Greatness In Defeat
It is pretty much guaranteed that the heroes of any game will find a way to become victorious in the end. While the endings themselves are quite important, it matters not if the journey to it is not equally memorable. Playing through Dragon Quest XI recently made me realize a plot device that is, while not revolutionary, something I’ve grown quite fond of experiencing when it is done well. What I’m referring to is a world ending event. No, not the minor setbacks that villains will constantly throw at you through any RPG, I’m talking about an event so tragic that it changes the landscape forever.
Both Final Fantasy VI and Dragon Quest XI provide great examples of this, with Kefka literally destroying the world, scattering your team to the winds in the process while a similar situation occurs when Mordegon fells the world tree, Yggdrasil.These are terrible, awful things no doubt, and I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. However, somehow, a game makes catastrophic events feel exhilarating. But why? While I can’t speak for everyone, here are a few of my personal reasons why I’ve grown to really appreciate this device in RPGs.
I’d wager that if the world ends in an RPG, there’s a good chance that you’re really only “halfway there” in relation to the overall story progression. It serves as a soft reset of sorts, forcing you to regroup and rethink the strategy to take down something that you underestimated the first time. While it sometimes can be seen from a mile away, it nonetheless alludes to more adventures to experience ahead. And it’s a real treat in the few cases when you don’t expect it at all and, suddenly, your opportunity for more adventures in the world has increased twofold. As a kid, I would have never guessed that there was an entirely “new” continent left to explore in the aftermath of Kefka’s destruction.
Old Becomes New
There’s a large chance that surviving a world-ending event will change the places you’ve come to know, for better or worse. Not everyone enjoys retreading the same old ground, but an altered world allows you to re-experience familiar areas in a totally different way. Your hometown in Dragon Quest XI is sacked very early on in the story, but becomes a large and powerful bastion for survivors after Yggdrasil’s demise. Similarly, almost every location in Final Fantasy VI is flipped upside down in the wake of Kefka’s ordeal. It provides avenues for the player to re-visit places and see what has changed and how it has affected acquaintances.
The whole world-ending bit allows room for drastic shifts in the tone and setting of RPGs. Final Fantasy VI is a prime example of this with the event on Solitary Island, one year after Kefka ruins the world. Celes and Cid live there together, but eventually Cid falls ill and requires immediate care. You have the choice of nursing him back to health, or you can watch him wither away to a lifeless husk. It is truly a dire, heart-wrenching situation that presents you the keys to the life of a companion, and is a complete tonal change from a year ago when you were, quite literally, on top of the world, ready to face the baddest of foes with the help of your friends.
With that in mind, if you have any remarks or additional reasons to like (or dislike) world-ending events in games, let us know!