Friday, March 25, 2011

Can't Stick the Landing – RPGs and poor endings.

 Not so long ago, I wrote about Dragon Age 2. I read a lot of reviews of the game, and ended up liking it in spite of some of the things others mentioned that bothered them. Yeah, the same few areas were re-used over and over again. Yep, game was too damned short. And it sure would have been nice to get out of Kirkwall just a little bit more.

What bugged me most, and almost enough to wreck the game for me, was the tepid final act. The ending was abrupt and seemed forced, with characters behaving in ways that were supposed to be designed to make final choices difficult. The problem is, a good ethical/moral conundrum should not rely on all sides being equally unpleasant. “You're all jerks, but I hate this guy a little less, so we go with him.” That's not a well-written morality tale, it feels more like the attitude of the average apathetic American voter.

Don't give me that look, You know what you did.

This isn't the first time that a game I've played has had an incredible buildup, only to let me down at the last moment. The most striking example I can think of is Fallout 3 (to be fair, I've played NONE of the expansions or DLC.) Throughout, Fallout 3 had an engaging experience, your choices seemed to matter and I was having a good time. Then, you get to the ending, and you are forced into a “this or that” choice, both of which aren't very good... and you can't even back out and decide later. I gritted my teeth, unhappy but resolved to see it through, and then got the ending. I'd beaten previous games in the Fallout series, and expected to see the consequences of my decisions and how they affected the world. Not so. The vast majority of the decisions I made turned out to be utterly meaningless as far as my ending.

This ruined the game for me, and is the reason I didn't continue on with any of the additional material.

War. War never changes. And neither does the ending, aside from 2-3 choices you made.

Thinking back on it, a lot of the Final Fantasy games were like this, too... the ending got so weird that I disconnected with what came before and stopped caring about the story. What is it about so many modern RPGs that have great beginnings, great mid-game, and then completely fall apart somewhere in the Third Act? There are a few things that will utterly ruin a game if included in the ending.

  1. Radically changing your storytelling right at the end: This includes not only the “we're all in a dream/the afterlife/the matrix” or the sudden inclusion of aliens or magic “a wizard did it”, but establishing one kind of pace and one standard for player input for the game, and another for the ending. Talk about ruining suspension of disbelief.
  2. Huge buildup to a climactic conclusion, and insufficient closure before providing a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are annoying enough in games, but they really rob the player of the experience if after hours and hours of struggle, there's no moment of “victory.” If you take away the feeling that a hero's fight accomplished something, who cares what happens next?
  3. Cardinal Sin: Do Not, I repeat, DO NOT let a character other than the one the player controls swoop in to be the deciding force in victory. If this ultra-badass is the real hero of the day, why did anyone else bother to show up? Thanks, I always wanted to play “unintentional sidekick.”
Almost everything listed above, in one game.  The ending is somehow less comprehensible  than being an underwater soccer star whose father becomes a Satan Whale.

What games really infuriated you with a letdown at the end? Was there one in particular that everyone else seems to hate but you actually kind of liked the ending for? Let me know.
Best Blogger Tips
  • Stumble This Post
  • Save Tis Post To Delicious
  • Share On Reddit
  • Fave On Technorati
  • Buzz This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Digg This Post
  • Share On Facebook
Blog Gadgets

24 comments:

D3 Blogger said...

Yeah i noticed many games have really bad ending. Maybe its because game makers lose interest or something

dreamatlantic said...

I think maybe it is because they just wanted more in the games, but had to find a way to make the deadline

techKNOWLEDGEy said...

Pretty much any game I ever play lets me down at some point in time. It's a sad sad realization.

jamierod.rodriguez said...

Play the expansions to Fallout 3 (except maybe Mothership Zeta). Broken Steel will definitely fix that letdown. The Pitt + Point lookout are great if you're more focused on atmosphere and exploring :)

Biff Tanner said...

Love them all!

Mike James said...

Hello
amazing blog
PLease take the time to check my blog out

showing some love

Jay.CA said...

this is why i don't personally invest in games. :D

Moob said...

Great games here.

Conspyre said...

Army of Two, while not an RPG, really did that to me in the final moments. They'd sold me on the goofy setting, but if you're going to have one character scripted to be the Big Damn Hero in the last couple of seconds, then force me to play him in single-player. That ending was so wonky, apparently they actually fixed it in a patch.

erics said...

couldn't agree more with point number 3. ffx was okay.

Electric Addict said...

I think in terms of story/plot, Bladur's Gate was better. Dragon's Age was much better in terms of combat etc though.

PekkaK said...

My all time favorite plot twist was in TV series Dallas: whole season was just a dream of one of the characters. Obviously the producers weren't satisfied with the writing, so they sacked all of them and hired a new bunch.

Christophe said...

gonna disagree completely with you about FFX. That game was amazing. And unlike the other games you mentioned, it didn't try to be a 'choices change your ending' game. And even if it had those three htings you listed, so what? It was an amazing game, it was never obvious what was going to happen, and I've enjoyed it more than once.

Sorry, I just picked on the FFX part because that's my fave game ever. :)

Chris said...

Fallout isn't like what it should be, disappointing enough, but I'm glad the gameplay is at least good. The story in most games is utter garbage, although there are a few gems (that need refining). Point 2 is a huge pet peeve on my part. I totally agree with you.

DocStout said...

Regarding FFX, I actually liked the game, but like with Dragon Age 2, I liked it in spite of its flaws, and the ending, in my opinion, was one of those flaws. Of the 3 games I picked on, I only had the game ruined for me with Fallout 3.

It is totally possible to have a good game with a bad ending, and I think FFX fits that mold.

fabio_2007 said...

have to play Dragon Age 2

Glovey said...

Awesome pictures man! Keep up the great blogging!

G said...

Ending are always a huge let down... as soon as I get to the point where I know how a game will end I then loose all interest in it.

Noock said...

Haha
" Thanks, I always wanted to play “unintentional sidekick.” "

But yeah good points. Although I think regarding to 1. a radical change can be good thing if it's executed well. Like if it can explain all things you've noticed before and you think "oh yeah so this is why that happened" and everything still makes sense.

2. is pretty much true, only one awesome game I've played and left cliffhanging is Half-Life 2: Episode Two, but that makes sense as
you are sure that you will find out all in next sequel:P

Meghan Moran said...

That sort of on-rails style storytelling is becoming a thing of the past. Which is definitely a good thing.

Major.Mack said...

bad ends are a prelude to sequels............

dgrphx said...

nice blog following this

YourArgumentIsCurrentlyInvalid said...

i love final fantasy :)

Joe said...

Final Fantasy 7 is the game that did it for me. I spent the whole first 30 or 40 hours of gameplay being an action hero and then all of a sudden I have to become a frickin' chicken farmer. No thanks, I want my time back and won't buy another FF game.

Post a Comment