Below there will be many spoilers about the plot and end of Return of the Obra Dinn.
Stop reading now if you don’t want to see spoilers!
Return of the Obra Dinn is the exact type of game I want to play. It is beautiful. It is brilliant. It is unique. It’s a bizarre murder mystery I need to solve by delving into the game’s secrets. Ever since Myst I’ve loved games like this. There’s something so soothing about relying on your judgement and thought processes instead of how quickly you click your mouse. Sometimes I need a game that let’s me sit and stare at the screen and think without ever having to touch my keyboard.
The final, hidden chapter of Return of the Obra Dinn, is VIII Bargain. It reveals the details of the bargain the captain made - that in trade for the kraken (and everything else) ending its attack on the ship the remaining merperson (my name for them) would be set free and their shells and chest returned to them as long as they make sure the ship gets back home in one piece. The severed monkey’s paw was a brilliant method by which you get access to the memory’s of what happened in the lazarette at the bottom of the ship - it also reveals the doctor’s forethought to make all these events accessible through his Memento Mortem.
The fact that the merpeople returned the ship also explains the strange shiny light you see in present day in the water throughout your investigation. It matches the shine given off by the seashells and I wondered what it was a few times while playing. Only after I finished and I read various end game discussions I realized that, of course, that had to be a merperson with a shell! Probably even the last one left alive in the lazarette.
While I loved all these small reveals the final chapter did feel underwhelming. I already surmised that, obviously, the captain had some kind of deal to end the attacks and sail safely back home. The title of the chapter alone tells that, but also it’s foreshadowed several times in the game. The how and why this happens is pretty standard and not surprising. Unlike the reveals of the kraken, the weird spider crab ocean warriors (my partner and I yelled out “holy shit” the first time we saw them), the merpeople, the mystical chest and the shells, etc. these final reveals felt small and more of an editor’s footnote than anything else. Especially with the chapter being hidden the entire game you are really set up to expect the biggest reveal of all but instead you get a few static scenes in a small room.
After thinking about it for a month I feel less let down by the end. The journey is what is important after all, and I wonder if Lucas Pope purposely designed it to be a simpler ending because of that. I still think there needed to be something there, some kind of thematic whaaa? or a-ha! like in other chapters, even if it’s not another scary monster thing. The chapter could also have been longer. The game really just kind of....ends. I wish there’d been a chronological viewing of all the Memento Mortem memories at the very end so you can feel the totality of what happened on the ship.
I look forward to replaying the game in a year or two when I’ve forgotten who is who and I can experience the journey as more of a journey and less of a shocking reveal. It’s strange since the game is such an incredible mystery, but I think maybe I’ll enjoy the ending more my second time around knowing everything that happens in the plot.
What did you all think about the Bargain chapter? Have I missed anything? What did you think about Return of the Obra Dinn? Has it made your favorite games ever list like it has mine?