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Cerebus Syndrome / Video Games

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Examples of video games or video game franchises getting progressively more serious.

  • The Jak and Daxter series. The first game starts out as your typical lighthearted cartoony platformer, akin to games like Super Mario 64, Spyro the Dragon and Banjo-Kazooie, with a simple plot. By the second game, it is a third-person shooter sandbox with some elements of a beat-em-up and the entire tone and gameplay in general takes on a Darker and Edgier feel with thicker, more realistic plots and is overall a different game altogether. Even the music style was heavily changed in the sequels despite Jak II: Renegade and Jak 3: Wastelander having the same music composer that the first game had. The only thing the first game has in common with any of its sequels are the primary four characters that were introduced in it. The huge changes the series made between the first game and its following sequels also qualifies as a case of Early Installment Weirdness.
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  • Metal Gear is the Trope Codifier for a multitude of reasons; it helps that the series was mostly headed by one man from the '80s to the '10s, and so it grew more plot-focused as director Hideo Kojima (and the rest of the video game industry) had more technology and budget to do so. For example, the original Metal Gear has an Excuse Plot, Metal Gear 2 focuses more on the plot but still keeps it relatively simple, Metal Gear Solid has numerous lengthy cinematic cutscenes and tons of worldbuilding, and Metal Gear Solid 2 has an even bigger focus on cutscenes and continuity, and establishes the beginnings of a complicated conspiracy backstory. And so on.
  • Grand Theft Auto, to some degree. From Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas onwards, the series began to take its protagonists and their personal motivations a lot more seriously than they did in prior installments. IV in particular tackled dark, adult themes usually reserved for cinema. Though Grand Theft Auto V does dial back the seriousness a bit and is closer to the series' Black Comedy roots, it still features a huge, pathos-filled story for its three protagonists and tackles serious themes, including graphic, not Played for Laughs torture.
  • The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past have happy endings, but the endings of subsequent games are bittersweet:
    • Link's Awakening is probably the densest and wackiest game in the entire Zelda series, with a whimsical tone filled to the brim with goofy humor and even cameos from other Nintendo series like Mario and Kirby... Then about midway through the game, the true nature of Koholint Island and what exactly will happen to it and all of the people on it once the Wind Fish wakes up is revealed, leading to one of the most infamous Tear Jerker endings in video game history.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: Even though it takes a fairly balanced approach to the lighter and darker tones demonstrated in other entries, the first part of the game is very much on the lighthearted side. Even when Zelda falls down to the world beneath the clouds, nothing really feels at risk, and the game itself takes an optimistic approach to being able to find her. In fact, the only darker moments during the first section of the game are Link's brief nightmares of The Imprisoned, implying what's in store later on. However, when Ghirahim first appears (and for the remainder of his appearances), the game takes on a much darker tone. Sure, he's a classic example of Evil Is Hammy and can be quite entertaining when he wants to be, but he is very much a legitimate threat, and is downright terrifying and dangerous due to his disturbing lust for pain and death.
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    • The Zelda games in general originally had Excuse Plots. As the series went on, more of them began to connect to eachother in subtle ways, until eventually Nintendo went as far as to release an official timeline with branching realities. (Downplayed, though, in that the actual development of the games doesn't let the established timeline bind their ideas.)
  • Metroid. Some of the games (particularly Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption) give a darker-than-usual twist to their stories because of this. The former because it reveals that the actions done in Metroid II: Return of Samus were a fatal mistake (Metroid: Samus Returns shows a brief example of it in The Stinger). The latter because, during the time Samus succesfully purges the advancement of Phazon in three planets (and starts her adventure in this game preventing the spred of it in another), the Phazon allocated in her own body has been spreading, putting her gradually closer to becoming a terminally corrupted living being.
  • The plot of Onmyōji starts out as a fairly mild adventure story of an Amnesiac Hero battling Monster of the Week until Sakura-no-sei barges in, revealing to the heroes and the audience that there is a Big Bad out there who resembles the hero down to the aura, causing far more dangerous troubles than any of the previous enemies, and the one being blamed for all of that would be the hero. Things take on a new level of complicated from there. And then it gets even worse after the Big Bad finally gets his ass kicked. One of the four protagonists of the game, and arguably the nicest one of the bunch, turns out to be conspiring against the good guys all along and leaves the team to serve the Greater-Scope Villain. If that ain't bad enough, our hero is starting to act out-of-character thanks to all the tragic events and the unsettling reveals about his forgotten past.
  • Any Dwarf Fortress game. All of them. A lighthearted romp at the start, with seven cheery dwarves building their home in a seemingly cheery forest, plain, or jungle. And then it gets worse as time goes on, with dwarves dying off, being disemboweled, being flung against walls, until eventually your fortress explodes into civil war under constant sieges and deaths.
  • Team C Studios Adventure progressively gets darker and darker with each entry. From a light-hearted romp through the countryside fighting slimes and zombies to a cosmic horror fight for the fate of the world against villains like Herobrine.
  • Ace Combat started off as a very early entry into the realm of 3D arcade style flying shoot-em-ups for the original PlayStation; though it was still at least somewhat more complicated than other competing titles and most of the gameplay elements that would define the series were already there, it didn't have much in the way of plot and was more or less a fairly straightforward game. By the time of Ace Combat 3note , however, the flying and fighting aspects were framed by a deep and very well-developed story, which by the next title were often at best tangential in their impact on the player's actual missions and prone to focusing on the enemy just as much or more as on the player's side, as well as an increasing frequency in anti-war messages (odd in a game entirely about war, needless to say). The gameplay became more complex as well, introducing additional subtle realism tweaks such as more realistic aircraft momentum, and by the most recent title has had a corresponding effect on gameplay. The intro of the following game, which probably tries a bit too hard when it comes to conveying the impact of war, embodies this trope and was duly featured on Unskippable.
  • The chapters in Live A Live can be played in any order you wish, so the tonal shifts are dependant on the player, though if you play them in chronological order there is a trend from a gradual trend from the first's slapstick comedy to the last's sci-fi horror. Either way, though, the chapter unlocked after clearing all the initial chapters takes itself (and its self-treatment of its genre) much more seriously than any before, which ends up changing how the whole game is looked at.
  • Mother
    • Earthbound is a silly, shiny, nice game with colors all around. Its sequel Mother 3, though...well, what do you think of jokes such as "I have good news and bad news. Good news, I found you a new weapon. Bad news, I found it stabbed through your wife's heart."?
    • While Mother 3 certainly has more overtly emotional moments than Earthbound, they both have Cerebus Syndrome within their games. Earthbound starts with you dealing with cops who take pride in their ability to block roads and ends as a Cosmic Horror Story. Mother 3 starts with you in a peaceful, utopian village and ends with the main villain essentially owning the entire world.
  • The sequel to Beyond Good & Evil looks to be far less cartoony and both teasers available indicate the game will take place in a city in the middle of the desert. Sounds familiar.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • The original Final Fantasy starts with the king saying "Oh Warriors of Prophecy please save my daughter who is in the hands of my ex-most trustworthy knight". He's pretty weak, too. Then, by the end of the game, it turns out that the Big Bad is that same knight, whose soul went 2000 years into the past, gained incredible power by the name of Chaos, and created the four elemental demons who are now plaguing the world, who were the ones to send his soul into the past when you first killed him to save the princess. And your defeat of him breaks the cycle, meaning that nothing of the game ever happened and no one realizes what you did.
    • In Final Fantasy IX, you start with a bunch of thieves/actors kidnapping a rebellious princess and a kid who goes to watch a theater play. The first 7 or 8 hours of the game (especially in the brilliantly done French translation) are lighthearted and fun. Then, the thieves'/actors' hometown is invaded, the rebellious princess sees the death of her mother and watches her kingdom getting nuked, the whole world comes close to destruction, and the little cute kid of the intro gets to deal with his own mortality.
    • In Final Fantasy X-2, you start out with stuff like a JPop concert, bounty hunting girls in flashy outfits and a sequence in which your main character must find the right points to please a woman whose "chateau" the group is sneaking into with a massage. By the end of Chapter 2, you're uncovering a conspiracy involving a potentially world-shattering weapon and fighting dark aeons. You also discover the dark past of the top three world leaders and the sad history of the spirit of a man who has been tortured with visions of his and his lover's death for a thousand years. While there continues to be funny / fun stuff throughout, things definitely get darker from that point on.
  • Suikoden Tierkreis starts with the main character living a mostly carefree life in his little village, cue a militaristic cult appearing. The main character decides then to stand against it, while remaining mostly optimistic; cue the multiverse collapsing.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • Dragon Quest V begins with the main character as a child, journeying with his dad, occasionally going off on his own or with a friend on adventures straight out of Tom Sawyer, The Chronicles of Narnia, or George MacDonald's fairy tales. Then, while trying to rescue a bratty prince, he watches his father get killed, and is sold into slavery, setting up the main plot of the game.
    • Dragon Quest VII starts also with the main character living a carefree life in a fishermen village, and the "DQ humor" still drives most of the storyline. Then the first chapters of the game proper start, but, while more dark, they remain mostly into the "dungeon of the week" routine and the story keeps many humorous moments. Then, little by little, each small chapter gets more and more tragic until the conclusion.
  • The Tales Series:
    • Ruca of Tales of Innocence is currently the record holder, wandering into the plot of the game while hanging around town to play with his "friends".
    • Tales of Phantasia starts with two main characters hunting, then it turns into a vendetta story, then into a world war, then into a conflict to save the human race, then the heroes discover that Dhaos was the good guy all along. The comedic elements of the game's beginning are of course diminishing through the story.
    • Tales of Destiny: The game begins with a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits having to perform community service for theft under the watchful eye of the young prodigy Knight Captain. While the first half gets darker, it still has quite a few lighthearted moments. Cue the time skip, cerberus syndrome kicks in big time. It ends with the planet almost getting nuked from orbit by a 2000 year old mad king intent on wiping out the entire Er'ther population.
    • Tales of Destiny 2 starts off with Kyle going on an adventure with his big brother Loni to try to get money for their mother's orphanage. It ends with the party having to kill a goddess, with Time Travel, Lotus-Eater Machines, and an Inferred Holocaust in the middle.
    • Happens in Tales of Graces with the playable prologue. We're introduced to the young kids having fun with their new friend, meeting a new important friend...and then quickly watching as their new friend sacrifices herself before their very eyes with nothing they could do and (while they didn't know it yet), their other new friend was possessed by Lambda. The result? Four to five out of the seven playable characters have a rather Dark and Troubled Past. (Not counting Malik, who has a different and unrelated Dark and Troubled Past)
    • The difference between the first act of Tales of the Abyss and the third act of Tales Of The Abyss is the difference between accidentally destroying a city of 10,000 people and Jade lightening the mood by snarking at you, and voluntarily sacrificing 10,000 replicas including the protagonist, all of whom are still mentally children, while Jade wishes he could go back in time and kill himself as a newborn because everything in the game is his fault, including this incident, because he suggested it. Compared to Tales of Symphonia, the last American release, the game itself applies this trope to the series as a whole, though the trend is reversed with Tales of Vesperia.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Most games tend to follow the "let's put these mean, ugly bandits in their place -> oh crap the world's gonna end" formula. But the one game in the series that really pulls the stops is, without a doubt, the fourth one, Genealogy of the Holy War. It starts off with a young lord repelling an invasion by a neighboring kingdom with his knights and some noble friends, going off to battle in his country's name, making new friends and losing others along the way, having his girlfriend/wife kidnapped, being framed for a murder and seeking to speak to the king to clean his name. Sounds like a pretty standard plot for a medieval fantasy game, right? Not when chapter 5 comes in, it isn't. While hints are given along the way that some seedy stuff is going on, nothing compares to what happens there. Short version? Every character in your party is murdered at the end of that section. The only thing keeping this from being completely bleak is that the next chapter opens with you playing as their now-adult kids, with the stated goal of "Make the bastards pay for that". Case in point, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, while not really "comedic", is fairly light at the beginning, with a teenage mercenary learning the ropes of his job against small bandit bands and under the careful watch of older fighters. By the end of its sequel, the plot looks like an adaptation of Berserk with slightly more colors.
    • It's especially strong in Fire Emblem Awakening because of the children of the future. All of them have serious issues coming from watching their parents die in the bad future and it's pretty clear they are nowhere near over it, having everything from abadonment and trust issues to outright self-loathing, low self-esteem and isolation. They will always have a sad story to tell.
    • Fire Emblem: Three Houses may have this the most out of other games in the series. The first half of the game is fairly lighthearted as players settle into their role as teacher for a Military School, although there are hints dropped that not all is as idyllic as it seems at first blush. Many of your students will be dealing with heavy issues, including (but not limited to) Parental Abuse, deceased parents, Fantastic Racism, Survivor's Guilt, and self-loathing. The missions you undertake during your tenure also provide insight into the larger political issues facing Fodlan, from infighting amongst noble families to religious dogma as a justification for morally dubious actions. Come the climax of Part I, the shit hits the fan, and by the beginning of Part II, Fodlan has been plunged into a bloody civil war, one that will pit you against some of your former students.
  • Grandia starts with two kids doing their usual antics in their hometown and dreaming of adventures that are, quite obviously, way above their level. By the end of the game, one of the kids, Justin, has turned into a badass by being punched in the face, repeatedly
  • The entire Mega Man Classic timeline is made of this.
    • The original Megaman was for the most part lighthearted, Wily tried to take over the world and you had to stop him. No one was ever openly killed aside from the enemies and the darkest it got was that one time Megaman seriously considered shooting Wily.
    • Then comes X and you have to deal with the now massive and highly visible death tolls, an incurable, uncontainable virus brainwashing people into its pawns, the morality of killing said pawns, the senseless deaths of your friends/allies/lover by your hand, and the knowledge that all of that is actually the fault of one of the protagonists who was the original carrier for the virus. It also turns out that over the hundred years between the two series, civilization was destroyed by an unknown cataclysm and not only was a large part of the world basically rendered uninhabitable but all of the characters from the previous series were killed as well. Still, it looks like there may still be a chance to turn things around, right?
    • Nope. By the time of the Zero series, sixty percent of all humans and ninety percent of all reploids have been wiped out as the direct result of the Elf Wars (for extra irony this was done by hijacking the newly-created cure for the Maverick Virus and Zero's original body), the survivors live in a tyrannical dictatorship where reploids are periodically scrapped to prevent the population from using up to much resources at once, the ecosystem is absolutely devastated with only one area still possessing natural plant life, multiple characters die on-screen, your allies betray you and destroy X's body, completely invalidating his Heroic Sacrifice, the man responsible for the Elf wars is effectively immortal and takes over the country right after you free it, and most people have flat out given up hope of peace or freedom. While Zero and the Resistence do manage to bring down Neo Arcadia and stop Weil from destroying the world's last hope of recovery its at the the cost of Zero's life and at least twenty million people (a large part of the remaining population) were killed before Zero took down Weil.
    • Jump to ZX and Ciel, the woman responsible for literally all of the worlds improvements since the beginning of the Zero series has been murdered, the protagonists watched their family and countless other people attending an amusement park be slaughtered in front of their eyes as children, Serpent takes control of your mentors body and forces you to kill him in the second level, and the main villain of the previous series transferred his psyche into his space stations core and is now countless fragments that brainwash anyone who comes near them into acting like him in addition to granting superpowers in large enough numbers, there's a group of terrorists who stole the weapons created to fight said villain and are trying to trigger another apocalypse so that they can rule what's left, finally two-thirds of the ruling government are under the control or at least influence of Model W and the sole unaffected one has been incapacitated or killed.
    • The cherry on top of this nightmare cake is Mega Man Legends where we find that at some point in the several thousand years between ZX and Legends the world flooded, leaving behind only a few islands. This or some other disaster killed all humans and reploids, destroyed everything that the previous heroes gave their lives for, and left the survivors (A race of human-imitating machines called Carbons) completely dependent on the remnants of past technology to survive. The worst part is that there's no sign of people managing or every trying to get around this, meaning that unless something unexpected happens they're eventually going to go the same way as Neo Arcadia.
  • Arc the Lad starts with a mostly light hearted storyline, with three of the seven Player Characters being comic relief. Then Arc 2 comes along, and it becomes darker, and darker, and darker... At the end, Gogen is still cracking jokes and Poco is still a klutz, but it is hard to notice the comedy when you failed to stop the apocalypse and lost your main couple.
  • Chrono Trigger was, at some point, about going to the fair and having fun. You even meet a cute girl. Her pendant causes time travel, and wacky times are had by all. Even after you get tried and thrown in a cell for a few days, things are still lighthearted. Then you leap in the nearly dead future and see a recording of how the world ended... Even this can be somewhat justified as a form of Genre Roulette, but after you defeat the Disc-One Final Boss and start to learn more about the history of Lavos, things become even heavier.
  • Chrono Cross starts out rather okay, but after mid game, the hero gets his body switched with the bad guy, and the plot goes complicated and dark. Worse, the story's tying up with Chrono Trigger by destroying every happy part of the prequel. Crono, Marle, and Lucca are likely to be killed shortly after Trigger ends, and Schala is turned from a heroic sacrificial woman to a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. Also it's stated that when a future that once existed is erased from the timelime, the people end up in a dark limbo where it is cold and you can never die, and this is hinted at even back when you rescue Marle early in the first game. So not only did Chrono send the future denizens to And I Must Scream but Lavos was never truly defeated and in fact it became even more powerful, so it was all for nothing.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • The first game was an adventure story about going from Disney movie to Disney movie, battling said movie's villain and moving on. It had dark and serious moments too, but the tone was still distinctly that of an adventurous JRPG. In the next two games alone, memory manipulation, virtual reality and alternate selves entered the plot, and ever since then the series has had a complicated timeline with more than a few cruel Downer Endings.
    • Case in point, the only games that are rated E by ESRB are the first game and Chain of Memories. From II onward, all of them are rated E10 without exception. Even CoM's rating is kinda iffy, as it is way more violent than the first game and probably got a pass because of its GBA limitations (and when it was remade as a PS2 game with full voice acting and whatnot, then it did receive the E10 rating). In fact, many of the games would have gotten a T rating and had to be very slightly censored in the West due to the premise being that, y'know, these were *supposed* to be kids games.
  • Advance Wars had this; the first game was sort of upbeat, with you fighting it out with the clear-cut bad guys to save the world. Second game, still upbeat, but the villain is somewhat more... unnerving. Third game, the villains are literally sucking the life out of the planet and turning it into a desolate wasteland, there's few signs you can do anything to change this, and you choose at the end whether the Big Bad lives or dies... and even if you spare him, he's going to die of old age very quickly. The fourth game is set in a post apocalyptic wasteland where the NPCs in the campaign tell you to leave the civilians behind and the first fight you have is with piratical raiders. And the big bad? Sturm from the first two Advance Wars games wanted to take over the world. Von Bolt from the third is an old man who wants to live forever. Caulder, on the other hand, conducts horrific experiments on what's left of humanity, purely because he finds it fascinating.
  • The Flash game Viricide goes, over the course of the paragraphs that pop up between the 17 waves, from jokes about an AI's malfunctioning double entendre system, to said AI explaining that her programmer was taking depression meds while working on her, and one day told her he was going to solve all his problems by taking all the pills in the bottle at once instead of taking them two at a time. She never saw him again, but hopes what he did made him feel better. She also goes from referring to her programmer as "my programmer" to calling him "my father" and "Dad" and she asks you to disable her "emotional core" which gives her a personality.
  • The main Mario games usually makes no attempt to do this, but the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series do.
  • Call of Duty: World at War's Nazi Zombies mode appears to be suffering from the syndrome.
    • The first map, Nacht der Untoten, was really just four AFGNCAAPs holed up in a building under siege by unlimited hordes of zombies.
    • The second map, Verruckt, was more of the same, with Perk-a-cola machines and electro-shock defenses. And the EVIL teddy bear.
    • But the third map, Shi no Numa, not only features four well-defined characters, but has lots and lots of Easter eggs hinting to the origins of the zombies, and most of all, This.
    • Der Riese, the next map continues this somewhat. To some extent, less dark looking than Verrukt, but it's where the zombies and hellhounds were created, apparently after experimentation on live patients and dogs, according to these radio conversations and Easter eggs. It's also got things like teleporters, rounds with both dogs and zombies, and possibly the origins of both of them.
  • Tales of Monkey Island, which started out light in tone and around Episode 4 suddenly got very dark indeed.
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day starts off, and plays as, a ridiculously over the top and bizarre adventure bordering on satire. However, starting from the Spooky level, the plot quickly becomes darker and darker, ultimately culminating in one of the bleakest endings in video game history. In comparison, the first game in the series was an E-rated Game Boy Color game.
  • Pokémon.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog games also did this in the Dreamcast Era, starting with Sonic Adventure, but it really took hold in Shadow the Hedgehog. Reverse Cerebus Syndrome soon kicked in with Sonic Colors. Really, the Sonic series is a huge Cerebus Rollercoaster. And Sonic Lost World somehow has both this and its inverse at the same time, featuring both more comedy than Colors and a darker underlying plot than most other games in the series. Sonic Forces then went back to the Darker and Edgier territory again.
  • Telltale's Sam and Max games have always been darkly humorous adventures without a bit of seriousness. Then The Devil's Playhouse began. The comedy remained, but a lot more emphasis was placed on the narrative. The series' Crapsack World stopped being played totally for jokes, episode continuity became much tighter, and the tone became darker and darker, leading all the way to the finale and Max's death.
  • The Portal series:
    • The first game touches on this. In the beginning GLaDOS's jokes seem unintentionally funny, but as the game progresses the player finds out it/she has a serious (and homicidal) personality disorder. The game rapidly descends from an upbeat puzzler into life-threatening drama. However, it still manages to be quite funny.
    • Portal 2 stays mostly funny throughout, right up until you find out GLaDOS is the result of Cave Johnson forcing his assistant to have her brain uploaded into a computer. And there's Wheatley's Face–Heel Turn after you help him take control of the facility.
  • Parodied and subverted in Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale. At the end of Obsidian Tower, Griff reveals his plot to restore power to the demon race, which would wreak havoc all over the place...then Recette mocks his plan for being really cliche.
  • The Brood War add-on did this to StarCraft, although the Starcraft universe wasn't a very cheerful one to begin with. The first one had a bittersweet ending, with the Overmind being destroyed and Tassadar dying. Broodwar had the UED, Dominion, Protoss and Raiders combining for an epic battle against Kerrigan that we knew they would win. Then Kerrigan slaughters them all.
  • This sums up a typical game of Stellaris, particularly if you're playing as a non-aggressive empire. In the early-game, you're a Bold Explorer sending science ships to survey solar systems for anomalies and colony sites. In the mid-game, the focus changes to maintaining and expanding your empire in direct competition with your neighbors; you'll likely fight several wars in this phase. Once the endgame begins, the Fallen Empires will begin to re-assert their dominance over the galaxy, likely forcing you into a life-or-death struggle against one or more of them. And then the endgame crisis arrives, an existential threat to the entire galaxy that must be fought to the death.
  • Happened to a certain extent in the Fallout universe. Fallout 2 was, in spite of the abundance of wacky humor, a significantly darker game than the original, and didn't hesitate to show slavery, drug abuse, trafficking, domestic abuse, genocide, cannibalism and racism in all their grimy glory. In comparison, Fallout 3 turned the brutality of the Crapsack World Up to Eleven, though it, for all its darkness, left you with more of a feeling that you could make a difference than the previous games. Fallout: New Vegas adds back a little of the wackyness, but is still plenty grim.
  • Hatoful Boyfriend is an Affectionate Parody of Dating Sims where you date wacky pigeons as a wacky human female. It also has the grim Bad Boys Love route unlocked after obtaining every other ending that starts with the female protagonist being Killed Off for Real and having her body dismembered, with her part being scattered through the school; and it gets worse from there on with a series of genuinely shocking and heartbreaking Reveals that transform even the silliest and most lighthearted birds into massive Woobies or Big Damn Heroes.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising goes through this once you hit Chapter 18. For something that starts out as a Denser and Wackier Affectionate Parody of both Greek Mythology and video games in general with No Fourth Wall, the shift to one of the bleakest tones in any Nintendo game comes as quite a shock to say the least.
  • Custom Robo doesn't even try to take itself seriously. Villains are mostly comical, the story lighthearted, and not too much hint of the events to come. Then comes the Info Dump with two separate save points...and it all goes downhill from there (granted, you can invoke some humour by picking the funny dialogue options. It's just not played up automatically).
  • Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway follows this trope quite well. Not counting the In Medias Res at the beginning, the game starts pretty upbeat, with the squad bouncing across the Dutch countryside in their jeeps. There are a few darker moments, like a part with a priest getting killed by an artillery shell, Baker's flashbacks, and the bloody fighting, but it manages to bounce back after everything's said and done....until Eindhoven. After that, things begin to spiral downwards.
  • Although it starts rather dark, the Visual Novel Swan Song becomes progressively darker as it continues.
  • Key/Visual Arts games do this deliberately, starting off with happy, Slice of Life gameplay revolving around a guy and a bunch of girls in a school and then slowly bringing in the drama (and later, extreme drama) as you move onto a route. (Things always work out eventually, though.) Little Busters! is particularly notable - most summaries seem to be along the lines of 'A young boy is saved from depression from a group of friends who get into all kinds of mischief together!' as though it's just a fun, relaxing, comedy game. It isn't.
  • The Zookeeper puzzle game's apparent Excuse Plot is about a zoo keeper who has to keep order in a zoo in which the animals are rebelling against the strict, evil zoo curator, who tends to comically mock the keeper in the game over screen. If you play well enough, you learn the backstory: the curator and his wife once wished to create the greatest zoo in the world, but then she died in an accident, which he felt terribly guilty for. In his grief, he began to hate the zoo, until the zoo keeper's (his son) hard work makes him see the error of his ways.
  • Team Fortress 2. The original concept was "two teams kill each other in the desert" with basically no plot. Since then, the story has expanding through manuals and trailers to create what Valve describes as one of their most labyrinthine stories. At this point, the story involves everything from a genius-making material called Australium, a world-hat economy, an evil magician and an implacable army of robots.
  • Indie game OFF gets hit with this hard. It starts with a strange man only called 'The Batter' fighting ghosts in a relatively quirky world, following the directions of a particularly verbose talking cat called 'The Judge', and it quickly goes downhill from there.
  • While all the Baldur's Gate games contain grim elements, the ratio of comedy to tragedy decreases with each successive game.
    • The first game had a Belt of Gender-Changing, an repeatedly exploding ogre, talking chickens, comically depressed elves, and Minsc.
    • Most of the humor in Shadows of Amn comes from the dialogue of either Minsc or Jan Jansen. It also upped the grim-factor with such events as Irenicus' physical and psychological torture of Imoen, the torture and implied vivisection of Khalid, and the player-character's Bhaal-spawn nature breaking free. Most the NPCs you can add to your party come with tragedy pre-installed ( Aerie, Valygar) or pick some up in-game ( Minsc, Jaheira, Jan Jansen, Yoshimo, Imoen).
    • In the expansion-and-series-resolution, nearly all of the comedy moments come from the dialogue of an imp artificer who works for the protagonist.
  • Knights of the Old Republic was a pure, distilled Troperiffic throwback to the Star Wars Classic Trilogy with a BioWare sense of character and story. The second, farmed out to Obsidian, was Planescape: Torment with lightsabers, and pulled ruthless deconstruction on everything from RPG mechanics to the very idea of morality in an uncaring universe. The third game, Star Wars: The Old Republic shoots for some Reconstruction, but the backdrop is a Forever War with the Republic and the Empire at a hopeless, blood-drenched stalemate. Worse is that the Sith are just as crazy as ever (including the Emperor who doesn't give a gizka's rear end about his own Empire, and wants to destroy everything in the universe but himself), and the Republic is suffering a severe case of He Who Fights Monsters and Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us. Finding the protagonist from the first game brutalized and insane after 300 years of being the Emperor's favorite "toy" seals it.
    • Within Star Wars: The Old Republic, the tone of the original class stories varies considerably. Since the expansions switch to having a single main story, people who play more lighthearted characters such as the Smuggler or Sith Inquisitor will find the story getting considerably more serious
  • The indie game Eversion does this. The game starts off as a cutesy 2D scroller with colorful environments and non-threatening enemies. As you use your Eversion power more and more, the game starts taking a dark turn. Environments are gloomier, the music changes, and enemies seem noticeably depressed. Eventually, the game starts to look more like a nightmare than a happy platformer. You start to realize the effects your power has on the world around you, but you can't stop using the power if you want to progress.
  • Kingdom of Loathing, of all places, features this with content in the Bonus Dungeon "The Sea" that gets rather dark near the end. The Sea starts out featuring the usual assortment of multiple bad puns and cheesy pop-culture references... then you get to The Caliginous Abyss, which is populated with monsters that wouldn't look out of place in Eversion. Down there, you eventually find Mom Sea Monkee, who's gone completely over the edge and has apparently been touched by dark magics, causing her to give you one of several unsettling buffs if you talk to her after rescuing her. Little Brother Sea Monkee seems reluctant to talk about his father, but you do eventually find Dad Sea Monkee... if you're persistent enough to defeat both Bonus Bosses Shub-Jiggawat and Yog-Gurt, with all six core classes, and assemble six of the seven pieces of the Clothing of Loathing, you'll find Dad... almost catatonic, and hooked up to a bizarre machine that's super-charging him with dark, unknowable powers from the depths of the cosmos.
  • NieR doesn't exactly start off light-hearted (the prologue, especially), but in the first half of the game things generally go well for the protagonists and the people they're trying to help, and even when it doesn't work out so well there is a lingering feeling of hope and optimism. However the game has a marked shift in tone in the second half, starting with the main character's daughter/sister being kidnapped by a super powerful Shade. The game then proceeds to get darker and darker, especially towards the very end and on subsequent playthroughs, where you find out that the shades are sentient (in fact, they are the original humans of the world) and the majority of your actions in the latter half of the game involved striking down people who were largely innocent. You were basically a mass murderer and by the end of the game you've doomed humanity to extinction.
  • Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is a game that opens with the game's adorable cat-like protagonist chasing butterflies in a field. Then by the ending no-one is happy and everything is miserable thanks to an unusually cruel plot-twist that comes right out of nowhere about 5 minutes before the end of the game.
  • While the Quest for Glory series never loses touch with its comedy — all five games in the series are loaded with genre parody, pop cultural and self-referential humor, fourth wall-shattering gags (sometimes literally, one Non Standard Game Over involves shattering your monitor), barrages of awful puns, and just plain general silliness — beginning with the second game, the plots get progressively darker (and in some cases the humor itself gets blacker) with increasingly higher stakes. Quest for Glory IV is the darkest point of the series, as the best the Hero can manage is a Bittersweet Ending, in which Erana is freed but can only pass on into death, Katrina sacrifices herself saving him from Ad Avis, the Rusalka is released from her curse (but only if playing as a Paladin) and departs lamenting how she always wanted a good man like the Hero, Toby gives his life to restore Tanya's, and Nikolai and Anna are reunited but only in death. And while Quest for Glory V allows the Hero to earn his happy ending, the plot isn't much lighter than Shadows of Darkness, considering the story is driven by the ritualistic murders being perpetrated to unleash a fire elemental in dragon form.
  • Dark Scavenger starts off pretty tongue-in-cheek with a dark sense of humor, but delves straight into Lovecraft Lite later on.
  • Wolfenstein 3-D was a fun little shooter that didn't have much of a plot beyond 'Shoot Nazis'. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a much darker game, taking place in a world where the Nazis won.
  • Billy vs. SNAKEMAN starts with you as a ninja in a Naruto parody, occasionally stepping into parodies of Bleach or .hack. Fun! The New Game+ system is called "looping", but it's all set up like you're getting hired onto a new season of your own personal anime. But then you get to Pizza Witch, and suddenly things get... strange. "Looping" isn't about seasons anymore, but instead triggering a Stable Time Loop. Other people are caught up in it, too. And then you reach the Jungle and find out why you're constantly going through the same events over and over. This time, drop the gun.
  • The PS2 adaptation of Astro Boy that was handled by Sonic Team starts off in a typical Monster of the Week format, with Dr. Tenma as the main bad guy. After the fight with what is said to be the most powerful robot in the universe, Tenma gets brutally killed off and an unknown hooded man takes his place. From there on the gameplay completely alters. Instead of you fighting a simple series of enemies before fighting the boss, you now have to complete a Nightmare Fuel-laden stage before fighting one. In the end, the main villain also is revealed to be an idealization of Tenma, who has the same motives as Tenma but wants to wipe out all emotions of robots, and it is revealed to us that he created a rocket that is meant to destroy the entire world in order to accomplish his plan.
  • The Bizarre Adventures of Woodruff and the Schnibble: The early phase of the game is extremely silly, with multiple breakages of the fourth wall. By the time Woodruff learns about Coh Cott, the game (while still humorous) reshapes itself into a study of racism and cultural interaction.
  • The Five Nights at Freddy's franchise started off as a terrifying Black Comedy, full of Gallows Humor and the like. By the fourth game, people - well, one man in particular - have died on-screen in a rather horrificnote  fashion, the story has transformed into an inexplicably unnerving story about a child being tormented by his own family, and The Hero Dies. Previous games limited the death to off-screen atrocities, the story was - though still dark - often stuffed into the background, and the player characters usually got out of their week alive.note 
  • Minecraft: Story Mode: Episodes 3 and 4 are much more serious than the first two episodes, with both having a major character death, the scale and danger of the Wither Storm becoming even more apparent and world-threatening, dramatic reveals about the nature of the Order of the Stone, and being much more plot-heavy.
  • MySims series started off with an Excuse Plot equivalent of The Sims until the three final entries in the series (Racing, Agents and SkyHeroes) featured plots about the player's struggle to stop Big Bad Morcubus from taking over the world, alongside respective stories regarding the disappearance of The Ace, a Freak Lab Accident which created some of the non-human Sims in the series and an Amnesiac Dissonance story where the amnesiac is the player.
  • In Pilotwings, after you clear the first four lessons, you will suddenly be thrown into a dangerous rescue mission where you must save your instructors from behind enemy lines, after having been taken hostage by a terrorist organization calling itself the "E.V.I.L. Syndicate". Fail once, and it's an instant Game Over. You later have to do this again on the Expert mode, except it's now nighttime, enemies are much more aggressive, and you'll be saving a government VIP who is actually Big Al's brother.
  • The Prince of Persia reboot trilogy goes through this:
    • The first game ends up undoing anything that happened, reviving anyone who died including Farrah and his father.
    • Which has serious repercussions in the much darker second game: the prince is chased by the Dahaka, a monstrous personification of Fate intent on killing him for messing with time. In the secret Golden Ending the Prince manages to prevent the creation of the Sands of Time and returns to Persia with Kaileena, the Empress of Time as his bride...
    • And then in the third game: the previous Golden Ending is undone by Jaffar who kills Kaileena, creating the Sands of Time. Furthermore, the Prince is infected by the sands - developing a darker Enemy Within alterego - and his father dies, this time permanently.
  • Songs and Flowers starts off largely upbeat, fun, quirky dating sim antics, all told from the perspective of Jazz, an often hilarious First-Person Smartass. Later, the story delves into topics like social anxiety, depression, social ostracism, and Jazz's search for her Missing Mom. All still with plenty of humor, but the issues are handled seriously. And then the game takes an even sharper turn when Jazz learns her mother may actually have been murdered years ago and her father has been taken into custody for questioning.
  • Mobile Virtual Paper Doll game, Love Nikki is mostly aesthetic, beautiful yet heartwarming as the theme of this game genre, until Chapter 15 in the main story where a major death event occurs where Lunar, one of Nikki’s friends dies at the hands of Nidhogg. All problems can be solved by fashion (contests), they said...
  • Daughter Raising Sim and Dating Sim combined game series, Princess Maker, in last two console platform main games, are in this trope.
    • In Princess Maker 4, the main game is mostly calm and just normal event flags in both main and side plots. However, the tension begins in a later important event where Prince Baroa spits the truth out that Patricia (the Canon Name of the daughter) is actually a half-demon, and her biological father is a demon king. The situation returns to calm, but in another event, it gets worse unlike the previous event mentioned above where Rise’s (one of Patricia’s friends) father gets ambushed by demons and dies from his severed injuries
    • The Princess Maker 5'' begins with the "raise a 10 year old girl until she's 18 years old" as per the common game mechanism, but it takes place in a modern Japan setting unlike the rest of the games. The story tends to get Darker and Edgier when knowing the daughter that you’ve raised was originally from another world after she got her memories restored. Cube’s amnesia spell to the daughter gets undone when Gateau, one of assassins from evil revolutionary forces in the daughter’s original planet / world, who has killed all (except the daughter) princess candidates and her biological parents, knows her present location, and attempts to kill her. This is because a princess is the sign of peace and harmony of 5 realms in her world, and the revolutionary forces hate that concept.) Later, the leaders of those revolutionary forces are also summoning their assassins to your world to kill her, as she’s the only princess candidate who survived the genocide. But no worries, this is your chance to train your daughter for Taking a Level in Badass so she can fight them back and save her world all by herself!
  • The Simpsons: Hit & Run has comical moments throughout the game, but it gets darker the more its plot comes to the surface. Levels 1 and 2 are mostly just Homer doing everyday things and Bart's adventures while skipping school, respectively. Then Bart is abducted at the end of Level 2, and finding him is the main plot of Level 3. Levels 4-6 are about uncovering and stopping the Big Bad, but because You Can't Thwart Stage One, Kang and Kodos end up unleashing a zombie apocalypse on Springfield. The seventh and last level is a Halloween remix of the first/fourth, with zombies (and for some reason, ghosts, witches, skeletons, and giant spiders) walking and driving the streets, and it's heavily implied that Professor Frink, Snake, and Abe die in the last few missions. The game literally gets darker to go along with this: Levels 1 and 2 are set in broad daylight, 3 at sunset, and Levels 4 and onward take place at night, with Level 7 having a gray, cloudy sky to boot.
  • The first few chapters of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 are somewhat lighthearted, being comparable to a Shōnen in terms of tone and characters. Even after Vandham's death, the game continues on with the same tone as before. Then Fan La Norne/Haze gets killed by Jin, and things take a turn for the worse, first with Torna capturing Pyra and Jin giving Rex a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, then with the journey through Morytha and the true nature of Jin's past, and immediately afterwards it is revealed that Praetor Amalthus and the Indoline Praetorium were Evil All Along, and the former is willing to destroy all of Alrest by controlling the Titans to attack one another. Finally, it is revealed that the World Tree is actually an elevator to a space station, that Alrest was really Earth All Along, the being whom Alrest worshipped as their God, the Architect, is actually one half of Professor Klaus from the previous game (the other half is Zanza, the Genius Loci Big Bad of Bionis), and that the events of said previous game are happening at the very same moment, specifically the ending where Shulk and friends fight Zanza, meaning that the heroes of this game are in a Race Against the Clock to destroy Artifice Aion and defeat Malos before Klaus dies as a result of Shulk killing his other half. Oh and it's implied to the player that Malos (Logos) and Pyra/Mythra's (Pneuma) Long Lost Sibling is Alvis (Ontos), also from the previous game.
  • Left 4 Dead was never a light hearted game to begin with, but the banter among the survivors is more or less down to earth and can sometimes lighten the mood. By the events of The Sacrifice DLC and the accompanying comic, Zoey and Bill's relationship is strained due to their disagreements on leaving others behind. The general banter is also more tense (though some funny moments can still occur) since the survivors are trying to figure out what to do with their lives now that the military won't help them. The whole thing ends with only three of the survivors making it out alive with Bill performing a Heroic Sacrifice to get other three to safety.
  • Not for Broadcast: During Episode 1, the story and the broadcasts are mostly lighthearted, but come Episode 2 and it devolves into chaos, with your family slowly breaking apart, and during the broadcasts, Advance begin to censor everything against them and start becoming more oppressive. One of the news anchors ends up being Driven to Suicide or gunned down by security on air, or is arrested instead depending on your choices.
    • Taken Up to Eleven when Advance nuke four cities and threaten to begin the apocalypse if the rest of the continent doesn't surrender. This is effectively the turning point between a corrupted democracy and a full-blown dictatorship with worldwide stakes.
  • The Castlevania series didn't take itself all that seriously at first, what with the first installment having a Credits Gag dedicated to spoofing famous Universal and Hammer actors. Flash-forward a couple of years later, and Lament of Innocence's plot revolves around both Hunting the Most Dangerous Game and Rage Against the Heavens, while a pivotal scene in Dawn of Sorrow depicts note  an innocent young girl being murdered.


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