What makes a video game ending good? Generally, for me, I like a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. I’m not a fan of cliffhangers if there’s no promise of a new entry, and I’ve been scorned by way too many games that have just eternally left me hanging. I like a tidy, neat end that may still leave the possibility of more adventures open, without leaving its own plot threads undone.
Some of these titles will be clear cliffhangers, but some of them are just done so well! Anyway, it should go without saying but spoilers ahead!
Final Fantasy IX
“Bring my beloved Dagger to me!”
What an iconic quote in an iconic game. Final Fantasy IX, to me, has everything that I want in an ending. It ends satisfyingly and completely, it stayed true to the themes of its games, and ultimately it had a happy, if not slightly bittersweet, ending that made perfect sense. It couldn’t have been all happy, and it couldn’t have been all sad, because Final Fantasy IX’s strength is in weaving together humour and drama.
I was too young to understand the ending when I first experienced it. The final monologue is given by Vivi, a character who has struggled to fight against and accept that black mages are created and ultimately die very young, as he speaks about the lessons he learnt, the happiness he found, and how he ultimately becomes a part of the sky in death. Vivi dies never known that his best friend, and almost father-like figure, Zidane, never made it back alive, as there’s a year gap in Zidane almost dying and his returning to his beloved and his friends.
Whilst everyone surviving gets to be happy, there are many upsetting deaths in the game, and Vivi is the biggest upset of them all. But everyone did their best, and Vivi got to leave his legacy, and he would have ben overjoyed to see Zidane rip off that cloak on the theater stage to capture the attention of Princess Garnet in the only way he knows how — with style!
I love this ending everytime I play through the original Kingdom Hearts. King Mickey and Riku sacrificing themselves so everybody else can get away, but knowing that Sora will come back for them, and then Sora having to say goodbye to Kairi whilst promising he’ll come back, always gets me.
Kairi going back to the cave to see where Sora drew the Paopu fruit, showing that he wants their destinies to be forever intertwined… we only hope that that’ll still come to pass!
Marvel’s Spider-Man got Peter Parker’s character down perfectly. He has very little luck, constantly sacrifices his own needs for the greater good, and encapsulates the motto he lives by — with great power, comes great responsibility.
When he’s betrayed by Otto Octavius, the man he trusted and admired, he goes back to visit his Aunt May who’s dying. Given the choice to save her or to save thousands of others, he realises that the latter is the only option, and Aunt May spurs him on, knowing that her grandson is, and always will be, the amazing Spider-Man. It’s a real tear-jerker, but it does end on a happier note with Miles Morales now able to help him as his own Spider-Man, and Peter gets back together with Mary Jane Watson.
Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time
By the time I played A Crack in Time, I had spent a lot of time with the wonderful duo that is Ratchet & Clank. It had been set up well that Ratchet has always wanted to meet more of his knid (sorry, Angela), and in this game he gets to meet one! And it kinda sucks. Alister Azimuth is somewhat of a father figure to Ratchet, and one he is all too willing to trust, but towards the end of the game they both come to a head and Alister kills the younger lombax. Clank travels back in time to prevent it from happening, and Alister, mad with power, dies slightly later trying to stop the time-travelling clock from being destroyed.
Clank takes over as the guardian of the clock, but decides to leave when he realises that he’s at his happiest at Ratchet’s side, but Clank never forgets that Ratchet wants to meet some of his own kind again, and he later goes on to try and make that a reality. It’s an ending that goes to some pretty dark places, but ultimately all is well, although the bittersweet feeling of knowing that Ratchet finally got what he’s wanted all his life, just for it to try and kill him, is a sobering note. But he always has his buddy Clank!
The Last of Us: Part II
Hoo, what a game. I even vastly prefer Part II to the original, and a large part of that is thanks to the ending. Seeing Ellie and Abby fight so tired and sloppily, Abby just not having the will to fight anymore and now just wants to spend her time looking after Lev, really pushed home how both characters did bad things, and both sides had every right to be upset.
Ellie sacrifices everything she could have had with Dina and JJ, she loses the ability to play guitar which is the last gift that Joel gave to her, and she walks off alone and with nothing to her name. In her quest for revenge, she gives up everything, and ultimately realises herself that killing Abby, and taking her away from Lev in their own Joel and Ellie relationship, would have meant nothing. It’s a great story with a shocking end, but one that I think fits the game perfectly.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
A perfect end to one of my favourite series’, although it isn’t quite my favourite entry — that belongs to Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception! It was nice to see Nathan Drake finally be able to put his death-risking treasure hunts behind him, and to learn to be at peace with a normal life. He and Elena are shown to be aging gracefully, and they have a young daughter curious about their past lives, which they’ve clearly not told her about.
It would have been too easy to keep Drake’s adventures going ad infinitum, but I’m happier that Naughty Dog decided to do one last, grand, excellent adventure so that Drake could put those days behind him with no regrets.
I still very much love NieR, although I haven’t loved NieR: Replicant or NieR: Automata nearly as much. The newly added Ending E in Replicant is, to me, an example of unnecessarily tampering with something that was stronger without it. NieR’s strength is in its futileness, but managing to do that little bit of good and truly making it count. You pity Nier, you pity the Shadowlord, you pity pretty much the entire cast for all that they go through, but ultimately Nier’s sacrifice to save both Yonah and Kaine is the heart-wrenching pain that I came to expect from my journey in Nier’s bleak world.
Personally, I think Ending D is the game’s best ending, where Nier sacrifices himself and Kaine and Yonah are saved, although he’s forgotten. There’s a little hope in Yonah vaguely remembering who he is via a lunar tear flower she finds, remembering something special, and then it ends. It’s a great ending to a game filled with questions, but focuses on the main cast’s story more so than everything else (although it does a great job with that and its lore too), and I think Ending E in Replicant tarnishes D. Bit negative for an entry on one of my favourite game endings, but c’est la vie, huh?
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games I’ve played in giving you such large stakes in a choice-based game, and it isn’t one that funnels you into one route or another — your choices matter throughout, and you can lose many of your loved squadmates here, or it’s your decisions that get them all out alive. They don’t call it the suicide mission for nothing!
I reloaded my save several times to ensure that I saved everyone on that mission, as my first attempt ended abysmally. You have to build up your ship in anticipation for this very mission, and learn what your team is good and bad at and play to their strengths, and it was very rewarding when you finally get that perfect clear. Bioware understood their characters, and they knew that the player would want to save them, and they made that a thrilling, sometimes heart-breaking, experience.
And those are a few of my favourite video game endings! You can tell I like bittersweet ones, right? I love a good fairy tale ending, but most video games aren’t like fairy tales, and they’re filled with challenge, sacrifice, and growing relationships, so it makes sense that not everything can wrap up perfectly a lot of the time. Final Fantasy IX really is, to me, the perfect video game ending, and it’s one I think of fairly often.