I just finished NieR: Automata, and upon completion found myself instantly comparing it to a surprising game, “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons”. On the surface the two could not be more different, NieR is a Japanese hack n slasher about post-apocalyptic androids, while Brothers is a European 3D adventure game, about fantasy-world brothers. But both end up exploring similar themes of loss, grief, and death masterfully through game play.
Both games start off by exploring the loss of parental figures, in NieR it is the absence of their human creators, while brothers opens on the death of their mother, and terminal illness of their father. The paired protagonists in both games set out on an impossible journey to protect their progenitors, while going through a sad, yet hopeful world of characters experiencing various forms of grief and loss. (In NieR you encounter character’s like Engels who ponder the meaning of life and death, and Brothers has you helping a troll couple who have been separated after the wife was kidnapped. There is a sense of sorrow through out both games, with moments of beauty and light within that sorrowful world.)
But both games go for a gut punch in their last acts, becoming about death and loss in a way that resonates directly with the player. In both games you have an older and younger protagonist, who you play as, with the older character as something of a de facto primary protagonist. So when that character dies (2B in NieR and the elder brother in Brothers) near the last part of the game, you the player feel something huge torn from you: your very identity within the world. Suddenly you are stuck with their less sure footed side kick, who must pick up the reigns and carry on.
The rest of both games is devoted to the grief of both the characters and the player with this loss. Loosing 2B is devastating, and you find yourself missing being able to play as her as the game moves forward. (And no matter how cool A2s dodge is, she feels like a poor replacement for the character you had grown to love. A2 feels both similar yet unfamiliar, and you can’t help but compare her to 2B no matter how hard you try not to. She’s like your first relationship after the death of a long term love). In Brothers, since you have been controlling the two boys simultaneously on the controller through-out the game, you end up literally losing a part of yourself for the rest of the game, until a climactic moment where you press the deceased brothers button to help the remaining brother gain the confidence to persevere.
This turned into a massive essay (I could talk about both of these games for hours). Are there other games that have explore grief, death, or loss in ways that you found compelling or special?