Video games are a curious media. Back in the day they could have rewarding endings for the set number of hours invested. Typically games like Super Mario Bros 2 for example could be completed in one sitting. This gave the cute ending a satisfying feeling. However, the game industry has changed a lot over the years and that finish line has been pushed further and further back. These games, some games can be an investment not just financially, but in a ridiculous amount of time as well.
I get it, we all want value for our dollar. But what games really make us feel like we have that value? Titles like Fallout, Elder Scrolls, and The Witcher 3 all come to mind because there is a lot going on. Even if you didn’t care much for how Wild Hunt wrapped up, or you got a bad ending, at least the journey was fun. But what about games that are more of a grind? That finish line is pushed back even further for those and it can feel awkward if you are focused on that satisfying ending.
Wrapping up a story is difficult. With games today, we spend a lot more time with each individual title so when things fall flat, we feel even more impacted. After spending dozens of hours or more with the characters we develop a connection. If things stray far from what we expect, it can be a complete disappointment. It’s difficult sometimes for a team to see that because they aren’t making a game the same way we play one. We’re watching the story unfold, and they’re trying to weave it together. Potentially even knowing what the ending will be before they even start crafting the intro.
This all stems from we wrapping up a couple games recently. In the novel Pages of Pain, a dungeons and dragons adventure that focuses on the realm of Planescape, the book actually encourages readers to stop reading near the end. The book makes a very good point that before you read that last chapter, anything can happen. It’s up to your imagination at that point. But once you commit to knowing the end of a story, it’s become a thing. You’ve experienced the closing moments and for better or worse you’ve watched what the creators produced to end their game.
In a way, I don’t play games to finish them. Some I do, but those are rare and few between. I’ve been disappointed so many times. But if the story is never complete, then I’ll never know if it’s a good or bad wrap up. Reviewing video games has helped this too. Typically through Broken Joysticks I was only given four hours to review a game. That was an impossible task for JRPGs. In that time you can get a feel for the game, but certainly not complete it. I’m oddly enough there right now with The Witch And The Hundred Knight 2. I’ve played the game for eight hours and made it a pitiful way into it.
Maybe we don’t need all games that have endings. Some do. Right now I’m absolutely loving Tokyo Xanadu, but that’s because it’s episodic. There’s so much content to it and I feel at home in it. Like playing The Witcher 3, it’s keeping me engaged. I don’t know how it will end, but I have a confidence in it. Other games really have dissuaded me from trying though. One of the biggest issues with other JRPGs I’ve come across is the promise of too many answers. Everything is always a mystery and then when you get to the end and get slapped with a, “Huh, maybe it’s a question that doesn’t need an answer,” you feel terribly let down. That pay off needs to be there.
There are some incredible video game endings. Wrap ups that really made us take notice of the genre of story telling and come to adore the medium. Others have left us completely shattered and not knowing why we bothered. In the 80’s it wasn’t a big deal. So you spent a few hours playing a game only to thwart the villain. These days it could be a hundred hours or more only for the main character to have a moral quandary at the end, want to hug the villain, and you’re left with the credits after that. I get it. Having alternative resolutions instead of “good guy defeats bad guy” is great, especially in live action series and animation. In video games though you’ve just aggressively fought to the end of a really long game.
Some endings just irked me. They’re complete anti-climaxes and they’ve left me feeling stupid. A video game ending is supposed to be a grand affair. The world is at stake! One Winged Angel is blaring in the background while you’re seeing the enemies special attack literally destroy the whole solar system just to damage your part! That is how a game should end. Yet in other titles I’ve seen the exact opposite. The whole, “Oh you reached the end! Here’s your cookie and the credits!” NO! I need that huge satisfying boss battle and resolution to the story line that doesn’t leave me feeling distraught about the characters I’ve spent FAR too much time with.
It’s difficult. You’re not just speed running through Super Mario Bros. to finally see the princess who IS in that castle. Instead you’re investing days into seeing how these climatic and episodic stories unfold. That’s a tall order to fill in a satisfying manner. Classic video games had to easy but they still did it well. Even Kirby on the NES switched things up and made for an interesting wrap up. Gamers what to know what is going to happen. Having that resolution at the end of a long journey is what makes that adventure worthwhile.
It needs to be grand, and it needs to make sense. There’s no room for confusion when the story is wrapping up. I get it. Some games these days are made to be talked about. “What do you think that ending meant?” is a cool concept, but it is something that only works sparingly. That and people have to really be invested in your game to not feel completely ripped off by that sort of wrap up. Can you imagine if Samus was wandering through SR-388 and suddenly started seeing random clowns standing around? Eventually dialogue starts coming up, talking about a great computer system that once was. Before long she’s in her ship, flying off as the credits roll with no boss battle or resolution. You’d be rightfully flabbergasted! Yet some games do have that sense of falling off the rails.
For me, I think I’m happy as a gamer who enjoys experiences. Yes, Tokyo Xanadu is fun for me. Why? Because I get to experience stuff. The game slowly rolls out new locations and interesting stories. However, give me a more open game and I’d prefer to just play around. Put Grand Theft Auto 3 in my hands for the first time and I’ll drive around and enjoy the city instead of the story. Maybe that’s what makes games still appealing to me. They don’t have to be completed. I want to wrap up some of the classic stories I’ve enjoyed, but others can remain a mystery. Let alone if a story continues over multiple games there’s always that chance that the rest of the story may never be released.
So in the end, enjoy the journey. If you never finish the games you buy, don’t feel bad. Have fun with them and be glad for that. Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do. Why ruin the good time you’re having? Just assume everyone lives happily ever after, or whatever grand ending you have in mind. Then enjoy the gameplay instead. Invest your time into the stories you really feel dedicated to. All those other goodies? Just enjoy them. An ending can make or break a game. Sometimes it’s best to just be happy with your imagination.