It’s hard to end a story. There are times where it’s clear somebody on the writing staff really busted their ass to pull off a satisfying ending that everyone will remember. But then again, many things have endings created by an executive with some blood dripping from their nose and white powder on their suit bursting into the writer’s room and demanding a cliffhanger so they could make a sequel. Personally, there’s nothing I love more than a killer third act. One last great scene can totally redeem all the mistakes perpetrated beforehand. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself – because this article will be looking at endings in video games– so let me use a movie as an example. ParaNorman may be a movie that kids can watch, but a surprisingly adult turn comes towards the end and leads to some of the most visually inventive sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie. It should be taught in schools. Endings are powerful stuff! And here are some of them! Warning: I will go into explicit spoilers here, so if you haven’t played any of these games and want to go into them pure, stop reading!
Good: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
Between a tighter focus and some great new mechanics, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood proved Ubisoft had the chops to make Assassin’s Creed into a yearly franchise. Also, I envy that beard Ezio’s sporting. Even though this series has never been known for interactive story beats, the ending is a great example. After Desmond solves a platforming puzzle, he again makes contact with the First Civilization. (Short version: the mythos is basically every “these guys existed before us and had super-advanced technology” story mixed with the secret societies and historical revisionism of National Treasure) After about two or three lines of expository dialogue, the player takes over. But you’re not playing as Desmond. Instead, you’re controlling the First Civilization spirit that has taken over Desmond’s body. Then you stab his girlfriend. It’s a crazy moment that had me rush out and buy Revelations as soon as I experienced it. Which leads me to…
Bad: Assassin’s Creed 3
Maybe I would have been angrier if Assassin’s Creed 3 had been fun up to this point. And I’m not opposed to the idea of cliffhangers. I just praised Brotherhood’s insane finale, after all. But the protagonist putting a knife in his love interest’s gut is something we can all understand. So much is dumped in the last few seconds. This isn’t the kind of cliffhanger designed to pique interest. No, this brand new danger we’ve never heard of before was added because Abstergo has been dealt with. Assassin’s Creed 2013 needs an antagonist! At give the player control of Desmond when he activates the MacGuffin. Or maybe design a more entertaining game.
Good: Mass Effect 2
You returned from the dead. You reunited with old friends. You travelled around the stars, putting together an elite team to stop the Collectors. You went through hell for them, earning their trust by any means necessary. You discovered the horrible truth about your foe, and how they were related to our predecessors. You fell in (and made) love. Hardened by many trials, your team assaulted the enemy base in what could be charitably described as a “suicide mission”. Maybe some good friends died. Or, if you were lucky, everyone made it out alive. You saved the universe again, ending the Collector threat for good. You’ve been through a lot. And when you step into the damaged cargo bay, music swelling, nodding to your teammates – no, brothers and sisters – as you take in the magnitude of what you’ve just done, you realize your true enemy will not take this affront lying down. The Reapers are coming.
What a fantastic ending.
Bad: Mass Effect 3
A child died in front of you, so you fixate on this for what has to be weeks. You fixed the universe’s problems without any real conflict. You killed Reaper after Reaper, totally destroying any menace these unknowable beings had. Your victory lap was empty, lacking the depth of your previous adventures. You overheard a lady on the Citadel talking about how she left her cell phone, so you go back to her planet and get her cell phone. Now she can keep playing Angry Birds Space. Great job. You battle your way through London, allies dropping left and right. You finally reach your goal to face the ultimate mastermind…and it turns out you’ve been played. None of this mattered. You weren’t even a pawn. And the plan doesn’t make sense. Everything that lead to this wasn’t even for naught; it wasn’t even a blip on this creature’s radar. How could you have seen this coming? The final choices it offers you are confusing and unclear. The knowledge of how little you matter is almost crushing, but you choose one of three different colors. Blue is a nice color. Wait, exploding Mass Relays are supposed to destroy whole systems, right?
And then it was all a bedtime story. What a joke.
Good: Red Dead Redemption
There was really no other way it could have ended. Depending on how you played him, John Marston was either a schizophrenic psychopath, or a former criminal dragged back into a life he wants no part of. If you went down the intended path, the FBI’s inevitable betrayal and Marston’s demise are more tragic. You’ve spent a fairly sizable chunk of time forming this character and spending time with his family. His death actually means something. This isn’t even counting the game’s true ending, set three years later, where you hunt down the G-Man responsible as John’s son Jack. You shoot the guy, walk away, and get a late title card that really hammers everything home. All the loose ends have been tied! You don’t really see that in video games nowadays.
Bad: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Human Revolution was a game with many issues, but I still really enjoyed it. The plot was better than your average conspiracy story, and deserved a far better ending than it got. You have four buttons. Push one. Then you get a really generic sequence of stock video with a narration that gives you no information about the effects of your decision. Of course, since this is a prequel, it’s hard to commit to one specific choice. But maybe that means the multiple endings aspect should have been cut entirely if there’s no way to successfully pull it off.
Superb: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
This is the one I refuse to spoil. 999’s mind-blowing True Ending simply must be experienced, preferably after finishing the other available endings. Without the repetition, I doubt 999 would have gotten the critical acclaim it did. I consider the full True Ending run to be the game’s ending, mainly because the contrast between the bad and true endings is what really gives all the revelations their punch. And by god, are those punches brutal. There’s nothing quite like it on the market, and I doubt we’ll bottle this particular bolt a second time. If you own a machine that can play DS games (and you probably do, because who doesn’t by this point?), you really need to play this. Daniel and Keith have talked about this at length, so I’ll point you in their direction if you want to hear about the meat of 999. But come on. I’m the one you all trust, right?
There are some games with fantastic endings that I really didn’t want to spoil, but should probably mention here:
Spec Ops: The Line
Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 3
The Walking Dead
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
Persona 4 (Golden)
That’s just to name a few! What are some of your favorite video game endings? And don’t say Final Fantasy X, or I’ll cut you! Maybe.