Pretty much everyone experiences grief and instability at some point. For those of us who project onto video games and use them as conduits for our feelings, games about navigating grief and heavy topics can be extremely cathartic. I’ve been really on an emotional game kick lately, so here are some powerful, moving games that I’ve shed probably a few too many tears over, and a few that I can’t wait to cry over!
1. The Last Campfire
Let’s start off with a new game! The Last Campfire was released in 2020 by Hello Games (the same creators of No Man’s Sky). It is an incredible, atmospheric adventure game in which a little ember got lost on their way to the campfire. It’s a melancholy yet sweet game that touches on themes like depression, self worth, and finding one’s place in the world. You play as the lost Ember on a journey to find the last campfire. Along the way, Ember solves puzzles to help other lost souls find hope and the resolve to go on.
The game has a really somber, yet intriguing atmosphere. I was really impressed by several scenes in the narration, especially at the beginning, when Ember first gets lost. The visual storytelling is truly strong with this one.
The only part of this game that I personally don’t like is the audio narration that you can’t turn off, just because as a personal preference I do not like frequent verbal audio in games. It’s not a dealbreaker, and the game is still a complete gem. The narrator does do a good job of setting the tone and she has a calming voice, so if you do like narration, then this would probably be a strong plus for you.
Overall though, this game was definitely worth it. Visually, this game is gorgeous. Playstyle-wise, it’s simple and sweet; you can even play with just your mouse if you want. The soundtrack is moving, and the little sounds that the miscellaneous characters, including a little worm, make make finding The Last Campfire a truly immersive and engaging experience.
I know, I keep talking about Spiritfarer. But really, it is the BEST cozy game. It is calming, there are no urgent or stressful objectives, and if you have an hour or two to kill, this game does the trick every time. Spiritfarer is about Stella, who has taken over Charon’s duty of ferrying the dead to the afterlife. We learn that Stella is a much more personal guide than Charon, as she truly helps lost souls find their peace before moving on.
Spiritfarer will play your heart strings like Stella plays her cute Everlight guitar. I’m only about 25 hours into the game and I’ve already cried half a dozen times (but in a good way!). Spiritfarer’s story is compelling; The world is beautiful and big, and the characters have incredible depth. The game features plenty of fun minigames, town management mechanics such as designing and upgrading your ship, cooking, and an well thought out world. Each character has their own backstory and reason for being the way they are, usually related to their own traumas and life events, which Stella helps them explore and overcome.
Spiritfarer has a lot of my favorite qualities in a casual game: fun minigames, sweet dialogue, social commentary. But my favorite part is that it has cooking!!! There are about 105 unique recipes in the game that you can discover through dialogue or through mixing and matching ingredients in the ship’s kitchen! I love a game with good food, and Spiritfarer is the first in a while to check that box for me!
Zoombinis is a bit old and nostalgic. I remember playing it before I even started grade school. But don’t let that dissuade you! It’s a game about a group of craftsman refugees whose home country has been taken over by an invading country. The social allegory is blunt: they have to leave because otherwise they will be imprisoned or enslaved, and it is up to you to help them on their journey to their new home by solving puzzles and minimizing your losses along the way.
“Why,” you might ask, “are you suggesting a children’s logic game as a beautiful emotional ride?” Well, first of all, I love this game primarily for nostalgia’s sake. Other zillennials might have similar nostalgia. But even if you’ve never seen this game before, it really attaches you to each Zoombini. They might look like a faceless blob, but at the beginning of each game, you design and name every individual Zoombini. It really attaches you to the little guys you are responsible for, and losing a Zoombini or having to leave one behind can be devastating.
Even though I think this game is also fantastic for adults, it must be kept in mind that this game was made for children, so it features a relatively calm and simple gameplay style. But there are several difficulty levels for the puzzles and it can be challenging even for adults! The Zoombinis must traverse a dangerous swamp, scurry past sneezing bridges, and put together pizzas to please demanding trees. It’s a good brain teasing game with a feel-good, satisfying ending. Especially if you can get all the Zoombinis past the border in one piece.
4. Outer Wilds
Outer Wilds is a archaeological time loop mystery in space. You are a new space cadet, and for some reason your solar system is trapped in a time loop in which it is inevitably destroyed. You set out to find other members of the space program in hopes of discovering the mysteries of the time loop. Along the way, you explore the solar system and uncover mysteries about an ancient civilization that left technological clues in the ruins of other planets.
This game is best played with a controller, which is a large part of the reason I haven’t finished it to the end (I don’t own one). Not because it’s unplayable without one, but because I want to savor it and get the best experience possible.
Even though I’ve only played for a few hours now, I will recommend this game until my last breath. It feels eerie (in the museum on the starter planet, Timber Hearth, there is a head that moves of its own accord every time you re-enter the room), and I’ve been told one of the planets hosts a jump scare, but that only adds to the mystery. The world is handcrafted with immaculate detail, so there seems to be an unending host of little secrets to uncover about this strange, doomed solar system. If you love comprehensive world (solar system) building, a detailed story, and uncovering the secrets of an ancient, maybe god-like civilization, Outer Wilds is sure to be a must-play for you! It definitely is for me.
5. Games I haven’t played, but I’m excited for
There are a few games that I think will be really beautiful and moving, but that I haven’t been able to play yet.
Rakuen is a top-down RPG-style game about a little boy who is in the hospital with a fatal illness. He asks his mom to read him a story from his fantasy book, and gets transported to this colorful fantasy world with his mom. On his quest to ask the Guardian of the Forest to grant him his wish, he helps other patients in the hospital work through their grief. This game seems to feature lots of puzzles, beautiful character building, and an ominous secret deep within the hospital. I can’t wait until I can play this game!
2. Bear’s Restaurant
Bear’s Restaurant is a narrative game in which you play as a newly hired cat in Bear’s critically acclaimed restaurant in the afterlife. You are responsible for serving customers their last meals, and helping them recover their memories in preparation for the afterlife. I am excited for this game because it reminds me a little of Spiritfarer, but perhaps even more in-depth because of how short it is. One reviewer on Steam, katamaris4ever, mentions that it’s only about a 2-hour long game. In spite of the game’s short length, I don’t doubt that Bear’s Restaurant deals with tragedy, loss, and grief in ways that will impact me for a long time after I play it.
Gris tells the story of girl who is struggling with painful life experiences. The game conveys her journey through her negative emotional state through changes in her dress, beautiful atmospheric scenery, and little puzzles. It’s a calm game focused on the main character’s emotional growth, without player death or stressful situations. I desperately want to experience this game, if only because of the serene art style and gameplay.
Are emotional games your thing?
I’ve definitely been having an emotionally high stakes past few months. Maybe you have too. Do you enjoy playing emotional games like these ones? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!