I've been very productive last weekend. Mainly, I've finished Super Paper Mario. OK, it was 2 o'clock in the morning when I stopped playing, but I just couldn't leave the game so close to the end.
One thing I've noticed though was how emotional I was becoming as I was getting close to the end. I didn't shed any tear, but my eyes were definitely wet. The game's story was very good, very involving, and very well told, and though the ending was not completely unexpected, it still managed to get me: I was caring.
SPOILER WARNING: the following contains spoilers from a few games.
I was caring for the characters, even Count Bleck. And seeing him and Tippi sacrificing themselves to save all the worlds was heart-breaking. Although they were finally together again, and the bucolic ending shows that they did find the place where they could live happily ever after, I was still sad that they couldn't share their renewed happiness with their new-found friends. And I was sad that my adventures with them were finished.
Few games manage to elicit this reaction from me, and each one of them ranks among my favourite games (yes, I do agree that there's a connection here). One of them is Beyond Good & Evil. I remember how I could not leave the room in the alien Moon base where Jade's uncle Pey'j was lying dead, how controlling Jade was difficult as my tears made it difficult to see things on the screen, and how my tears changed into tears of joy when Pey'j miraculously resurrected. That game was a wonderful experience of cinematographic proportions. Too bad it was so short (it won't surprise you that I am one of the many people who signed all those petitions calling for a sequel).
Another one is Chrono Trigger, on the SNES. Although I have actually never finished the game (more a lack of time than a lack of interest, to be sure. It's one of the only RPG I like. Most only manage to make me yawn), it already managed to make me cry twice (once when Robo gets beaten down by all the other robots, the other time when Crono blocks Lavos's attack and is disintegrated in order to save the other characters). I really hope it'll appear on the Wii Virtual Console, so I can play it again and hopefully finish it this time.
And of course there's the whole Legend of Zelda series, where each instalment manages without fail to transform me into a sobbing puddle of tears (except the very first Legend of Zelda for the NES, but that one didn't really have a story. I mean, it does, but the gameplay itself does not really reflect that). A Link to the Past is probably the very first game I ever played that brought tears to my eyes (proving, like Chrono Trigger, that 16-bit graphics are more than enough to depict engrossing stories. Take that graphic whores). Ocarina of Time is naturally the pinnacle, and I remember playing the last part at least three times in a row because I just didn't want it to end. Just thinking about it again is enough to move me. Majora's Mask made me care for the non-player characters like never before. The Wind Waker's big parting at the end brought a tear to my eye, as did Midna's farewell at the end of Twilight Princess (did you really have to destroy the Twilight Mirror, Midna?).
END SPOILERS: from there on the article is spoiler-free.
On the other hand, there's plenty of good games that I enjoyed playing and yet didn't elicit those emotions from me. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed the Prince of Persia trilogy, but I didn't become attached to its characters like I am attached to the characters of Super Paper Mario. And it influences a lot the replay value for me: I have completed each of the Prince of Persia games only once, and have no wish to do it again. But I have replayed Beyond Good & Evil at least five times, despite getting 100% completion (including the Pearls) on the first try.
I guess that as much as I value a fun experience (which is why I love Wii Sports, when I normally don't care about sports games), an engrossing story with likeable characters is what really does it for me. Maybe that's why I like Nintendo games so much: they are good at combining both a fun experience and a story and characters I care for.
I wonder whether I'm not in a minority though. The majority of games released these days seem to be FPS clones with cliché stories, sports games, race games or the latest MMORPG. Those sell millions, while gems like Beyond Good & Evil end up in the bargain bin where they don't belong.
Is it so weird to wish for a game to make you care?