Christmas. For those that celebrate it, it is, at least according to the song, "The most wonderful time of the year". Arguably one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world, stories set at or around Christmas have appeared for hundreds of years, whether in the form of books, movies, or even plays. And video games are no exception. The various signifiers of the holiday season, from the music to the decorations to the jolly fat man who has a strange fascination with climbing down chimneys, are all very unique and can come together to create a sense of wonder that few times of the year can create. And besides, everyone knows what Christmas is, and what it looks like.
While games often avoid featuring real-world holidays or events to avoid dating themselves, there are still plenty of games that set themselves at the festive period at the end of the year, and some which even make it an integral part of their narrative. Whether it is using Christmas as a backdrop to tell a story about caring for others or to juxtapose violent gameplay or a dark narrative against the otherwise cuddly holiday, games that set themselves at this time of the year often manage to be both delightful and interesting in equal measure.
7 Spider-Man: Miles Morales
The follow-up to the hugely successful Marvel's: Spider-Man for the PS4, this PS5 launch title actually takes place primarily after Christmas, with the plot kicking off on Christmas Eve and the rest of the game occurring in the gap between December 25th and the New Year. Despite this, the game's opening hours are still solidly "Christmas-y"; giant wreaths decorate buildings, decorations adorn the insides of shopping malls and a Christmas tree has pride of place in the Morales's home.
Even when the plot moves forward and leaves Christmas behind, the New York that Miles explores is still blanketed in snow, with passersby dressed head to toe in winter clothes. While it might not be Christmas, it still has that aura and aesthetic of a Christmas movie, aided by Spider-Man's thematic staples of helping others and responsibility.
6 Saint's Row 4: How The Saints Saved Christmas:
The video game equivalent of a TV sitcom that takes punches at everyone and everything, it was no surprise when it was announced that Saints Row 4 would receive a DLC set around the idea of the Third Street Saints saving Christmas. But, even after the announcement, one question remained: how would they be saving the holidays? With good cheer and gift-giving? No, they would save the day with good ol' fashioned violence of course!
All joking aside, the DLC features an interesting story, adding three missions to the game alongside some additions to its already extensive list of side activities. Set after the end of the main game, the DLC sees the Saints set out on a mission to rescue Santa Claus from the simulation they had previously been held in with the help of a future version of Shaundi. Along the way, the Boss will develop an appreciation of Christmas (after being a bit of a grinch) and will help save Santa while helping to defeat an evil version of him named Klawz. You even get the chance to wear a horrible Christmas sweater!
5 Dead Rising 4
Another game that technically takes place after Christmas, and that also uses the holiday backdrop to contrast with violent themes, Dead Rising 4 sees players step into the shoes of photo-journalist and zombie slaying expert Frank West as he tries to survive yet another zombie outbreak. As this new outbreak began during Black Friday, there are plenty of Christmas decorations still up, and many more that can be converted into weapons by Frank, in classic Dead Rising tradition.
Joining all of the many Christmas ornaments are the various Christmas songs that are played on both the radio and in the various shopping malls that Frank frequents in his efforts to survive the outbreak. While the contrast between the game's violent content and the more jolly holiday music might create a strange feeling of dissonance, the Christmas theme makes for a fun, unique zombie-killing experience, one where you are able to kill an evil mall Santa!
4 Bayonetta 2
Unlike some of the other examples on this list, Bayonetta 2 takes place almost entirely on Christmas Day. The story even opens with the titular witch finishing off her shopping on Christmas Eve, her friend Enzo weighed down by a mountain of bags and boxes containing her purchases. Even when a monster appears and starts causing chaos, the Christmas theme continues, with series regular Rodin showing up dressed in a Santa outfit to gift Bayonetta her weapons.
While the holiday aesthetic gets left behind as the game progresses and more fantastical locations are visited, this opening ticks all the boxes when it comes to Christmas. All the hallmarks are represented; presents, snow, and Christmas trees are all represented. While it only really appears at the game's beginning and end, it sure does leave an impression.
The Yakuza series of games has become something of a surprise hit in the western world. A game series about the Japanese criminal underworld, it has gained a large cult following, with various spin-off titles (including the excellent Judgment which is one of the games that we recommend for getting into the series) released for multiple systems, as well as other, non-video game releases including spin-off novels, live-action adaptations, and even a few radio dramas. Not bad for a franchise whose original pitch was met by skepticism from several Sega higher-ups.
The first Yakuza game, simply called Yakuza, is set at Christmas. However, unlike other games on this list, there aren't too many references to the holiday season, aside from the occasional person wearing a Santa costume or Christmas-themed dress. The second game in the franchise, Yakuza 2, set a year later, follows suit, being set around the holidays.
2 Tom Clancy's: The Division
Another game that is not actually set at Christmas while still evoking it through the world design, The Division is set in a post-apocalyptic vision of New York City that has been devastated by a virus released on Black Friday. While the game might not be actually set during the Christmas period, New York is still blanketed by snow and ice, with Christmas lights and decorations front and center.
While this is another game that contrasts the Christmas-y setting with violent gameplay (the contrast is especially stark when you consider the apocalyptic setting of a disease-ridden New York), but several of the game's themes, including that of creating a community, do reflect the holiday season that the game takes place in.
1 Batman: Arkham Origins
A prequel to the Arkham series of games, Rocksteady's Arkham Origins follows their unique version of Batman early in his career. What makes the game stand out is that it takes place on Christmas Eve, and eventually, Christmas Day itself, showing Batman defending himself from a group of killers who are hunting him for the price on his head, all whilst attempting to track down a new supervillain.
While Gotham might not be as nice as Spider-Man's version of New York City, or even the virtual Steelport from Saint's Row 4, it does look festive, covered in snow and Christmas decorations. The season is brought up multiple times in dialogue, with even Batman mainstays such as Alfred and The Joker getting into the spirit of the season. Additionally, the game's holiday setting also acts as a nice reference to Batman Returns, the second of the Tim Burton films that starred Michael Keaton, which also took place around Christmas.
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