Dragon Quest III has a major one shortly before the game's climax: After following in Ortega's footsteps throughout the entire quest, you finally catch up to him in the final castle... just in time to witness The Dragon striking him down. Made all the worse by the Fridge Logic that he survived in the Dark World for years, and must have been training and preparing all that time for this final assault... only to fail and die in front of his only child.
Even worse, in at least the GBC version? He had forgotten his past life, including his wife and child. When he's defeated (after being hit with three firebreath blasts in a row, mind you), he regains his memories, but is blind and deaf, and not even sure someone's speaking to him when the player character talks to him. He talks about his child, apologizing for failing to bring peace to the world and calling himself a wretched person. He asks this person to relay this message to his child as he expires, never realizing he's been addressing said kid the whole time. Sure, one of the wishes Divinegon can grant is reviving him, which in itself can be a tearjerker for some, but that's not even known until you've already beaten the final boss and then fought and defeated Divinegon.
Dragon Quest IV has one that doubles as an unexpected Player Punch: the end of Alena's Chapter. Right as you're riding high on the thrill of winning the Tournament, you're summoned back to Zamoksva... and when you arrive, there's no sign of anyone. At all. Instead of the triumphant return home Alena, Kiryl and Borya were expecting, they find their home abandoned, their friends and loved ones having vanished without a trace... and the chapter ends abruptly, without answers.
When you go to Mamon, you can find the skeleton of a man in a puddle of poison. He's holding a letter from his daughter, Jill, telling him to come home soon. Later, you can find Jill, who tells you how she came to visit her father, but now that he's dead, he doesn't want her brother, Jack, to know, because it would break his heart.
The fourth chapter is designed to draw tears; after all, Maya and Meena's whole motivation is to take revenge on the man who betrayed and murdered their father. After hooking up with Oojam, who used to be apprenticed under their father and is also seeking vengeance, they track Balzack down, find a way to confront him... and upon defeating him, are promptly attacked by his boss, who trounces the trio in a Hopeless Boss Fight and throws them into the dungeon. While they manage to escape, Oojam pulls a Heroic Sacrificeprotecting the sisters from the guards, and the chapter ends with the pair forced into exile, escaping on a ship and left wondering "what do we do now?"
And Chapter Five opens with one, as your Doomed Hometown is discovered and promptly wiped out by the monsters, and your best friend Elisa transforms into your doppleganger just so the monsters will kill her and not you, mistaking her as The Chosen One.
Later on in Chapter Five, you meet Rose, who has a rather heartwrenching Backstory: her tears turn into rubies, so she was hunted by Greedy humans who would do anything to make her cry. Talking to others makes this much worse, as it's implied elves can will their tears to crumble away when touched... good in that it means they didn't actually profit from their actions, but horrifying when you realize this didn't stop them. And she's eventually killed by human thugs when one fatally wounds her just to make her cry.
Throughout the fifth chapter, you can find references to the story of the angel and the woodcutter. Upon reaching Zenithia, you can finally hear the full tale: An angel fell in love with a woodcutter and descended to earth to be with him. This angered the Zenith Dragon, who struck him dead and forced the angel to abandon their infant child, as the baby was half-human and therefore considered unworthy to enter the heavens. For an extra punch, the angel who relates this story to you is all but stated outright to be your mother, as she chokes back tears talking about how difficult it would be for the angel to face her lost child now.
And then there's the ending... One by one, the chosen return to their homes, including a cheerful reunion between Torneko and his young son Tipper. Right after that reunion, however, Maya and Meena return to their village just long enough to visit their father's grave, before heading on to Laissez Faire. Solo/Sofia then returns to their Doomed Hometown, which is still a burned-out shell of its former self. Standing in the middle of the village — where the flower field they and Eliza used to play once grew — they finally drop their sword and shield before slumping over in complete exhaustion. Then the sky glows, Eliza comes back to life, and the hero embraces their lost childhood friend...
The scene where the character is petrified and sees the kid get stolen away by a monster in his front yard...then the dad takes it out on the petrified character and knocks him on his face.
And the fact that the character is - possibly - watching the baby grow up into a small child, while he is unable to do the same for his own children. And even if he isn't aware of what's going on, it's not much easier on the player.
Pankraz's death. He's killed by Ladja after being forced to fight his mooks to avoid your character being killed. On the other hand, when Mada sacrifices herself to try and stop Nimzo, and she and Pankraz go off...to wherever together, it is both this and a crowning moment of heartwarming. And awesome, due to Mada putting up with being Nimzo's pawn for over twenty years.
Related to that, there's a small easily missable gutpunch in one of the random responses you get to looking in a mirror when the hero is a teenager: "He tries to picture his dad's face by looking at his own reflection." The Hero can't even clearly remember what Pankraz looked like by the time he's sixteen.
Remember Maria's brother? The nice guy who deeply cared about his sister and helped you escape a life of slavery? Well, when you further advance through the game and head back to the temple where you were first started off in the second generation... You come across his skeleton inside the temple. If you examine his skeleton, you'll find a letter he wrote to his "dear little sister Maria" telling her that his days are ending and his final wish is for her to be happy forever. If you use Party Chat after reading the letter, it makes the scene much more emotional. Poor guy.
Just chatting with your hero's kids can bring the tears. Particularly with his daughter, who tends to act Wise Beyond Her Years whenever her father comes face to face with his own personalemotional gutpunches. Seeing her respond by trying to comfort him, almost acting like a surrogate mother despite being eight (and going without her own mother for so long) just makes it worse, somehow.
There's a subtle one in the town of Clearvale. In the dream world, you see a man standing in front of a grave of a young boy, and he tells you that he misses his master and hopes he's happy wherever he is; the player's inclined to think that he was a servant of some kind. If you head to the real world, you see that he was actually the kid's dog, who misses his master and wanted to say it properly in the dream world. Talking to him as a dog gets a message of "(sniff) Arf, arf!"
Rexwood was named for its hero, as its residents are quick to brag. What they're not so eager to share is why he became a hero: he went to fight the monsters and expected the other residents to follow and back him up. Everyone chickened out, leaving him to battle on alone, waiting for reinforcements that never came. And he won, only to die from his wounds because nobody was there to help him. No wonder Matilda holds a grudge.
Then after you kill the Boss, you have to kill Matilda because she followed her brother and saw his victory and death. Monsters then took her sorrow and changed her into the Real Big Boss of the area and you cannot reverse the Island's curse while she lives.
Dialac is incredibly depressing. Its tale is told almost entirely by visions your hero receives after touching the bodies of its residents, who were all turned to stone by the Gray Rain.
Clayman, the strongman of the village, travels away to get water for the desert village while they pray for rain. The cursed rain turns them all to stone and he mourns not being petrified too so he stays around the village alone with the statues of his friends for 50 years.
Even worse is the fact that the main character is awoken by the Soul Moans of the petrified villagers and has to see their most treasured thoughts from the day they were petrified. Made even worse than that when one of the statues disintegrates by you doing that.
Furthermore, Clayman got the cure from a traveler. He never used it because Acid Rain in a land that had a problemgetting rain to begin with damaged the statues too much. Disobey Clayman's orders to not use the cure and a little boy is rescued. Narration on a black screen covers the boy having everything explained to him; before you leave, you can find him standing in front of the petrified remains of his best friend, still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that that's her...
Eri. A malfunctioning Mechsoldier who gets adopted and re-purposed by Zebbot into a Robot Maid and a weapon against her own kind. Despite being key to saving the kingdom of Falrod, the villagers respond by blaming her for everything, even beating her when she doesn't fight back. On top of that, it's made clear that Zebbot mainly sees her as a tool, a Replacement Goldfish for his late wife, Eri. To top it all off, when you return to Falrosh in the present, you find she's spent all her life in his isolated shack, caring for Zebbot... or, rather, Zebbot's skeletal corpse, as she can't tell that he's passed away ages ago. Then the current ruler finds her, and has his court researchers take her apart piece by piece to see how she works, hoping to make his own robot army. When Trad's descendant tries to help you free her, she mistakes him for Zebbot and tries to take him back home, leading the king to label her unstable and return her to Zebbot's cabin. She thanks you for this, and finally winds down shortly thereafter.
Verdham has its Love Dodecahedron, best described as a comedy of errors: Linda, the center of this whole mess, has to shoulder her parents' debt to the richest man in town after they pass away. Borlock learns that his son Iwan has fallen for her, and so offers a compromise: he'll forgive their debt if Linda marries Iwan, However, Linda actually loves Pepe, who works for Borlock and Iwan as a gardener along with the rest of his family. Linda and Iwan's maid Kaya pressure Pepe to fight for her, or elope — but even though he loves Linda more than his own life, he can't bring himself to abandon his family to whatever vengeance Borlock might visit upon them if their son steals away his son's fiance. Eventually, he chooses to leave Verdham for good rather than choose between his lover and his family, leaving behind everything he cares about in a last-ditch attempt to please everyone. ...It doesn't help much.
Later, you get to revisit Verdham several years down the line, and learn how everything turned out. Linda married Iwan, but never stopped pining for Pepe, and eventually abandoned her family to go search for him. Her son, Eppe, learned about this beforehand and begged for her to take him along, but she refused, leaving him to look after Iwan despite him already despising his layabout father. Iwan squandered Borlock's riches, and wound up indebted to the new richest man in town, still retaining his lazy nature and leaving Eppe to shoulder the brunt of the work. Meanwhile, Kaya married the new rich guy, playing the doting wife while plotting to slowly poison him, letting him think he was dying from some mysterious disease and thinking the poison she mixed into his food was actually medicine.
To top it all off, Linda finds Pepe... but is so ashamed of abandoning her family to find him that she never even talks to him, instead joining a convent and watching over him from afar. Pepe only learns about this after her death, and breaks down upon seeing her grave and reading her epitaph.
All Zaji wants to do is protect his Ill Girl sister Neris... and all Neris wants is to not be a burden to others. The fact that they got trapped in a penal colony where the only way out seems to be making a Deal with the Devil doesn't help. It gets worse when Zaji takes a blade in the back for her. And the Trauma Conga Line doesn't stop there for either of them.
The kicker has to be when Neris gets her soul sucked out and is forced to fight in the monsters' arena for their amusement, wielding the very blade holding her soul. Zaji knows how to fix this, having gone through the same thing himself — the trick is running the victim through with the SoulSword housing their spirit. Which he does. Before the monsters drag him away without giving him a chance to see if it worked or not.
And how does it all turn out, once the temple is liberated? Zaji takes up the warrior class, only for Neris to snap and cry that she doesn't want anyone else to suffer for her sake. Zaji responds to this by deciding to leave, giving Kasim permission to look after her in his place. It's also heavily implied that the whole ordeal put too much strain on Neris' body, shortening her lifespan even further...
Then there's Dune, where most of its strongest citizens have been enslaved to build the Sphinx — which was meant to ward off evil rather than strengthen it, as its purpose has been twisted by Lord Seto. When you first arrive at the refugee camp, you see a nameless villager strike out into the desert, choosing likely death there than living in complete misery. Things go downhill from there.
Perhaps the darkest moment is when you're sent to find some sign that the legendary Tyrannos still exist and can help carry you to the Sphinx... and return with a fossilized skull. [[spoiler:Zarathustra takes this as proof that there is no hope, and falls into Death by Despair.
Then there's Queen Fedel's reaction when you finally meet, and she learns what has become of her people... She nearly crosses the Despair Event Horizon herself, realizing her surrender and cooperation with Lord Seto was a Senseless Sacrifice, as she believed it would protect everyone and He Lied.
And if you did kill Chibi, he ends up the Sole Survivor of the Hellworm raid aside from your party, as the lot of you huddle in a well until the sounds of slaughter overhead fade away...
Gorges has Firia, resident poster child for All of the Other Reindeer. Gorges is populated almost exclusively by the Winged Humanoid Lefans; little Firia is the only exception, an orphan adopted by their current leader, Pendragon. The adults all regard her with pity, while the kids bully and belittle her — particularly her younger sister, who treats her like a servant. Only her grandmother treats her as something other than an object of pity and derision; her father does absolutely nothing to protect her, and won't even scold his daughter for treating Firia so poorly. The bullies eventually strand her on a narrow ledge, and she almost falls to her death, only surviving because her grandmother gave her the BlissRock. After this, Grandmother Pendragon calls out Firia's father, and reveals Firia isn't an orphan, but Pendragon's daughter by blood. She just happened to be born without wings, and her cowardly father was afraid he'd lose his position if people knew he'd fathered a wingless child, so he pretended he'd just adopted her and turned a blind eye to her suffering.
Everything about Labres. You've got Lucas, who was just orphaned when his parents tried to help the priest deal with the monsters casting a fog over the town. Then there's the fate of the priest himself: he made a Deal with the Devil to be transformed into a hideous monster; in trade, the real monsters would leave Labres alone for as long as the polymorphed priest lived. However, the paranoid villagers only see a hideous beast mocking the church by moving in, and decide to lynch him. Oh, and it turns out you met this particular priest before — in Probina, where he makes a Heroic Sacrifice to save your party. Thank you, Timey-Wimey Ball.
And in the present day Labres, they've chosen to whitewash the truth about what happened, replacing the Monolith telling their tragic tale with one painting the townsfolk as the 'heroes' of the whole mess. It's incredibly depressing to see Lucas' descendant getting the All of the Other Reindeer treatment from the other kids just for telling the truth... Or hearing the kids talk about how their parents are punishing them for telling the truth after they read the original Monolith.
Coastal's even worse than Labres, given how it was punished for helping the heroic Sharkeye try and fight back against the Demon Lord... Every time the moon is full, any newly-born children transform into monsters and run away, visiting their helpless parents a few more times before leaving for parts unknown. When you arrive, you get to witness this firsthand, with the victimized parents completely breaking down...
When Jessica joins the party, her overbearing mother doesn't take it well and threatens to disown her. Jessica isn't deterred, and walks out. It's incredibly depressing to see the family falling even further apart...
Despite the fact that Angelo acts like a troublemaker, he actually sorta has a depressing backstory in Dragon Quest VIII. It's mostly sad when you think about it from the perspective of a child, especially one who had already lost his family and had nowhere to go but the Abbey unless he wanted to live on the streets. (Which really wouldn't be a good option in the settings of Dragon Quest.) So the first person he comes across just so happens to be his half-brother who hates his guts simply for existing. He's incredibly kind to him at first, and saying "Well we'll be your family now!" but the second he hears his name, this person looks at him angrily and tells him to leave, and when Angelo responds by simply staring at him in confusion and sorrow, he bitterly asks if he "intends to ruin [his] new life like you did [his] old one". Really Marcello, he didn't even know, and you're taking it out on him for ruining your life... like he actually had something to do with it other than simply being born!
And how about the last time they meet (as far as we know anyway)? After Angelo saves Marcello's life, who was so reluctant to be saved that it becomes an actual suicide attempt. He only shows spite towards him for it and the unspoken question of why Angelo even bothered lingers in the air:
More than ten years. It was more than ten years ago that I first came to the abbey after having lost my family.
And you were the first person I spoke to. I had nothing. No family, no home... I was all alone and didn't know anyone at the abbey. You were kind to me. Just for those few moments, you were genuinely kind.
As soon as you found out who I was, it changed everything.
But I never forgot that moment of kindness.
Just about any time Remembrances is used as the background music, really, but special mention needs to go to Abbot Francisco's funeral. The rain, the look of complete sorrow on everyone's faces (particularly Angelo, as the Abbot was pretty much the only one to truly accept him). And then that music plays... it's like the game is grabbing your heart and twisting it.
Poor King Clavius. His brother was supposed to take the Argonian throne, but disappeared, leaving him to rule instead. He does his best at it; sadly, however, his own heir is, well... Prince Charmles. The way his Rite of Passage resolves is quietly heartbreaking; you can tell he was sincerely hoping the hunt would do his son some good... Unfortunately, unlike pastprinces, Charmles learns nothing from his ordeal. Clavius starts to call you on it, but profusely apologizes after learning the truth.
When he gives Charmles a chance to confess shortly afterward, and he doesn't take it. More proof of his son's true character...
Dominico's Heel Realization after David's death, and the truth coming out: Dominico wasn't an heir to the sages; David was. Dominico's family used to protect David's line, and switched places with them in order to draw any evil attention away from the true lineage. Unfortunately, by Dominico's time that truth was forgotten, and he'd spent his days flaunting his wealth and picking on poor David, never realizing he was failing his greatest duty...
Then there's what happens with the Empyrea: the monsters stole the legendary bird's egg, and you try to recover it... only for the kidnapper to pull a Taking You with Meon the egg. As she and your party mourn, the unborn chick's spirit rises from the ashes and not only forgives you, but begs to be allowed to assist you, giving you access to flight... one of the most bittersweet powerups ever acquired. This one act cements Rhapthorn as the most vile monster in the entire series. Also qualifies as a Player Punch as said tears are tears of rage.
The post-ending bonus dungeon leads to you eventually learning about a pair of Star-Crossed Lovers who echo the angel and woodcutter from Dragon Quest IV: While exploring the human world, a daughter of the Dragon Tribe met and fell in love with Prince Eltrio of Argonia. The leaders of her tribe disapproved of their match, and so forced her to return to their hidden village. Desperate to be reunited with her, the Prince left his kingdom and searched the whole world for any sign of her... eventually expiring just as he had finally located the village and was climbing up that last incline. As for his lover, she passed away shortly after giving birth to their son. The tribe allowed him to grow there for a short time, but eventually voted to kick him out, over the protests of his grandfather. They forced him to leave the village, erasing the boy's memory so that he wouldn't remember and return.
Dragon Quest IX is practically overflowing with Tear Jerkers and Bittersweet Endings. First mention has to go to your hero's entire situation, though. Knocked from your home in the Observatory after the opening incident, you awaken without your wings or halo and only a few scraps of your Celestrian powers left, retaining your ability to see ghosts, faeries and other Celestrials. And in the end, you have to give all of that up and become fully mortal in order to stand a chance against the villain. This is really driven home at the start of the post-credits gameplay, the first time you open up the Battle Records and can't see Stella.
This Troper really hated the ending when you realize the Hero has gone from being the person to complete the entire race of Angels' quest (to grow the tree and bear fruit) to a crippled angel without a halo or wings, to finding out that you must give up your immortality to kill the Big Bad, to losing your home. How are you rewarded? All the other Angels get the Heaven they were promised while you are told the last part of your immortality will drain out of you within hours. Your home is vaporized because no one will live there and you are abandoned in the town you watched over. Even worse is the fact that your town no longer recognizes you as the Guardian who watched over them. Indeed, even your name was wiped off your statue.
Really has a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moment when in the Bonus Game you get the Fruit of the Gods and can wish for anything. Even to go to Heaven with all the rest of the Angels. Or to get people to remember that you were their Guardian. Or that you just SAVED THE WORLD. But NO! All the Hero wishes for is that he can see everything he saw before when he was an Angel. He doesn't even get his wings or halo back!
The final task for the Hero is for them to spend the rest of his/her life doing the job of an Angel FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD (watch over a group of people, usually a town, and keep them safe from monsters, lost keepsakes, and their own laziness) and still being burdened with Mortality where they will still die alone.
The secret history of the Wight Knight, and his last dance with Princess Mona. Or Simona, really, but...
In Coffinwell, you meet Doctor Phlegming and his lovely wife, Catarrhina. Phlegming doesn't get along with his father-in-law — or anyone else, for that matter — and Catarrhina is the only one who can draw him out of his shell. He agrees to help you save the town from a plague mostly so he can impress Mayor Laria and have an excuse to explore the local ruins; with your help, he succeeds, and sends you back to announce his triumph... Only for you to discover Catarrhina died literally seconds before you stopped the plague. Phlegming lapses into a Heroic BSOD so severe he doesn't even attend her funeral, which his father-in-law reams him out over.
The Heights of Loneliness. At least that gives you an idea what you're in for when you go looking for Mason. He left his hometown Zere to hone his skills as a stonecutter for five years or so, only to return and discover his beloved Petra had married someone else. He then goes into self-exile and spends the last years of his life meticulously carving out a perfect replica of his hometown. Of course, Stella doesn't understand it herself, and says as much.
Marionette. Just........ Marionette. Marionette is a life sized doll based off a real girl by the name of Marion, with the only difference being that Marion wears blue and Marionette wears red. Marion was slowly dying of a fatal disease, and was fed a Fygg in hopes it would heal her. Marion wished for a friend....... which gave Marionette life. Marion died shortly after, leaving Marionette all alone. Then, after an entire year of loneliness, the hero appears, rescues her, and then watches as Maronette turns back into a doll. The kicker in all of this? Only Marion's parents known she's dead. Everyone else was told she just went on a trip. What really makes it sad is that not soon after, a servent in the mansion picks up Marionette and puts her on the bed, because he knew Marion enjoyed playing with the girl. Only the ending of the story holds some hope for her....
Pretty much all of Corvus' backstory. Fell from the Observatory and was badly wounded, but made a close friend in the girl Serena, only for The Empire to come and try to take over the village he was charged with protecting. He manages to scare them off with his power, but his ferocity scares all of the villagers except Serena away from him. Later, he gives Serena an enchanted necklace as a symbol of her love...only for The Empire to come back with reinforcements, intent on capturing him for their own use. Corvus wants to go and fight them despite his wounds, so Serena tricks him into drinking a sleeping potion to protect him. Unfortunately, this turns out to have been a very bad idea, as the village turns out to have sold out Corvus' location in order to save themselves, capturing him and murdering Serena. He then proceeds to spend the next 300 years being horrifically tortured and experimented on. In summary, he was betrayed by his own flock, his lover was murdered in cold blood, and he was made into a guinea pig for The Empire for centuries. Is it any wonder he snapped?
The climax of the Prologue: Etene gets torched by monsters, and your sibling's nearly killed before your eyes — but a mysterious barrier surroundings them at the last moment. Time Stands Still long enough for them to realize you're not protected, and they can't escape the barrier or do anything more than scream before it whisks them away. Then you die.