Most video game protagonists are created to be inspirational symbols who have humble beginnings but go on to achieve great things. Part of the reason why we play games in the first place is so that we can step into the role of a fearless soldier or noble knight and go on an epic quests to rescue princesses and change the course of history. But, then again, there are some shoes that no one would want to fill. In this list we’re counting down all the characters who have had to make tough choices, suffer horrible losses, and survive terrible emotional devastation. Here are 12 of the most tragic characters ever seen in video games.
12. Max Payne (Max Payne)
With all the smoking, drinking and murdering he does, the argument could easily be made that much of Max Payne’s pain is self-inflicted. But after suffering so many personal tragedies, like the loss of his wife and child, it’s no wonder that he has so many self-destructive tendencies. We suspect that the only thing keeping Max from suicide is the therapeutic release he gets from externalizing all his most depressing thoughts and narrating them to the player.
11. Ethan Mars (Heavy Rain)
After losing his eldest son, Ethan Mars goes into a downward spiral of depression that results in him losing his job, his house, and his wife. As if that weren’t bad enough, his other son winds up getting kidnapped by a psychopathic serial killer who’s trademark is stealing children just so their fathers will try to rescue them.
Looks like that old saying is true after all — when it rains, it heavy rains.
10. Lee Everett (The Walking Dead: Season One)
In Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Season One, Lee Everett’s post-apocalyptic adoption of Clementine gave him a chance to redeem himself for his past and become a devoted parental figure. Before the zombie outbreak, Lee murdered a senator for having an affair with his wife. If the outbreak had never happened, Lee would likely be rotting in jail cell somewhere, which is what makes his tender affection and care toward Clementine seem all the more heartwrenching when he finally has to let her go.
Throughout the game Lee is faced with a deluge of deadly decisions and shocking revelations. So when he ends up getting bitten by a walker himself, it makes the subsequent separation from Clementine a brutally heartbreaking moment. In the position of Clem, players have the choice to either leave Lee behind or shoot him to save him from becoming a walker. But whatever fate you decide for Lee, the tragic circumstances of his character remain the same.
9. Sarah (The Last of Us)
Although Sarah only makes a brief appearance in The Last of Us, her abrupt death is what sets the tone for the brutal realities of the game’s apocalyptic world. Much like Clementine from The Walking Dead: Season One, Sarah is a selfless and charming character and we feel her father Joel’s pain as he laments her sudden passing. Only through knowing that Joel had such a strong bond with his daughter do we gain an understanding of what makes his relationship with Ellie so special when he eventually joins with her in a quest for survival.
8. Kaim Argonar (Lost Odyssey)
Kaim Argonar would be the first person to tell you that true immortality is more of a curse than a blessing. Over centuries he’s had to bear the loss of more wives and children than he cares to count. He’s been ‘killed’ numerous times, even impacted directly by a falling meteor, but he always rises from an unconscious state to continue an endless life. Through the Thousand Dreams mechanic, you witness snippets of Kaim’s life and, much more often than not, the memories are woefully sad. By the time you make it to the end of the game, you’ll be thankful you live a mortal life.
7. Tim (Braid)
At a glance, Braid’s Tim might look like your typical platform hero. He’s a cute little guy who hops around some brightly colored fantasy levels on a mission to rescue a captured princess. But under the surface Tim’s actually got some seriously dark undertones. The diaries before each level give an account of his quest for the princess and, although his familiarity with the damsel is vague, the player is left to assume that Tim is basically a Mario or Link-type character. Later on the diaries go to some pretty dark places and reference a mistake Tim made in the past that he seems to be trying to either atone for or escape from. When you finally reach the princess, you follow her through a level, seemingly to help her escape from the knight that is in pursuit, but then the level suddenly rewinds and you realize the princess is actually running away from you and knight is there to save her. Tim is left feeling utterly confused as to why he’s the monster, because everything he did was out of a genuine desire to save, or be with the princess.
At least that’s one way of looking at it, the story is very much open to subjective interpretation. But any way you cut it the ending seems pretty grim for Tim.
6. Bolvar Fordragon (Warcraft)
Highlord Bolvar Fordragon was a venerated paladin of the Alliance and served as the Regent of Stormwind following the disappearance of King Varian Wyrnn. He was one of the very few people who refused to believe that King Varian was dead and he valiantly guarded Anduin Wrynn with his life. Although he briefly fell under Lady Prestor’s spell, for the most part, he always maintained a level head.
After Varian returned, Bolvar journeyed to Northrend to lead an attack against the Lich King. During the battle, he fell victim to the scourge’s disease and was scorched by dragon flames. Despite appearing to have died, he was found alive and taken to the Lich King where he endured unspeakable torture. When Tirion Fordring and the rest of the warriors finally defeated the Lich King, Bolvar is found seated on the throne, a charred and twisted version of his former self. In his final act of heroism, he convinces Tirion to place the Lich King’s helmet on him, stating that there must always be a Lich King. As he and the throne become encased within an ice prison, he says to Tirion “tell them only that the Lich King is dead, and that Bolvar Fordragon died with him.” But, as he speaks the words, his voice takes on a demonic tone signifying the onset of the helmet’s corruption. Bolvar, encased in ice, then becomes the new Lich King; however, it remains to be seen if he’ll ever return again as a hero or villain.
5. Mordin Solus (Mass Effect)
In the Mass Effect games, Mordin Solus is a brilliant Salarian scientist whose story comes full circle. Back before the Reapers entered the picture, the galaxy was at war with itself and Mordin along with the other Salarians made the hard decision to sterilize the entire Krogan race to prevent their further domination of space. Though it’s believed the actions they took were necessary to prevent further conflicts and bloodshed, the decision clearly weighs heavy on Mordin. Only after deciding to sacrifice himself in order to distribute a cure to the sterilizing “genophage” on the Krogan home world of Tuchanka does Mordin finally purge himself of the guilt.
In the end, Mordin walks confidently towards his doom. His death is made all the more bittersweet as you hear him quietly recite the words to his favourite song to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.”
4. Gabriel Belmont (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow)
All Gabriel Belmont really wanted was to free his deceased wife’s soul from the clutches of purgatory. True, that’s probably not the simplest of desires, but with each step towards this ultimate goal, Gabriel’s mind falls further and further into darkness. It’s not until the final moments of the game that we discover Gabriel was being manipulated all along through the use of a Devil Mask. When he finally realizes that he was actually the one who killed his own wife, a large battle ensues in which Gabriel emerges victorious (if you can even use that word to describe such a situation).
As though such a perilous adventure wasn’t enough, Gabriel then becomes consumed by the darkness that floods his mind and he transforms into Dracula — the Castlevania series’ greatest foe. But his descent doesn’t stop there. Gabriel then kills his own son, dooming him to eternal darkness in the process. He then goes on to kill other members of his bloodline as well a various demons and even Satan himself in an effort to maintain his title as Lord of Darkness.
3. Kratos (God of War)
Considering God of War was written to play out just like a Greek tragedy, we would be remiss not to include “The Ghost of Sparta” on the list. Kratos basically became the way he is through unbridled bloodlust. He started out as a mighty warrior of the Spartan army but, in a moment of failure, he pleaded with Ares, the god of war, to save him. In exchange for his eternal servitude, Ares granted Kratos the power to defeat all of his enemies, and thus began Kratos’ tragic life as a soldier for the gods.
Years later, to prove to Kratos that he was nothing more than a pawn for the gods, Ares tricked him into killing his own family and cursed him to wear the ashes of his fallen loved ones for all eternity.
After taking revenge and killing Ares to claim the title as the new god of war, Kratos is deceived again when the gods trick him into forfeiting his powers. This prompts him to side with the Titans to exact revenge but eventually betrays the demigods at the end of God of War 2. In his final adventure, Kratos takes on both the Olympians and the Titans and winds up seemingly dead next to the blade of Olympus.
Kratos led a life of anger, violence, and vengeance. But the most tragic aspect of his existence is that, for the most part, he was nothing more than a tool being manipulated for the purposes of others.
2. Ezio Auditore (Assassin’s Creed)
After his father and brothers are killed, Ezio Auditore is torn from the comforts of nobility at a tender age. Seeking revenge, he enlists in the Assassin Order but is reluctant to enter into a life contract, wanting only the assurance that his mother and sister will be kept safe from harm. Eventually, Ezio embarks on a dangerous journey where he’s ordered by others to end many lives and chase after legendary figures. But at the climax of his story, it’s revealed that Ezio was merely a puppet who was being used to relay information to Desmond Miles — a living descendent of the Assassin Order.
Ezio spent his entire life searching for answers to the mysteries that plagued his existence. Sadly, in the end, the only thing he gets are riddles and secrecy and he ends up dying without ever learning anything other than the fact that he needed to get information to Desmond in the hopes that he can one day figure it all out.
1. John Marston (Red Dead Redemption)
John Marston is one of the best examples of a tragic video game character. He was an orphan that was taken in and schooled in the ways of the west by a gunslinger named Dutch van der Linde. After growing up and leading a life of crime, Marston has a change of heart a feels the need to atone for his past sins.
Despite his impatient demeanor and troubled history, Marston seems generally good natured throughout the game, an aspect that’s emphasized not only by the bond he shares with his family, but also through the incredibly tolerant and polite approach he has toward dealing with all the crazy people he’s forced to interact with.
Nevertheless, as expected in this sort of story, Marstson’s past eventually catches up with him and, in the end, his connections to evil men on both sides of the law get the best of him. In a poignant moment of clarity, as he comes to the crushing realization that he won’t be making it out alive, he sends his wife and son away for their safety and calmly walks out into a firing squad. John Marston is a tragic hero in his acceptance of his inevitable fate. But in the face of death he also shoes true grit and goes down in a blaze of glory taking as many corrupt lawmen as possible with him.