I am dumbfounded that there are people in this world that don’t respect, let alone remotely understand, the dramatic power of videogames. I get that there are millions of people that can’t understand a medium that they don’t participate in, but if I ever approach someone to talk about how much a videogame changed my life, I expect a little more invested interest and less staring at me like I am talking about kicking puppies in the face.
Just recently, I received some pretty terrible family news. Now, I don’t mean to bring up some personal family issues on a popular videogame Web site, but there is a point to all this. At the time of this news I was one mission away from finishing the outstanding Valkyria Chronicles for the PlayStation 3. (I assume most of you are like me in that playing videogames is a great way to distract your thoughts and take you away from the sometimes tough real world for a few hours.)
Upon completing the game I had no idea what my emotions were in store for.
But, in a weird, wonderful way, the ending of Valkyria Chronicles was exactly what I needed to help me get through this hard time. I know that sounds odd to say -- and it surprised me as well -- but it’s completely true. Hit the jump to understand this hyperbole-be-damned, life-changing experience, but be warned: There are MASSIVE SPOLIERS ahead. And I really mean MASSIVE. Proceed with caution.
I am assuming if you are reading this sentence right now that you have already completed Valkyria Chronicles. If not, I guess you chose to ignore the major spoiler warning. That is perfectly fine, as I welcome as many readers as possible, but I really don’t want to be responsible for ruining this incredible game.
This is your last chance to turn back.
From this point on you have to be all in.
Ready? Okay, let’s continue.
Stage 1 – Satisfaction
After hearing the bad news that someone very close to me in my family had died I wasn’t really in a the mood to play something as challenging and invested as Valkyria Chronicles, but I knew I was so close to the end of the game and really needed to focus my mind on something else.
So, there I was, confronting the evil Maximilian in an epic battle atop his moving battle machine.
After a few retries of the mission (it’s tough!) I finally landed a lethal blow and brought the despicable antagonist to an end.
As he fell, I felt immensely satisfied that I finally got to the end of a long, satisfying videogame. The sad feelings that were stirring around inside of me dissipated, if only for a second, to bask in the glory of my victory.
But then something changed.
Stage 2 – Choked up
Maximilian doesn’t die right away. Instead, he vows to destroy your party and the entire surrounding kingdom using one final burst of Valkyria energy.
But right before he has a chance to unleash his vengeance, the towers supplying him with his power shut down. From behind a wall of the giant mobile fortress, a character by the name of Faldio steps forward. For the forgetful players, or for people who haven’t played the game yet (why are you still reading this?!), Faldio is best friends with Valkyria Chronicles’s main character Welkin. Earlier in the game Faldio betrays Welkin by shooting his girlfriend Alicia. The act, though, was meant to unleash her Valkyria power and help save the world; it was never meant as an act of violence. Even though Welkin understands his intentions, it doesn’t change his confused reaction towards Faldio’s betrayal.
As Faldio emerges from behind the wall, he informs Maximilian that he shut down the engine supplying the towers with their power. With this, Faldio grabs hold of Maximilian, apologizes to his friends Welkin and Alicia for hurting them, and throws himself and his prisoner into a deep hole in the center of the war machine.
A giant explosion shoots from the dark pit, sealing the deaths of brave Faldio and cowardly Maximilian.
Faldio sacrifices himself to save his friends. The friends he has always loved.
After this act, the satisfaction that was I was feeling immediately was replaced by a true, genuine emotional reaction to what just happened. I got a little choked up about what Faldio did and was touched by his noble act.
Stage 3 – Tears streaming
Before I had a chance to really react to Faldio’s sacrifice, the fortress that Welkin, Alicia, and party are standing on starts to catch fire. Welkin and Alicia are in serious trouble! Without thinking, Welkin orders his friends to escape, since he and Alicia are caught behind a massive wall of flames.
The only way out is up, so Welkin and Alicia scale the back of the huge machine in the hopes of finding a means of escape.
Sadly, no exit is found. Welkin looks at Alicia to tell her he loves her one last time.
But suddenly, out of the sky, a plane flies in. Welkin and Alicia immediately realize the plane is piloted by none other than their good friend Leon. At the last minute, Leon’s flying machine swoops in and rescues Welkin and Alicia, just as Maximilian’s fortress erupts in a massive explosion of fire.
Welkin and Alicia are safe!
As they fly through the sky, Leon looks up and lets them know that the plane they are riding on is a finished version of the plane Welkin’s younger sister Isara was building before she died earlier in the game from a gunshot wound (don’t even get me started on how I felt during that tragic turn of events).
The moment of this reveal, coupled with the game’s gorgeous orchestral score, took me over the edge.
I was a sobbing mess. Tears were flowing out of my eyes and I really couldn’t handle how beautiful everything was.
Welkin and Alicia join hands and revisit the memories of their dear Isara as the plane flies into the horizon and the game fades into the outstanding credit sequence.
As the credits rolled I was crying. Hard. Not only was I crying for the events that just unfolded on the screen, I was crying for the family member that I had just lost forever. As cheesy as it sounds, the game was almost holding my hand and letting me know that it is okay to be sad about what just happened. At the same time, the plane flying into the distance helped me realize that death is about so much more than just being sad -- it is about appreciating your life and reliving the wonderful memories you have of someone you tragically lost.
Heck, if something like The Great Gatsby can be filled with a constant supply of meaningful metaphors, so can a videogame!
But, to my surprise, the emotional awakening wasn’t quite over yet.
Stage 4 – Sobbing on the floor, curled up next to the coach
After the credits end there is an unexpected epilogue cutscene that plays out.
As you just read, by this point, I was a mess. I had cried like crazy and really was having one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had playing a videogame.
During the epilogue, the game follows up on what happened to Welkin and Alicia after the events of Valkyria Chronicles came to a close. Welkin gives up the army and is now teaching, while Alicia also quits the service to pursue a dream to own her own bakery.
As the cutscene begins, Welkin visits Alicia at her bakery as she is about to close for the day.
After some adorable, joyous banter between the two I started to feel a little better. I stopped crying and was paying close attention to what was happening on-screen: it was a nice moment between the two characters that had fallen in love.
And then it happened.
From the back of Alicia’s bakery, a little girl emerges wearing a cute, white apron. Upon seeing Welkin she immediately runs forward and yells “Daddy!”
The little girl and Welkin embrace.
At this point I realized (obviously) that the little girl was Welkin and Alicia’s. They had a daughter together!
Then, all of a sudden, Alicia calls out the little girl’s name: Isara.
That’s right: They named their child after Welkin’s wonderfully sweet little sister who died earlier in the game.
I couldn’t handle this.
Now, I won’t get too much into it to avoid completely embarrassing myself, but let’s just say I actually had to remove myself from the couch I was sitting on because I was crying so hard. The scene hit me in a way no other had in the history of me playing videogames. I would be naïve to say it had nothing to do with my family member passing just mere hours earlier -- of course that added to the emotional impact of what I was seeing. In a way, the tragic news had everything to do with my extra emotional reaction to the ending of the game.
It was a pretty life-changing realization.
The way the ending scenes unfolded for me was a truly cleansing experience. All of the confusion, sadness, and loneliness I was feeling before I played Valkyria Chronicles were being magically wiped away. Everything about the scene -- from the heartbreaking music to the perfect pace of it all -- hit me in just the right way.
I had an immensely personal connection to what was happening on screen.
As the characters in the game cried, I cried. As the characters celebrated life, I celebrated life. Again, I can’t even believe I am typing something that sounds so overdramatic, but every word of it is true.
The ending of Valkyria Chronicles is exactly what I needed.
Thank you, Valkyria Chronicles. You proved to me that videogames can be the perfect comfort for a weary soul.
Rest in peace, gramps. <3
What's Up? Our panel at PAX Prime 2014, Far Cry 4, Destiny Beta, Vietnam & a ferret
8:00 PM on 07.25.2014