It All Falls Apart in the End

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Photo by Alvimann @ Morguefile.com

There’s a particular trend with games that I find quite troubling. I began observing the trend in the previous console generation and it doesn’t seem to have died down. My experience with Final Fantasy XV has proved this. Although I have thus far enjoyed much of the game, my experience with the endgame has not been so favorable.

Before I go on, spoilers for Fable 2, Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit), Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Bastion. With that in mind, let’s continue.

I first observed the issue with game endings when I played Fable 2, which is perhaps about as anticlimactic as you can get since you manage to beat the final “boss” with a single blow that requires zero skill on the part of the player.

In truth, I saw it before in the Quantic Dream game “Indigo Prophecy”. However, I also saw it as a product of David Cage’s development process that was unique to that instance.

Yet, it was with the previous generation of games that I noticed that even games that were overall quite enjoyable shot themselves in the foot at the end. Batman: Arkham Asylum concludes with a final boss battle that presents itself as very out of character for the Joker. Bastion includes a jumping section, which is tricky to pull off in an isometric view since measuring your location in a precise manner that platforming requires a good awareness of where you are in relation to your environment. It then follows up with a section where you can carry an injured ally or use the game’s strongest weapon, which makes for a powerful moment in the narrative but doesn’t offer a satisfying climax in terms of gameplay.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s ending is a standard “pick one of four endings” sequence after defeating the final boss. It certainly didn’t feel like a resolution that was satisfying, no matter what ending I picked.

Which is an absolute shame, because Deus Ex: Human Revolution was one of my favorite games of all time. It gave me the intellectual depth that I often don’t find in games. I only wish that these games offered that level of substance in their endings, but they are far too often rushed.

Final Fantasy XV suffers from being rushed in its endgame as well. There are moments that could have meant more if more time and thought was put into it. There were moments where the ball was clearly dropped.

The explanation for this is that the end of the game is usually the last thing done, so the incentive is to get it over with and finish it up so the game can be put out the door. Final Fantasy XV’s development process was probably a nightmare in and of itself, spanning ten years and going through who-knows-how-many changes.

What developers don’t understand is that the ending is the thing that players are going to remember the most out of all the content in the game. That’s the content you experience last, so that’s what’s going to be fresh in your mind.

The only one who does get this is David Cage, at least if you take what he says on his Gamasutra post-mortem interview. I have not played any of the subsequent games produced by Quantic Dream so I can’t tell whether or not this point stuck with him.

If developers want to make compelling gaming experiences, paying careful attention to the ending is going to be important. Otherwise, players will end shrugging and saying “Well, that didn’t make sense at the end.” It may be possible to create a moving gaming experience without a good ending, but it’s going to be much more difficult to accomplish.