Spoiler Alert: Megaman ZX: Advent, Drakengard, Demon’s Souls, Final Fantasy VI, Megaman Series, Nier, Chrono Cross
The setting of a game – or really, of any story – is perhaps one it’s most important aspects. Characters aside, this is what gives the tale its unique flair, this is how the writer puts a new spin on old ideas; a game’s setting defines virtually everything else about it. Consequently, you can tell a lot about what sort of story you’re going to be playing with only a cursory glance at the setting.
Sometimes, the only thing that becomes evident is that life sucks for everyone and the world is hell.
Today, we’re going to pay our respects to such settings, by taking a look at some of the most memorable – and most memorably depressing – worlds in gaming. Perhaps the writers were just having a bad day. Maybe their marriage was in shambles, they were late on their rent, and their dog got run over. Whatever the reason, hats off to them; they’ve a gift for making things bleak.
The one common thread shared by all the entries on this list is that life is pretty much universally awful for everyone involved, and there’s probably no happy ending in sight.
Admittedly, life in the Megaman Universe was pretty good, at least for a while. Mankind found themselves in a golden age of technology, with robots and humans working together in tandem. Sure, you had to deal with the occasional made genius, but even Dr. Wily’s occasional attempts at world domination, though certainly devastating, were all eventually brought to a grinding halt by Mega Man.
Then reploids were created, and everything sort of went downhill from there.
Flash forward to Mega Man X, and you’ve got super-powerful robots slaughtering humans and tearing the world to shreds, led by the power-mad Sigma. Worse, it’s heavily implied that there’s been at least one apocalypse since the Mega Man series; with humans slowly but steadily being driven underground by the toxicity of the surface. Things get even worse by Mega Man Zero, with a cataclysmic war wiping out 90% of all reploids and 60% of all humans.
Flash forward again to Mega Man Legends, and you’ve got a post-apocalyptic world where true humans are all but extinct and their bionic successors, Carbons, eke out a living on small islands in an endless ocean, while under constant threat of extermination by an ancient system of machines?
But hey, it’s kid-friendly.
It gets even more depressing once you realize that Nier is a spiritual successor to Drakengard, and that the disease which nearly killed humanity was the result of Caim and Angelus’s defeat of The Grotesquerie Queen, spawn of some of the most horrifying eldritch abominations I’ve ever laid eyes on. Have I mentioned that said abominations essentially serve as the gods of the Drakengard universe, even though their very presence in the material world brings about the apocalypse?
Factor in all the horrific, deadly creatures which tend to populate Oddworld, and you’ve got yourself a veritable hellhole.
While Half-Life 2 certainly ends on a somewhat high note, with the primary means the Combine has of accessing Earth has been more or less cut off; it’s still a bloody bleak place to live. The Combine – who were only interested in draining the planet of all its usable resources and leaving it a dessicated husk – managed to do a number on the world before finally being driven away (at least, for the moment). The vast majority of its former wildlife has been all but wiped out by a whole host of deadly alien creatures, including antlions (massive, hostile insects which devour everything they can) and headcrabs (parasites which transform their victims into grotesque zombies forced to live in continual agony).
In the world of Demon’s Souls, a benevolent god doesn’t exist. “God” is actually The Old One – an indestructible, immortal eldritch abomination whose only purpose is to devour as many souls as possible. To do this, it floods the world with a gray, demon-filled fog which causes everyone within to go completely insane. Those few people who retain their sanity are usually slaughtered by the demons, or become murderous, power-mad monsters themselves. Have I mentioned that The Old One can’t be stopped? You can either put it to sleep (implying it can be awoken again later) or become its newest servant.
Either way, there honestly isn’t a happy ending.
While later games in the Shin Megami Tensei Series (later known as Persona) tended to be a little bit cheerier (and close to reality) the world of the original games were the textbook definition of terrifying. The world is devastated by a nuclear war after about an hour of play, after which demons begin running free and tearing everything up (as their kind tends to do), while elsewhere a biblical apocalypse kicks into full swing. What takes the cake is that God himself decides that he’s going to blow everything up in the second game. Yeah, as if everything else wasn’t bad enough, he’s legitimately insane.
For those of you who’ve yet to play either game(shame on you!), you’re essentially boned no matter what you do. See, an alien parasite named Lavos destroys the world in 1999. The only feasible way of stopping this abomination involves time travel. Unfortunately, what you’re not told is that no matter what you do – no matter when and how you defeat Lavos – people are going to suffer. All those folks from the future that never existed? They’re basically consigned to a void beyond time and space, to exist in nothingness for the rest of their days.
Okay, so technically this one is based on a science fiction short story of the same name, so its inclusion is kind of cheating. Nevertheless, it represents one of the darkest settings on the list. The story is as follows: the human race has mor
e or less been wiped out, save for a small group of survivors. Stretching beneath the surface of the world is a vast supercomputer, AM; a conglomeration of systems constructed during the Cold War. It’s all but stated outright that AM was the one who wiped mankind out; it was jealous of the fact that human beings could move about and experience emotions and physical sensations and it was forever trapped within its circuitry.
The five survivors that remain are trapped underground with AM, who makes them immortal and subjects them to endless
This group of survivors is trapped underground with AM, who is jealous of the fact that they can move about freely and experience taste, touch, smell, and pleasure. Cheery, right?
Honorable Mention: World of Warcraft, Thief, Overlord, Fallout, Syndicate Wars, God of War, Eternal Darkness.
Do you folks have any horrifically depressing video game settings you want to share? Drop a line in the comments!