Sliding Scale Of Idealism Versus Cynicism / Video Games
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots gave a very cynical opening and most of the acts runs with it throughout the entire game. Despite all of that, the game actually ends in a high note to those involved. Including Snake and Big Boss.
Solid Snake games from the first Metal Gear to MGS 4 went idealistically while most of Big Boss games were cynical. Especially The Phantom Pain.
Mass Effect gives the players a great deal of choice in deciding what is the right thing to do in a very wide range of situations and how the main character reacts to the actions of other people, but overall the series tends to combine both strong idealism and cynicism at the same time and doing it quite well. The idealism is rarely blue-eyed and cynicism is usually constructive instead of being misanthropic or nihilistic. This is notably displayed in the arguments that a Paragon Shepard (idealist) has with Javik (cynic), with both of them coming up with perfectly valid points that each of them are forced to recognize. Very much leaning towards an existentialist outlook, Taking A Third Option could be seen as the series main theme, solving problems by accepting ambivalence and taking a different point of view.
Halo is ever-so-slightly towards idealism. Halo: Evolutions is much darker than the games or other novels, as a lot of stories, such as Stomping on the heels of a fuss and the Mona Lisa, end with a betrayal and the death of the protagonist. The games are much lighter, with a lot of Heroic Sacrifices and Halo 3 ends with not only the end of the war, but peace between the Elites and Humans, the survival of both protagonists and the eradication of the flood.
After 343i took over the reins, however, the series has turned more towards the cynical end of things.
For their next series, Destiny, Bungie explicitly set out to occupy the idealistic end of the scale by creating a Lighter and SofterSpace Opera setting where hope and justice will eventually win out. By the end of the first game, the Big Dumb Object that kickstarted humanity's golden age has begun to repair itself, and the Guardians are preparing to travel to distant worlds to continue their fight against an evil Sentient Cosmic Force.
The Witcher novels and games lean heavily on the cynical side.
However it has moments of idealism...the "Beauty and The Beast" quest in the first game if Vincent is spared is one example. Saskia is a major idealist in the Witcher 2 (although it allows others to use her easily). Ves is also another when she helps an elven woman held captive and raped by Loredo give birth.
The major decisions of Witcher 2 have Geralt choosing whether he supports an idealistic (but uncertain) vision for the future ("Iorveth's Path") or defends the oppressive but relatively stable existing political status quo ("Roche's Path"). The game itself falls squarely in the Cynical end of the spectrum however; Geralt is just one man, and the world is in serious trouble regardless of what he does. The game has 16 endings, and none are upbeat.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is all over the place. On one hand, the hero, Pit, is a huge idealist who works for the benevolent Goddess of Light Palutena, and the overall mood is humorous, lacks a Fourth Wall, full of playful commentary and cheerful, at least for a good part of the game. On the other hand, most of the Gods are Jerkass Gods, it is regularly bought up that Humans Are Bastards, and the protagonist's loyalties are questioned quite a few times.
The Final Fantasy games usually end on an idealistic note, but how they get there varies widely from game to game.
Final Fantasy IV is a classic idealistic setting, aside from Zemus. Quite a few people live when they should have died, the bad guy was just brain washed, (Rubicante even apologizes to Edge for what his subordinate did) and love and friendship are strong concepts. Unfortunatly, there's also the case of the summoner and mage towns and Edward's castle being slaughtered by the Baron forces, and Cecil's questioning of the morals he follows, but that's about it.
Final Fantasy V is firmly on the idealistic side, best exemplified when Galuf fights Exdeath to the death. Galuf shrugs off spell after spell at 0 HP and continues fighting. Exdeath assumes it is because of hatred or anger, but it is rather Galuf's love for his friends and granddaughter that allow him to defeat Exdeath. However, there's also the nihilistic Exdeath wanting to erase everything from existance and a surprising amount of damage is dealt to the worlds.
Final Fantasy VI has Kefka as the side of cynicism/nihilism and the party as the side of idealism. This becomes really obvious at the end, when Kefka ask the party why they are fighting for and the answers are such as family, friends and so. (Although it could be argued that Kefka is not a cynic so much as just deliriously Ax-Crazy and sadistic. If achieving one's hopes and dreams somehow caused people to suffer and die, Kefka'd be all over it.)
Then again, most villains in Final Fantasy games tend to be nihilistic, psychopaths, or Ax-Crazy to begin with. Kefka was just the first to be all three at once.
Final Fantasy VII is very dark for an FF game, with a sort of fantasy-punk setting, a beloved party member dying, every member of the cast having Evangelion-esque psycho-trauma of some kind or another, and the Big Bad Sephiroth only being salvageable with a sword to the face. There's less of an Aesop about the power of friendship, as Cloud specifies he needs everyone to come with him to stop him doing something terrible. By the end though, it does settle into rather idealistic territory.
Final Fantasy VIII is more idealistic, probably as a backlash, but is still pretty dark and cynical if you know where to look. Though most of the cast is issue-free, Squall is seriously screwed-up in the head. The city of Timber never gets liberated because of the futility of the resistance's struggle against the superior Galbadian army. The whole ideal of pacifism is brutally shot down with the pacifist populace of Fisherman's Horizon, whose idealistic beliefs nearly get the entire town slaughtered. You're outright told by Laguna that you can save the world with The Power of Friendship, but when you travel to the future, you're dropped right into the middle of a Hopeless War with SeeD troops still uselessly dying generations down the line. The game leaves off with another Hopeless War between Esthar and the endless moon monsters called down by the Lunatic Pandora. The main character has made a transformation from cynicism to a more moderate mindset, due to the power of love, yet still retains some of his sarcasm and cynical beliefs. Sure, the setting looks more idealistic than that of Final Fantasy VII, but it sits firmly in the middle ground between true idealism and dark cynicism.
It could be said that the entire point of the party's quest in Final Fantasy X is to move the world from the grimly cynical end to a the more idealistic side. Although both the main character and the Bad AssAnti-Hero have to die (or die again) to do this, and they're only able to succeed because of very special circumstances on their side.
Final Fantasy XI is FIRMLY on the side of cynicism once you get past the initial impression of the post-war atmosphere and only gets worse with each expansion pack. To give you an idea of just how cynical the world of Vana'diel is: the "Hero" of the Great War, Volker, for delivering the final blow against the the Shadow Lord is actually a fraud. The REAL Hero, and the one who landed the finishing blow, is Zeid, who receives (almost) no credit for his actions as a result of Fantastic Racism. And thats JUST the original plot line of the base game.
Final Fantasy XII has shades of both. On the Idealism side, it shows that really the 'bad guys' aren't evil, just look at the world from a different standpoint, and peace can be achieved by working together. On the Cynicism side however, it reveals the flaws of the 'find the MacGuffin to save the world' plot, presenting the heroine searching for the crystals as just as power-hungry as the villains.
Final Fantasy XIII turns out to be surprisingly on the idealistic side. Is fate a bit callous and unjust? The Power of Friendship and hope (no not that Hope) will make things turn out okay. Main character's love interest/kid crystalized and shattered by the Big Bad? They'll get better. Most of the party turned into Cie'th by an even bigger Big Bad? Not to worry, they'll just will themselves out of it in time to save the day.
And ultimately Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII ends on a completely idealistic note, with the main characters all having Earned Their Happy Ending and by escaping Nova Chrysalia's destruction by creating a new world, which is revealed to be either our own real life world or a world that looks exactly like it.
From everything that's been heard and seen of it over the years, Final Fantasy XV (which, according to the beginning of the E3 trailer, is still a part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis project) is, on the other hand, much further on the cynical side. (Ironically, the protagonist Noctis' personality comes off as rather friendly in contrast to the dark setting.)
For Final Fantasy II, although Firon, Maria, and Guy tend to be pretty positive people, wishing for a world without the threat of conflict, the rest of the world leans towards what the writers did with Final Fantasy VI. Pretty much everyone on the planet is dead, those who aren't have had their confidence massively shaken or are forced to give up the fight, the most idealistic member of the playable cast (Ming-Wu/Minwu) dies pathetically just to give you access to a Useless Useful Spell and some stat-ups, at the end of the game the party of True Companions—doubling as the hero's own family—is still splintered due to one member's (The Hero's and The Chick's brother) ongoing guilt over his own evil actions prior to Heel-Face Turn, and, unbeknownst to all of them, because they killed him, the Big Bad isstilltearing ass through Hell, wreaking havoc.Fortunately, all those party members he killed over the course of the game can school him, but daaaaaamn.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy pits the two against each other. The Warriors of Cosmos lean idealistic with their emphasis on friendship and hope for a better world. In contrast, the Warriors of Chaos are mostly nihilistic or fatalistic, even the Token Good Teammates.
Final Fantasy Tactics is similar to VII in that it is one of the few entries in the series that are truly very cynical. The nobility fights a pointless war to gain the throne, the commoners are treated slightly better than dirt, and the church is very powerful in the world of politics and controlled by horrifying demons. Both nobles fighting for the crown do heinous acts to try and bring down the other and the Order of the Northern Sky who is supposed to be the "good" side that the hero originally fights for sends its junior brigade members to slaughter veterans of a war before who have turned to banditry because the nobles won't pay them for their service. Top it all off with the main hero being completely vilified by history and mostly forgotten while his friend who turns into a complete Machiavellian bastard to achieve his goals is awarded title of regent and considered the hero by everyone. Yeah, it's definitely one of the most cynical in the series.
And winds up suffering a karmic death and that it is somewhat ambiguous if the main survives or not. Regardless of the case it ends with a Hope Spot that the truth will be revealed
The Tales Series bounces around a bit, but it mostly hangs out on the idealistic side. Tales of Graces is the most obviously so - it has a shiny golden Everybody Lives ending, and the Power of Friendship triumphs. Tales of Vesperia is a bit more cynical for a while, with its focus on vigilante justice, but there are (surprisingly) very few casualties and the ending is almost inappropriately idealistic. The ending of Tales of Xillia is a little more bittersweet, but the implication is that the world's problems can be solved and the one character who Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence is implied to be content. Tales of Phantasia is in basically the same boat as Xillia, although there is a bit of residual racism and the adventuring party separates permanently. So on the whole, mostly idealistic. In terms of the translated games, however, there's one minor and one major exception to the rule.
Tales of Symphonia can actually be interpreted as a bit more cynical if you have played Tales of Phantasia. It's implied to be a prequel, which means that most of the good the heroes of Symphonia accomplish is confirmed to be undone in a few centuries. The racism is also a lot more aggressive than in Phantasia. However, if you're not aware of the connection between the two games, Symphonia comes off as a very idealistic installment provided you weren't forced to kill Zelos for betraying you. That can put a bit of a damper on things.
And, of course, there's Tales of the Abyss a relentlessly sadistic game about deconstructing Screw Destiny. It's unclear how, but the world is dictated by an extended prophecy that will eventually doom the planet. The Big Bad's solution to this Crapsack World is to kill everyone on the planet and clone them. The protagonist's solution still kills ten thousand people. Not to mention the other ten thousand people he killed earlier, by accident. There's a Corrupt Church (with multiple people corrupt in different ways). The protagonist is implied to be seen as little more than a weapon by his family, which becomes worse since he's also a clone, and suffers from Cloning Blues like no one's business.Dark and troubled pasts haunt characters and past mistakes endanger them constantly, nothing can be fixed without massive sacrifice, and to top it all off, The Hero Dies and a Gainax Ending means we can never be sure if he comes back or not.
Xenogears is relentlessly cynical. Almost everything good in this game will, at some point, find itself broken. The happy-go-lucky protagonist harbors a hidden personality that is sadistic, immoral and almost godlike in power, and has died, along with his fated love, time after time in invariably tragic ways. Every major location in the game is, at some point, considered your task to save. Most are destroyed after you save them. It doesn't matter, because almost all of humanity is wiped out by the end, just one in a series of near-total apocalypses which have been visited on mankind deliberately throughout human history. Wicked, inhuman shadow masters control the world, ruling it from their invisible nation of scientifically-advanced fantasy Nazis. Everybody on earth has their lives controlled by these people so that they can one day be used as parts to revive the superweapon they all believe is their God. Almost all of the major antagonists are the antagonists because their idealism was shattered in some amazingly cruel fashion. Just ask Lacan and Krelian. The only thing you really accomplish by saving the world is that a few dozen people don't die.
Its Spiritual SuccessorXenosaga is little better. Humanity is locked in a Hopeless War against intangible, hostile aliens known as the Gnosis, which are actually the spirits of humans who are so terrified of living humans, they're willing to kill us. Numerous orgaizations are after the same mysterious, powerful object for their own purposes, some more sinister than others. Many of the antagonists achieve their immediate goals (Albedo coaxing Jr. into killing him, Yuriev grabbing ahold of the Zohar for a short time, just to name a few), and several other protagonists are emotionally scarred in one way or another (Shion being the most prominent example). Cynicism is more or less the name of the game here, especially in Episode III. In the end, all they can achieve is delaying the inevitable for a while longer.
Xenoblade, on the other hand, is a much more idealistic game than its predecessors. While it does feature the near-extinction of an entire race at the hands of a cruel god, and a backstory that depicts the universe being destroyed by humans, the ultimate message of the game is that You Can Fight Fate. The protagonists succeed in overthrowing the evil god and creating a new world where everyone has the ability to choose their own futures.
Planescape: Torment actually allows the player to set the slider in the exact position desired, despite the gritty game setting. It's possible to treat the characters' life/lives as nasty, brutish, and short, or you can treat it as all part of the process of making things better - to the point where you can play through the entire game without killing a single person. You can even choose the ending that best fits your viewpoint. They're all bittersweet, but there's a small but non-zero difference between "bittersweet & depressing" and "bittersweet & rewarding."
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a rather cynical game, what with the world having ended as we know it after a giant war that left cities completely reclaimed by nature and mechs and slavers killing or enslaving the surviving populations; communities can't go long without attracting unwanted attention to be of real safety, many people are completely unafraid of giving up others' lives to save their own, and everything just all-around sucks. The premise of the game has to do with Monkey being enslaved by Trip to take her home after they were both captured by slavers; when they finally reach Trip's community, they find that the town had been revisited by slavers, just as Monkey had predicted, killing or enslaving all remaining survivors. Trip then goes back on her promise to release Monkey, and she decides to get revenge on Pyramid, the one doing the enslaving. Things don't get much better when they add Pigsy to their group, who tries to get Monkey killed out of jealousy, and though he helps them get a weapon capable of defeating Pyramid, it looks like everything's over when they are swarmed by Pyramid's own mega-mechs. Pigsy then sacrifices his life to allow Monkey and Trip to destroy Pyramid, which results in the discovery of Pyramid as a Well-Intentioned Extremist who shared his memories of the world before the war with the slaves through the slave headbands, allowing them to "live" in his virtual reality instead of survive in the real world. Monkey sees the world the slaves see and remarks on its beauty before Trip kills Pyramid, pulling the slaves from their idealistic virtual life. She has to ask if she did the right thing.
However Drakengard 2 soften this where one could actually Take a Third Option, breaking the vicious cycle. However Cavia's games are normally very, very, cynical.
NieR is certainly so. After beating the game once, you can play again, and now you can understand Shade language, after finding out Shades are actually materialised human souls. Well, the player can. Which means that you find out that all of the bosses you fight are either learning to be better people, getting revenge for a terrible crime humans committed, trying to save their daughter or not evil at all. And you kill them, no matter what. Oh, and while the first ending is good out of ignorance, and the second reveals that a character thought dead actually isn't, the third and fourth are agonising because one party member goes crazy because she thinks the other is dead. Which means either you or her die. No third option. And if you die, your daughter forgets everything about you. And the other party member is alive! No one needed to die at all!
Bullet Witch is quite Cynical as well, Alicia goes on quest to attempt to save a dying world from the countless armies of demons and geist who plague the world which have left the world into a nearly dying state thanks to their cleansing. And it turns she was the cause of the near extinction of humanity as her father sacrificed himself to bring her back to life which caused the forces of hell to rise and annihilate the world
Also, Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden averts the idealism somewhat. Sure, by the end of the game, you've saved the world, but are left with a heavy Humans Are the Real Monsters (at least potentially) message, and thanks be to the time warp aspects of the plot (which resemble an Alternate Universe), the Reset Button is NOT pressed on the alternate Earth you saved, outside of eliminating the SOB's making it worse, in exchange for giving it a chance to heal and make the remains a potentially better place as a result. It should also be noted that Char's Face-Heel Turn was born out of this game, adding some heavy drops of cynicism to the end of the game, which get realized in full with Alpha 2 (starring the events of Chars Counterattack).
Super Robot Wars Z however is in the cynical lot. Setsuko's route is often considered the most depressing Original Story compared to the lighter hearted Rand Route. She was forced to watch her comrades and mentor die at the hands of a dimension jumping Death Seeker who is Affably Evil in Rand's route and her situation gets worse by the chapter. Hakai-hen is also rather cynical due to how the stories all take place in the first season of a two season series where many members of the crossover are doomed to die without any way to save them, similar to Ouka and Daitetsu. Not that some of the series don't already end in a bad way in their second halves, surely to be at least somewhat averted, but it's very hard to read Heero wondering why Relena's friend Euphemia would go crazy and kill lots of people. Considering it's subtitle means "Destruction Chapter", it's not unexpected.
Arguably Setsuko and Rand are an subversion of the idealism and cynicism routes. While story-wise Setsuko's route is more depressing and Rand is more upbeat, there is no way of preventing many of the deaths and tragedies in the various Gundam metaseries in Rand's route, while you have the option of saving Four, Stella, Sarah and Reccoa in Setsuko's route if certain conditions are met. Furthermore, the conditions to save Aki are also more flexiable in Setsuko's route than in Rand's route.
It's sequel Seisei-Hen is more idealistic through. It allowed you to fix the plot of Code Geass R2 and prevent Zero Requium from occurring should certain conditions be met, and unlocks a "IF" route providing an alternate ending. What's more is that in the IF route is that it is discovered that Euphemia is Not Quite Dead.
Micaiah from Radiant Dawn is all over the scale. She's optimistic, detests violence, and would do anything to protect the innocent, even putting herself at risk. The best way to do this? Kill It with Fire. She's so dedicated in doing so she got a Heroic RROD. She even lampshades this.
Micaiah: I'm killing with no malice, because I don't want anyone to be killed...
Ike also has two tactical advisers, one on each end of the Sliding Scale (Titania on the Idealism side, Soren on the Cynicism side).
To be precise, Seisen No Keifu is the most cynical of the series, where horrible things like rape, human sacrifice rituals and even an entire generation failing to stop the dark plot occur, which would fit well in something like Ogre Battle. On the other hand, Fire Emblem Awakening, while not without cynical moments, is definitely one of the most idealistic, with the ending being on a high note, The Power of Friendship coming to triumph in the end, and a very strong Screw Destiny theme. Tellius and Elibe are somewhere is the middle, though the heroes are idealists in most of the games.
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin has Wide-Eyed Idealist Brenner (and Will) clash with a lot of pragmatic characters on this topic, most of which call them out on their idealism in a world where everyone's struggling for survival. Their vision prevails, though, at the cost of Brenner's life.
The Command & Conquer series has problems deciding if it should be cynical or idealistic. Tiberium Dawn points out that there isn't a clear-cut difference between good and bad, but there are clear moral differences between the GDI and the Brotherhood of Nod. Tiberian Sun goes even further down the cynical lane and has corruptible GDI officers and General Solomon runs some morally ambiguous plots, as well as references to Death Camps and genocide by virtue of Nod. However, the game ends on a high note no matter which side you play, allowing each side's objectives to be accomplished. Tiberium Wars goes even further with it's inconclusive ending, downright incompetent GDI commanders and horrible state of the Earth. Tiberian Dawn ends the Tiberium Saga on a high note as followers of NOD went on a Higher Plane Of Existence while the Tiberium is effectively controlled.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert however, is quite possibly the most cynical and depressing of the games. It's starts with a time-travel plot Gone Horribly Right, and goes downwards from there. The first Soviet mission consists of burning a village to the ground, and pretty much every single Soviet character is a power-hungry sadist or voyeur, all of whom participate in a heinous political battle. Of particular note is when a drunk Stalin impulsively tells his favourite General to order the executions of all the other Generals because Stalin (very obviously delusionally) knows they are plotting against him. The Allied campaign has subtle hints to the death and mutilation of Allied soldiers during a successful experiment, characters being tortured and ends with one character committing murder.
Conversely, Red Alert 2 and Red Alert 3 are some of the most idealistic games around, no matter which side you're playing. Quite surprising to see a White and Grey Morality in those games when Red Alert itself was Black and Grey Morality.
Quite the contrary concerning Red Alert 3, which clearly still harbors on the cynical end, especially revealed in the Yuriko campaign where the Allies are merely using propaganda to demonize the Soviets and Japan while making themselves look good; Yuriko's bloody effort to save her alleged sister also turns out to be pointless as Izumi turns against her immediately after she is freed only for the power struggle.
Also, at one point of the story in the Allied campaign, the U.S. president breaks the alliance between the Allies and Soviet while they are fighting Japan together, and the player is forced to take his life to prevent the madness from continuing. Sadly, it later turns out that the president's cynicism is right, that Soviet betrays the Allies, still having in mind their plans to defeat the Allies and take over the world all along!
In the Heroes of Might and Magic series, Sandro is a delightful example of the Cynical side of the trope. He is (mostly) evil, power-hungry, selfish and cold (also, he's a necromancer), still, his cynicism is so well played he is the most adored Hero of the entire series. His cynicism not only saved him more than once, but played a role part in the Expansion Pack dedicated to himself where he manipulated two powerful and famous Heroes in doing his biding. The expansion campaign is an ode to Cynicism. Sandro manipulates easily the idealistic wise Hero Gem by pretty much promising Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice (like trying to lure bees with honey), while the Cynic Hero Crag Hack is manipulated easily only so because he is a Psycho for Hire not too bright on the head. Also, the other two Heroes in the campaign play at this. Gelu, the cynic elf, is the only one whose original campaign was actually directly involved in the role of thwarting Sandro's plan in the long term, while Yog, the idealistic Half-Genie, is tasked with disassembling the Angelic Alliance and scattering it around the continent (and he does so happily), which only thwarts the counter-offensive against Sandro later on.
The campaigns of Heroes of Might and Magic IV, although considered the worse in gameplay and balancing, it is also considered the one with the best story (barred expansions), and also falls here. The campaigns, as usual, are played through each of the factions. When you play with the good factions, you go with an idealistic Hero who is easily manipulated but in the end makes for a good ending of everyone lives happily ever after. When you go with the evil ones, you play with a cynical Hero who makes the best of a bad situation. The best part is that the cynical ones end up doing quite some good in the end. Gauldoth Half-Dead is particularly interesting as he does loads of inexcusable acts throughout his campaign, but in the end he makes quite an powerful state for both the living and the dead and is the only one capable of fighting off an immensely powerful Big Bad who wants to vanquish all life in the new world (quite literally, as the last one exploded).
Phantom Brave is, despite several few depressing elements, an extremely idealistic game. Marona is a Pollyanna who gets the most ridiculous All of the Other Reindeer treatment you've ever seen, but she's still confident that the people who hate and fear her will one day come to accept her - and, by the end of the game, they do. Castille is an Ill Girl whose family can barely afford her medical bills. No problem; that Corrupt Corporate Executive running the pharmaceutical company isn't such a bad guy after all, really, and he'll help out once you save him from some monsters. Oh, and that guy who says money is everything and keeps trying to steal your rewards? He's got a good reason, honest!
The Mother series is firmly on the Idealistic side. Mother 3 gets darker than its predecessors, but The Power of Love still comes through in the end. There's a reason the unofficial series theme song is called "Pollyanna".
One case in point: Kingdom Hearts II. When you find out about how you've become an Unwitting Pawn in the machinations of Organization XIII, this leads to a Heroic BSOD, which is only solved by realizing that if you didn't keep fighting and doing what your enemies wanted, more people would get hurt. As soon as you get to Storming the Castle, then you won't have to worry about that anymore.
Another case in point: Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, which is the closest the series has gotten to the cynical end of the scale. The Power of Friendship was barely enough to keep the villain from achieving total victory (and that's not counting all the crap the current heroes still had to go through afterward), and in some cases namely, Terra's, friendship and loyalty are just as likely to make you do something stupid as they are to give you superpowers. At the end of the game, the three protagonists are in a permanent coma, stranded in the realm of darkness for a decade, and completely taken over by the Big Bad, respectively. However, the secret ending of Blank Points ends on a hopeful note, suggesting that Sora can and will save everyone.
Upstaging Birth By Sleep's cynicism is the midquel, 358/2 Days. In it, you play as the newly-born Roxas, and the game chronicles the entirety of his year-long existence, minus the last week (covered in the prologue to KHII. He gets to be conscripted into the Organization, making and losing his only two friends, and in the end being beaten and captured by Riku in order to restore Sora. And that's not even getting into the story of poor Xion. Thankfully, Kingdom Hearts II makes some amends for this.
Despite quite a few of their works being Low Fantasy, a genre often at the cynical end, anything made by Gust Incorporated (most known for making the [[Franchise/Atelier Atelier series) will be very, very idealistic. Half the villains (even the Big Bads) will eventually undergo Heel Face Turns, and those who don't will probably be egotistical bastards that deserve everything they get. None of the good guys will ever die or have anything truly bad happen to them, and if they do die they'll usually have an alternate ending where they get to survive and live Happily Ever After.
EVE Online falls on the cynical side. One of the four major powers is a slaveholding theocratic empire, while another is a corporate-run dictatorship. And every player is a Sociopathic Hero. Though, to be fair, the other two powers are the freedom-loving descendants of the French (seriously) and a group previously enslaved by aforementioned theocracy and intent on righting that wrong.
The freedom lovers are also representations of logical extreme of decadence and the enslaved group also make up of the Wretched Hive group as criminals and other unpleasant parts of life.
Chrono Trigger firmly believes in the strength of the human spirit to overcome anything, and shows its heroes eventually surviving numerous trials to triumph over a Eldritch Abomination that was destined to doom their world, all by the aid of a mysterious Entity that allowed them to travel through time. The game ends with the three main characters happily looking forward to their futures.
Chrono Cross, however, is a bit more difficult to place on the scale. On the one hand, Humans Are Bastards who pollute the planet and discriminate against demihumans, time travel dooms other timelines to non-existence, and several characters from Chrono Trigger are stated or implied to be dead. On the other hand, fate can still be fought against (literally), humans are still perfectly capable of living in peace with other beings, and the ending outright says that every being can create its own fate and none are worthless. All in all, it's still on the idealistic side, but much closer to the center.
Skies of Arcadia was notable in its time (and still is notable) for being an idealistic RPG with an optimistic hero during an era in which Darker and Edgier RPGs reigned supreme.
Spore itself is neutral, but the archetypes for space stage are definitely NOT. Warriors and Knights are Cynical, and Diplomats, Shamans and Ecologists are definitely Idealistic, to name a few. And then, of course, there are TheZealots who prove that a mixture of both is very, very bad, and The Grox who pretty much hate every empire's guts.
Shin Megami Tensei games generally fall on the cynical side. Usually your actions lead to rather grim resolutions in this series. Persona 3 is one of the idealistic ones just because the main character's Heroic Sacrifice really does save everyone he cares about. Unfortunately, it also leaves him Deader Than Dead - his soul has to keep providing a barrier around the planet to protect humanity from itself until such a time that humanity stops wishing for its own demise. FES and Persona 4 both imply that it may not be entirely hopeless - the two people trying to help are ageless after all.
The fact that Elizabeth is absent in Persona 4 because she's looking for a means to free the main character without breaking the seal—and given the sort of power she can crunch out when you break her rules of engagement in your duel—may edge Persona 3 even further towards the idealistic end, because the way it's spoken of, it sounds like Igor and his assistant give Elizabeth rather good odds for success.
Persona 4 slams right into the idealistic side because it heavily implies that things are getting better. Quite tellingly, the protagonists are able to take control of their own future, and even successfully defeat the Eldritch Abomination who tries to impose her own plans on mankind. In a series wherein "winning" generally involves either siding with a lesser evil or making massive sacrifices for the sake of freedom, this is a decidedly optimistic take on things.
Of course Overclocked fixes Yuzu's story unless you don't do certain events/Gin is dead in which case it goes completely cynical till the end while making Amane's slightly more idealistic but Naoya has the potential to become even more cynical or extremely idealistic.
Devil Survivor 2 is similar to it's predecessor, however changes the situation around. Rather than forces of law controlling some sort of powerful entity. Yamato who wants a society reigned by Meritocracy of Social Darwinism pretty much calls all of the big shots. Meanwhile Ronaldo who follows the path of Egilitarian represents the downtrodden. Like before the endings are all over the spectrum.
The Nasuverse is in the middle of the scale, pointing towards the idealistic side. While the world is filled to the brim with dangerous things and a bunch Cosmic Horror Story elements, The Power of Love is an important part and the good guys, in the end, come out on top.
It should be noted that the Unlimited Blade Works route of Fate Stay/Night is quite literally this trope made flesh. Shirou is painfully idealistic, and Archer is a hero so cynical that the mere sight of Shirou pisses him off. They decide to settle their differences with swords. Lots of swords.
This also makes Unlimited Blade Works definitive proof of the setting's slant towards idealism as Archer is Shirou's future self who has already seen the result of all his youthful idealism turn to ash and hopes to kill Shirou to prevent any of it from happening. And, despite Archer being older, more experienced and just MORE GODDAMN POWERFUL than Shirou, Shirou not only defeats him but persuades him that his idealism is right after all! One of the greatest triumphs of idealism in the history of fiction.
Fallout plays with this trope, usually landing squarely on the cynical side but still providing a small amount of hope for the future regardless of how bad things are in the post-apocalyptic world.
Interestingly, Fallout 3 has a story arc in which you get a bad end no matter what you do. (If you decide to work for Tenpenny at his tower, you'll kill a group of homeless ghouls who're just looking for a place to live. Tenpenny hates the ghouls, and won't let them live in his luxurious tower. However, if you negotiate with Tenpenny and get him to allow the ghouls to live there, they'll move in and work alongside the humans. Then slaughter them all when you're not there, taking over the tower for themselves. If you try to kill them for their lying actions, you lose Karma.)
You can, however, kill the ghoul ringleader, in which case only the very evil Tenpenny will be killed by the ghouls, and both sides will settle into an uneasy truce. It's still far from Idealistic.
Ultimately though, Fallout 3 is actually much more idealistic than its predecessors. If you do things right, you can destroy the Enclave once and for all, and meet the Lamplighters who have discovered a new breed of moss that negates radiation, find a mutant who is able to grow plantlife in the irradiated Wasteland and complete a means for creating clean, radiation-free water on a large scale, all signs that the people of Fallout can Earn Their Happy Ending. Also, in earlier games idealistic actions or ideas got you nothing but scorn, while in the new game Three Dog will cheer you on over your radio as 'The Last, Best Hope of Humanity'.
Rather ironic as the DC wasteland is the crappiest of all the wastelands.
And the home of the constitution which has seen its final years as a legitimate being stepped on by the Red Scare and Corporate Corruption during the great war; and the surviving Vaults (which were not destroyed) are dystopian to several degrees (Vault City). Here you got good to honest men and women who truly believe in freedom and equality for all and likewise people who want to crush that last hope.
Fallout: New Vegas doesn't have an unequivocal "Happily Ever After"; someone is going to get undeserved screwage. Most endings leave the game world better than it began, though a few firmly plant a crapsack in every lot (although it's ambiguous whether anyone in the Legion actually wins).
Should note however that canon in Fallout is always the good end meaning Idealism wins as long as not nice or Dumb
Cannon Fodder and its sequel are about the most cynical - and, sadly, accurate - interpretations of war you will ever see.
The first part of Warcraft III is an interesting case. In order to fight the undead threat and save his people, Prince Arthas gives up the idealistic tenets of paladins and does whatever he feels is necessary to achieve his goal. While this cynical behaviour makes him successful, it eventually results in him being corrupted by the Big Bad, killing his own father and dooming his kingdom.
Made more interesting by the fact that the Paladins who object to Arthas's actions had no problem committing far worse atrocities against the Orcs (and Alterac) in the second war, and have no plan to deal with the Undead besides the one Arthas advocates. For that matter, his fall has less to do with cynicism, and more to do with turning into a raging revenge centric sociopath. The moral for Warcraft III is more "Don't forget why you're doing what you're doing in the first place" and "Poor Communication Kills" than pro-idealistic, and stayed that way up until World of Warcraft when everyone from TFT was smacked with the character-undevelopment stick repeatedly.
City of Heroes / City of Villains is an interesting case. While the games take on the expected roles on both sides of the fence (Heroes being very Idealistic and Villains being very Cynical) in the meta, it is reverse. You are more likely to find a Stop Having Fun Guy who will drop from the team once they reach the mission's boss (sometimes, they do this en mass, leaving the person who set the mission up to deal with finding replacements so that they can advance while they leave with the spoils of war, or most of them anyway) on Heroes rather than Villains, which is a tightly knit community of people out to enjoy a game. This is in all likely-hood due to the idea that the "devs hate red" and the people who end up playing Villains are generally doing it to have fun, while the people who want to win go to Heroes.
The recently implemented morality system allows heroes and villains to run the gamut with four stops: Hero (fully idealistic)-> Vigilante (A cynical Anti-Herofalling to the Dark Side)-> Villain (fully cynical)-> Rogue (A still cynical, but becoming idealistic Anti-Villain)-> Hero.
There's a web game called ''The Life Ark'' where you create a new world out of place in space where there is nothing but dust and emptiness. Nice, huh? However, there's a sequel which takes place years later where you have to evacuate the people after they've ruined the world that you created in the first game.
The next installment has the ship you so painstakingly evacuated crash. into a moon. Things get worse in the next part as your efforts to stop the black hole from swallowing your ship have turned it into a super black hole which will destroy the universe. Your only chance is to escape into another universe, which is done through cooperation with another alien race which requires a Heroic Sacrifice on their part. Finally, in the fifth installment you land on Earth, accidentally destroying a few states. By the end of that game you repair the damage you caused and set up a colony on the moon, hoping not to screw up anything else.
Grand Theft Auto games generally lie heavily on the cynical side. As an example, in San Andreas, the only two police officers that seem non-corrupt are both killed by the corrupt ones that drive the plot. Even generic cutscene cops often care more about taking bribes or eating snacks than actual justice.
Even then San Andreas was more optimistic than the other Grand Theft Auto games in the franchise. Carl and Sweet managed to defeat the corrupt cops and their traitors without losing anyone close to them, especially after Cesar pulled a Retirony moment out. Compared to what happens to the later Grand Theft Auto Protagonists, San Andreas is by far the most optimistic of the franchise as the sequels will not be so kind to the other protagonists who loses everything close to them.
The Truth: You know, I mean, you beat the system! I tried for thirty years to cross over, but you've maaaanaged it, man! I mean, man, you're an icon, man!"
The fourth installment couldn't be more cynical if it tried; upon nearing the end of the game, the player is given the choice between siding with either Niko's girlfriend, Kate Mcreary, or his cousin, Roman (on whether or not to get Revenge or make a Deal respectively). The decision appears to have minimal repercussions, but later ends in whomever you sided with getting shot and killed at Roman and Mallorie's wedding. This then eventually leads on to Niko murdering his way to the Big Bad, killing the villain under the Statue of Liberty and discussing that he feels no different despite getting vengeance. And then it rubs salt in the wound by treating you to a phone call where Mallorie poignantly discusses how she will struggle raising a child she just discovered she is carrying or Packie sobs about how he can't cope with two dead siblings and an incarcerated brother in a month, and how his elderly mother is heartbroken at only having two children left.
Follwed up by Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, in The Lost and Damned, Johnny's gang war lead to the slow but eventual fall of his gang and all of the tragedy that goes along with it and in the end just wants the club be put out of it's own misery, In Chinatown Wars Huang gets caught in a power struggles that leaves everyone in his Triads gang, from his traitorous uncle, to the men he recruited for the Triads to protect them from trouble and to the girl who he met dead. It plays out like a Heroic Bloodshed game with it's depressing themes.
SimCity, despite being just a simple city-building game, resides heavily in the cynical scale, especially with SimCity 2000 and later titles, in which your advisers seem to only focus on their department, without caring much about the other city services (a good portion of the time, you financial adviser is total Jerkass and finds that even a few dollars that could be saved going into funding for education and health to be a bad thing). Likewise, considering all the horrible natural disasters and general poor mayoring that can be done to your citizens, it's surprising that they would want to even stick around and still keep you in office.
And if that isn't bad enough, just watching cute little houses, gas stations, mom & pop stores, farms, and little banks get kicked out of your cities to be replaced with apartments, Mega Corp. travel stops, superstores, factories, and massive skyscrapers in nearly the blink of an eye, you'd bet that the most idealistic people who feel that big business really doesn't care would freak but yet your Sims still just go about their lives as if nothing bad happened.
SimCity Societies however can be either idealistic or cynical. You could make a fun loving society where barely anything goes wrong or a crime ridden crapsack world which is run by oppressive dictators.
The series as a whole slides all over the scale, though generally in the direction of cynicism. Although the games do make it hard, it's entirely possible to create a sustainable city or region in which people do generally have high levels of health, education, and happiness. However, it's so much easier to inadvertently create a dull, dirty city or a nicer one with unsustainable finances.
The Jak and Daxter games go Pure Idealism -> Harsh, Darker and Edgier Idealism. In the first game, everything is bright and shiny; the only casualties are rats and villains, and everything is solved without trouble. While in the later games Jak does summon up his Hero mojo and save the day, he usually starts out trying to evade it or wants to do it for all the wrong reasons, the main cities include a police state and a Wretched Hive...but it seems that only Erol and Mizo are full-on evil, and the other villains - Veger and Praxis - seem to mean well on some level.
Valkyria Chronicles somehow manages to be an Idealist war story, where the power of love is the only thing that can truly stop a walking hydrogen bomb, togetherness and unity is the true source of military strength (even if you're a walking hydrogen bomb), it's totally obvious who's outright evil and who's just got a tragic past based on their appearance, and people who disagree with this mindset are obligated to kill themselves to drive the point home.
Valkyria Chronicles III on the other hand, isn't so heavy on Idealism. The characters are in a penal legion and they have serious issues. Most of the enemies you fight are basically fighting for their freedom. You can't avoid shootingA LOT of dogs including fellow Gallians and ultimately, your former war buddy Gusurg while the enemy wants to become the living nightmare incarnate for the sake of independance over being a race of victims and cowards. Your good deeds, most of which are controversial in nature, shall never be recorded. But at least Kurt gets to settle down with the woman he loves.
Of course, most of the "criminals" in Squad 422 never did anything morally wrong or only pulled petty crimes; several are only charged with "pissing off a corrupt superior officer". Among their 'crimes': Being good at their job, seeking the truth behind a massive cover-up, refusing to inflict Disproportionate Retribution on a subordinate, filing a complaint against a superior officer, being tricked into joining to help a struggling parent, stealing rare culinary ingredients from an officer, having mercy on a wounded enemy, being Darcsen, and Values Dissonance. There are a handful of real criminals, but the majority are the victims of prejudice and privilege from the Gallian Military (which, we know from the first game, are AlwaysLawful Evil.)
Pathologic plants itself firmly on the cynical side. The plague you fight is killing hundreds each day, the townsfolk at best distrust your character and at worst want them dead, it is doubtful that a cure for the plague is even possible, and you find yourself wondering if the hell hole is actually worth saving.
In the wii flight game Innocent Aces your wingman Kaida falls on the idealistic side while Ukumori (another wingman) falls on the cynical side, leading to arguments, which in turn escalate into a "friendly fight".
Dragon Age II takes a dive into the cynical, such that every achievement in the game could be seen as an extended Hope Spot. At the very best, you can be left in charge of a broken and battered city, waiting for two hammers to fall from internal and external war, and in order to get this ending you have to slaughter a lot of innocents yourself. Subverted: you end up having to abandon your post anyway, making any gains effectively nil. On the other hand, if you decide to protect said innocents, most of them will die in the conflict, but your name becomes a rallying cry for freedom fighters across Thedas and for moderates on the other side. Let's just say things get worse before they have any chance of getting better.
Red Dead Redemption is definitely on the cynical end. Despite the romantic image the West may present, free of law, order and restraint, it is a dangerous, dark place of Black and Gray Morality, happy endings are rare and both the incoming world of technology and federalism and the outgoing world of cowboys and anarchy are utter-shite.
BioShock gives an interesting variation of this sliding scale that the player himself decides if the story is idealistic or cynical. It has 3 endings in the first game and 4 in the second, all but one in each game are cynical, obtained by players who choose to commit the sin of harvesting even just one little sister; the only good ending in each of the two games is an idealistic one, earned by players who manage to remain pure-hearted protectors of the little sisters throughout the entire game.
It is recently discovered that BioShock 2 actually has a total of 7 combinations of endings, with 2 of them both idealistic even though in a contrasting way, and the rest of the 5 entirely cynical.
Bioshock Infinite on the other hand is entirely cynical with no way around that. Taking place in a city built by an alternative version of the main character who copes with his involvement in an atrocities in an equally self destructive way through white washing it while the main character drowns himself in drink and gambling. He slowly unravels the "uptopia" his alternative self created and replaces it with an equally awful person. The DLC spinoff is just as cynical, filled with fatalism and despair galore.
Valkyrie Profile is pretty much on the Cynical side of the coin, you are a Valkyrie who collects the souls of the dead to give to Odin who views them as pawns and the allies you recruit goes through rather dark storylines before their mortal misery is ended. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is no better as you are a jaded mortal servant driven by revenge.
Armored Core is generally on the cynical side of things (as well as the plots), a common theme is the Last Raven standing and how when you become the last raven. This sums it up:
But this revelation is not one of "I am the strongest" but its implications, falling in line with the rest of the Armored Core series canon endings, are in themselves asking a question of the player. What does it mean to be the strongest? I'm standing at the top, alone. Was it worth it? Is this all life is worth? What have I really done?
BlazBlue is much more cynical than Guilty Gear, especially if you are human girl. Expect plenty of Break the Cutie moments and also the general nature of the storyline as the main plot shows how badly broken some of them are by the end of that game.
That's not how it's more cynical though. What makes it cynical is that whenever you want to be treated seriously, you had better drop whatever idealism you had. As of current, the one who had their optimism and idealism high are just Bang and Taokaka... and they're the story's Joke Charactersnote Ironically, both of their seiyuu had previous roles in extremely cynical anime/games.
The 2010 Castlevania game, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, is unrelentingly cynical and morally ambiguous. In spite of every single effort Gabriel has made to Screw Destiny, it is later revealed that You Can't Fight Fate, as not only did he fail to revive his childhood sweetheart, but he also turned into Dracula and suffered a lonely life of immortality. The prophecy that a pure-hearted warrior will return the world to the light turns out to be a lie, too, and the entire tragedy has been the result of Satan's work of manipulation. Every single action a misguided Gabriel has done to achieve his selfish goal has been questionable as well, making him no different from the villains at the end. Eventually, Gabriel succumbs to what fate has told him to become, and now declares war against the world that has turned its back on him.
Metal Gear Solid single handedly breaks the scale by pulling heavily on both ends. One the one side, it's filled to the brim with fatalistic StrawNihilists who are waiting for someone to free them from their misery or simply want to take revenge on the world for how it treated them, yet on the other side there are also those who have endured the same but never stop opposing them to prevent them from harming innocents. Solid Snake is probably the prime example of embodying both side in a single character by being a caustic snarker Knight in Sour Armor who goes out of his way to show his contempt for any display of idealism, yet he is a Determinator when it comes to preventing anyone from coming to harm, even if it will cost him his life.
Then came Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which ultimately falls onto the middle of the scale, as Raiden is shown to be a blood-lusting assassin with a heart of gold, fighting against a group of vile mercenaries who enslave children's brains to make them into cyborg soldiers who only obey orders to kill with no heart. The mercenaries themselves are led by a Senator whose ultimate goal is to use War as an economy... to END war as an economy, and make it so that every man and woman fights for what they truly believe in, instead of fighting for a country that in the end doesn't give a rat's ass about them, this is even emphasized in BOTH of Armstrong's battle themes.
On the topic of Konami franchises, the Tokimeki Memorial series is at the far end of the idealistic side. This is a series with no villains (the only antagonists of sorts are the local Delinquents, and they are portrayed as nice and Graceful LosersWorthy Opponents), and where the Power of Love is so strong, it makes Long Distance Relationships work without fail and help the rare depressive characters out of their Heroic BSOD. It's also a series where comedy and fun are kings alongside romance, where drama is scarcely used (and only to make hope and romance shine brighter and triumph in the end), and where any pairing that's strongly implied (notably the ones with the main heroine childhood friend), is considered as good as canon.
On the other hand, Tokimemo 's Spiritual SuccessorMitsumete Knight is firmly set on the cynical side. This is a Crapsaccharine World where war and politics are dominant, with evil aristocrats effectively ruling the country you're fighting for as a foreign mercenary, using the King as a puppet: they are masters of the Screw the Rules, I Have Money! and We Have Reserves tropes, and deeply racist to boot. Grey and Grey Morality is the story's mood thanks to this and the fact the enemy country has valid motives to fight and is composed of mostly decent guys. Even most the girls you can woo during the game (i.e. the softiest part of the game) have heartwrenching storylines full of Break the Cutie moments, and even Anyone Can Die moments depending on your choices. And as far endings go, they are bittersweet at best, since, even if you get the confession of love of one of the girls, you'll be thrown off the country like an old rag after you win the war for the country due to the aforementioned aristocrats' racist stance, and have to leave the girls behind in some cases (others will leave the country with you).
StarCraft is an example of how a franchise can shift gradually from one end of the scale to another over time. The first game lies firmly in the cynical side of the scale and Brood War makes it even more depressing. Every known government in the game, from the United Earth Directorate to the Protoss Conclave is either totalitarian or ineffectual, sometimes both. While the ending of the first game is bittersweet, the expansion throws this out the window, going for an outright Downer Ending, with the zerg victorious, and nearly every good hearted character in the series dead or otherwise out of the fight. However, by the time of Starcraft II, the game slowly moves torwards the idealistic end. Throughout the first campaign, Mengsk is exposed as a war criminal for his atrocities on Tarsonis and Kerrigan is deinfested. Through it has been speculated that Heart of the Swarm would be cynical, in the end, while the game proved to be gritty it has only slided things further to the idealistic end with Kerrigan and the entire Zerg Species being redeemed, the Zerg finally being free from Amon AKA the Dark Voice. While, Duran, who manipulated everything in favour of the Dark Voice is killed. Mengsk is finally killed by Kerrigan, who is ready to lead the Zerg against Amon in Legacy of the Void, and Mengsk's son and heir Valerian is seen as a decent person.Legacy of the Void shifts the scale even further to idealistic and reveals that despite the deaths of sympathetic characters such as Zeretul, the now-united Protoss are freed from Amon's control and may rebuild their civilization. Amon himself is killed by Kerrigan ascended as a Xel'Naga, and Valerian leads the Dominion to a new age of peace and prosperity. Even Raynor, the Cosmic Plaything of the setting, gets a happy ending the epilogue implying that he ascends as well to be with Kerrigan.
This is invoked in the characterization In-Universe as well, in Wings Of Liberty Matt Horner is an idealist fighting Mengsk's government because it's the right thing to do. Almost everyone else is doing it for revenge. This is also essentially the mood for the cinematic A Better Tomorrow. After breaking open New Folsom prison, Matt Horner believes that their real victory was releasing everyone who ever spoke out against Mengsk. That the point of their revolution is to build a better tomorrow. Tosh scoffs at this and calls it naive; claiming that tyranny can only be succeeded by tyranny, and that one can only fight the present enemy. Raynor is in the middle, believing that Matt's better future will arrive; but those fighting out of hatred and revenge, like him and Tosh, will have no place in it. The idealist side wins out as of Legacy of the Void, with Mengsk's son being a decent ruler and Horner serving at his side in the new government.
The Metroid series plays around with this, but the games generally tend to the cynical side; given that the basic scenario is "things are bad, stop them from getting worse." It doesn't help that Samus inevitably has to destroy things to stop things from getting worse. However, it's not all bad: when you do something to help someone, the games ensure that those actions have a noticeable positive effect. And the games' endings, although they have a bittersweet taste to them, they're generally more sweet than bitter.
Red Faction is pretty much an optimistic series of a revolution that is rarely vilified against an absolutely evil authoritarian group. Guerrilla promptly turns this on its head, having the protagonistic liberators (Not the Red Faction itself mind you) become a carbon-copy of the evil corporation they supplanted.
Far more obvious in Pokémon Black and White. The "King" of the obligatory villainous team this time around is an outright Anti-Villain who has spent his life under the belief that Trainers make Pokemon suffer by using them for their own purposes and forcing them to battle. He is set up as the direct counterpart to the main protagonist, and the game even states that one side fights for "truth" while the other fights for "ideals". In fact, the whole game is basically built around the moral that, in most situations, there IS no right/wrong and people should learn to accept each other despite their differences in ideas/beliefs, because that's what makes the world so diverse and creative. Not only that — just in case it wasn't idealistic ENOUGH — it attaches another moral that, whatever your dream or vision for the world, you should strive to make it come true... and just by doing that you become The Hero.
Keep in mind that above statement said the main games are mostly idealistic. The Ranger games stick close to idealism and the Mystery Dungeon games strike a reasonable balance, but the Orre games lean heavily towards cynicism, though still not without it's idealistic spots.
Rez is somewhat on the cyncical side, having you fight a network AI with an existential crisis. Then comes its sequel Child of Eden, which just might be the happiest Rail Shooter ever developed. Those bosses you fight? They're not even enemies so much as infected by The Virus, and you purify them into lovely One-Winged Angel forms instead of destroying them.
Most indieflashgames these days are completely cynical, often a grim dead baby tragicomedy where the story is as brutal as the game sometimes with absolutely no hope for the hero.
Compare Tomb Raider With Uncharted, Tomb Raider being the cynical one and Uncharted being the idealistic one.
The first two games in the Arc The Lad series lie far on the cynical end, while the third game tries to be a little more idealistic, the fourth is again more cynical (but not as much as the second), and the fifth tries again to be more idealistic than its predecessors. As a whole, the series remains mostly on the cynical side of the scale.
That said, should one look through and analyze all the different endings, it does have a very small tint of idealism at the end. Namely that the best ending involves the main character, Capt. Martin Walker, choosing to live with his actions rather than committing suicide, and to go home and learn to try to do better the next time. In other words, the game's aesop of learning from your actions instead of punishing yourself for them is much more idealistic than one would expect for a game as cynical as this one.
[PROTOTYPE], one of the most cynical "action hero" sandboxes in the series, the State Sec group sent to deal with the plague are a bunch of sadists who relish in the plague and slaughter anyone in their way. The hero is actually a virus who quickly loses that title in the sequel when humanity is shown to be complete assholes and New York is only barely surviving the plague that threatens to wipe out humanity if let loose beyond the city.
Resident Evil is a series where a group of survivors must survive the byproduct of a super virus developed by a corporation who wants to achieve immortality. Compared to [PROTOTYPE], they have a much stronger moral compass and no matter how terrifying the evil they always find a way to end the terrors until the next series.
As of The Reboot yes. Before, it was actually quite idealistic, with Kitana and Scorpion as the only truly gray characters, camp all the way, teams of heroic heroes, and bright and shiny ninjas, and ridiculouslyvillainous yet colorful villains. Despite the gore, the series was quite idealistic. As of the reboot, notsomuch.
Wing Commander is on the middle, allowing both idealistic and cynical characters and events to exist.
Sonic the Hedgehog has largely in the past, and has become in recent years, a highly optimistic series, where the environments for the most part are bright and happy and the stories are largely light and, recently, quite humorous. Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Colors, and Sonic Generations have featured large, scary villians, but they usually cannot hamper Sonic and Company's jokey attitudes. Sonic Unleashed in particular features a plot where friendship ultimately triumphs a global crisis that threatens to plunge the planet into darkness forever. Meanwhile, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 emulates the relatively simple and light plots of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
The second exception is the overall tone of the games' storylines and gameplay in an arch of games including Sonic Adventure 2, Shadow the Hedgehog, and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) (Note that the cynicism took a reprieve in the jovial Sonic Heroes). Sonic Adventure 2 introduced the series's iconic antihero Shadow, in addition to incorporating governmental corruption, anguished revenge, the first clearly planet-wide threat in the series's history, and an ambiguous ending concerning the fate of Shadow the Hedgehog. Shadow the Hedgehog swerved heavily in the direction of cynicism, in which guns and other weapons feature heavily into the gameplay, the player can choose the fight for the bad guys or pursue their own self-interest, and in which the plot features the corruption and tragedy of Sonic Adventure 2 in addition to an attempted alien-induced human genocide. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) takes things a bit more in the direction of optimism, but still manages to incorporate ancient demons, orphans, death, and a hopelessly Bad Future.
Most Shmups are purely cynical, one standout case is R-Type. The fight against the Bydo is an act of futility as it has evolved to a point where what is effectively a civilization with extremely high tech weapons cannot even hope to permanently eradicate the Bydo.
On the other hand, Touhou is standing firmly on the idealistic side, even if the main characters are rarely paragons of virtue. There is explicitly nothing you can't solve by shooting the bad guy of the day with a bunch of pretty lasers. And they have a change of heart and become your friend not if, but when you win. And these are bad guys with world-shattering powers such as a fate-warping vampire, embodiments of death, immortal aliens, mad scientists, foreign goddesses and an insane nuclear-powered raven from hell... This works because it is the way the law of Gensoukyou is formulated.
That said, it's implied in supplementary material that Gensoukyou has its dark side. Though the youkai who live there are by law bound to not eat the human natives of Gensoukyou, they are willing to eat any outsiders who accidentally stumble into the lands. It's even impled that Yukari Yakumo, youkai extraordinaire and the founder of Gensoukyou, only set that "no eating Gensoukyou natives" rule as a precaution in case there would ever be a shortage of food, which would basically mean she considers the natives emergency livestock. Not to mention that compared to the outside world, the quality of life in Genoskyo is closer to North Korea's then it is to the Japan which it is supposedly situated within.
The Last of Us is firmly on the cynical end, at the end of the story Joel lies to Ellie on the drive out of the city that the Fireflies had already tried and failed to find a cure with other immune infected, when the truth is he killed a lot of them after finding out the process to figure out a cure would involve Ellie's death so they could dissect her brain. The last moments imply she doesn't believe him.
The Ace Combat series has a mixed relationship with this trope.
Ace Combat 5 plays with this, switching between Idealism and Cynicism every other mission. In the end, it plants itself firmly at the Idealism side, with both sides declaring a truce to defeat their real enemy and enjoying peace afterwards.
Ace Combat 6 makes a U-Turn back to Idealism, more than any other game at this point. Most of the enemies are fighting out of desperation and many turn out to be genuinely good people away from combat.
Demons Souls and Dark Souls are very, very firmly on the cynical side, much like the dark fantasy stories that inspired them. There is a general feeling of hopelessness and futility recurring in both games; most of the characters you meet in both games don't have their stories end on a positive note (quite the opposite), and the games' endings are ambiguous as to which one is ultimately better, being largely dependent on your viewpoint.
Well Demon's Souls is less ambiguous with its endings, its still not sunshine and rainbows. You either help the Maiden in Black put the Old One back to sleep, causing demon arts to be lost forever and you become an eternal sentinel to make sure they remain lost, or you kill her, become a demon, and the mist continues to envelope the land.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown at first glance looks like a very cynical game since all the ingredients for a pitch black Deconstruction are there: Aliens invade Earth to lay waste to major cities, kidnap random people to experiment on them looking for useful traits, the body count is extremely high, governments fall under alien mind control left and right and a secret conspiracy called Exalt actively helps them to win. But then you have XCOM itself which consists entirely of volunteers, is completely devoid of nationalism, racism and sexism, is controlled by a very focused secret world wide organization that actually has humanities best interests in mind and is never revealed to be in cahoots with the invaders. Ultimately, XCOM wins without the help of God, nature or a friendly alien faction but trough it's own tooth clenched badassery and hyper ambitious Science team. Potentially creepy experiments with cybernetics,psionics and genetic manipulation for once are only done on volunteers and don't result in insanity but simply more awesomeness and the ultimate agent of the organization sacrifices him/herself to save the planet from destruction without hesitation. It becomes clear this game is actually so idealistic it almost bursts into flames.
Mechwarrior 1 starts your family dead, yourself as the betrayed sole survivor and driven from your home world, isolated with little more to your name than some money and a beat-up light Mech. Canonically, Gideon Braver (your protagonist of the game) goes throughout the Inner Sphere saving lives, undoing nefarious plots, revealing the betrayal that cost you everything and getting it all back in a climactic and thrilling final battle—showing that in spite of the terrible things happening in the setting, truth and humanity still triumphs over treachery and ambition. Idealistic.
Mechwarrior 2 is somewhere in the middle ground, slipping towards Cynical. The Refusal War between Clan Jade Falcon and Clan Wolf is a constant series of tit-for-tat raids and battles that ultimately end with a Pyrrhic Victory at best depending on the side you favor—for all the talk the game makes of honor, looking into the additional flavor text of your briefings reveals that both sides are wearing each other out (the novels reveal that this was the whole plan by the canonical losers of the war), knowing that neither side will be doing the Inner Sphere any favors in a decisive victory. Cynical.
Mechwarrior 2: Ghost Bear's Legacy is much more idealistic... it's ultimately a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, but extremely justified (by Clan standards) due to it being due to an attack on genetic facilities (in essence, striking at the Clan's unborn) and seeking only the guilty. Mercy is given to innocent parties who were set up by the true culprits and you must personally stop a Blood Knight who refuses to see the difference between honorable combat and wanton killing. A large number of your missions are defensive in nature. You become your (very family-oriented) Clan's avatar of justice, proving that a Papa Wolf-fueled fury for the right cause aimed at the right people ultimately leads to victory and salvation of you and yours. Idealistic.
Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries starts off cynical in a similar tit-for-tat way that the first Mechwarrior 2 game did, with fights going on between the Draconis Combine and the Federated Commonwealth, including a few morally questionable decisions all around... this all goes out of the window when the Clans arrive and the Inner Sphere bands together in an Enemy Mine situation. A unified effort saves the Draconis Combine homeworld as Hanse Davion manages to send help without violating a treaty by using Exact Words, proving that even age-old enemies can go beyond struggling together. Idealistic.
Mechwarrior 3: Pirate's Moon goes the other way on this—corporate meddling, greed, and selfishness causes far more problems than any amount of human spirit can overcome, not helped by an aversion of No Campaign for the Wicked which reveals that yes, all the pirates you'd be fighting as the heroes are no better when you're commanding them— rebellious loudmouthed jerks at best and violent sociopathic thugs at worst. It's really just for the best when the Eridani Light Horse leaves the planet and never looks back. Cynical.
Mechwarior 4 brings back several past story elements, including betrayal, isolation, and righteous fury. Fighting to free your home planet from the oppressive iron fist of a tyrannical ruler who killed most of your family comes at a price, but eventually the end result is a free Kentares. Interestingly, the two endings are what determine the final judgment of the outcome—Idealistic if you save your sister and Cynical if you raid the weapons depot.
Mechwarrior 4: Black Knight is again back-and-forth about this. It reveals that the efforts of the previous games were for naught as the new ruler (and former protagonist) is not a very good ruler and you are tasked to oust him by the very forces you defeated last game. They betray you too and you have to come Back from the Brink to punish them for their treachery that kills your commander and your potential love interest, but you also kill off pretty much all the named characters from the last game as well. Ultimately you achieve revenge, but at great and rather demoralizing cost for both the protagonist and the player (and later fluff text reveals that the previous protagonist survived, this whole mess predicated on false information and set-up plots by the employers that betrayed you, making you wonder how any of this was worth it. Cynical.
Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries returns to the tit-for-tat fighting of the original 2: Mercenaries title, this time with you caught in the middle of a civil war. It's ugly and brutal, livened up mostly by your Deadpan Snarker protagonist and a few rare moments of levity amid the brutality of war. Peace talks are bombed, cities are destroyed, and residential areas are targets. Not even a Clan assault can get people to band together to resist them like they did in 2: Mercenaries. There's not a lot of winners in a Civil War—of the three endings, one takes you into a street fight through a bombed-out capital city to save it from military control, another has you joining the Clans to try and secure the freedom of a rather brutal princess (for a Mission Control who has already stated that everyone who isn't the princess is expendable and is completely willing to sacrifice everyone he needs to sacrifice to accomplish this goal), and the third, arguably least depressing ending has you going rogue simply to stay out of the fighting and become a great mercenary power unto yourself. Cynical.
Mechcommander 1 re-treads some of the previous ground of previous games, tasking the player to stop the Smoke Jaguars against very unfair odds, often hurrying to do things like save ambulances, rescue teammates, and attacking enemy strongholds. Your diverse team is comprised of warriors with often wildly varying affiliations, but all of them will listen to your orders to drive out Clan Smoke Jaguar from conquered Inner Sphere worlds (considering the aforementioned vaporized city, you're certainly not the most destructive thing on the planet). United, you push back one of the most brutal and war-minded Clans. Idealistic.
Mechcommander: Desperate Measures takes you to a world where another splinter faction of Jaguars is trying to do everything in its power to re-ignite the war against the Inner Sphere. You have no idea what that is, but once again, you take a diverse team and unify them to stop the juggernaut before it gains any momentum. Turns out they were digging for nukes, chemical weapons, and bio-bombs, and were effectively planning mass, indiscriminate genocide on any target they could reach. Good thing you put a stop to that. Idealistic.
Mechcommander 2 also starts cynically, but lightens in spite of the grinding mood as the game's pace progresses. From basic beginnings against bandits, your subsequent employers take you on missions of increasingly dubious legality and sometimes morality, but with also some uplifting moments (saving prisoners, protecting a city from destruction, stopping a despotic and insane military commander). Your mercs are all a bit quirky, but your quirkiness, along with can-do spirit ultimately save the planet's inhabitants from a functional genocidal dictatorship and install democracy in a previously war-torn prize planet. Idealistic.
While not technically a Mechwarrior game, Battletech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception takes place in a cynical world full of treachery, double agents, assassination attempts, ruthless planetary conquest, political intrigue, and the loss of your father... but at the same time, your rookie Mechwarrior escapes capture, stops robberies, rescues mistreated prisoners, sneaks the prize out from under the noses of the conquerors and, with some craftiness and luck, summons reinforcements to take the planet back—a small band of heroes that doesn't even qualify as a lance (the smallest military unit in the setting) saves the planet from conquest. Idealistic.
Battletech: The Crescent Hawk's Revenge follows on from Crescent Hawk's Inception and tells of a bloody vendetta by a Combine commander against the Kell Hounds, the Youngblood family, and basically everyone in between him and those two groups. In spite of the early fighting that costs you a great deal, cleverness and bravery on the part of your protagonists eventually leads to you rescuing your father from Combine captivity and going on to participate in the aforementioned unified effort to stop the first Clan invasion of the Combine homeworld, ultimately being one of the most prominent groups to pitch in and be responsible for the planet's salvation. Idealistic.
House of the Dead switches back and forth on the scale from installment to installment, being a story of a group of AMS agents fighting against the fate that Curien and Goldman attempt to create to destroy humankind, landing overall on the idealistic end thus far. Overkill, however, lies firmly on the cynical end of the scale, helped by the fact that it is filled with much swearing, personal revenge, and tragic death of good people in spite of their defiance, rendering the game much darker than the previous installments.
Higurashi: When They Cry is surprisingly idealistic once you have finished the series. Rika is doomed to repeat the same few weeks over and over again, during which time her friends go mad and slaughter one another, always for different reasons though. It always ends with her being killed. This has been going on for hundreds of years so she is firmly on the Cynicism side and accepts the fact the world will continue to go to hell all around her. When Keiichi proves you can 'defeat fate' though by changing fundamental things during one of these periods, Rika resolves to fight for her life next time around and succeeds, with the Power of Friendship no less. Even the Big Bad Miyo Takano is made redeemable in the end and redemptiondidn'tevenequal death.
Umineko: When They Cry, on the other hand, lies on the other side of the spectrum, which isn't that surprising with all the deconstructions of tropes used in Higurashi. For example, Beatrice's fight against Battler is later revealed to be her trying to make him remember who she is and understand her. In the end he does, but only after she dies. Similar to Rika, Ange tries to Set Right What Once Went Wrong in order to bring her family back but unlike Rika, Ange fails because everything she's trying to prevent has already happened and she can't do anything to change it. Also unlike Takano, Sayo Yasuda thought that Redemption Equals Death and seemingly succeeds by commiting suicide. In the end though, the fantasy ending in Ep8 is slightly less cynical while the mystery ending is a bit more cynical.
Wolfenstein: The New Order, once its story is accomplished, is surprisingly and grimly idealistic in spite of its cynical setting, in which a band of resistance fighters continue to fight despite the Nazis won the second world war and rendered the entire world in ruins in their vile clutches, showing no matter how rough things have gone — no matter how hard a tyrannical power keeps the world pressed under its feet, there will always be people determined and capable to make things right together.
Its sister series Sam & Max: Freelance Police is a little more balanced between the two extremes, as there are well meaning side characters in the games, and the puzzle solutions are usually less amoral.
Villain missions have you doing terrible things as well. Car bombing cops, turning civilian college students to Parasite clones to fight alongside you, and many murders. Oh, and you can punch suicidial citizens off buildings. Yes, most of these are required. Oh, and if you have your Pv P flag off, heroic players CANNOT HURT YOU, meaning they must WATCH as you create new enemies, murder allies, and torture their and your enemies.
Interestingly, similar to the City Of Villains example above, hero players tend to play far less heroic, and far more ruthless to villains, camping, picking on low-level players, and more villainous actions, while villains are typically polite and, rather than heroes' necessary team-ups, are inclined to be or become friends with their teammate players, and show respect even in defeat. Pv P events emphasize this, as heroes nearly always win due to their ambiguous activities.
Borderlands: It's usually pretty hard to take this series seriously, due to the sheer Black Comedy hilarity of it, but it's pretty firmly on the cynicism side: Pandora is one massive, planet-sized Third World, rife with crime and poverty, the heroes range from troubled to amoral to worryingly unhinged, and the BigBads are usually in unassailable positions of power. There's only so much you can Play For Laughs.
Undertale is a very special case in this trope. Depending on how you choose to play it, it can be highly idealistic, or highly cynical, or anywhere in between. Wanna save everyone and become bestest friends? Go right ahead! Wanna Kill 'em All? Knock your socks off! Those, or any combination thereof, are completely fair game.
Seraphic Blue tends to be on the cynical side, especially when the protagonist, Vene, outright agrees with the antagonists' Straw Nihilist ideology and is only opposing them because she doesn't know what else to do with her life. The ending swings closer to the middle, with the main characters improving their lives, though the improvement is slower for Vene, who still lapses into nihilism and attempted suicide from time to time.