Videogame endings can be a tricky business, as Bioware found out when they released Mass Effect 3. The game was fine, of course, but the ending — in which the players’ decisions seemed to affect very little, and more importantly, indicated that the events of the three Mass Effect games might not have have made any difference — well, it made fans so angry that Bioware is putting out a DLC just to assuage them.
Regardless of how you feel about Mass Effect 3‘s specific ending, you can probably see where gamers are coming from. Videogames require both skill and effort, and gamers want to feel rewarded for the time and work they put it. They don’t want to spend 70+ hours on an RPG just to watch the characters fail and the planet get annihilated. We put in all of those hours of our precious time in leveling up and training and making difficult choices, after all, and we expected to be rewarded with something that is worth our investment.
However, that doesn’t mean game developers always give us a happy ending. While Mass Effect 3 might be the most recent example of a popular videogame ending on a bummer, there are several games out there that make ME3‘s ending look positively uplifting. Here, in no particular order, are 10 of them.
10) Halo 3
Once the dust settles from the Human-Covenant War, Master Chief and his allies manage to protect Earth from complete destruction, as well as put a permanent stop to the Covenant from ever pulling a wacky stunt such as that whole “purging the universe” business again. Normally this would be cause for a celebration, if it weren’t for the fact that a massive number of humans who would be doing the celebrating are now space dust, seeing as almost all of the human colonies across the now close-to-defunct interstellar empire have been destroyed.
With a death-toll of 23 billion civilians and military personnel, as well as the loss of the entire human fleet and armed forces, the survival of the human race presently stands less of a chance than a snowball in hell. Their only hope is that 343 Industries is kinder to them in development of the story for Halo 4 than Bungie ever was.
9) Final Fantasy Tactics
After avoiding the many, many people who want him dead for one reason or another, the hero Ramza is at last given the satisfaction of cornering the puppet master of all the entire bloody events in the game and wringing her scrawny little neck. Just as victory is within grasp, however, the final boss decides to pull one last douchebag move by creating a massive explosion of light that vaporizes not only the entire battlefield, but also herself and all your deployed troops. Although it’s hinted in the prologue that at least Ramza and his younger sister Alma survive the blast, one has to wonder just how many of those troops loyal to them throughout the course of the game were lucky enough to make it out alive. let alone go on to live a peaceful post-war life as the siblings did.
But that’s hardly all! After Ramza blows up, the supporting character Delita Heiral becomes King of Ivalice, earning his crown by betraying his best friend and losing his own sister, loyal subordinates, and the trust of his wife, who stabbed him through the gut with a knife after finding out of the atrocities he committed and which caused him to subsequently kill her in retaliation. Plus, Delita becomes the hero of the war, while Ramza — and thus the player — becomes a footnote in Ivalician history.
8) Megaman Zero Series
Kicking off this tragedy conga line is the death of Megaman X, who turns out to be a copy of the original, who died years ago when he sacrificed his life to protect both humans and Reploids from the Dark Elf by creating Neo Arcadia. Zero’s actions shake the infrastructure of Neo Arcadia, leaving it vulnerable to the tyrant Dr. Weil, who forces Zero to watch all of his best friend’s sacrifices come to naught when the mad doctor’s schemes frees the Dark Elf from its confines.
Neo Arcadia and a good number of both races get destroyed in the process, and while Zero manages to stop Weil’s twisted ambition by killing him during the final battle at the orbital satellite cannon, it’s hinted that Zero doesn’t survive the ensuing explosion either, as the only part left of him is a broken helmet on a field of barren wasteland. There is a light-hearted note about how the humans and Reploids manage to peacefully co-exist and start rebuilding a better future thanks to Zero’s actions, but that still doesn’t erase the fact that he won’t be around to see the world he helped create.
7) Grand Theft Auto IV
At near the end of the game, the player is given a choice when re-encountering Dimitri Rascalov, the person who sold Niko out to his enemies from Eastern Europe, to either strike a deal regarding a load of valuable heroin or take revenge on him for everything he has done. Choose the Deal path, and Dimitri sends an assassin to kill Niko’s buddy Roman at his wedding the next day. The Revenge path is no better — although Niko takes out Dimitri preemptively, one of Dimitri’s goons pulls a drive-by revenge shooting, which kills Niko’s love interest Kate McReary just as she finally agrees to go steady with Niko.
While the player is allowed the chance to retaliate against either Dimitri or his henchman, the fact that both Roman and Kate are quite likable characters makes their impending doom that much harder to swallow. It’s a Sophie’s Choice, where the player realizes that even after blowing away Dimitri’s (or his goon’s) digitally-rendered head, there is no way for them to bring both Roman and Kate back save for hitting that reset button on their console and starting a new game.
6) Persona 3
After battling the mind-eating Shadows and their leader Nyx, the SEES team discovers what caused the Shadows to appear is humanity itself. As long as some humans are depressed, hopeless and suicidal, the Shadows will be free to prey on the living. Recounting all of the moral lessons he has learned up until the finale, the silent hero uses up all of his powers to create a barrier between Nyx and humanity’s darker desires in order to prevent the Fall of Humanity from happening.
The price that he has to pay, however, is slowly dying in the next three days… which you have to play. It truly is disheartening for the player to watch the life slowly but surely drain away from their avatar each day, leading up to the character’s planned graduation day from high school that he sadly can’t attend. The closure and explanation provided in the game’s expansion, P3: FES, isn’t much better either, and it is heartbreaking to see that your death was the cause of your former teammates’ falling out, to the point that they’re willing to kill each other to achieve their own personal goals.
5) Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus places the player in the shoes of Wander as he travels the land to slay sixteen colossi to free his girlfriend(?) from an evil curse. It quickly dawns on the player that Wander isn’t slaying evil creatures — these giants are simply minding their own business, seemingly hurting no one in the practically uninhabited landscape, until Wander comes to murder them. On the way to the 16th and final colossus, Wander’s horse Agro sacrifices himself, killing the one companion you have that isn’t a comatose girl.
So the game is already depressing when the ending arrives. Wander, possessed by the souls of the Colossi and transformed into a monstrous being, complete with horns on his head, is killed by a group of knights before he can see his gal pal wake up. The silver lining is that she does, and then finds a horned baby who may or may not be Wander and who may or may not be able to “atone” for Wander’s “crimes.” Still, 16 perfectly peaceful Colossi and one awesome horse are still dead, and Wander never even got to see if his lady woke up.
4) Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Prequels where the protagonists are never mentioned again in later entries of a series rarely end well for said characters, and the individual endings of this game seems very determined to top that stigma. Xehanort made off with Terra’s body, and left his consciousness in a discarded empty armor to stew in anger in the site of the final showdown for 11 years. Ventus was forced to destroy his own heart to banish Vanitas and the X-Blade, with the fragments that survived seeking refuge in the heart of a young Sora. As for Aqua, while she did get her shot at a roaring rampage of revenge against Xehanort, she made the difficult choice of allowing herself to fall into the Realm of Darkness in exchange of saving Terra’s body, where she would be forced to wander the hostile environment for god knows how long.
Perhaps sensing that three tragic victories in one game is too bitter of a pill to swallow by the player, Square Enix promised a degree of hope in the game’s secret ending implying that one day Sora would save the fallen trio and make things right. Still, until Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance resolves at least part of their stories, this is the fates that the player would have to accept with the protagonists they have come to be attached with through the course of the game.
3) Mother 3
Young Lucas’ life has been far from ideal ever since the day his mother died. His twin brother Claus went missing, his father abandoned him due to his obsession to find Claus, and his peaceful hometown has been overrun by the pig-mask army. To make matters worse, Lucas and company also need to deal with the mysterious masked man hired by Porky, leader of the pig-mask army, who’s tasked with undoing the seal to the Dark Dragon, a being believed to have enough power to destroy or recreate the world depending on who undid the seals.
While the rag-tag crew manages to foil Porky’s plans, Lucas is forced to swallow a bitter pill when it’s revealed that the masked man is Claus… right after the killing blow leaves his twin dying by his feet. Just to mess things up even more, the Dark Dragon is revived and proceeds to destroy the pig-mask army, the island of the characters’ homes, and, as is implied by the ending sequence, every single character the player has encountered up until the endgame, including Lucas himself. While they did reassure you that they were alright during blank-screen sequence before the credits roll, it still remains ambigous whether or not they did manage to escape to safety or if they were all in fact speaking to you from the afterlife.
2) Blaze Union/Yggdra Union
As with any story of war and revolution, peace and prosperity didn’t come without a heavy price to pay. In the process of toppling the warmongering Emperor, Garlot lost his mentor, lost his potential love interest, was betrayed by his childhood friend, and manipulated by his own mother who wanted to harness his demonic powers. All of these events turn the already unbalanced young hero into a massive emotional train wreck that was very easy to manipulate by Nessiah to do his bidding. As such, it’s no surprise that, three in-game years later, Garlot drowns in his own madness, and adopts his birth name of “Emperor Gulcasa” to wreak havoc throughout the entire continent and sets up the events that take place in the sequel, Yggdra Union.
What sets this tragic victory apart is the player is set up in a role akin to Obi-Wan Kenobi, nurturing the rise and triumph of their championed protagonist only to be cruelly tasked to put him down. It’s made even more painful in the second game when the player is given no choice but to mow down Gulcasa’s allies, the very same characters they had rooted for in the first game, and made the fallen hero watch his friends, younger sister, and loved ones perish one by one before ultimately killing the former protagonist as well. As games that preached an anti-war sentiment in their plot, the message was heard loud and clear: all victories in war are tragic, and nobody really wins.
1) Final Fantasy VII
Obviously, many nerds know the story of Final Fantasy VII — heck, they can recite the Latin lyrics of “One Winged Angel” by heart. But for the benefit of those who have not experienced the plot for some reason, here is a quick, wildly over-generalized summary: boy meets girl, boy blows up reactor belonging to evil corporation, girl helps boy fight evil corporation with friends, boy and girl meets villanous mama’s boy, villanous mama’s boy wants to blow up the planet, boy and friends rush off to stop him. Oh, and something something Aerith dies. And then said villainous mama’s boy summons a meteor to crash into the planet and kill everybody.
Once Cloud and crew beat Sephiroth, they’re dismayed to see that Meteor is still coming. They’re powerless to stop it, until Holy — the counter-spell cast by Aerith as she died — arrives and begins to break down Meteor. Unfortunately, Holy isn’t powerful enough, and Meteor keeps coming directly for the city of Midgar. The PCs are again powerless… until the Lifestream, the physical spirit of the planet, begins to seep out of the land and begins to augment Holy. So the day is saved, right? Not quite. As the game has explained on several occasions, when Meteor was cast the first time, centuries ago, the planet also used the Lifestream to heal itself — but was forced to take the lives of all the people on the planet in order to have the power to save itself. Now that the Lifestream is involved again, will it need to wipe out humanity in order to survive? Given how bad humanity has fucked things up, would that really be such a bad thing? The game doesn’t say, as everything simply disappears in a while flash of light.
While the eventual CG movie sequel Advent Children does plainly state that Cloud and Midgar live, the actual game is much more coy. A brief epilogue begins “500 years later,” where the wolf Red XIII and his cubs bound up a mountainside to look over the ruins of Midgar, completely reclaimed by nature. There’s not a human in sight, but there is the faint sound of children laughing. Are those Red XIII’s cubs laughing? Did humanity actually survive? Is that just the voices of the Lifestream? The game lets you decide.