Last days. Leaving places. I know all things end. But last Friday, after almost ten years, it was a goodbye lunch, farewells, an exit interview and then a final departure out of the parking lot. I never realized how much I would miss my company and the people in it until I was leaving, even though it was on the best of terms. It got me thinking, oddly enough, about JRPGs and the parallels with everyday life, especially when the game is immersive and sucks you into a hundred hours or so of gameplay. Alternate endings are a way of drawing gamers in even more, making them feel as though their decisions have an impact, actually changing the outcome. Sometimes, it's the presence of a special item that changes everything. Other times, a choice that impacts the events. Here are a few of the stranger ones that still resonate with me. [Spoilers abound]
Suikoden 2: A Cottage Out in The Woods
Suikoden 2 is an unbelievable game, a JRPG that successfully melds strategy elements and an amazing story. After you accept your role as leader of the Allied Army, your sister, Nanami, talks with you in the middle of the night, recollecting all that you've been through. She's conflicted by the fact that you're fighting your childhood best friend, Jowy. She then says, "Let's stop this fighting," and urges you to leave everything behind to the soldiers and run away. If you agree, this will set off this unusual ending. Many of your compatriots will try to dissuade you. But insist on going your way and the game ends with the two of you living out the rest of your life in a cabin in the woods, indifferent to the troubles of the world. That to me was completely unexpected (the developers actually let me quit mid-way?). What's worse was, after reloading a previous save state, I decided to continue on, and later, one of the main characters would die. My choice to continue the fight led to the death of someone I cared about (even if only in the digital sense) and it's the kind of decision that makes this my favorite Suikoden as well as being one of my favorite JRPGs.
Dragon Quest 1: I'll Give You All This If You Just Bow
At the end of Dragon Quest 1, the Dragon Lord gives you the chance to stand beside him and submit. If you agree, he confirms it with you, incredulous that you're so gullible. And then, he kills you. Game over. Don't trust evil villains, even in 8-bit games.
Persona 3: Let's Forget About the End of the World
Persona 3 had one of the most compelling stories I'd ever experienced. Nothing highlighted that more than the choice you had towards the end of the game. After a long and arduous campaign, you found out the world was going to be destroyed by Death. If you killed Death, it would simply delay the inevitable, but it would also wipe the memories of all the main protagonists so they'd have no idea the Apocalypse was coming. Is ignorance bliss? In this ending, after all you've been through, you simply forget away the imminent doom as well as all you've experienced with your friends, going to school with voluntary amnesia. I've never experienced a game that lets you give up because it's too hopeless. But that's also part of what made Persona 3 so unique.
Chrono Trigger: In the End, the Future Refused to Change
Chrono Trigger was a pioneer of multiple endings and there were some strange ones, whether finding that all of Marle's family are half-human/half-frog hybrids, or finding everyone is now a Reptite. The bleakest, most unusual ending was when you lost to Lavos and the whole world blew up. As though that weren't enough, text comes up in huge capitalized letters: "IN THE END, THE FUTURE REFUSED TO CHANGE." Prophetic, or just unusual, I don't know. But as most defeats in games ended with a restart and then hop back to the title screen, an ending in which the world actually blew up haunted me. I was part of that future that refused to change!
Gigantic babies conquer the world. WTF? I still don't get it, which is part of why I love it.
Star Ocean: Till The End of Time and Online Gaming
Metaphysics and ontology has always fascinated me. But what if you woke up one day and realized your entire life was a bad MMORPG and all those bad guys trying to kill you were viruses programmed by the designers to eliminate a problem that was you? Star Ocean had that problem, and regardless of the multiple endings dictated by relationship status, I couldn't get over the Penrose Stairs of a game within a game. Who's controlling who? Watching the recent Cosmos series and realizing how miniscule we are in the grand scheme of things made me wonder what our roles really are. Virus, gamer, or temporary conveyors in the architectural coding of genetic art we call biology?
Phantasy Star 2: The Inconclusive Conclusion
Cliff-hanger endings are normal in games that are meant to be part of a series. But back when Phantasy Star 2 ended, it was a stylistic choice that left me wondering, what happens next? We never get to find out, not because there weren't any more sequels, but the nebulous ending was intended as such. While finding out the ultimate culprit behind everything bad was humans from Earth was surprising, even more shocking was the fact that you didn't get to fight the humans or see the result of the battle. The game ends on a mysterious, "I wonder what the people will see in the final days." (Sorry, I know this wasn't an alternate ending, but I just loved this and had to include it)
Conclusion: Persona 4's Train Tracks
Persona 4 exemplified the perfect ending, even though it had several alternate endings depending on if you were able to expose the true villain. Independent of the status of the case, it ended with a bittersweet departure back home after a year in Inaba. I spent almost 100 hours on the game, grinding, increasing my social links, and tracking down random items in side quests. So it felt like the end of an era when the game actually finished and I had to say goodbye to all my friends. The main character sits in the train, reflecting back on all he'd done. I'm reflecting back on the past decade, thinking of my own friends, all the time I spent trying to create some cool VFX for movies I loved. I'll miss that time. But the train keeps on going and I can't make it go backwards, unless somehow I set off a Chrono Trigger and jump back in time to the tune of some cool J-Pop songs. Can someone help me find that rewind button?