make you care about them. On the surface, NieR: Automata does look like another hack-and-slash/action game but those people aren’t seeing it clearly and how resonant the game can be.

#1: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7

Here’s the greatest trick this game performs: if you paid attention at all to what was going on in Final Fantasy 7, you already *know* how it is going to end. Zack dying is a forgone conclusion when you boot up Crisis Core because it’s how the game has to end, in order for Final Fantasy 7 to actually happen. Even if you know this though the story of Zack, Angeal, and Genesis is really emotional, as you see Zack going from the “energetic young puppy” to that of an adult, and very conflicted over what Shinra is doing, to the point of betraying them. This journey is handled extremely well, possibly the best character arc in all the Final Fantasies, and it is one that should be undertaken by more players.


For comments, list which games affected you emotionally and why.

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The 8 Ball (Games), Marc Morrison