Last week the guys debated which was the worst videogame ending ever. And now they bring you the further debate on this week’s very special episode of No Right Explanation.
Chris: Boy oh boy, I was quiet excited to get to dive into this one as if there’s anything I like to do, it’s to tell Mass Effect 3 complainers to take a seat, shut up, and get some perspective. Worst Video Game Ending Ever. What a lofty claim! Why? Because an ending, like a game’s value, is all subjective. You may very well have loved the ending to a game that someone else thought was a deal-breaker. For the sake of debate, Kyle went with Grand Theft Auto III, and I with Final Fantasy VII. I’ll admit, this was a debate I was already putting Kyle into a corner with as Kyle is one of those people who have played a fair number of games, but rarely sees the ending.
That said, the only real arguments that he didn’t bring up was that with GTA III and all of Rockstar’s games, we laud the storytelling and point to it as a key example for why they can get away with glorified murder-simulators (politicians’ words, not mine). I remember playing through GTA III and hating much of the time I spent in Liberty City, but the saving grace was that the characters around the voiceless protagonist (Claude) actually happened to be mildly interesting at the time and voiced pretty well. So imagine me, hating the final story mission of the game to a painful degree, only to discover that my character shoots the annoying girlfriend before the final credits. You know, completely doing away with the whole point of that final mission that I hated so much. What an insult.
As for arguments Kyle could have used against FFVII, that’s tough for me to think about because I really can’t think of anything that doesn’t make the ending sound bad in comparison. The ending is unfairly ambiguous around a plot that already confuses the hell out of me thanks to wonky flashbacks, and to cap it all off I genuinely cared about the characters, only to have zero resolution. I don’t give a crap whether the planet survived. I didn’t just play an 80 hour game because I had a deep connection to the planet. I didn’t spend hours level-grinding the planet’s abilities. I didn’t watch the planet get stabbed and then told I couldn’t go kick some ass for another two discs. Getting rewarded with a time-skip that says “Well, at least the planet is alright” isn’t anywhere near satisfying. And if you’re under the theory that it was meant to be open for interpretation, then why make so many spin-off games that slowly answer all the questions I was left with?
Still, with this particular topic it’s all based on personal choice, as I previously said. I didn’t have to look hard to decide FFVII was the worst ending from my eyes, but I did have to stop myself from making Kyle pick some of the other games I felt were awful. At least one commenter noticed that I put Fable II in the background, a game that ensured I wouldn’t be playing another Fable game since (and have not). That one was all based around building your own adventure via personal choices and nonsense, then just let you pick an ending that any Dragon Ball Z fan would have been furious with (“Why not just make the wish to bring back everyone affected by Lucian?! You fool!”).
Worst still are two other stains but for entirely different reasons, and because I don’t want to be considered a fanboy for anything other than Nintendo I have an example on the 360 and one on the PS3. Halo 3 and God of War 3 were games that had a lot to live up to, specifically because the previous games in their series demanded that you not only buy the third game to resolve the plot, but a new console as well. I loved the God of War games until the very end of God of War II, then I realized that the third came would have an impossible battle of justifying its $60 price tag (assuming you bought everything Day One). It did not. It insults the intelligence and patience of everyone playing, more specifically me, but it still didn’t bug me as bad as Final Fantasy VII‘s ending. Why? Because Kratos never made me cry. I don’t care that you’re not real Sephiroth, I will find you and I will kill you someday!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some calibrations I need to get back to.
Kyle: Clearly, I’ve misjudged the gauge of how much an ending can ruin things for you folks. I actively avoided Mass Effect 3, because I was told flat-out that the ending is so bad that it will ruin an otherwise great game. Then, when I made that decision, I was mystified by the idea that I should totally play it, just to see how bad it is.
Well, long story short, I stand by my decision to argue GTA III. Sure, Halo 2 had that massive cliff-hanger (which seems to be wounding the second game of any trilogy these days). Yes, Modern Warfare 3 had a highly predictable and unsatisfying ending. But I wanted to illustrate how an ending can just feel empty and not like an ending at all.
While Vice City had a depraved we-now-rule-this-town vibe to it and San Andreas had a family roots feel and a cyclical framing that takes you back to the starting area, GTA III just gave a bit of a shrug and said, “So, that’s it. How about you try to fly the Dodo for six hours now?” It’s not an ending. It’s a punch-line.
Keep in mind, though, Chris makes a good case for Final Fantasy VII. While he emphasized the annoying ambiguity and inconvenience of having to buy a movie ten years later to resolve stuff, he left out an important detail.
Many comments reminded Chris that ambiguity is not necessarily a bad thing, such as the ending moment of Inception. But is the ambiguity of the FF VII ending appropriate? I would say it goes against the manner in which the rest of the story is conveyed, definitely.
And besides, it wasn’t the ambiguity that we remember from that ending. It was the abrupt nature of how it was delivered to us. We get a moment of peril with a meteor approaching, and then a flash forward that seemed rather inconsequential in relation to the characters and the plot that we’ve lived with for over twenty hours of gameplay.
Dan: This last one was by far our most popular episode, and I think that just shows that a video game’s ending is something that has become more and more important as the medium evolves. Remember the olden days when you had to blow on your cartridge before it would work? Back then, most people didn’t even get to the endings of games, not because they were busy or bored, but because games were utterly impossible to beat back then. These days if a game is too hard to beat, people complain about poor programming or game design. I think the videogame industry as a whole has had a few decades to evolve that videogame endings never did. After all, in the past an acceptable ending to a videogame was for the game to simply break and freeze.
First point went to Chris for enlightening us to the fart of an ending that Final Fantasy VII had. Bad endings and endings open to interpretation seem to be in the same categories most of the time, and this is a prime example. If a meteor is heading towards the planet, and then you flash forward a period of time and you see a ruined city covered in greenery, that isn’t open to interpretation. That is an art department that wasn’t told how the game would end in time to make two separate drawings, so they did one that could go either way. Boo, good sir, I say boo.
Second point is Kyle’s, and I almost gave him two points because of the truth nugget he shoved in my face. GTA III‘s ending is so bad, it broke every sandbox game from that point on. I refuse to agree that sandbox games can’t have a plot with a meaningful and satisfying ending, see Arkham Asylum for proof. But so many sandbox games think that an ending to the game means more work needed to shove in DLC, so they would rather let the end fizzle out.
Chris pulled ahead because of the army of additional content that the developer marched out to fix the ending they began with. In my mind there is really only two scenarios that led to that act, when dealing with a beloved and popular franchise. Either the developer knew the ending was bad, and counted on the outrage to sell the additional content…or the developer didn’t know the ending was bad and is just inept at storytelling. Either way, it’s a great disappointment.
Kyle evened things up with the argument that GTA III uses its plot to trick you into playing the game. There is no payoff for beating the game that wasn’t attainable by just bumming around the city by yourself, other than knowing how it ends. The plot is only there to distract you, like a book on tape during a long car ride. Not only was the ending lackluster, but the realization that the plot as a whole was useless really twists the knife.
Chris pulled out the win by defining in my eyes what makes an ending truly butt-tastic. If you make a piece of media, whether it be a novel, videogame or television series about people stuck on an island, if you bring up questions and don’t answer them, you are basically giving the middle finger to anyone who might have been a fan. If you bring up lots of questions and don’t answer them, the middle finger is even bigger. And if you bring up lots of questions, and then make people pay for various other media just to get the answers …well that’s a middle finger that can be seen from space.