“The Memory Card” is a seasonal feature that dissects and honors some of the most artistic, innovative, and memorable videogame moments of all time.
We all have experienced our fair share of sad moments in videogames. Some make us wipe a single tear from our cheek -- others result in nothing more than a quick sniffle of the nose. There are even some that don’t affect us in the least! But there are some -- and you all know which ones I am talking about -- that just take us over the edge to an almost embarrassing level of emotional outpouring.
But why is this? Why do certain sad videogame moments affect players much more than others?
While most of it has to do with the design of how the scene is presented or the emotional connection that is established by the game’s strong story, I am a firm believer that many sad videogame moments are made all the more affecting based entirely on how much one’s real-life resembles what is happening on-screen.
A perfect example of this occurs in one of my favorite games of all time, Mother 3 for the Game Boy Advance. During a devastating scene near the end of the game, I was an absolute emotional wreck, thanks in large part to a simple, basic similarity I had to the game’s main character.
Hit the jump to experience, what I think is, the most hauntingly tragic videogame scene since the Solitary Island in Final Fantasy VI.
Out of all the videogames that were released in Japan and never (officially) came to America, Mother 3 is probably the most missed. After playing through the excellent fan translation of the Game Boy Advance RPG released last year, I came to the realization that Mother 3 is a remarkably beautiful masterpiece -- a game that everyone needs to experience.
In the game, you play as multiple characters, although the main story revolves around a young boy Lucas and his family. At the very start, players are introduced to Lucas and his older twin brother Claus, their sweet mother Hinawa, father Flint, and loyal dog Boney (please, everyone, name your dog this -- it’s adorable).
After a tragic incident near the beginning of the game, Lucas and Claus are left without a mother. While Lucas and Claus are visiting their grandfather with their mother, Hinawa is killed by a Drago, a dragon-like creature that, while normally peaceful, is driven to madness by a race of pig-masked aliens that unexpectedly descend on Nowhere Islands -- the setting for Mother 3.
While Claus is visibly angered by the horrible event, Lucas -- being the shy boy he is -- holds in a lot of his feelings and hides behind an emotional wall, cutting himself off from his brother and the rest of the village. Because of this, many people see him as a coward.
After his vengeful emotions get the best of him, Claus runs away from his family, determined to seek out and destroy the Drago that killed his mother.
Claus’s disappearance is the catalyst that sets up the main story arc in Mother 3. Although he is very bashful, Lucas is ridiculously close to his brother, and when Claus runs away it really affects him. Left without a mother and now a brother, Lucas is forced to come out of his shell. The awful events -- however tragic -- help him to become stronger ... braver.
At this point, the game jumps forward three years in the future. With Claus still missing and the memory of Hinawa still on his mind, Lucas uses his newfound emotional strength and sets off on an epic adventure to release the island’s mystical Seven Needles. The Seven Needles are used to seal away the Dark Dragon, and, once released, will either create the world anew or destroy it, depending on who pulls the needles -- good or evil.
Racing Lucas to find the Needles is a mysterious Masked Man, the commander of the Pigmask Army, the same army that corrupted the Drago that killed Lucas and Claus’s mother. This Masked Man is pure evil and does whatever he can to stop Lucas from releasing the seven seals.
After a huge adventure full of some of the most memorable videogame moments ever (a whole season worth of Memory Cards!), Lucas eventually makes it to the final Needle. With three being pulled by him and three pulled by the Masked Man, the fate of the world comes down to whoever releases the final seal.
In a sick twist of fate, Lucas and the Masked Man reach the final Needle at the same time, forcing them to face off in one final showdown.
It is during this confrontation when this week’s Memory Card moment occurs: Brotherly love.
Like most role-playing games, the final battle with the Masked Man is composed of a couple of different “stages.” The first is against Porky, a cohort of the Masked Man and the main antagonist from Mother 3’s predecessor, EarthBound.
Once Lucas defeats Porky, the newly confident hero steps forward to face the Masked Man and win the right to pull the final needle and save the world.
The battle with the Masked Man is surprising. Instead of his allies fighting by his side, all of Lucas’s friends are knocked unconscious by the evil figure’s devastating lightning attack.
Alone and scared, Lucas stands strong as the psychedelic colors swirl around him, indicating the start of the final battle.
As the epic fight begins, Lucas is immediately pummeled with a barrage of hard-hitting attacks. Using his PSI powers, Lucas manages to heal himself and fight back with some equally powerful blows.
The discordant, unsettling music grows louder.
All of a sudden, in the middle of the battle, the screen starts to darken. All attacks from both ends stop.
A quiet voice interrupts the action and calls out to the Masked Man. It is the ghostly voice of Lucas’s mother, Hinawa.
With this, Lucas’s heart drops. The Masked Man. The man that has been trying to kill him this entire time. The man that is determined to end the world by pulling out the needles first. That man is Lucas’s own twin brother ... Claus.
Unfortunately, Hinawa’s pleading words do nothing to stop Claus. He keeps attacking Lucas with an empty look on his face.
Again, Hinawa’s voice begs Claus to stop fighting.
“You’re our son!”
The back and forth between Hinawa’s pleas and Claus’s complete disregard continues.
Finally, after more begging, Hinawa’s words start to slowly sink in. Claus stops his brutal assault on Lucas and begins remembering his past -- the past uncorrupted by Porky and the evil Pigmask Army.
At this point the scary music fades into a beautiful lullaby. The screen flashes white and shows an image of Lucas and Claus as babies, their bassinets sitting right next to each other. Over the peaceful image Hinawa and her husband Flint talk about how happy they are to be blessed with two children at once. They remark on how they will accomplish things in life together that they couldn’t alone. How they will help each other out when they need it.
The gorgeous musical score continues playing as the flashback ends.
“Claus. Lucas,” Hinawa whispers one final time. “Make us proud.”
A strange silence commences. Instead of attacking, Claus removes his mask and sets it down in front of him. Both brothers stare at each other. It is the first time they have looked into each other’s eyes in many years.
Lucas, not knowing what to do next, stands still. His body is near dead, but his thriving heart keeps him alive.
Claus, knowing that his mind is too far gone to ever be normal again, unleashes one final attack. But instead of hurting Lucas, Claus bounces his powerful lightning attack back on himself, severely injuring him.
Claus staggers toward Lucas. He embraces his brother and apologizes for everything he has done to him.
“I’m sorry it turned out like this,” Claus says as he tries his best to hold on just a little longer. “I’m really happy you could be with me just before the end ...”
“I’m going to where Mom is now.”
With this, Claus gives his final breath and dies in Lucas arms.
Using the strength of his brother’s love, Lucas inches forward and wraps his hands around the glowing needle. With all his might, he pulls as hard as he can, releasing the final seal.
As the world meets its surprising fate, Lucas finds solace in knowing his brother is finally at peace.
Grab some tissues and click below to watch one of the most devastating endings ever seen in a videogame (seriously, be prepared):
Sorry, give me one second. I need to call my real-life brother right now and tell him that I love him.
And, sadly, I am not joking about this.
One of the main reasons Claus’s death affected me so much the first time I experienced it was because I have a brother. He is not my twin, but, just like Lucas, he is my only sibling. After I witnessed the ending of Mother 3 I actually did call my brother just to tell him how much he meant to me.
I know that sounds super overdramatic, but sometimes there are certain things in life that touch you more than others and force you to truly evaluate what means the most to you.
The ending of Mother 3 is unquestionably sad, but is it possible that it affected me more because my family structure mirrors the one of Lucas and Claus? It’s an interesting question.
Before tackling that, let’s first break down the ingenious structure that makes this scene so affecting.
The entire tone of Mother 3 is surprisingly adult and more than a little odd. Not “odd” in the bad sense of the word, but “odd” in the fact that, while its presentation is deceptively traditional, nothing in the game plays by the rules.
The final battle is the perfect example of this.
In most role-playing games that have a final boss with multiple “stages,” each stage gets more and more difficult until the boss’s last form presents the ultimate challenge. In Mother 3, it can easily be argued that the fight with Porky -- the battle that precedes the last one -- is much tougher than the one with Claus.
This is because the designer wants to use the final battle with Claus to close out the exhaustingly emotional story that has been leading up to this particular moment the entire game.
The battle starts off normal enough, with both sides using melee attacks, PSI powers, and offensive items to hurt each other. But only a few turns in the screen goes dark and Hinawa’s ghostly voice interrupts the flow of everything. As a player, you are thrown off by this as you had mentally prepared yourself for a non-stop, tough battle.
After Hinawa begins talking, the battle starts to maintain an almost dream-like pace. Some sections find the two opponents fighting, while others pause for more words from Hinawa. Once Lucas finds out the Masked Man is Claus the tone shifts again. As the battle comes in and out, you (as Lucas) have less motivation to attack your enemy. Even though he is technically the final obstacle between you and the end of the game, you don’t want to attack your own brother.
The dreamy, confusing state of the game starts to cloud your own brain and really makes you question how you feel about what is happening.
And then the bombshell drops.
Once the flashback plays out it is almost impossible not to get choked up with what is happening. Claus, in a single moment of clarity, remembers the life-long love between him and his twin brother. All of the anger and confusion he has felt over the last few years fades away and he is left with nothing but his fond family memories.
And this shift in focus is expressed on the screen. Before the flashback, the game displays Lucas and Claus interacting in Mother 3’s battle screen. Although Hinawa breaks up the action, the visuals remain focused on that of a battle.
Once Claus lets his guard down, the battle screen vanishes and only the visual interpretations of Claus’s thoughts are displayed. It’s a very subtle, but brilliant, way to connect the player to what is truly happening in the heads of the in-game characters.
Right before Claus dies the game once again switches back to battle as he unleashes his final, suicidal attack. Lucas, and, in turn, the player, can do nothing but watch the tragedy unfold before them. It really is an unbelievably gut-wrenching moment. And, getting back to my earlier comment, all the more powerful for someone who actually has a brother.
When the Masked Man reveals himself to be Lucas’s brother, I was not fighting a generic, soulless enemy anymore. For me, I was fighting my own brother. I was fighting family. I was attacking the same person I grew up with. The same person I love and would do anything for.
The game harnesses this almost incapacitating feeling and uses it to create a devastatingly tragic sequence that you can’t believe is actually happening in a videogame. At this unique point in the game, I was Lucas and I was watching his wonderful family, my wonderful family crumble right before my very eyes.
If this isn’t reason enough to call my brother and tell him how much I love him I don’t know what is!
Videogames have the power to affect you in ways you never knew possible. Watching Claus die is the perfect example of this and yet another reason Mother 3 is one of the most powerful videogames I have ever played in my entire life.
I get a little misty-eyed even thinking about it.
Love you, bro.
The Memory Card Save Files
.01 - .20 (Season 1)
What's Up? Our panel at PAX Prime 2014, Far Cry 4, Destiny Beta, Vietnam & a ferret
8:00 PM on 07.25.2014