This is my entry in the Community Colab: Video Game Classics 101 [link].
The game Hollow Knight by Team Cherry is, ultimately, a tragic one. The little ghost that the player controls has no free will, not even the will of the player, to break from the narrative. There are no quests that shift the narrative of the game, no branching plotlines to discover–the story must be follow to its sorrowful end, no matter what actions the player takes.
“No mind to think.
No will to break.
No voice to cry suffering.”
These are the words that condemn the little ghost to their fate; they are nothing but the Void, used to the Pale King’s end of sealing away the infection caused by the Radiance, a god forgotten by all but a few. In the end of the game–to the same sorrowful music as was used in the Soul Sanctum when fighting the Mistakes and Follies–the little ghost must defeat their own sibling, the true Hollow Knight, in order to take their place in sealing away the infection for good. The little ghost is, in the end, a tragic figure (so is their sister Hornet, if the Sealed Siblings ending is gained.)
At the start of the game, very little is known about the little ghost, who they are, and what their journey is about. As they journey, from Greenpath, to Deepnest, to the White Palace in Kingdom’s Edge, they learn more about their world, their purpose, and ultimately, their fate.
The little ghost has no dialogue in the game, having “no voice to cry suffering.” All that they can do is listen to those few that are still living in the world around them. The world of Hallownest is populated by reanimated corpses of bugs that serve the Pale King, and these are the enemies that must be defeated on the little ghost’s journey throughout the world of Hallownest. Along the way, the few friends they make, Quirrel and Cloth, both die in the end–Quirrel to abandon his nail, and Cloth to sacrifice herself in battle at the side of the little ghost.
In the Abyss, beneath Kingdom’s Edge, the little ghost learns of their siblings, the shadows that haunt them as they walk the very bottom of the Kingdom. They learn that the Pale King sacrificed their [the little ghost’s] siblings in order to find the perfect Vessel to seal away the Radiance. However, it is heavily implied that the Pale King grew to love his creation, and because of this love, the Vessel he chose was not perfect, and thus the Radiance could rise to infect Hallownest once more. That it was love of a father for his son that brought about the downfall of Hallownest is what makes Hollow Knight a tragedy.