Real Talk By: Atlas
Warning To The Readers:
Now, before I even start, let’s take a look at the title again, shall we? My top five. Mine. As is, belonging to me. As in, my opinion. You will likely not share my opinion, you may even find it completely stupid and wrong. But I’m just speaking from my own personal experiences, so if you don’t like it… well, you can just go fly a kite. However if you aren’t insanely elitist and stuck up, and are interested in other people’s opinion aside from your own, I invite you to keep reading. I also probably don’t need to say it, but I will anyway, that of course there are going to be spoilers. I will make sure you’re aware of what I’m talking about before I bombard you with key plot elements, but don’t be mad if you keep reading when you know you ought not to!
But let’s continue, shall we?
I’ve played many games and seen many endings, but very few have ever actually resonated with me. Most are just the logical and expected conclusion, just some way to stop the action and wrap up the plot, which is understandable, as most games are about the journey, not the destination. Since the ending is a halt of the action for the player, turning your active participation into a passive one, they usually leave me feeling a little flat. Games are meant to be active! They are meant to draw you in, taking up all that valuable space in your brain! Which is why a good ending can be so powerful. One that can engage you past the point of shooting that last bullet or that last swing of your sword. So many games finish with the basic “You win! Forever!” ending, or some variation of that. Yes you, the protagonist, triumphed over the evil baddies, the world is saved! Or the rather frustrating, congratulations on beating the game, now we will take everything away that you just earned, or what I like to call the, “What? You want a cookie?” ending. But whether it’s a cookie or a no-cookie ending, I have found few conclusions that made me illicit any other response other than, well, now I’m done, what should I play next? But instead left me staring at the screen, in either shock, delight, or even horror, wondering what just happened to me. Some endings left such a lasting impression that they’ve become permanently etched on the walls of my mind, and in some cases, I have contemplated the ending much more than the events of the game itself. But enough introduction, let’s get to it! These are the top four endings that affected me as a gamer.
Double Dragon (Sega)
Why are you laughing? Don’t laugh! What seems like a silly and irreverent beat ‘em up was one of the first games I ever managed to finish as a child. I couldn’t have been older than 7, possibly even 6, when my cousin and I roundhoused and punched our way through the Black Warriors gang to rescue our beloved Marian. As a small child, finishing a game was not easy. Especially one that we needed to play from start to finish in one sitting. We mashed buttons like madmen, until we defeated the final boss. We had done it! However, the game did not advance. After the blinking corpse of our bested foe disappeared, no arrows lit up to show the way, and we jumped at the edge of the screen, but to no avail. We must have waited for five or ten minutes, getting increasingly irate, assuming the game had broken and was glitching out. We had begun wildly hitting buttons, trying to make anything happen, until, my cousin punched me right square in the face and I took damage! The indignity! We immediately began screaming at each other and fighting tooth and nail. The dueling of our avatars almost spilled over into a real life fisticuffs, until my cousins kicked me to death.
The game rapidly advanced through the ending of the plot, and the reason for the deathmatch became clear; there was only one love interest, only one Marian, but two brothers who loved her. Only one could win her affections. After all of our hard work, blood, sweat and tears, and most frustrating of all, our teamwork, our brotherly bonds were rent asunder by some pixellated bimbo! Sure, I had done my fair share of killing for her, but I never expected to die for her! I learned then and there that sometimes you could win at something, and still manage to lose. And boy, that was a defeat/victory that sure stuck with me.
Grandia II (Playstation 2)
This little classic JRPG gem, though seemingly not well-known to anyone except avid JRPG gamers, I discovered while I was staying home from school in my adolescence. I believe I was recovering from appendicitis when I rented it from Blockbuster and had plenty of time to immerse myself in it. At the time I was obsessed with Anime and ate up anything that came out of Japan, but what I found was a surprisingly dense and interesting story that packed a wallop of a moral that has stuck with me into adulthood. While incredibly mature compared to it’s original namesake, Grandia II is still filled with all the outrageous characters, silly translated dialogue, over-the-top fighting moves and spells, and hyper-dramatic situations and story as you’d expect from any JRPG released during that time, all clamoring after the success of Final Fantasy VII. It all starts with a reluctant hero taking on a simple task for money, but becomes sucked into a worldwide battle between good and evil, all the while dealing with a love triangle that isn’t all that it appears to be.
The mechanics are turn-based and the character specialization and point based upgrades are highly strategic and involved, requiring a real motivation for micromanaging. I sometimes feel like I spent more time in the menu tweaking character options than I did in the game, which easily takes up to 30 or 40 hours to complete, but this sort of dedication to detail is right up my alley, so I loved it! The story of the game takes an interesting turn as the battle for good and evil turns out to be less black and white than originally thought. The final battle of the game pits you against the head of the church dedicated to the god of goodness, with only three out of a max of four possible team members. The story becomes a scathing review of religious institutions, and an anti-fundamentalist proclamation, ending with a brilliant monologue from the hero that insists that no matter how we came to be here, humans have inherited the earth, and must make peace with the fact that we are true masters of our own destinies. The game includes an active epilogue chapter as you run throughout the land as one of the former team members, experiencing first hand the changes that have happened to the people and places since the defeat of the final boss. Perhaps it was the age that I played this at, but I was sucked into this story and its characters, despite its obvious silly quirks, and it came about right at a time in my life when I was beginning to have control over my surroundings and my own future. It was a powerful sentiment and a satisfying conclusion that settled with me just right and still influences me to this day.
Braid (Xbox Live Arcade)
I know, it’s a bit too obvious, but I’ve been hard pressed to find anyone that completed this game without being completely stunned by the ending. The entire story of the game is a beautiful, mysterious and compelling trail of puzzle pieces and bread crumbs recalled by Tim, the protagonist, as he leads you down the haunting forests of his own mind. His recollection is at once fuzzy and confused, much like the player might remember things from his or her’s own perspective, unintentionally spewing biased views of past events seen through the rough and scratchy lens of time, or at other times sharp and poetic, creating scenes and situation that often resonate with players as universal truths. The story wanders, locked in separated rooms from the action of the game, or peaking in through hazy images that echo the themes of the levels. The most classic of all level endings, arriving to a castle seeking a princess, is put into a grinder, warp and distorted and spit back out to create an entirely new take on the oldest video game trope in the book. The abilities of each level walk hand in hand alongside the poignant passages of the story, weaving them together in ways many players won’t even to realize on their first play through the game. The mechanics are clever, and the puzzles all at once challenging and magnificently simple. Sometimes frustratingly so, when you realize the answer was staring you in the face all along.
Even though the twisting passages of the story are meant to contradict and confuse one another, the goal of the game is still clear; Tim must find his princess. She is never seen in the game until the very last level. Tim opens the final door into an underground passage, separated from the top half of the screen. The final scene is an exciting escape from the clutches of an evil monster from which the princess has escaped! You and the princess flee together, you below and her above, as she removes obstacles from your path so that you may join her topside and live together happily ever after! Until something peculiar… she runs into her home, and crawls into bed. You scale the vines outside and climb up to her window. The next two minutes or so are a horrifying realization as you see the reality of the situation. I don’t want to give away every little detail of this one, since it is a relatively new release and not everyone has experienced it, and even with the spoiler warning, I could not bear to take the experience away from even one person. But I will say this about it, this shocking ending comes with a thought-provoking message that any healthy, sane individual should be able to identify with: time and perception can play tricks on you, and since self-reflection is based on subjective memories experienced differently by everyone, it can be faulty and even dangerous. Does anyone ever remember anything the way it truly happened? Is there really a true way that it happened at all? That’s what makes this ending so fascinating. It’s amazing that a video game could leave you considering the nature of reality, especially in the way that Braid does, by engaging you in a perfectly crafted game, that dares to tackle a weighty subject by showing, and not telling.
Portal 2 (Xbox 360)
It goes without saying that I am also a major fan of the original Portal, and while I thought the concepts and writing were fabulous for a small game made by a small group of developers, it lacked a bit of that polish and story of which I am so fond. And then they made Portal 2. Generally, when I have big expectations for game releases I end up disappointed, the hype often can’t match the limitations of the game, but I was not disappointed in Portal 2 at all. Even the length, which is often cited as being too short did not bother me, I found it better to give a little less and leave them wanting than to oversaturate and render the product dull. I was and still am amazed by the entire idea of the Portal Gun, it’s a fun, challenging, and sometimes disorienting mechanic, that eschews the brute force that’s so often associated with the more typical style of games, for a more stealthy and clever form of puzzle solving, the often forgotten game type. While puzzles are right up my alley, the real meat of the game is in the brilliantly written dialogue of the old and new characters. GlaDOS is spot on with her return as antagonist, turned reluctant partner, and Wheatley joins the very tiny cast as an adorable albeit dimwitted instigator. The backstory of the testing facility is revealed through glimpses of the eccentric and egomaniacal Cave Johnson through the rise and fall of Aperture Labs at the same time as the bond is formed between the silent protagonist Chell, and the psychopathic AI, GlaDOS.
The final chapters of the game are fraught with action leading to the climax. GlaDOS is now your stalwart partner in the fight against the still adorable and maniacal Wheatley, who is drunk with power after assuming the main computer controls of Aperture Science. But the situation is dire, the lab is falling into ruin with the dull-witted Wheatley at the helm and he is actively trying to kill you before you can reach him. At this point the details of Chell are still mostly unknown, only that she is a tenacious survivor, refusing to quit, and you see this first hand as the final scenes play out. Like Braid, I don’t want to spell everything about the ending out, so if you’re really set on having it spoiled, go watch the ending on youtube or something. But one quick portal laid in an unlikely place creates an ending more intense than anything I’ve ever experienced in a game. I was gripped, my heart pounding, screaming at my TV like a madman. The music, the voice-acting, the animation and events are beautiful, unbelievable and nearly flawless. The satisfaction! The adventure! The rush! Every element of this game came together for me. The post action monologue and final cinematics are at once exactly how I wanted the game to end and something I never imagined. I felt such an extreme rush of emotion from completing this game, that even to this day when I hear the song played at the final confrontation of the story, I tense up, hold my breath at that most integral moment, and shudder with excitement as I relive the experience that makes me remember why I play video games in the first place.
It’s the search for that feeling that keeps me playing; that kind of unparalleled joy of ultimate accomplishment that I get from immersing myself in a great game with a wonderful ending.
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