Friday Flame Wars: Best and Worst Video Game Endings
Best Ending: Portal 2
The most important aspect of a story’s ending, to me, is that it delivers satisfaction. That doesn’t mean a happy ending — just one that brings appropriate closure to all relevant arcs. When Chell finally made it to the surface at the end of Portal 2, that was immensely satisfying. GLaDOS’ arc concludes nicely with a hint that the AI actually did grow sympathetic to Chell, and seeing Wheatley floating around in space brought closure to the pitiful character.
Worst ending: Diablo 3
Two words can sum up the entirety of this game: lost potential. The ending to Diablo 3′s ham-fisted story is the final, ultimate insult, with Tyrael delivering as trite a monologue as he could muster. The once-coolest character in the franchise is reduced to pontificating a message of hope while a symbolic sunrise checks the final box on the list of vomit-inducing, cheesy story clichés. Worse, no mention is made of Leah, the poor girl who suffered the most throughout the plot, leaving me ultimately dissatisfied and physically ill.
Best Ending: Chrono Trigger
In terms of satisfying conclusions, there’s just no comparison. Everything has been building to the final confrontation with Lavos, and when you finally choose to take him on, you have no help and nothing to rely on but yourself — you literally BUST YOUR WAY INTO HIM at the expense of your time machine. You’re not behind enemy lines, you’re INSIDE enemy lines. The battle is incredibly tough and expansive, with three stages, but the victory is incredible. It might be a simplistic ending for a game, but it manages to tie up all the threads and leaving you feel like everything you’d done mattered. It’s extremely satisfying.
Honorable mention: Mass Effect (not 3). Yeah, we knew Shepard wasn’t smashed under rubble but still, that moment when he comes running out from under the mess, after defeating Saren, with Sovereign collapsing and the Citadel in ruins — another extremely satisfying conclusion to a game. Your impact on the world mattered.
Honorabler mention: Metal Gear Solid 3. Yes, the story is not only incredibly melodramatic, but also ham-fisted, but one emotional beat lands perfectly: The Boss’s sacrifice. A woman so patriotic, she would allow herself to be turned into a villain to history for the sake of her country. The conclusion of the game is an incredibly sour note, overwrought though it is — you’re forced to kill the bad guy for the good of the many (kinda). It’s an amazingly formative moment for the character of Naked Snake, who would go on to be the (comically over the top villain) Big Boss, but you can totally see where he’s coming from when he has to kill his friend and mentor more or less at the whim of American political brass.
Worst Ending: Don’t get me started…
It’s hard for me to pin down a “worst ending” because the more I think about it, the more games deserve the accolade. In fact, the vast majority of games this generation fall into the “Worst Ending” category — I’d count Mass Effect 3, Gears of War 3, RAGE, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Assassin’s Creed 3, BioShock, Spec Ops: The Line, Far Cry 3, Fallout 3 and many more in the category of delivering conclusions that are at the least weak, and at the most, nonsensical. It’s tough to even pin down a “worst,” as the only way many of these could be worse is if they were the “it was all a dream” conclusion of Super Mario Bros. 2.
In fact, all these endings relate to a single issue of rushed, weak conclusions that spend two minutes with a generic wrap-up of a multi-hour story. All of them feel phoned in, which results in endings that are rarely satisfying. Often developers seem to run out of steam with endings and wrap up games as quickly as possible, often with a weak full-motion video and some voice-over narration. Endings are incredibly important to storytelling, and the fact that so many developers seem to not really give a crap about how they cap their stories suggests that gaming continues to have a huge distance to travel before it advances as a storytelling medium.