RPG Confessions: I Don’t Like Multiple Endings
Our “RPG Confessions” series features opinions on genre staples which may prove to be surprising, or even controversial, to some! These are all in good fun, of course, and only prove that player tastes can be just as diverse as the genre has become itself. Previous RPG Confessions can be found here.
One of the greatest things about the RPG genre is their tendency to innately incentivize multiple playthroughs. From its earliest D&D days, the genre has thrived on engaging character customization/progression, and meaningful choice and consequence. While the former is all but guaranteed in any RPG, the latter has become somewhat of a rare commodity in the modern scene. Furthermore, the ever-dwindling titles that actually tout choice and consequence often turn out to be superficial (yet flavorful) rather than being genuinely impactful on the narrative as a whole.
Truth be told, I couldn’t be happier about how trends have shifted in recent years. HERESY, right? But let me explain before you call for my head and/or burn me at the stake.
There’s a huge difference between playing games multiple times over for fun, and being forced to in order to experience a story in full. The sundering of a story is what I don’t like, but I don’t mind – in fact, I enjoy – playing games more than once. In the event that a certain game has to have multiple endings, however, there is certainly a right and wrong way to go about it. What bothers me the most are endings that gate important nuances behind generally convoluted conditions. The Atelier franchise is well known for its multitude of endings, and even though I adore these games (especially from a gameplay perspective), I despise the fact that I’m missing so much character context due to its philosophy on endings – most which may never be seen unless you know exactly what you’re doing or are closely following a guide. And to me, having to follow a very specific set of conditions meticulously, with a very real possibility of failure, just doesn’t sound fun at all.
Many people love this design, though. They enjoy the web of choice and consequence that ultimately shapes the variations of THEIR OWN path through a game. And I think this is fine in some games, specifically single-player RPGs where you jump into the boots of an unnamed protagonist and make them your own. I’ve put thousands of hours into the likes of Oblivion and Skyrim alone, so I’m with you there. But when it comes to RPGs that focus heavily on an entire group of characters instead of spotlighting the lone wolf, that’s when things begin to fall apart for me personally. But again, it depends on the execution – if certain bits of character closure are held behind being lucky enough to meet set conditions, then I say, “no thanks.” Why settle for this when so many RPGs handle group closure gracefully? Atelier Ryza is a great example of a more recent party-driven RPG that resolves everything in one fell swoop. Dragon Quest XI is a bit of a blend between the two extremes, offering two endings that are easily obtainable and both do a fine job of wrapping things up even if you don’t push for the “true” ending (but you really should in this case).
For me, character customization and progression systems are what brings me back to playing games over again – not really the story, save for the aforementioned unnamed, singular protagonists tales a la Oblivion and Skyrim. I never cared about the 13 different endings of Chrono Trigger because I played it multiple times over as a kid to simply try out different party compositions and tactics. What does irk me, however, is the missing character context due to my voluntary inability to hunt down each and every ending to this day. I guess I can make an exception here, though, since time travel in any scenario is weird no matter which way you slice it. Either way, the truth is that some games put really cool story bits behind often obscure prerequisites, and I just don’t like that.
Proponents of multiple endings might suggest I stick to roguelikes instead, since they often set aside mature narratives in favor of (procedurally-generated) gameplay grinds. But I love a good story, too – I just prefer those that tie up the most important loose ends within the confines of a single, average playthrough. While I’ll admit that this narrative format may not be for everyone, I’ve found that stories in games, much like other platforms for storytelling, can sometimes be understood more clearly after subsequent playthroughs, even when the overarching narrative remains the same each time. This is especially true – for me, anyway – with lengthy, narrative-dense games that can bombard you with a lot of subtle bits that could easily be forgotten over the course of a multi-dozen-hour adventure. Because of that alone, I still find value in repeating more narratively static RPGs without multiple endings needing to be a thing.
You might ask, “what is the harm in keeping multiple endings ‘a thing’ if you are willing to play games multiple times anyway”? I don’t want them to go away! As previously mentioned, I just think there is a time and place for the format, and it should be handled with care. Multiple endings often live and die on the choices made by the player. Screw up one thing, and you run the risk of having to start completely over…unless you kept a stock of saves along the way or are following a guide. And to that, I would say, “why must I follow these very specific actions in order for certain character arcs to be resolved”? I’d rather just get closure on all the important things the first time, without feeling obligated to jump right back in to get the “full scoop.” If the game is simply fun to play, then the likelihood of a repeat run is already there because of that alone, with the possibility of picking up on some forgotten or completely missed bits the second time around being a nice bonus.
But this is exactly why I’m happy with how far RPGs have come over the years. Once a niche genre, it has grown drastically in popularity since the “early days,” and more popularity leads to the creation of even more games. Ultimately, this means more opportunities for players to find the adventures that suit them best! I think that is enough ranting for today — what is your stance on multiple endings in games? Do you enjoy them, or are you, like me, often annoyed by their execution? Let me know!
Nah, a reactive narrative is important to RPGs and actually being able to ‘fail’ is just as important.