I finished NieR: Automata this weekend. Well, not quite finished. I had unlocked the first of 26 endings, five of which are necessary to see the whole story.
It got me thinking, what counts as finishing a game?
After beating NieR: Automata's final boss and seeing the credits roll, I was greeted with a message from Square Enix PR. I wasn't finished.
There's more to NieR: Automata than just the first pass through of the main plot. After completing route A, you unlock route B which gives a significantly different perspective on the game's plot. Then there's routes C through E, which players must complete to see the full story.
Post-game content, multiple endings and locking things behind New Game Plus modes are not new inventions. Even Shadow The Hedgehog had eleven endings (I unlocked just one). They do raise a question for players though: When are you done?
Endings and achievements serve as convenient signposts to indicate that you're done. Credits roll and you can put the controller down. Not satisfied? Go unlock every achievement.
That's what I did with Spelunky and with over 600 hours invested into that game, I'm still not finished.
Beating Spelunky's boss, Olmec, barely scratches the surface of what the game has to offer. There are achievements that encourage you to play in vastly different ways with Big Scorer demanding the player slow down to collect a lot of gold while Speedlunky makes them race through the game. There are characters to unlock, secret levels to explore and a secret boss that requires of chain of events to happen.
I've done all of that. I'm still not done with Spelunky because I have never completed a solo eggplant run.
Eggplant runs involve finding a gift box in the shop on the same level as an altar. Sacrifice the box on the altar and the music changes. You also get a very fragile eggplant with no obvious purpose. If you can take that fragile purple vegetable to the secret final boss, Yama, and throw it in his face you have achieved the seemingly impossible eggplant run.
It's not easy. Not only does the eggplant splat with the slightest provocation, you have to rely on erratic AI controlled characters to carry items between levels so that you can make it to Hell to fight Yama.
How to complete an eggplant run is well known at this point. The hard part is doing it.
Players working on eggplants run use a save file with the robot character still locked, so they can go into the Mothership level and unlock it. Freshly unlocked characters act as helpers, erratically running around after the player. Players do this so that the robot can carry a scepter from one level of the Temple to another while the player carries the precious eggplant. This involves a lot of carefully protecting the robot from committing suicide.
An old technique involved blowing up multiple altars to unlock a ball and chain used to destroy part of the Ice Caves level needed to advance along the road to hell. That was always my pitfall. Whenever I tried to destroy the ball and chain so that I could move freely again, something would go horribly horribly wrong.
Luckily, players have found a new way to carry the eggplant past that point, so maybe one day I'll try my luck at throwing an eggplant in Yama's face again. Until then, I'm not finished with Spelunky.
Back to NieR: Automata and its many endings. Before buying the game, I knew that it had multiple endings that unlocked through multiple playthroughs.
That's normally a deterrent for me for bigger, story driven games. Retreading old ground to find a sliver of new content doesn't appeal to me at all.
Yet with NieR: Automata, I didn't mind. The combat looked fun, the soundtrack was amazing and I figured that if I didn't want to see the story through after one playthrough, I could just put my controller down and move on to something else.
After putting my controller down, I want to pick it back up and play some more.
Oddly enough, it's not the multiple endings that make me want to explore the game more. They're just things to unlock along the way. I want to play more of NieR: Automata.
I want to chase machines. I want to bop things on the head with giant swords. I want to go fishing. I want to explore the world, meet interesting NPCs and see what madness lays ahead.
I guess that means I should continue the plot so that I get more chances to do all of that. If the game didn't grab my attention, I wouldn't have bothered to get halfway through the first playthrough. Yet knowing that there are multiple playthroughs meant that I didn't mind missing things the first time through. Knowing that I would be coming back meant that I didn't feel like I was missing opportunities by skipping sidequests or wasting time trying to complete them all before tackling the story.
It was a nice balance.
There are other games that I've finished just to be done with them. Instead of walking way, I powered through for the sake of knowing that there would be no lingering doubts about if I should go back.
Uncharted 4 was one of those game. Don't get me wrong, Uncharted 4 is a very good game. Specifically, it's a very good Uncharted game and embodies all of the tropes that have defined the series over the years.
By about halfway through the game, those tropes started to feel tired and worn. It wasn't that they were bad. Hell, when I first booted up Uncharted 4 they were exactly what I was hoping for. I had had enough.
Despite this, I powered through the rest of the game, growing more frustrated that Uncharted 4 was simply more Uncharted. The temples followed the same usual patterns. The enemies continued to swarm in, lobbing grenades and soaking up bullets. The dialogue was witty. My interest wasn't there.
There's a good chance that I wouldn't have gone back to Uncharted 4 if I didn't play through to the final credits back then. As soon as the credits rolled, I went outside, played with the dog and felt glad that it was over.
On reflection, it was a great game. All of the faults came from me trying to play something I just wasn't in the mood for. I'm still not in the mood for more Uncharted but that will change.
Games are funny things. They have an unusual hold on our attentions. Deciding when we're finished with a game isn't as simple as getting to the end credits.