Video games are a unique medium that allows the player to interact with many characters within the story and world, some in greater details than others. Dying is a constant theme in gaming. Many characters have left big impacts on our memories and their deaths have left gaping holes in our gaming lives. Here are some of the characters that we are most fond of and why their memory lives on in our minds.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR FINAL FANTASY VII, SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS, THE BATMAN ARKHAM SERIES, THE MASS EFFECT SERIES, & MORE BELOW
Samantha Sarvis: We were given the task to write about a character death that had impacted us emotionally, for me, it was easy. There was only one death in video games that still makes me sad and it was Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII. I don’t know why it affected me the way it did – perhaps it was my age, perhaps it was the beautiful music that played or maybe it was the thought that something good was gone. But all I know is her death had an emotional impact on me. I really liked Aerith; she was my favorite character in Final Fantasy VII. She was (at least for me) the first damsel that actually put up a fight. She was quirky and caring. Even when she found out about her ancestry, she didn’t back down, she knew what had to be done and did it. Perhaps, it was that I saw a small part of myself in Aerith and part of me wished that she never died, but her death gave Final Fantasy VII so much more depth and emotion and made it so real. I’ve never felt so helpless in a game before. I was searching all that time after she left the party for her and she just dies as soon as you’re reunited. All I wanted to do was beat Jenova and use a Phoenix Down on her. I was so angry that she couldn’t be revived and I was so angry that they would build a character up and have you level her just for her to be gone in an instant. After Aerith’s death I stopped playing the game after disc one (I did end up going back to it a couple years later). But at that time, I just lost all motivation – I was mad that they killed my favorite character and I felt my part was missing a vital piece. When you play a game for 40+ hours you tend to become attached. Death is a part of life and sometimes it happens unexpectedly. I certainly didn’t expect her death during the middle of the game. Usually in a story or movie, the death comes at the end. The tone of the game changes from having to stop Sephiroth to wanting to kill him and exact revenge. But just like in the real world, even though someone dies, the world still keeps going, the game keeps playing. The group has to continue on, their friend might have died but something bigger is at stake. Perhaps, the real reason I felt so strongly about her death is because I felt like she didn’t deserve her fate. She was good person or character and like most they deserve to be happy. Her life was tragic and sad: Her long-term boyfriend went missing and then later killed, her biological parents were both killed, she lived in the slums, she gets kidnapped, but all that didn’t seem to faze her. Aerith kept doing what she loved to do, she loved putting smiles on people’s faces and she loved the world and in the end she was returned to it. I did however get solace with her appearances in Kingdom Hearts, Advent Children, and Crisis Core but the fact remains. I always wonder how Final Fantasy VII would have turned out had Aerith lived.
Andrew Garvey: One of the best things about the Mass Effect series is the amount of choices you are given (I actually wrote about that already in an article you can find here). In Mass Effect, you’re given certain bonuses and actions depending on if you play the game as a full good guy (paragon) or a total hardass (renegade). Based on your in-game choices leaning toward either of these sides, you get to see different scenes played out differently. I think that’s why the death of Mordin Solus left such a lasting impression on me. I watched him die two different ways, and I had two completely different reactions to it.
My first time playing, I was a paragon, and I was trying like hell to get Mordin off of the planet Tuchanka alive. Our mission was to release a cure for the Krogan genophage, which was a disease that Mordin helped create which rendered the Krogan almost completely infertile. In order to do this, we had to climb a giant tower called the Shroud, which cleanses the atmosphere of the planet from nuclear radiation. Alas, Mordin has to sacrifice himself at the last minute, staying behind to manually override a temperature error that would otherwise prevent the cure from being dispersed into the atmosphere. Mordin owns up to his mistakes and gives his own life to ensure a better future for a species that he almost forced into extinction. Bioware did a great job depicting this character’s heroic and noble sacrifice. I will not deny that I shed a tear or two for Mordin.
When I played through as a renegade, I had no idea exactly what to expect during this exchange. That fact probably made what happened even more shocking. Renegade Shepherd is trying to sabotage the cure that Mordin is trying to release, and Mordin figures it out. The only way to stop him is to squeeze the trigger and shoot him in the back as he runs toward the control booth. He then crawls on his hands and knees, trying to reach the button to release the cure, but he isn’t able to make it, dying right before he gets there. Again, Bioware did a great job of showing this play out. Almost too well, actually—I was genuinely unhappy with the part I had played in Mordin’s death. It hit me hard, and I was a little disgusted. Suddenly badass renegade Shepherd didn’t seem so cool anymore.
This death more than any in all of my gaming history had the biggest effect on me. When Mordin sacrificed himself, it was a bittersweet feeling. I would miss him, but I knew he died doing what was right, and he was at peace. When I shot him, I stopped him from fixing his past mistakes, and he died helplessly and full of regret. The only character I liked more than Mordin was Garrus Vakarian, and I spent the rest of both playthroughs praying I wouldn’t have to watch Garrus die, or, and I shudder at the thought, that I would play some part in his death.
Jeff Pawlak (@JeffreyPavs): When Shadow of the Colossus begins, you take control of a young man who hopes to revive a maiden—presumably his lover—who’s lost her soul. You learn from an ethereal entity that there might be a way to restore life back to her, but for that to happen, you have to take the lives of 16 legendary beasts known as the Colossi. It’s a premise loaded with moral ambiguity, and it persists throughout the game from start to finish. From your encounter with the very first Colossi, the game makes it very clear that you’re not fighting mindless bosses without personality. They’re not blank slates that are there only to challenge you in combat and give you a few minutes of wild gameplay. The Colossi are innocent, peaceful giants, some of which don’t even pay a thought to you as you approach. They’re not enemies, but if wish to revive the one you love, you regrettably must fell each of these majestic behemoths. For as epic and as thrilling as each battle is, you feel guilty by the end of it for slaying one of the Colossi, and in time, the game’s story starts to let you know that there are grave ramifications to your slaughter. By killing each Colossi, you free a portion of the ethereal entity that tasked you with the quest in the first place, who then proceeds to slowly possess the main hero. Once you’ve slain all 16 Colossi, that entity is finally unbound. Though your maiden is at last revived, the main hero is morphed into a babe and forever cursed for his actions, likely to never know acceptance from the outside world ever again. It’s an ending that is both happy and depressing, both beautiful and grim. Shadow of the Colossus handles the theme of death with so much artistry that it will always be considered one of the most emotionally powerful video games in the industry’s history.
Josiah LeRoy (@JosiahDLeRoy): When we started a group discussion on the possibility of writing this article, the first character that came to mind for me was Mordin Solus of the Mass Effect series. Andrew and I immediately started our own Facebook message, stating that we both intended on writing about Mordin. I won’t cover what Andrew already did, but I will say that Mordin was one of the few deaths that grabbed me so emotionally. I remember the look on his face as his fate was about to take root. The look of peace that beamed through, the complete sense of closure, that he had finally corrected years and years of pain on an entire species. I won’t ever forget it.
Switching gears to the Batman Arkham series, The Joker’s death at the end of Arkham City genuinely shocked me. Rarely, if ever, has Joker been killed off. Being the star of Asylum and City, he is one character I was just not interested in saying goodbye to. Arguably the reason I love Batman, Joker is the Dark Knight’s other half in many ways. In Arkham Asylum, Joker overdoses on a toxin called “Titan,” which has weakened him and set him on a road to death. In Arkham City, Joker injects Batman with some of his poisoned blood, forcing Bats to go on a night long quest to find the antidote to save them both. In the end, Joker’s selfish ambitions set up his downfall, as he stabs Batman’s arm. That arm was holding the antidote, forcing Bats to drop the vile and thus ending Joker’s chances of survival. In the intense final moments of the game, as Joker is trying to scoop up the remains for the cure, Batman utters a rather ironic line, in Joker fashion:
“Do you want to know something funny? Even after everything you’ve done, I would’ve saved you.”
Joker replies “That actually is pretty funny!” Then, after taking a few last gasps for air, the Joker dies. Maybe it’s just apart of the five stages of grief. Maybe I was just totally shocked. But I’m not so sure that I’ve ever believed that Joker really died. Batman carries out his greatest nemesis and in a completely odd, ironic, unlikely way, his friend. Harley Quinn, Commissioner Gordon, and a mix of thugs and policemen share in my reaction. Joker’s death is so much bigger than just an ordinary villain’s death. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it. Batman needs him, in a dark, twisted way. You can see the slight twinge of sadness on Batman as he carries Joker out. I’ve beaten Arkham City twice but watched this scene over and over, countless times.
With the way Arkham Origins went down, in which Joker was the main villain pulling the strings the entire time, I have my doubts. With Arkham Knight coming up, I have even more (stay tuned for my upcoming theory post on Arkham Knight). But for the time being, my favorite character ever is gone. I’m not sure I’ll ever find the closure I seek.
Honorable mentions: Dom (Gears of War), Jason Mars (Heavy Rain), Lee (The Walking Dead)
Is there a character death that brought you grief? Is there one that burns brightly in your memory? We would truly love to hear from you on this topic. Leave a comment below or comment on our Facebook or Twitter (@The_Geekiverse)!