Hmmm I'm not super sure tbh
In terms of powerful feelings:
I can't really remember playing any sad games in my childhood. I played a lot of Spyro, Gran Turismo, NHL, Age of Empires, Need for Speed, Crash Bandicoot, Tony Hawk's etc. The closest I ever came was probably an Eidos-developed shooter called Project Snowblind for the PS2. There is a "prominent" character death in that game but tbh despite the fact that it is a death there is no real reason to feel emotion. I never was truly attached to the character other than the fact that he seemed cool.
When I first bought my PS3 circa January 2014 however, The Last of Us was the first game that I played. I'll be damned if I didn't have a strong emotional reaction almost every 5 seconds haha (not really that often though).
Oh and by the way below are spoilers for both The Last of Us and Final Fantasy X:
That game constantly battered you with bleakness. First it was Sarah's death in the prologue, then leaving Tess behind at the Capitol Building, and then watching the murder-suicide as executed by Henry. In the beginning I objected to Joel's Draconian thought patterns and the actions of Henry - but later on I grew to epathize and even act out in a similar fashion of my own accord. Here I will explain:
The two moments that stick out to me the most - and are in reference to my closing point above - are the Winter Resort sequence and the ending. Both times - when you are racing to save Ellie - I played vicariously as Joel with every ounce of violence I could muster, and I never stopped to question whether I was doing the right thing or whether the results of my selfish actions would be detrimental to anyone else in the game world. Just like Ellie continuously stabs the shit out of David when she gets the machete, I was beating the ever-living crap out of the survivors in the winter section and the Fireflys/Doctors in the Hospital section. The game slowly conditioned me and nudged me into that mindset by so brilliantly selling the game world, but to be honest I felt a little sick after. It was almost as if for all of the game sections prior to the Winter part I was more riding along in the story than I was making it my own. But after Joel becomes mortally wounded and Ellie gets captured my Dad instincts kicked in even though I don't have children. And like I said I felt physically sick and hollow once my manic phases of violence passed, especially when they reveal the ending - it was like a slow exhalation of breath. Realizing that sure you saved Ellie but you killed Marlene and a lot of other people to do so, and in reality both Joel and Ellie's existence in that brutal world was subject to question at any given opportunity in the future.
It's a brutally realistic kick in the stomach and it is the reason why TLoU transcended gaming for me and is on a whole other plane of personal appreciation. The closest I've felt to that sort of personal connection with a protagonist - and their difficult choices - was within The Witcher 3 (whom also did a brilliant job in crafting the game world and thus creating context for your decision-making; although the main difference here is that the consequences of your actions in TLoU are mostly left up to your imagination).
I feel like it is game's like these that truly get the idea of an impactful character death down. Sure you could pull a CoD4 and kill Gaz but really who gives a fuck. Here i'll give some more examples of how some of my favourite games have invoked emotion in me and why:
Final Fantasy X -
For his whole life Tidus has had problems with both women and personal relationships. His relationship with his Father is mediocre at best - Jecht represents a mountain in status and merit that Tidus is socially pressured to live up to and nothing else; his absence in the parenting role makes his relationship with Tidus analogous to a coach-player type. Hell it was only once Jecht became Sin that he started visiting Tidus LMAO Auron is a much better father figure. Let's not even get started on his mother - that woman wilted away very quickly once Jecht left. In terms of the other women, they idolize tidus like a Teen-Magazine cover model to hang up on their walls.
Yuna has a similar background of social pressures and loss of a parent-figure. Her father was definitely a better parent but she still had big shoes to fill, and the pressure to fill them. Her mother is also non-existant, and Kimahri is the one whom looks after her (along with Wakka and Lulu). Anyhow, imagine Tidus' surprise when he spots a woman who is mature and does not immediately and outwardly gush over him; and vice-versa, imagine Yuna's surprise at spotting a man whom is not so constrained or miffed by the conservative nature of a religion ("STAY AWAY FROM THE SUMMONER!"). It's like the Catholic school girl and Huck Finn met up. And then you send them on a field trip together with the imminent world-ending doom of Sin hanging over them? Kaboom, dynamite; you could cut the sexual tension with Auron's Katana.
It's interesting how their relationship onfolds over the course of the story. Tidus is quick to impress and attempt to save Yuna whenever he gets the chance, and Yuna is all giggly and reserved in her flirting with him. Calm, gentle Yuna has fallen in love with the colourful hero from another world. It is this that sets the stage for the major plot twist. The created empathy the player is supposed to feel for Yuna is what makes the ending so gutting. And goddamn if it wasn't gutting. Two young and lonely souls brought together by an apocalypse scenario, and yet they have limited time for themselves. What's even more gutting is that they finally realize their mutual deep feelings for one another (lake scene) so late on that neither really has a chance to explain their true origin and destiny. They don't get to explore their new relationship or have a happy future together. Not in Japanese video games they don't!
Ah crap. I wanted to write about Metal Gear Solid 3 and Shadow of the Colossus but now I have to go to class. I may come back for this later. I have no idea how you sparked me to write so much but thank you I guess haha.