Utsuge is the Japanese portmanteau for "depressing/melancholy game". As the name implies, these games' goal is to make the player cry. Most of them are of the Visual Novel variety, in which the player is guided through an increasingly (melo)dramatic story.
Games of this type contain lots of typical tear-jerking material, with death, mental problems, loneliness and rejection as central themes. A lot of them contain at least one girl with a serious disease, who has to be helped by the player. Downer Endings are very common when the player fails to achieve this goal.
Utsuge are often populated by Bishoujo-style characters and aimed squarely at a Seinen (young male) audience. By far the most of them take the form of Dating Sims, where the dramatic material is used to give the on-screen girls more depth and character. In some of those games, the drama actually becomes much more prevalent, overtaking the premise of simply trying to date girls.
Most Utsuge, being Dating Sims, also contain some of the erotic content that comes with the territory. It is rare to find examples without any erotic content whatsoever, although some H-Games have been re-released without adult material to appeal to a wider audience, usually without suffering any negative consequences for the story or playability. Still, gaming companies generally don't explicitly market their games as Utsuge, instead emphasizing their Dating Sim-nature to appeal to the typically male audience.
Another common feature, or lack thereof, is the absence of any real villain. The sorrow instead comes from intangible forces like disease- which, in a way, makes the game sadder because there is no Big Bad, no easy target to blame for the tragedy, as if to say sometimes bad things just happen.
A similar term with different connotations is "nakige" ("crying game/sob story game"), which usually refers to games with depressing stories that get resolved in the end.
Contrast Iyashikei, which is more or less this genre's diametric opposite in Japanese media.
- Air Pressure, a depressing exploration into addiction, self-abuse, need, and boredom in a relationship.
- Ever17, especially Tsugumi's and Sora's paths, or worse yet, the Tsugumi/Sora bad ending.
- Higurashi: When They Cry and its Spiritual Successor Umineko: When They Cry form an interesting variation. Their main objective is not to make the players cry, but to scare them. Despite this, the games still manage to move the player emotionally. They succeeded in doing both in both series. The question arcs are supposed to confuse and scare us, but the answer arcs are straight Utsuge. Well, except for Matsuribayashi-hen. Tatarigoroshi-hen is also fueled by tears. Both games also have plenty of villainous characters including a Big Bad.
- Kana: Little Sister, an image source for the trope, it's premise is based on the illness of the main character's little sister and it's exploited to the fullest extent possible in the H-Game.
- Private Nurse: Come for the marketing as an H-Game, stay for the many, many moments of crying your damn eyes out. There is basically one path that leads to a triumphant ending, the rest count as Bittersweet Ending if not outright Downer Ending.
- Saya no Uta is a Cosmic Horror love story. Besides the gorn, the nature of the bishoujo, the inclusion of a Big Bad (Saya), and the other delightful elements, it fits this trope perfectly.
- Yume Miru Kusuri has three paths - one for the socially isolated school idol, one for the druggie kid, and the last one for the poor girl who is bullied with tasers in a classroom while the teacher assumes she is constantly falling out of her chair and screaming for no particular reason.
- To explain just how far down the rabbit hole this game goes, the ending of the above third girl's arc culminates in the player character and the girl strangling their primary bully while sweet and soft music plays in the background. The scene progresses to the point where the bully begins convulsing and pissing herself, followed by the two characters letting go of her throat and laughing about how close they just came to actually killing her..
- Katawa Shoujo falls under this heading as the routes can be heartbreaking. Every route has at least one Downer Ending and even some of the good endings are Bittersweet Endings. Rin Tezuka's route fits this trope the most. Hanako's route isn't too far behind, either.
- Hatoful Boyfriend. Most of the endings to the otome routes range from bittersweet to out and out tearjerkers — and that's just the main game. When you've finished all of those, there's still Bad Boys Love, the second half of the story, which, well. Let's just say it's nicknamed Hurtful Boyfriend for a reason.
- The Nitro Plus boys' love game DRAMAtical Murder is a nakige. The character routes of Clear, Koujaku, and especially Ren have the most positive endings. Ren's is specifically considered the True Ending since 60% of the story is revealed in it.
- Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon: the central themes of isolation and loneliness are abundant, given The Hero (and audience) wonders if he is truly the Sole Survivor of a planet set After the End. Meanwhile, the silver-haired heroine is an Ill Girl, one whom the Big Bad Shin wants to use as an Apocalypse Maiden. Supporting characters come and go, and more often than not, their respective ends are heart-wrenching, but beneath such melancholy and drama are The Power of Friendship and The Power of Love - that despite this post-apocalypic setting, the protagonist simply wants to find a companion to spend what life there is left in the world, regardless of the happy and sad moments that may occur. Even Shin turns out to be a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
- Seraphic Blue: The world of Gaia is a Crapsack World with countless problems like world destroying Gaia Cancers, Sera-human children mutating into monsters due to the fact that their existence defies natural laws, high suicide rates, corrupt authority figures, etc. On a personal level, the main characters are victims of all these problems along with more personal issues, to the point where almost all of them qualify as The Woobie. Of note is The Chosen One, Vene, who was abused and indoctrinated into becoming just as nihilistic and death-seeking as the Tragic Villains who want to destroy the world, and only thinks of life and saving the world as a painful chore at best. Most of the characters find some closure in the ending, but Vene continues to struggle with her deeply ingrained nihilism and suicidal tendencies.
- The Crooked Man is pretty sad. At the beginning of the story, the main character David has a really bad life; his sick mother can't remember who he is, his fiancée has just left him, and he's moved to a squalid little apartment. David is constantly haunted by the fact that he can never achieve his dreams of being a pilot due to his colour-blindness. Over the course of the game, the ghost of the previous tenant, who was severely depressed, tries to drag David down with him. A lot of the endings feature David killing himself. At the end, just after confronting the Crooked Man, David's mother finally remembers who he is, before dying. It gets better for David, fortunately.
- The Fruit of Grisaia has this as the general setting as each major character including the protagonist have complex issues that essentially requires them to be enrolled in an institution for troubled students. Whether their issues will ever be resolved in a satisfactory manner will be up to the player, and even then the path is thorny for the characters involved.
- eden*: They were only two, on the planet.. That is all.
- sweet pool is another Nitro+Chiral game that is famous, or infamous rather, for having no happy ending. All six possible endings are bad endings, and they are filled with either Tear Jerker, Nightmare Fuel, or both.
- To the Moon: You play a pair of scientists who go into a dying man's memories and try to implant a memory that he has been to the moon... except he has memory problems and doesn't know why he wants to go, so you have to find out why. Throughout the game, you discover many tragic events in his life, the most well-known of which is the story of his wife's death, and their promise to meet again on the moon.
- All of the games made by the extremely popular company Key/Visual Arts, with CLANNAD often being considered the pre-eminent example of Nakige in the West. There's a reason why the Laconic page for each game ends with 'bring tissues'.
- ClockUp's Euphoria, Fraternite, and Maggot Baits (their more plot-orientated, serious H Games) combines this with Torture Porn.
- The game Family Project ~Kazoku Keikaku~ is full of unfortunate characters and tragic situations. For example, one of the first characters you meet is a homeless Chinese girl. It's another game made by D.O., who brought you Crescendo, Kana: Little Sister, and others, and it's one of the highest rated visual novels on ErogameScape, a Japanese database.
- Narcissu is about terminal illness. One of the most popular nakige out there.
- Tears 9, 10 features an illegal immigrant girl and all the sob stories that come with it, including discrimination.
- YU-NO (1996) is arguably the Trope Maker. Its True Route has tragic plot elements similar to those later used by Nakige titles.
- A non-visual novel example with Ori and the Blind Forest, which hits you with boatloads of tragedy before you even begin the game proper, with Ori being taken in by Naru, only for both of them to die slow painful deaths after the death of the Spirit Tree. Meanwhile, what few other cast members there is, even the villain, turn out to have tragic backstories, to the point that nearly every new plot revelation is a sad one, and though it does eventually pull out a happy ending, it's still very bittersweet due to Kuro's redemptive sacrifice, and the death of Gumo's entire species meaning that he's The Last of His Kind. raocow sums up the game perfectly.
raocow: The game that rewards you with sadness.
And now you know all there is to know about The Crying Game.