I read a quote long ago that said something along the lines of this: bad endings are more memorable than good ones. I’ve always cherished that quote, because it gives me hope as a gamer, movie lover, and avid reader that I don’t necessarily need to reach a great ending, just one that’ll stick with me.
Frank Herbert (Dune series) also has a great quote on endings: “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” This is also a great way to think about endings. Sometimes I think there’s so much emphasis placed on ending in spectacular fashion that people become ending snobs, unable to be pleased no matter what happens when the story is over.
True to form, there are only a handful of video game endings I can recall with any clarity, some of them good, some of them bad; and there are games wherein the ending sticks with me because it was the end of a fantastic game, a game I never wished to end and still I journeyed onward, pursuing a conclusion to something I didn’t want to conclude. This may be why I’ve played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim since release (November 2011) and have never finished the main quest line. I feel like it’s one of those games where once I reach the finish line, I’ll never start over, no matter how much I’ve enjoyed myself. Or it could also be that every few steps I glance sideways and see something intriguing, so I wander off, lost for hours and hours.
There haven’t been many games like this for me. But one in particular still gives me that particular feeling when I reminisce – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was probably my age, lack of money, and my inexperience with the role-playing genre that I felt completely part of Hyrule as I explored everything and completed every quest, wanting the game to continue forever. I still remember buying the game at KB Toys, waiting in line on Black Friday with my siblings and parents because, for whatever reason, my brother and I heard The Legend of Zelda games were pretty good.
The ending of Ocarina of Time was emotional for me; I knew I’d never get to experience it for the first time again, and it was over, and I didn’t know what to do. There may have been tears, I’m not sure. Still, it was a great ending, a happy one; good triumphed over evil and so on. The credits rolled and the camera travels back over Hyrule, retracing the places and memories, people celebrating peace, and Link and Zelda meet again in the garden. It’s a phenomenal ending, one of my personal favorites.
There’s also a television series, The Sopranos, that I personally thought had one of the greatest endings I’d ever seen. Again, I was emotionally caput; I’d invested so much time into these characters lives, I hated for it all to be over. Other people think it’s one of the worst endings to a television series ever created. I think if people paid any attention during the entirety of the shows run, they wouldn’t have been so terribly disappointed. I can still picture every moment from that final scene, in part because of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ (I won’t), and in a much larger part because of how it actually ended. I love that the ending spurned so many theories on its meaning. People waste too much energy on these sorts of things, but they’re fun to read, even if they’re completely wrong.
Let’s stop for a moment and appreciate the amount of work it takes to create something other people feel so invested in, and then to try and write an ending that is both memorable and won’t create unnecessary backlash because it wasn’t what the player or viewer wanted. We’re just along for the ride. Absolutely scream and shout if it was terrible; but still take a moment to appreciate it.
Endings are a fun topic in video games. What are some of your favorites? Be sure to share in the comments, good and bad, memorable and unmemorable. Please don’t spoil any, though – I still haven’t finished Mass Effect 3.
The important thing about endings is…