Yesterday, I saw a news headline that nearly made me spit out the hot beverage I was drinking at the time:
Yes, you just read that right. Guinness World Records, an institution that has been going since seemingly the start of time, has decided to award the title of ‘Best Game Ending Ever’ to Activision’s 2010 smash hit. The process by which this decision was reached? Ask 13,000 people in a poll.
Now, there are a few things that are at fault here. First off, the notion of setting a world record (let that phrase roll around in your mind as to its significance) by qualitative means, as pointed out by a sharp member of the Gaming Society I help run, is inherently stupid. Records are set by measures of time, distance, speed etc. – not someone’s personal opinion. More importantly, the conclusion they came to is wrong – are you seriously kidding me? Black Ops, with its relatively predictable conclusion, the best ending ever? Nonsense. And then I got to thinking…what would be my Top 10 Best Game Endings of all time? I smell a list incoming…
I should point out at this moment that I realise the hypocrisy of this article – I have just denounced 13,000 people’s opinion and claimed that my list will be better, purely because it’s my opinion. There’s one crucial element missing from this article however – I’m not giving out a bloody world record so my conclusions aren’t as contestable. I am also very much aware that there are some games with relatively legendary endings like Silent Hill 2 that are missing from this list, but that is because I haven’t played the game and have therefore not felt the full emotional experience of said ending; putting it on the list without having experienced it first hand would not be doing the game justice.
And so without further ado, here are my Top 10 Game Endings Of All Time – SPOILERS ARE INCLUDED, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
10 – Super Mario Brothers
I’ll start off my list as I usually do with a token choice. Considering it was released in 1986, Super Mario Brothers hails from a generation where video game endings didn’t need to be shocking or emotionally charged to work (although that said, the ending to the original Metroid no doubt caught people off guard). Instead, sometimes just a good old fashioned recognition of ‘well done’ is enough to make a game ending work, and this ethos is epitomised in Super Mario Brothers. After being told seven times that ‘Our princess is in another castle’, Mario finishes the game by jumping over Bowser’s fireballs, hitting an axe to make a bridge drop and letting Bowser fall to his doom, before finding Princess Peach in the next room who welcomes him, calm as you like, with the phrase ‘Thank You Mario’. Some form of riches or even a kiss might have been welcomed, but hey you can’t everything in life if you are an Italian plumber.
9 – Final Fantasy VII
Perhaps an obvious selection, but a worthy one. Throughout Final Fantasy VII we follow Cloud and his merry bunch of friends as they chase down Sephiroth, and it all comes to a head on the final disc – with Meteor looming above, the party descends into the North Crater to take out Sephiroth once and for all. What follows is a series of some of the most satisfying boss battles I have encountered in a game as you take on Jenova one last time, before fighting the One Winged Angel himself. The icing on the cake comes as Cloud faces his nemesis one final time in the Lifestream, using the awesomely powerful Omnislash. And to top it all off, Aeris returns with the power of the Lifestream to destroy Meteor and save the world. There was a choice between four Final Fantasy games to make for this spot, but FFIX’s ending is ruined by Necron, FFX is both sad and confusing, and while VI has a near perfect ending, it doesn’t give the same sense of finality that VII does by having Cloud & Sephiroth finish their duel.
8 – Portal
In GlaDos, Portal gave us one of the defining villains of the last few years. Throughout the short but sweet puzzle game, we are constantly talked to by GlaDos who offers encouragement and witty comments, all the while instructing you to commit genocide on an innocent companion cube and to die in a pit of fire at the end of the test. If you are clever and avoid this fiery end, you get to work your way through the bowels of the Aperture Science building to GlaDos’ lair where you find….its a computer rig with personality spheres attached to it. Under the threat of death by gas, you take out GlaDos by incinerating her spheres, and manage to finally escape the hellish nightmare of being a lab rat for a machine.
That is before you get dragged back down again by an unseen object….
7 – Halo Reach
I don’t begrudge Bungie for what they had to do with the ending of Reach; somehow, they had to make a satisfying conclusion to a story that if you played Halo in 2001 you already knew the outcome of. In the end, the way they did it was genius. The final official mission of the game has you delivering an ancient artefact to the Pillar Of Dawn, the ship where Master Chief is stored at the start of the original Halo (if you are quick in Reach, you can catch a glimpse of him stored in cryogenic freezing in a cutscene)…and then you are left all alone to defend yourself. You have limited ammunition, no health packs, and an infinite, unbeatable wave of Covenant are homing in to finish you off. The objective simply reads ‘Survive’. You can last as long as you can, seeing your helmet dent and your visor crack, before eventually the numbers game wins out as Noble 6 is taken down fighting as the planet is razed. Being able to make me care about something I knew was going to happen is a great credit to Bungie.
6 – Mass Effect 2
All the way through Mass Effect 2, you know you are on a suicide mission; to enter the Omega 4 Relay where no one has ever returned from with a small team of elite team members gathered from across the galaxy to take out the Collectors – no-one expects you to survive. What is interesting then is that your actions in game decide the fate of Shepard and your team. Depending on tactical decisions you make, your team and the crew from the Normandy can survive or die, and you have to make a choice that could affect the safety of the galaxy – do you use Reaper technology for the good of the human race, or do you destroy it and save millions at the price of being weak to future invasions. Whatever choice you make, it doesn’t stop that enormous wave of Reapers from bursting out of space in the final scene, setting up the show beautifully for Mass Effect 3.
5 – Half Life 2: Episode Two
I could have plumped for the ending to the normal Half Life 2 story instead of this, but the ending to the very good Episode Two manages to turn the game upside down with the force of a wrecking ball. At the end of Episode Two, after Gordon Freeman has seen off a Strider invasion and the rocket from White Forest (which may or may not have had a garden gnome on board if you wanted a hard earned achievement) has shut the Combine super portal, everyone is all smiles. You take a walk with Alyx and her dad Eli wondering what the future holds….before you are ambushed by two Advisors who trap you and force you to watch as Eli is violently killed via a tentacle to the head. Just as you are about to meet a similar fate, DOG bursts out of nowhere and causes the Advisors to flee, while Alyx sobs over her late father as the screen fades to black. It is such a powerful conclusion that Valve haven’t bothered to follow it up with anything for over four years now.
4 – Pokemon Red & Blue
This game features so high on the list because of the shock factor it had on me as an eight year old child. Picture the scene: I’m in the Elite Four, and I’ve just overcome Lance and his dragons – I’m the god damn Pokemon League Champion! Only to hear from Lance that I arrived just too late and there is one more trainer to face who is the true champion. As you walk through the door, you are shaken, you don’t know who it is….and then the reaction when you realise it’s your cocky son-of-a-bitch rival who has been mocking you your entire journey. And then the battle starts without any time for preparation. I had two Pokemon; my trusty, stupidly overleveled Charizard and a Level 35 Jolteon. And one Revive. How I won still eludes me, but I finished by taking down my rival’s Blastoise with just 23HP left on my Charizard, before emitting the loudest exclamation of the word ‘yes’ I will probably ever perform in my life. That battle, with that music….as a child, nothing much compares.
3 – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
It was inevitable that a Metal Gear Solid title would make it onto this list – the writing can lead to strange situations, but overall it is exemplary and an example to other developers. I plumped for the third game purely because of the terrific emotional rollercoaster you go through in the space of twenty minutes. Having finally defeated The Boss, Snake returns to the USA with the Philosopher’s Legacy and spends a romantic night with EVA. In the morning though, she’s gone…and so is the Legacy. Snake finds a recording from EVA revealing that she has been working for the Chinese the entire time, and that The Boss, Snake’s mentor, was working undercover at top secret levels for the US the entire time. The news leaves Snake a broken man; he is given the title of Big Boss by President Johnson, by refuses to shake the hand of the Director of the CIA, before shedding a single tear as he salutes the grave of The Boss, a true patriot who will go down in history as a traitor. If there’s an ending worthy of a salute, its this.
And once the credits roll, you then hear Ocelot talking to the President as he reveals he has triple crossed EVERYONE and has the true copy of the Legacy for the USA. And that’s when your mind is truly and utterly blown.
2 – Red Dead Redemption (ENORMOUS SPOILERS AHEAD – PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED THE GAME!!!!!)
I like to think that few films, books or games have ever had the impact to make me cry – the ending to Red Dead Redemption had me sobbing my eyes out. John Marston has completed what the US Marshals wanted from him; he has been forced to take out the gang members he once rode with, and he is allowed to return to his farm to live out his days with his family. The next few missions are calm affairs, as John teaches his son Jack how to hunt and tame horses and so on, and it seems the game is gently winding down.
And then John sees the cavalry approaching….
Leading a one man battle against the Federal forces, John manages to get Jack and his wife to safety on a horse, before exiting his barn to accept his fate….but not before he takes down as many of them as he can in one final forced use of Dead Eye mode. Jack and Abigail hear the shots and hurry back, only to find John lying in a pool of his own blood. They give him and Uncle a small burial, as ‘Bury Me Not On The Old Prairie plays in silence behind them.
The game then suddenly switches to another scene; it’s raining, and the camera pans across John’s grave to a newly buried pile for his wife. The camera then pans back, to reveal a fully grown Jack complete with his dad gear and long overcoat. At this point I stopped sobbing and suddenly cried out ‘OH S**T ITS ON NOW’. Controlling Jack, you have one more optional mission to complete – finding the man who killed your father, the bastard Edgar Ross, fishing by the waterside in Mexico, you have one last duel. Jack takes down Edgar, before turning into the camera as the Red Dead Redemption logo plasters the screen with an angry guitar twang before the credits roll.
The finality of Red Dead Redemption is what caps off one of, if not the, great narratives of video game history. The sadness of watching a good man like John go out in a blaze of glory leaving his family he hardly knew is heart wrenching, and the conclusion to events under Jack is perhaps the most satisfying ending to anything I have ever witnessed. That’s why I posted massive warnings for spoilers for this game – if I wanted people to experience just one ending of this list, I would have to plump for this. Contradictory though it sounds however, it doesn’t earn the number one spot.
1 – Chrono Trigger
Perhaps what annoyed me more than anything with the Guinness Top 50 Endings wasn’t necessarily that Black Ops won, but that Chrono Trigger doesn’t even have a spot in the Top 50. Chrono Trigger tops this list for several reasons, with one standing out especially. Most games have one ending; a few RPG’s like Mass Effect can offer maybe two or three endings depending on the action you take in the game. Chrono Trigger has fifteen endings. FIFTEEN. By fighting Lavos at various points in the game, you can get multiple outcomes which all give a different slant to the end of the tale. Alongside the standard ending, you can see scenes including Frog settling his battle with Magus, two endings where Crono doesn’t come back and remains dead, and even a super hard-to-get ending where in game sprites represent the developers of the game and you can go around and talk to each of them to find out all sorts of cool stuff about the game. The sheer number of permutations means you could finish Chrono Trigger five times for example and get five completely different endings, crucially all making sense in the big picture and all offering a satisfying conclusion to a great story. No game since has even bothered to have such complexities regarding the end of the game, and for that Chrono Trigger runs away with the title of Best Game Ending Ever.
And just to narrow it down, I think my favourite of the fifteen endings is the easiest one to get: simply lose to Lavos and once he has destroyed the world, you get this hauntingly dark message as Lavos performs his ear shattering shriek.
So there we go – I hope if you braved the spoilers that you found this article to be an enjoyable read. Feel free to comment on games that I’ve missed out in the Comments section below, and check out the rest of the blog in the meantime. Sayonara.
P.S The Guinness Book Of Records: Games Edition 2012 is available at all good bookshops. If you like to be a troll.