Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so here I am on the phone with my mom, listening to her complain about how cold it’s going to be in Reno this weekend. We’re both headed there soon to spend the turkey-feasting holiday with family, because that’s what Turkey Day is to me: bringing family together, even if we have to deal with obscenely cold weather for a few days. For some the holiday’s a joyous occasion, for others it’s understandably the opposite.
And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that video games often have some sort of familial thread. From Mario and Luigi to Claire and Chris Redfield, siblings have often made for appealing stars of video games. In the past decade, grumpy dads that make questionable decisions have become the go-to anti-hero. Families are an easy relationship to embed in a game, because everyone has them. Flawed or flawless, family dynamics are easy to connect with.
For me, Thanksgiving is about connecting with the family that I only get to see once or twice a year. We never do “family reunions” in the traditional sense; holidays are the excuse we have to come together and catch up, and for me to be badgered about when I’m getting married. Video games are no stranger to a big family get-together either: in fact, here are a few of our favorite games centered on attempted reunions.
Spoiler Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Witcher 3, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Final Fantasy 13, Dragon Quest 5, Death Stranding, and What Remains of Edith Finch.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 is the first family that comes to mind for me. Geralt of Rivia, of course, is the gruff dad of this bunch. No one’s bound by blood, but everyone has familial relationships with one another. Geralt loves Ciri, his sorta-foster daughter, as if she were his daughter. Likewise, Yennefer acts like something of a mom to Ciri, while Triss maintains a sisterly role. Dandelion, meanwhile, is that annoying distant cousin. When Ciri goes missing, the crew scatters to pick up any possible hints about her whereabouts. Geralt goes to the ends of Velen, Skellige, and more for her.
It’s the family-like grouping that makes The Witcher 3’s character dynamics resonate. Everyone falls into place naturally, and even if you haven’t played the previous two Witcher games, it’s easy to connect all the characters and their relationships with one another. Of course, Geralt has the option of romancing Triss or Yennefer (or both, leading both to dump him ceremoniously if you go that path), so in breaking down this not-really-family, that would mean in one case, Geralt is banging his “sister”—but I digress. The Witcher 3, really, is just a game reuniting your family, and in the end, learning to let go of it as well.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Man, this game is rough. At the time of its release, Brothers was quite novel. In it, you control two brothers on a quest to collect a special water that will save their dying father—oh, and their mother’s already dead. But it’s not co-op: each brother is controlled by an individual analog stick. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember anything really about the journey I took with them, nor of the puzzles we solved along the way. I do remember, however, when one of them died, and how clueless I felt in turn to progress without using one half of the controller.
It’s an intentional cluelessness, of course, and at the time I found it to be very profound. To move onward, all I needed to do was use the analog stick that once could control the other brother. Only now, it was the motivation the still-alive brother needed to press forward and get home to save his dad. It’s a solemn moment, but it’s among the best moments when it comes to mechanizing what grief can feel like at its worst. The rest of the game may be forgettable, but that moment sure isn’t.
Okay, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is easily the weakest game in the modern Wolfenstein line, even with its two endearing idiot teen girl leads. From dull environments to steep difficulty spikes, Youngblood is definitely among the most tedious games I reviewed this year. Still, I enjoyed spending time with Soph and Jess Blazcowicz, its dorky teenage protagonists. The two sisters, along with Grace Walker’s daughter Abby, hijack a helicopter and somehow fly all the way to Paris, France in pursuit of the sisters’ lost father, B.J. The two girls embrace their natural Nazi-killing talent to find their dad, no matter what it takes.
Youngblood doesn’t have much story, unfortunately. The cutscenes are few and far in-between, as is the character development. But by the end, Soph and Jess do in fact find B.J., and there is a welcome tease for whatever comes next for Wolfenstein—hopefully a future that includes Soph and Jess again in better circumstances. The end is hopeful, in the same way the end of The New Colossus was with the team inciting a political reckoning for the United States. Youngblood continues the main thread that’s tethered all the Wolfenstein games together: destroying Nazis really does bring the family together, whether it’s a resistance group on a submarine or parents to their rebellious children.
Final Fantasy 13
Like many JRPGs, Final Fantasy 13’s core is the importance of family. It weaves through every member of your party’s character arc. Sazh wants to find his son. Lightning is on a quest to find and revive her now-crystallized sister Serah, who is Snow’s fiance. Hope watches his mother die, and blames it on Snow. He joins the party with his end goal of killing Snow because of it. Vanille and Fang are totally a couple, even if Square Enix refuses to acknowledge it. It’s a complicated bunch with a lot of baggage—but hey, that’s every party in an RPG, right?
In one way or another, everyone gets their happy ending by the end of Final Fantasy 13. Hope and Snow hash things out, and Hope does not become a murderer at age 12 or however old he is. Lightning and Snow reunite with Serah happily (though as evidenced by the sequels, it doesn’t last for long); as does Sazh with his son. Vanille and Fang stay together forever as crystals in the sky. It’s a long, corridor-filled journey, but in the end, their families are all reunited.
This is all a long way of saying: don’t play Final Fantasy 13 for the story. Play it for the battle system and art direction alone. Happy Thanksgiving?
Dragon Quest 5
Dragon Quest 5 is an epic in the grandest sense of the word. It’s maybe the only true epic in video games, following one hero through thirty years of his life. We play through the death of his dad. We watch him eventually get married and raise a family of his own-his wife is even pregnant for a portion of the RPG. And eventually, his now-grown son is even revealed to be a long fabled-hero. And that’s just the tip of it all, it just goes from there. While not quite a “reunion,” the story does spin the Hero apart from his loved ones time and time again, only to weave them all back together again.
In Nadia Oxford’s write-up for our Top 25 RPGs list, she writes that, “[The Hero] struggles to overcome enormous hardships as a very young boy, and it never embitters him; it only tempers him until he becomes a fine husband, warrior, and father who’s worthy of Pankraz’s name and legacy.” That’s really what Dragon Quest 5’s all about: how we grow up, and how our connections to family changes with that.
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is another sad one, like Brothers. But also like many of the games on this list, it’s about the lengths we go to forge a connection with our loved ones; be it bound by blood or not. In What Remains of Edith Finch, you play as the titular Edith, journeying back to her ramshackle family home. Everyone in her family has passed away in some way or another; sometimes tragically, other times less so. Instead of picking up and moving on, the Finch family opts to keep building on the house as new generations are born. The result is a house that twists and turns like a maze.
Like Gone Home before it, you connect to the characters in Edith Finch by rummaging through their rooms. But unlike Gone Home, you end up sparking a sliver of their past. In these sequences, we play as Edith’s family members in their dying moments. In one, a little girl seemingly chokes to death, but here she imagines herself turning into all sorts of animals, like an eagle flying through the sky. As Edith climbs higher and higher in the house, the experiences grow more and more personal—they become the tales of the people she knew near and dear at one point; not ancestral stories passed down from generations. What Remains of Edith Finch may be a sad getting the family together game, but it’s one of the most impactful indie games of the past decade.
Kojima Productions’ split from Konami around the development of Metal Gear Solid 5 led to what would become Death Stranding: a game untethered from Metal Gear that ends up feeling quite a bit familiar anyways. It’s also a game about family, or rather, reconnecting with family. At the start, you’re cast as Sam Porter Bridges, the most unsubtle name in games perhaps ever, as he embarks on a journey assigned by his dead mom, who happens to be the President of the United States. Only the United States barely exists anymore, and her successor, Amelie, is over on the West Coast. But she isn’t enjoying the California weather: she’s stranded on a mysterious beach.
So, as Sam, you venture West with a handy necklace that can bring up cities onto an online network. Along the way you “connect” with people mostly through holograms and hike across rough terrain. In one mission, I even carried a living person to another bunker so they could be reunited with their lover. Its traversal is grueling but meditative—I’ve adopted Death Stranding as a podcast game as I slowly make my way through it—and honestly, what other experience in games is comparable to holiday traveling to see a loved one you maybe have a testy relationship with. Death Stranding is the anxiety of Thanksgiving personified. Happy travels!