{the insert credit hot elevens, volume one}:
best videogame endings
by tim rogers
08172003

 



11. Conker's Bad Fur Day -- Rareware -- Nintendo 64 -- 2000

Chris Kohler, Fulbright Scholar, Shounen Jump / Wired freelancer, has this to say about the ending of Conker's Bad Fur Day:

"It was tragic. I mean, it was a sad ending, and when you were done watching it, it was like... 'Jesus, these guys are amazing.'"

Yes, this is on a videogame about an alcoholic cartoon squirrel who sometimes kills his enemies with a steady stream of urine.

I . . . myself have seen this ending. So I put it here.

I don't feel like saying anymore about it. You really should see it for yourself.

you think you're being funny, bitch? Super Double Dragon, River City Ransom, Landstalker, P.O.W., et al

Okay -- that's not funny. Ending a game with some kind of concrete narrative by simply fading to black and throwing up a few lines of white text is not my idea of humor. River City Ransom might be the biggest offender here, in that its ending-explanation-text doesn't even take up the bottom quarter of the screen.

Or Landstalker might be a worse offender. That game has what I will go out on a limb and call the best action-adventure-RPG storyline of all-time. Yet, at the end, following political drama and intrigue, the kidnapping and rescuing of a few princesses, run-ins with bounty-hunters, and some of the finest dungeons ever crafted in real or fictitious life, the ending leaves us ridiculously hanging. The dragon dies, gold rains from the sky, we collect gold, our fairy -- wood nymph, sorry -- tells us congratulations, and that's it.

No fair.

SNK's P.O.W. was kind of a cop-out, too, come to think of it. Here you are, fighting your way out of a prison camp, one man against many -- then you escape, to be rewarded with only a "CONGRADURATIN."

Damn. That's funny. And not funny, at the same time.

10. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 -- Sega / Sonic Team -- MegaDrive / Genesis -- 1993

Now, now, don't jump all over me for not putting Sonic CD on the list. Quarter-screen-sized FMV isn't really my thing. And besides, the ending of Sonic CD didn't use the melody from a Dreams Come True song.

Yes, Dreams Come True -- Japan's greatest-ever indie pop group, consisting of Miwa Yoshida (considered by many as the most beautiful-voiced woman to ever sing in Japanese), drummer Takahiro Nishikawa, and prodigy (and lucky husband of Miwa) Masato Nakamura, who composed the music for both Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

Dreams Come True rocked out back in the early 1990s. Their song "SWEET SWEET SWEET" played, in Genesis-ized form, over the ending to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Part of what made it work were the images of Tails and friends looking up at the collapsing Death Egg. It was quite a bit of drama. Then, when we see Sonic is okay, the music peaks. It's a nice effect. I can almost imagine Miwa Yoshida's soothing, jazzy voice. Almost.

The whole climax of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is especially of note. I feel like it's the only Genesis Sonic game where the story is really strong at all. And even so, the story isn't strong until the Sky Chase Zone, when we see Tails piloting his plane with Sonic standing on the wing. Only then do we get the idea that Sonic and Tails, really, are a team. The battle with Mecha-Sonic inside the Death Egg, following such Tails-heavy action, lets us know once and for all what kind of warrior Sonic is, all alone. Then there's that giant final boss.

god-damned final boss: Sonic the Hedgehog 3

You know, the final boss in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 sucks some serious ass. In order to hit him, you have to do Sonic's little double-jump shield just as you approach his spikes? That's some bullshit.

And what the hell is up with the new Sonic Theme in the game? It's on, like, a three-second loop. I want to feel like I'm heroic, speeding toward destiny -- not waiting in line to buy a light bulb in a Tokyo electronics shop.

9. Phantasy Star II -- Sega -- MegaDrive / Genesis -- 1989

insert credit's own Eric-Jon Waugh says Phantasy Star II is his favorite game ending, and I'd have to say it's about my ninth-favorite. All told, Phantasy Star II, from start to finish, creeps me out. It's so . . . creepy. And ambiguous. And slow-burning. In no RPG do I, personally, feel the dread building up as I approach the final encounter as in Phantasy Star II. Final Fantasy games have a habit of dropping the final boss in front of you. Phantasy Star has a way of making you fear it.

I'm almost tempted to make this one a tie between Phantasy Star II and the "Bad Ending" of Dragon Warrior (Enix / Famicom / 1986).

See, in Dragon Warrior, when you reach the Dragonlord in his castle, you have the option to fight him, or join him. If you fight him, he eventually turns into a giant dragon, which you then kill. You then walk back to the castle, through fields of flowers where poison marshes once were. The king then congratulates you, and the game ends.

However, if you choose to join the Dragon Lord, the screen quite suddenly and angrily fades to black.

And that's it. That's the end of the game.

You now have to turn the power off.

The first time I saw that -- why I chose the option, I don't know -- I freaked out.

Later RPGs, when giving you a choice, would go something along these lines:

"Will you give me the key?"

"No."

"Oh, don't be silly. Will you give me the key?"

"No."

"Oh, don't be silly. Will you give me the key?"

Hell.

eric-jon waugh on the freak-out ending: D2 -- Warp (Kenji E-to the N-O!) -- Dreamcast -- 1999

Have you played D2?

It's... not a bad game. It's not obvious, certainly. It's got Power, though. And heart. And an interesting mind. Then it just -- disintegrates, in the last half hour.

I mean. Eek to the MAX. I felt... dirty. I kind of wish I never beat it.

Little girls melting into puddles of fleshy goo is one thing.

It helps if it has a point, though.

It's like Eno said "fuck it", and just -- ended things.

In the most ridiculous, hamhanded, pseudo-deep way he could manage.

After he built up such an intriguing game.

I felt hated. Mocked, almost.

Well, on one level that's interesting.

It didn't feel intentional to me, though. I'm not surprised that he quit making games after this.

You can feel the hate, toward the end.

It's just -- disappointing. You can feel him give up. And it turns into a cop-out.

Not unlike End of Evangelion in one sense -- except that is glorious in its cruelty. It's fun to see in that sense. "I HATE YOU, FANS, FOR NOT RESPECTING MY ORIGINAL VISION!"

Except. It's not that calculated. It's nothing special.

8. Super Metroid -- Nintendo -- Super Famicom / SNES -- 1994

Anyone who says a videogame ending should be about sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying something animated is probably bullshitting you. They'd probably also tell you that Super Metroid's ending is short and arbitrary. Don't listen to that shit. Super Metroid's ending is the escape sequence. Rather than calm down after you beat the final boss, and let you catch your breath, the game works you harder than it ever worked you before. And if you work it well enough, you might get rewarded with a picture of Samus in a bikini. I guess that's kind of fun.

don't forget Metroid Prime -- Nintendo / Retro Studios -- GameCube -- 2002

If Super Metroid proves that the "ending" of a game can be something you almost completely control, Metroid Prime proves that the final bosses and segments of a game really can be part of its ending. That it shuns the conventions of its predecessors by being the first Metroid game to not end in an escape sequence -- moreover, that it hints at an escape sequence, and then fast-forwards through it -- is a bold risk. I like that kind of gusto in a game.

7. Final Fantasy VIII -- Squaresoft -- PlayStation -- 1999

Final Fantasy VIII's ending, with its mild metaphysical-ish imagery, proves how to handle an ending that draws its "Wow" factor from a sudden jump in visual quality: make that shit good. Real good.

In Final Fantasy VIII's case, the shit is indeed really good. The animation was, at the time, some of the smoothest ever seen in videogames. The music, fully digital, was backed by vocals from Faye Wong -- singing a song ("Eyes on Me") that I honestly don't hate. Even the credits sequence, with the Final Fantasy Theme tastefully orchestrated and played over shaky camcorder footage of a party for all the characters, strikes as beautiful. The final shot, with the camera panning back and the harp Prelude playing, is golden. This is a tasteful, clean, perfect example of a full-motion-video ending.

please, stop moving: Final Fantasy VII -- Squaresoft -- PlayStation -- 1997

Final Fantasy VII's ending is cluttered, clunky, grainy, and dirty. To add further unfortune to these circumstances, it also makes close to zero sense. Lots of beams of light flying everywhere, some buzzy midi music, some mouthed words and subtitles -- sorry, Jack, this one don't stand the test of time.

And a bonus shame on j00 for Final Fantasy IX, for playing clips of FMV we've already seen during the theme-song-endowed part of its credits.

6. Soul Edge -- Namco -- PlayStation -- 1997

Soul Edge has the best multiple endings of any fighter I've ever played. Perhaps the game's sluggish engine and spotty gameplay help this along; the designers perhaps figured they'd better wow the audience in the end. And wow them they did. Each of Soul Edge's mildly historically accurate characters has some kind of motivation, and a wonderful little voice-acted, real-time cut-scene of an ending. Some of them, you control -- help Seung Mina duck when her father tests her by swinging a sword; control the samurai Mitsurugi as he dashes to defeat his gun-equipped enemy Tanegashima. That's more than we're used to in fighting games: endings of such rich detail, which are compelling to see, and add something to the game's story.

iron thumbs-down to Tekken 2, 3 -- Namco

The back of the game boxes promise us "Awesome 3D endings!!!" What we get are odd rendered animations of people we don't really know in situations we can't begin to understand. Like Eddy Gordo's ending, with the timestamps, and him in some mansion, and then some guy getting shot?

What the hell is that all about?

5. Metal Gear Solid 2 -- Konami -- PlayStation2 -- 2001

Metal Gear Solid 2, to put it into Sunday school terms, freaks the fuck out in its closing stages. I have written an entire editorial devoted to explaining why I think this is brilliant. It's linked above. You may click when ready.

I shall say a little bit more: without the help of full-motion-video, utilizing a visual setup that is unfaltering in its consistency and yet-unmatched in its motion-capture acting, Metal Gear Solid 2 tells a story that gets progressively more and more fucked-up as it moves along. It begins with a lone agent infiltrating an ocean-bound oil-tanker. By the time it gets to that endgame segment, it's all about giant robot duels, X-Men-reject-looking bosses, a naked player character running down around with a cold while questioning whether or not his memories are real, the rise of internet file-sharing and future-censorship, TURN THE GAME CONSOLE OFF NOW and a swordfight on the roof of Federal Hall -- well, the average gamer is probably appropriately weeping with confusion. And that's what Hideo Kojima wants you to do!

Metal Gear Solid 2 was a continuation of Metal Gear Solid in more ways than one. In perhaps the most important way, Metal Gear Solid 2 stripped away and rebuilt the psychological plot infrastructure of Metal Gear Solid. It restructured how the game winds down. Metal Gear Solid's winding-down is more subtle, and at the same time more twisted, than Metal Gear Solid 2's.

For one thing, the ending you see in Metal Gear Solid depends on your performance in the ultra-hard "torture" stage -- at about the halfway point in the game's narrative. If you give up, the girl dies, and Snake rides off into the sunset with Otacon -- his partner in Metal Gear Solid 2. Win the insanely hard torture segment, and you get the fake ending, in which the girl lives. This is the ending that is not continued in Metal Gear Solid 2.

And how does that swordfight at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2 turn out? Why, with real recorded footage of New York City under jazz.

just messing with you: Link's Awakening -- Nintendo -- GameBoy -- 1992

Yeah, this game was a head-trip, alright. Link washes up on this island, and then has to recover all these musical instruments to wake the sleeping egg of the Wind Fish. So you wake the Wind Fish, travel inside his egg, and beat the final boss. The ending then shows Link clinging to busted pieces of his raft. Was the Wind Fish real? Was it just a dream?

The ending shows all the citizens of the local towns vanishing into thin air. Earlier in the game, Link and the girl -- Marin, who bears a striking resemblance to Princess Zelda -- sit on the beach, and talk. The girl expresseses concern about disappearing when Link awakens the Wind Fish from his dream.

That creeped me the hell out when I first witnessed it. It might have been the first time a game made me shudder like that. I was on vacation with my family, and thirteen years old. We were at my aunt's house -- some aunt I'd never met -- and I played for six hours straight, from that on-the-beach scene to the final battle, with headphones in my ears. My GameBoy had one of those big rigs hooked up on it, with a magnifier and light and everything. I had to replace the batteries four times. Having to replace the batteries made the game even creepier.

Kind of like having to unplug your controller during the battle with Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid.

4. Chrono Trigger -- Squaresoft -- Super Famicom / SNES -- 1995

Chrono Trigger gave birth to the multiple-ending in an RPG or non-fighting game. Until Chrono Trigger, only arcade fighters embraced the multiple-ending format, and those endings were all achieved by playing the game through on an easily visible linear path: that is, a path defined by character selection. You pick Ryu, you're going to get Ryu's ending. Chrono Trigger is a revolution in that it lets you choose how and where to end the game, and it grants you a "New Game +" mode, which carries over all your stats and items from one quest to another. This encourages repeated playthroughs of the game, and that's a good thing -- because the endings are worth seeing, for the most part.

One of the endings is the "Good" ending. The "Bad" ending occurs when your characters lose to the final boss. Beating the final boss at various points during the game results in a different ending.

Chrono Trigger's formula for ending is unique in that it allows the player to choose where and when -- and sometimes how -- the game ends. Choosing to pilot your ship, Epoch, into the future to fight the final boss results in using the ship to break inside of the enemy, completely bypassing the first form -- and removing the ship from the ending. So it is that when the game winds down, it is winding down within the player, as he equips his armor and thinks: yeah, let's hit the button, let's fight that final boss.

Says CasaDelJuego.com's Daniel Dormer:

"It's almost like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you know, the kind where you would receive a different fate based on what you selected to do. I've always like those, so I guess that's why Chrono Trigger's endings appealed to me. Of course, you did have to beat it once to get a chance to get different endings; that's why you had the New Game+ feature.

"In one ending, you had the chance to see Frog as a human and in another you got to see Crono speak.

"So, I think that more games need a Chrono Trigger amount of endings . . . not a Star Ocean: The Second Story amount of endings."

and you call yourselves multiple endings: Star Ocean Second Story, Chrono Cross, numerous other PlayStation RPGs; Enix-TriAce / Squaresoft -- PlayStation -- 1999 / 2000

Now, I'm not dissing on these games. I'm just saying that enough is goddamn well enough. Chrono Cross had one doozy of a final boss battle and climax. It is the very definition of a game which wows us in the end.

Still. Those 45 characters -- are they really all that necessary? How different are all those endings?

I appreciate the fast-forward option in the New Game + mode, yeah. I just . . . don't really want to see all these endings. There are too many characters for them to all be interesting.

The same goes for Star Ocean: Second Story. The back of the jewel case is haughty enough to boast about the games "300" endings. These endings are all tiny variants on the regular ending, mixed up based on how you chose to speak to your other party members before entering towns or dungeons. The damned things might as well be randomly generated.

Hell.

3. Super Mario Bros. -- Nintendo -- Famicom / NES -- 1985

Super Mario Bros. holds a place in my heart as one of those games I've never beaten. I think I will most likely die without ever beating this game. My fondest memories of childhood are probably watching my friend Rohit best the game again and again in quick bursts.

What Super Mario Bros. embodies is the spirit of a game winding down. Much as I consider Super Mario Bros. 3 the greatest game of all time, I would have to point to Super Mario Bros. as the Official Videogame of Judgment Day. When it all comes down to the end, all that will be left is Super Mario Bros.

I consider the entire eighth world -- and the skill it takes to beat it, and beat it skillfully -- part of this game's ending, its winding-down phase. It is the end of one game, and the beginning of videogames. Forget anything that came before it: Super Mario Bros.'s eighth world, with the increasingly genre-busting nature of its stages -- a broken staircase at the end of 8-1, 8-3's castles in the background, 8-4's inclusion of a water pit stage in a maze of stone and lava -- is The Videogame. At the end of the day, this is what it all comes back to: colored sprites against a black background; white bricks; man versus dragon; princess.

the 'what the hell?' award goes to every other Mario game.

I mean, really. Why can't anything halfway-decent ever happen at the end of a Mario game? Super Mario Bros. 3's Princess Peach informs us, "I'm sorry, Mario -- our Princess is in another castle. Just kidding, ha ha ha."

What the hell is that? Really?

What the hell is up with the end of Super Mario World, for that matter? Just our characters walking back toward Yoshi's house? That music? Credits showing all the enemies?

I . . . don't even remember what happens at the end of Super Mario Sunshine.

No, wait. I do.

The final bosses in Mario games are always easy. There's not a single one of them I can't beat with my eyes closed. I beat Sunshine's final boss on my first try!

And the game's are always the same story -- Mario rescuing the Princess. Come on -- I love these games. I know what Eric-Jon Waugh says about the tale being retold for every generation. It's just -- I don't know. They're the best games in existence -- I just want to see something definitive and/or ballsy. And I'm not talking about a damned water-pack and/or a storyline involving a Shadow Mario.

2. Final Fantasy VI -- Squaresoft -- Super Famicom / SNES -- 1994

This was the ending that . . . should have made people believe in RPG endings. The final dungeon is spectacular in its difficulty and finesse. The final bosses show us graphics and sounds we've never seen before. The credits sequences treat us to remixed character themes, near-digitized still graphics, and explanatory storyline segments. We get to hear the Final Fantasy theme song again, and it is good. We get plenty of ridiculous 3D-zooming-around. We get motion sickness.

Most memorable about this ending is the music. The music is what did it. When the airship theme quiets and becomes the Final Fantasy Theme, my obese fifteen-year-old heart skipped a beat -- literally, I think. When Celes' theme perfectly segues into Locke's theme -- that's really something. When Shadow's theme -- originally a 16-bit rendering of a classical guitar and a Jew's harp, endowed with a shrill whistling melody -- is revealed as a mostly orchestral scream of revelation, I almost died. Seeing the shuriken pierce the apple, seeing Shadow choose to stay behind: under the curtain of this music, it's more dramatic and striking than a thousand full-motion-videos back-to-back.

don't forget Final Fantasy IV -- Squaresoft -- Super Famicom / SNES -- 1991.

Final Fantasy IV's ending pretty much laid the groundwork for Final Fantasy VI's ending. The only kind of customizability we get from this ending is seeing the wacky names we gave all the characters as they bless us with power before we fight the final boss. And then there's the wedding scene, where even the dead people show up.

And the march that plays at the credits -- that's badass. I don't care what generation of gaming you hail from.

and I can't get away without mentioning Ninja Gaiden -- Tecmo -- Famicom / NES -- 1988

I'm going to go ahead and say that someone would have figured out how to build cinematic suspense in videogames if Tecmo hadn't done it first. Still, we've to show them some respect, anyway. Irene Lew -- this one's for you. And Ryu. Hayabusa. The ninja, that is.

1. Mother 2 -- Nintendo / HAL / APE -- Super Famicom -- 1994

Mother 2 has the best ending of any game ever made. It's unique in its bizarreness, haunting in its music, and holds the record for being the longest ending I've ever witnessed. My first time beating the game, I spent a total of five hours wandering the game's towns speaking to characters. I succeeded in riding my bicycle from one end of the world to the other. The first time I witnessed this ending, I was shocked by the phone call that came after the credits -- from a moneylender in the Deep Darkness rainforest, concerning some transaction fees I owed him. I was creeped out thoroughly by Giygas, a final boss encounter which required me to use the until-then useless "Pray" command for nine consecutive turns in order to win. It was both a refreshing change from the typical RPG final boss encounter and a mysterious work of genius backed by music that appears in almost every nightmare I see even today. Also in my nightmares is the sound of the bike plodding through the waters in the Deep Darkness rainforest -- this bicycle, you get shortly before your first party member. Once you get that first party member, you can't use the bike again until the very end of the game, when all your party members leave you. That sound of the bike in water -- it can be heard only should you choose to equip your bicycle after going far, far out of your way into the rainforest.

This ending, which uses no graphics more complicated than those used throughout the game, is, no doubt, the work of the genius that is Shigesato Itoi.

This ending, in short, loves you like your father might. You know how your father once told you he was going to take you to Disneyworld, and then drove you to an abandoned parking lot and said, "Oh no, Disneyworld burned down"? Remember how you cried? Well, your dad did that because he loved you.

And think about it, all these years later -- it probably taught you something, you dumb bastard.

poor example of the free-roaming ending: Dragon Quest VII -- Enix -- PlayStation -- 2001.

Love this game as I do, I can't love its ending. You spend a hundred-and-forty-something hours spelunking dungeons and becoming intimately familiar with dozens of villages and cities of multiple time periods, and the most they can do at the end is drop you off in each city for mere seconds, letting you walk around and talk to NPCs who all say the same thing? And then, when you leave the city you're in, you automatically board your little ship-thing and fly to the next town? Please. That's just not fair.

The ending then takes further steps away from logic when it portrays the hero going out with his father as a fisherman in the closing moments. What the hell is up with this? Did not, at some pointing the game, the hero found his own city, which, by now, is grown into a giant casino or nunnery? Can't we just go hang out there, and be king of the bunny-girls or nuns or some shit?

Not fair.

--tim rogers has seen the end, and it is right . . . here

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