The Video Game Endings We’ll Never Forget, For Better Or Worse

The Video Game Endings We’ll Never Forget, For Better Or Worse

A lot of people never finish the video games they buy. We’re all guilty of it, and as a result, we’ve missed out some pretty memorable finales, both good and bad. For some games, an ending can be a great culmination of hours and hours of storytelling, design decisions, and and interacting with the world around you. But not every game sticks the landing, and sometimes that disappointment can make an ending just as memorable as one that blows you away.

Let’s go through some video game endings that have stuck with us, for better or worse.

Before Your Eyes

GoodbyeWorld Games / Project Pineapple

GoodbyeWorld Games’ Before Your Eyes spends roughly 85 minutes of its 90-minute runtime training you to feel like something as natural as blinking will hinder your understanding. The narrative adventure game focuses on Benjamin Brynn, who is reflecting on his life after his death and recounting the story to a Ferryman looking to help him ascend to whatever’s next. As you relive Ben’s life, your webcam tracks every time you blink, and will skip through a scene. Blinking is inherently discouraged, because if your eyes are closed, you’re going to miss something.

That is completely recontextualized in the game’s final moments, because blinking is key to a full understanding. After Ben has reflected on his life, remembering his attempts to write his life story down at the end, he remembers his mother reading a revised version of the story he wrote that is much kinder to him than his was. Ben has spent all of Before Your Eyes hiding who he was because he was angry at the life he lived, and is grieving the one he wished for. But she sees him so clearly. Meanwhile, the Ferryman, having learned the truth of Ben’s life, also sees him with a new clarity, and is able to tell his story to the powers that be.

In this sequence, you listen to the Ferryman tell Ben’s tale, but as you blink, the game seamlessly swaps between his narration and Ben’s mother, as they tell the same tale in perfect sync. Before Your Eyes mediates a lot of profound themes. Mortality’s vice grip on our existence, shame in unfulfilled dreams, and how we all ascribe some kind of storytelling to our lives when sometimes, the world stops following the script. But in its final moments where Ben blinks between life and death, it reminds us that to be human is to be more than ourselves, it’s to be everything we are to those we care about, and to know that sometimes they see us more clearly than we’ll ever see ourselves. — Kenneth Shepard

Mafia III

2K / Mafia Game Videos

I really enjoyed the end of Mafia III, it has a satisfying conclusion that also ties in your decisions up until that point in a way that makes sense. But I’m not here to talk about Lincoln Clay’s war against the Mafia, its bosses, or his decision to stay and run the city or leave it all behind. No, I’m here to talk about a scene that takes place after all that.

Mafia III’s framing device is a documentary that mixes interviews, old news clips, and other bits of footage from the past to tell the story of Clay and his fight against the mob. It’s very well done and gives the open-world action game a unique feel compared to other GTA-likes. And during the game, you see clips of your best friend and CIA operative Donavan being grilled in a secret hearing in the US Senate. And at the very end of the game, something wild happens in this hearing.

Donavan, having told the story of the game to the senators and his involvement, begins asking the lead politician questions about the assassination of JFK. He tells them all a horrible story of how he cut up a person in Vietnam to get info to save lives. And how, when he was stuck in the mud and blood, doing anything and everything for the United States, he learned the President had been killed. It fired him up and he promised to figure out who really killed JFK.

It’s at this moment that the former CIA operative and war vet reveals why he was so eager to help Clay take down the mafia. He reveals that Sal Marcano, the mob boss who you killed after destroying his entire empire, was connected to the Kennedy assassination. And then he reveals the final wild bombshell: The senator running this hearing, who’s been asking him questions the entire game, was also involved with the murder of JFK and working with Marcano. At this point, Donavan takes out a handgun, promises he’ll track down all the others who were involved, and shoots the senator dead.

I have no idea what the developers behind the game had planned for a future sequel. This moment comes out of nowhere. The rest of the game is all about a gritty story of revenge and street-level crime bosses fighting each other. And then, bam, the game ties it all to a JFK conspiracy theory and kills a senator. It’s one of the wildest endings I’ve ever experienced in a game. – Zack Zwiezen


thatgamecompany / Leonard Zhang

Thatgamecompany’s Journey is a story told in silence. There’s no dialogue, only a repeated pointing toward a destination. The journey the name refers to is a hike from an expansive desert to a mountain peak in the distance. It’s almost always visible no matter where you are in your single-minded walk to the light that shines from the top of the mountain.

Getting there can be a communal effort, as you and other players can meet up throughout your journey, though you won’t see a screen name above these characters. It’s not until the ending that you know who you walked alongside into the light as Austin Wintory’s pitch-perfect score rings through your speakers. The emotional catharsis is palpable, and it’s met with the sting that you must say goodbye to those who took the journey with you. Journey can be played alone, and that solitary approach can be affecting in its own way, but like most journeys, it’s best taken together, even if you have to say goodbye. — Kenneth Shepard

The Last of Us Part II

Naughty Dog / Shirrako

The original Last of Us’ ending is widely considered a “moment” for narrative in video games, but after the sequel came in and knocked it off a shelf and said, “no, we’re going to actually examine the ramifications of what just happened instead of making it this untouchable, crystalized thing,” I mostly think of it as a prologue to something more profound.

The Last of Us Part II can sometimes seem like a senseless exercise in violent excess. It deliberately walls you off from the motivations of Ellie as she travels through post-apocalyptic Seattle in righteous fury. It makes you play as the woman she came to kill and paints her as a sympathetic victim in actions you once carried out as Joel in the original game. Then when you’ve seen all these truths finally uncovered, it asks you to, once again, engage in Ellie’s revenge tour because she is not satiated.

It’s easy to dismiss Ellie’s final bout of revenge-driven violence in Santa Barbara, one that comes at the expense of her family, as a regression of her character. I, the player, have seen the truth of why Abby killed Joel in the opening hour. Why doesn’t Ellie see what I, the omnipresent observer of this entire situation, have seen? Why can’t she simply do what I want?

Well, The Last of Us isn’t about you, and Ellie has had her own agency ripped from her by a pack of infected biting her and her first love, Joel denying her the chance to be the cure, and Abby beating her within an inch of her life as she sought revenge. Ellie’s story is one of constantly having to do what is demanded by others and circumstance, rather than getting to make her own decisions. So it’s important that, rather than simply putting her pain down because that’s what others want, she has to make that decision for herself.

The Last of Us Part II ends with a violent clash between Ellie and Abby that, even when you win the fight, Ellie makes the decision to let her go. In a moment of clarity, Ellie realizes that this grief she’s been carrying with her won’t go away by killing Abby, and that the only way she can actually move forward is to forgive not Abby, but Joel. She returns to her farm in Wyoming, tries to play the guitar Joel gave her, but can’t because Abby took her fingers in the scrap. She remembers her and Joel’s last talk, where they argued over his violent actions at the end of the first game, denying her the chance to save humanity. But when he tells her he would still, after having seen the fallout of his actions, choose to save her life, she’s left with a choice. Hold onto this anger towards someone she loves, or put it down of her own volition. She never gets quite to that point, but she leaves with the hope that she might one day.

That day finally comes in the very final scene. Ellie leaves the guitar Joel gave her at the farm and heads out into the Wyoming wilderness. We don’t know where she’s going, but we know where she’s been. To me, this is the hopeful actualization of everything The Last of Us put forth with both games. Where the original game ended on uncomfortable uncertainty, Part II ends with some version of peace for everyone involved. It was never about violence. It was never about revenge. It was about forgiveness. — Kenneth Shepard

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

The Pokémon Company / Mixeli

Broadly, I have a lot of problems with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, but goddamn, I’m not exaggerating when I say it is all worth trucking through to reach the games’ ending, which stands out as one of the most incredible moments of the franchise’s long history. Game Freak got Nier in my Pokémon.

Much of Scarlet and Violet is some pretty typical Pokémon about the power of friendship and contextualizing its open world as students “finding their treasure” in the great big region of Paldea. But as you spend your time roaming around this island, you’re always circling around a crater in the middle of the map. You don’t know much about what’s down there beyond that Professor Sada or Turo is conducting research down there. For much of the game, the professor is an enigmatic force that checks in with you over a Zoom call every now and then. This is already suspicious because the professor is usually a pillar of your Pokémon journey, but nothing could have prepared me for what I’d find when I finally went down the crater and entered Area Zero.

For a lot of these endings, we’re going full spoilers, but Scarlet and Violet’s ending is so good and a lot of people dropped off these games because they’re technical messes. Instead of explaining what happens in Area Zero, I’d rather just tell you that if you haven’t finished one of these games, it is absolutely worth it to see what’s down the crater. If I’d played this as a kid, it would have completely altered my brain chemistry. It stands head and shoulders above almost any other moment in the series. Though Pokemon Legends: Arceus’ final act is in the running, as well. — Kenneth Shepard

Zero Time Dilemma

Chime / Noire Blue

I already have my issues with how the Zero Escape series feels like a series of death game set pieces strung together with fake science without any sort of coherent theme or reason, but Zero Time Dilemma’s ending such a baldfaced example of how the series really just didn’t seem to have a plan.

Propped up as the conclusion to a trilogy, Zero Time Dilemma seems more interested in throwing out new threads and hypotheticals than it is actually bringing it all home. It has some cool moments that are memorable and use the series’ multiverse consciousness jumping to great effect, it just seems like it had no idea how to tie these moments together with something satisfactory. Without getting too in the weeds of the fake science, the game has been operating on some deceptive doublespeak to make it unclear that there’s been a hidden participant of its death game just off-screen the entire time who is the mastermind of the whole deal. The game goes out of its way to make you think his name is a different character’s name with strategic camera cuts, but when the truth is revealed at the end, it becomes clear this deception falls apart against the bare minimum of scrutiny. Good mystery writing is not found in making something “unpredictable,” it’s in having the skill to write something that is hidden in plain sight. Zero Time Dilemma isn’t doing that, it’s just lying to you.

What makes it worse is that by the time you’ve seen the extent of the game, it never really justifies…anything. You ask the mastermind why he did it and he says his motives are “complex.” Yes, that is a sanding down of what’s happening, but it really does embody that Zero Time Dilemma doesn’t really care about the grander picture. It just wants to create cool, mind-bending vignettes with a flimsy framing years after fans thought they were never going to get a proper conclusion after Virtue’s Last Reward. — Kenneth Shepard

Final Fantasy XV

Square Enix / Shirrako

I don’t love Final Fantasy XV, but its ending has stuck with me. Throughout the game, party member Prompto takes photos of all your adventures. You can sort through all of them, save them if you want them, and it’s just a cool automatic photo mode you don’t have to constantly pause the game for.

When Final Fantasy XV nears its final moments, the party looks back at Prompto’s photos and picks the best one. After the final battle, Noctis passes onto the afterlife, meets his alleged love interest Lunafreya who he practically never talks to in the game, and as they reflect on how they got here, they look at the photo the player picks. Final Fantasy XV is a mess of narrative structure, fracturing its story into external media like movies and anime and making it hard to follow or invest in. But that final moment rules. — Kenneth Shepard


Campo Santo / Asuveroz – Gaming

Campo Santo’s Firewatch has an intentionally unsatisfying conclusion. After you, as Henry, a recent addition to a Wyoming forest’s fire lookouts, spend an entire game connecting with another lookout named Delilah, some other events go down that require both of you to leave the forest. You never meet Delilah face-to-face, but your relationship blossoms over the course of the game, and can take on a romantic context.

Exploring Shoshone National Forest and learning about its mysteries isn’t the draw of Firewatch, it’s this relationship at its center. So when events unfold, and it seems like an in-person meetup is finally going to happen…it doesn’t. You go to her tower and find items that make it clear she was just as preoccupied with this relationship as you were, but the mystery that’s unraveled has shaken her, and she’s not ready to meet Henry now.

Firewatch intentionally withholds a moment of catharsis from you, and for that reason, its ending can be very frustrating. But it also serves as a reminder that not everyone we meet is meant to be in our lives forever, and coming to terms with that is part of living. Grieving things we thought we had or wanted is just part of the package deal. — Kenneth Shepard

The Callisto Protocol: Final Transmission

Striking Distance Studios / Gamer’s Little Playground

I have no stake in The Callisto Protocol, but the ending of its Final Transmission DLC is so absurdly stupid that I can’t believe this was the note they wanted to go out on.

Without getting too into the weeds of the game, basically, the big reveal at the end of Final Transmission is that protagonist Jacob Lee is dead, and the whole DLC is a dying dream. Conceptually, that’s pretty cool, and the reveal of his destroyed body is one hell of a visual moment. His face is half gone, his lower half is just meat barely hanging on. Then the game cuts to credits…and the post-credits scene happens.

In a meta bit, Jacob springs to life and asks what’s going on. The idea is that actor Josh Duhamel has been left on the “set” of the game and is asking what happened to his legs. Like, I get the joke they’re going for here, but given that this horrifying reveal just happened and it’s not like The Callisto Protocol seems like a surefire franchise, it’s such a weird note to go out on. This is the final moment for this game. The final…transmission, if you will. And it’s a bit. — Kenneth Shepard

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

Nintendo / Boss Fight Database

Tears of the Kingdom’s finale may give Wind Waker a run for its money, but the GameCube game’s final fight against Ganondorf still stands out as one of the best moments in the series’ history. Link and Zelda fight alongside each other as they face Ganondorf in a flooded Hyrule. It’s a visually striking scene, and it also is one of the best uses of Wind Waker’s silky smooth combat, as Ganondorf meets every strike and swing of your sword with one of his own. I’ll pull from my original write-up in best Zelda boss fights to really sell it:

“The entire fight is a literal washing away of the past that has plagued these heroes through multiple reincarnation cycles. Though Breath of the Wild has since made that sentiment a little fuzzier, Wind Waker’s final battle still sells the notion with a dramatic vigor, elevated by a stellar fight.” — Kenneth Shepard

Nier Automata

PlatinumGames / Shirrako

Pouring hours of my time watching Clemp’s YouTube videos summarizing the entire lore behind the Nier and Drakengard series couldn’t prepare me for what awaited me when I finally reached ending E of Nier: Automata. For those of you who don’t know, Ending E has an entire sequence where you fight the names of the staff behind the game in a Galiga-esque shooting mini-game in order to help the YorHa units survive.

Seems feasible right? Wrong. This bullet hell finale is as tough as Nier: Automata’s best boss fights. But after roughly ten minutes of listening to Keiichi Okabe’s beautiful song, Weight of the World, while dodging a bunch of tiny red enemy blasts, obliterating developer names, multiple deaths, and denying the game’s inquiry over whether this herculean task was pointless, I beat the mini-game. But Nier: Automata had one final ultimatum for me: sacrifice my save data to help another player struggling to defeat Ending E.

While this Yoko Taro-ism isn’t wholly unique to other fourth-wall-breaking meta-narratives the video game auteur has introduced in other projects, it still runs laps in my mind years after I finished the game because of how well the choice was presented to me. After countless hours of meeting an untimely end and rushing to retrieve my dead Yorha units to salvage the upgrades, I’d painstakingly procured for the sake of a phony in-game mission, I was given the choice to help divvy the weight of someone else’s impending struggle by sacrificing my time or hoarding my save data for a “future run.” The choice was obvious: I gave up my save data.

Nier: Automata is a bizarre RPG littered with sorrow, a dash of existentialism, smooth combat, and a perfect soundtrack. It never holds its emotional gut punches and I wouldn’t have it any other way. — Isaiah Colbert


Toby Fox / Fasgort

Technically, Undertale has multiple endings, and while you could point to the “true” ending for something like this, what makes Toby Fox’s multiple endings all profound in their own ways is that they each still carry a thematic throughline of determination and what form that takes. The ending is determined by whether or not you’ve killed enemies throughout your playthrough, and how that ripples through the world on your way out. Even when you’re taking the awful Genocide route, those ideas are still present. Undertale is equal parts devastating and uplifting, even in its darkest moments. — Kenneth Shepard

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Konami / Shirrako

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater ends on a profoundly painful note that, for those in service, their lives only exist as symbols for the countries they serve. The final fight with The Boss is a visually striking sequence between Snake and his mentor going at it in a field of white lilies, and on top of being a great action sequence, it drills down the uncaring power patriotism holds over soldiers. By the end, Snake has ascended in the ranks and becomes Big Boss, but at what cost? Kojima’s writing can be hit or miss for a lot of people, and rightfully so. But there’s still something, nearly 20 years later, its final moments still ring true for a world still run by blind patriotism. There’s a remake for this game coming out, and it’s still going to hit because almost nothing’s changed. — Kenneth Shepard

Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life / Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life

Marvelous / RoriBlurple The2nd

Much of Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and its remake Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is mundane. You build your farm, you water your crops, you feed your livestock. When you’re not doing agriculture shit, you’re getting married and raising a child. The moments that make it special are when it breaks from its monotony. Just like real life. But the most shocking thing about it is that, as a life sim, it actually simulates the end of life just as it’s spent several dozen hours showing you all the boring parts, too.

Yeah, your character dies at the end of A Wonderful Life, and it was traumatic for me as a kid. I’m chipping away at the remake now, and since I have a husband this time, I’m feeling even more emotionally invested in it than I did as a kid who was only allowed to have a wife in the original game. So I’m bracing myself for tears once more. — Kenneth Shepard

Heavy Rain

Quantic Dream / SpottinGames

What an ending. The credit-roll on Heavy Rain leaves you thinking, “What the fuck just happened.” And not in a good way. The ending to Heavy Rain is equal parts iconic and ludicrous. It, and I mean this without any hint of hyperbole, makes no sense whatsoever. There are endless plotholes and a million loose ends left untied. That’s almost certainly one vital piece of the story seemed to have been scrapped.

Heavy Rain wants you to think Ethan is the killer before revealing that private detective Selby is the true antagonist. However, it doesn’t actually make sense why Ethan would have blackouts when someone would be kidnapped or why he would wake up in Carnaby Square. Based on deleted scenes shown in behind-the-scenes video, the two were supposed to have a spiritual link making everything make sense—or at least make more sense. We still play as Shelby who thinks to himself when no one is around wondering who the killer could possibly be. And we see him when he’s supposed to be doing his whole bad guy schtick. The ending tries to convince us that the camera pans away just in time! See? The game is clever! So clever.

It’s not clever.

It’s bad writing. Heavy Rain has been meme’d to death at this point, but the ending really solidifies the mess of this once-celebrated game. It’s an ending I’ll never forget, no matter how hard I try.

Bioshock Infinite

Irrational Games / John O

For me, Bioshock Infinite will always be the game that said standing up against racism is just as bad as using it to oppress an entire group of people, even as it tries to frame that as a wise stance to take. But when it pushes that unflattering part of its narrative away with all its might…nope, can’t even give it flowers for its mindbending multiverse ending. But you know what Bioshock Infinite ending is actually pretty good?

Bioshock Infinite Burial at Sea

Irrational Games / MrGamePlayer

Part of Bioshock Infinite’s multiverse nonsense is establishing Columbia and Rapture, the settings of both Infinite and its predecessor, are meant to act in parallel to each other. There’s always a lighthouse, there’s always a man. All that jazz Elizabeth says in the ending. But honestly, the ending that has stuck with me over the past decade wasn’t Infinite’s pontification on constants and variables, it was how it tied these two worlds together in a literal way, rather than a cerebral one.

Elizabeth travels to Rapture in the two-part Burial at Sea DLC, and where Infinite made her a larger-than-life, multiverse-jumping heroine, Burial at Sea strips away her powers and makes her human once again. Sure, she still has all her universe-jumping knowledge, but she must use it as a regular person. However, she doesn’t remember why she did it. She feels great levels of sympathy for the Little Sisters living in Rapture and how the systems of this city have put so many children in harm’s way. As she is caught up in Rapture’s conflict before the events of Bioshock, she tries to remember, and is ultimately cornered into a situation she knew would ultimately lead to her demise. But as she takes her final breaths, she remembers why she did it. She put the pieces in place for Bioshock to unfold as it did seven years prior, ultimately leading to the (canonical) ending where the Little Sisters are liberated from Rapture. It’s tragic, but it embodies the parts of Bioshock Infinite that weren’t laughably centrist and tone deaf. — Kenneth Shepard

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Spike Chunsoft / Ultimate Jayfox

Danganronpa 2 is built almost entirely on a subversion of the original game. Its twists and turns are plays on established tropes and plot beats from Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, and each case in its murder mystery plays on established knowledge. But Danganronpa 2’s ending is one of its greatest achievements because it throws the entire thematic foundations of its predecessor on their head to a more profound end.

Danganronpa is about hope and despair, and how those concepts can look very different for different people. Hope can take the form of a foothold into one’s chosen career path, or it can be in an institution that helps cultivate talented youth that can lead society into a greater future. But where Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc had an almost blind belief in hope and moving forward, Danganronpa 2 is all about how hope and despair intermingle and are not as black-and-white as its monochrome bear mascot. You learn that the high school students you’ve watched take part in the murder mystery death game were merely pawns in a larger conflict, and when the truth is revealed, you’re repeatedly told that it actually has very little to do with you, your hopes, or your despair.

Danganronpa 2’s ending completely tears down any vision of a hopeful future for its characters, but asks them to keep going. It positions hope and despair as universal truths you should simply be able to support on principle, all while ignoring just how terrifying moving forward can be. If doing what’s right for the world means losing yourself, is that actually hope? For who? If unleashing something evil onto the world allows you to live your authentic self, is that really despair? Or is there a third option that exists between the two?

The Danganronpa series is at its best in explosions of emotion, desperation, and hope, and Danganronpa 2’s ending embodies these ideas in a glorious, bittersweet fashion. Even as the series has riffed on these same ideas, the sequel’s framing of them is Danganronpa at its most profound. — Kenneth Shepard

Life is Strange

Don’t Nod / ArkesTM

Everything in Life is Strange builds to this moment: saving Arcadia Bay from the impending storm. Along the way you also need to save one resident of Arcadia Bay almost constantly, Chloe, your estranged best friend who you’ve just reconnected with. The rekindled friendship is, at times, tenuous, but you can always tell that there’s a great deal of love between Max and Chloe. There’s hope that after finding Rachel, the three of you will be “hella best friends.” Alas, you’ll learn that there is no saving Rachel. And maybe there is no saving Chloe.

That’s for you to decide. Do you save Chloe one last time but let that ever-present storm wipe out the entire town taking more lives with it? Or do you sacrifice your friend, your hopes of rekindled friendship (and maybe something more), and work to mend the broken trust from years gone by without speaking, all to heroically save the town without a superhero’s ultimate standing ovation?

It’s a real trolley problem, but at least the people on these metaphorical tracks are only virtual. Maybe that’s why most people save Chloe, according to the stats given after your choice is made. You can also go back and rewrite history if you’re not satisfied. But I know my choice: save Chloe because it feels good. No, I’m totally joking. I save the town every time. I can’t justify letting all the other Chloes and Rachels who mean so much to others die for my one friend.

Regardless of what you choose, it makes the emotional payoff of Life is Strange as satisfying as it is heartbreaking. — Lisa Marie Segarra

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Nintendo / RajmanGaming HD

Link and Zelda’s latest, centuries-spanning adventure is full of memorable moments, and its ending is no exception. It has a stellar fight with Ganondorf, some cool power of friendship moments with the sages you’ve helped across the game, and it all ends with a bonkers fight between Zelda and Ganondorf in dragon form.

But none of those are the best moments in Tears of the Kingdom’s ending. After Zelda’s Hylian form is restored, she and Link fall from the sky and plummet toward Hyrule’s surface. You’ve done this hundreds of times. You’ve traveled to the sky islands or launched yourself into the air with a Skyview Tower. At some point, you have to make it down to the ground, and oftentimes the easiest way to do that is to just dive from the sky onto the ground. But now, there are suddenly stakes. Zelda is unconscious and falling to her death, and then the game gives you the prompt: Dive to Zelda. Then you grip your controller and hold down R, and Link dives toward the princess and reaches for her. The wind picks up and you’re pushed off course, so you dive once more until you grab her hand and save her from falling as you failed to do in the game’s opening hour.

It is a stunning full-circle moment that recontextualizes something you’ve done over and over throughout Tears of the Kingdom. It’s redemptive for Link, who has failed to save Zelda from a horrible fate. I still remember how melancholy I felt learning that Zelda gave her life to become a near-mindless immortal dragon to deliver the Master Sword to Link. It was frustrating to see her sidelined once more, but I couldn’t deny how effective it was as a reveal. I carried that weight throughout my journey to save Hyrule, and if diving to save her was all I could do to repay my debt, I would hold that R button until my controller broke. — Kenneth Shepard

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation

Eidos Interactive / TheCroftGeneration

One of the key features of any Tomb Raider game is not being dead. From the original PS1 game, to its most recent incarnation, the primary goal—like in so many games—is to keep Lara Croft alive. Which makes the ending of the fourth mainline title, The Last Revelation, something of an oddity. When playing, you spend many hours watching Lara die a thousand deaths, from spikes, pits, pits with spikes, drowning, falling, falling and drowning, falling into a pit of spikes, and getting shot at by teams of men somehow already far ahead of her in tombs she’s had to solve intricate puzzles to be able to enter. Each time this happens, you’ve failed, so you reload. But come the end of the game, after a dramatic series of attacks, jumps, and chases, the game switches to a cutscene during which Lara is hanging from a ledge and…a pyramid falls on top of her.

So reload! Whenever she dies, I can reload! Except, no, not this time. In the most peculiarly ill-judged decision, developers Core decided to create this almost literal cliffhanger ending, failing to understand that they simply added a thousand-and-first death to the game and ultimately no satisfaction at all for the player.

Kudos to them for the fifth game beginning with Croft’s funeral, and the game itself a series of vignettes based on stories told at her wake. That’s commitment to the bit. As it happens, even the ending of Chronicles doesn’t resolve the situation, her continued existence only confirmed four years later in the execrable Angel of Darkness, which no one in their right mind would ever want to play. So to me, Lara’s still dead, underneath the Pyramid of Giza. RIP. — John Walker

Halo Reach

343 Industries / Gamer’s Little Playground

I’ll be honest, Halo Reach kinda put me to sleep. I don’t know if it was the very hit or miss voice acting (especially of the non-Spartan characters). And in general, there’s some stupidity in this plot: The Covenant had a base of operations on a planet with the UNSC’s most valuable military assets and no one noticed?

I didn’t care about the Spartans dying, due to that dry voice acting so Dry. Kat’s death, mostly because of the suddenness, hits hard, but everything else is a bowl of meh.

Still, I can’t say the same about the ending, which is wonderfully chilling.. If you never played a Halo game before and don’t know what ends up happening to the planet Reach, that’s gotta be a worthwhile surprise. I’m rather envious I can’texperience it firsthand anymore. But as someone well aware of what was going to happen in this prequel, the game asks you to survive as long as you can. Except you know that k you’re going to die, with threatening Covenant forces surrounding you through an endless fog of war, your visor cracking from the constant assault of plasma fire, it all makes for a very active, depressing end that you have a nice degree of interactivity with. When do you give up? Do you give up? Because the waves are endless and there’s no way to get out alive, your actions set the tone of the ending in a way that’s way more satisfying than just watching an ending cutscene. — Claire Jackson

Bionic Commando (NES)

Capcom / SilentQix

First, you take a single shot, maybe the most important shot anyone’s ever fired. And if your aim is true, that shot pierces a helicopter cockpit and explodes the head of none other than Adolf Hitler himself, resurrected as part of a nefarious plot by a new military regime. The gore depicting that cranial explosion is fleeting but, for the NES at least, quite shocking. Capcom really wanted you to savor the splatter your bullet had wrought. And if this had been all that set Bionic Commando’s ending apart, it would have been enough. Gamers who had grown up with Hitler’s Resurrection: Top Secret, as it was known in Japan, would still be sharing fond memories of it to this day. “Yo dude, remember how you made Hitler’s head explode?! That was sick!

But the ending has another quality that’s just as remarkable: its surprising poignance. The game’s intro frames the whole thing as a flashback, starting with the awkward but memorable line, “I’ll talk about the person I met when I was young…” So it’s a story being told in the future, about a time that, for the teller, is now long past. The game’s final image is of a photo, dated “1989.4.7”—April 7 or perhaps July 4—a memory that, for the game’s narrator, is now just that, a long ago story of someone he met when he was young. For modern games, such framing devices wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, but in 1988, for an NES game, it was remarkable, lending the innovative and exciting side-scrolling action-adventure game a nostalgic narrative pull that has now lingered in my memory for some 35 years.—Carolyn Petit

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

LucasArts / WeirdPhil

I always appreciate it when an artist has a vision and the conviction to stick to it, even knowing that many folks won’t like it. And boy, did the ending to LeChuck’s Revenge leave a lot of frustrated players in its wake. As Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate, you’ve spent two games working against the evil ghost pirate LeChuck. Finally, as Monkey Island 2 nears its end, it’s clear you’re close to defeating him for a second time when…(huge spoilers for a 33-year-old game incoming…) it’s revealed that he’s your brother, you’re both kids, and the whole saga has just been childhood imaginings playing out at a pirate-themed amusement park!

I absolutely loved it. Guybrush always evinced an endearing, childlike naivete, and with this twist, both games became not just enjoyable, hilarious adventures, but also paeans to the power of imagination. It gave me a whole new context for everything that had happened, and a whole new lens through which to think about it. Subsequent sequels, which which series creator Ron Gilbert was not involved, basically retconned this ending out of existence, but when Gilbert finally returned to the helm for last year’s lovely Return to Monkey Island, he found his own way to bring things full circle, picking up where he left off all those years ago.—Carolyn Petit


Nintendo / NES Endings

Maybe, pound for pound, the game ending that has blown more minds than any other. If you weren’t there to experience it at the time, though, it’s likely impossible to grasp the impact of its revelation. Today, everyone knows that “Metroid is a gril.” But Nintendo went to some lengths to mislead players about the identity of intrepid intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran back in her first adventure, even referring to her with male pronouns in the instruction manual. And if, like many players, you didn’t look at the manual, well, the heroes in the overwhelming majority of movies, games, and TV shows were men. Why would you assume this striking figure in the rad sci-fi power suit would be any different?

When Samus takes off her helmet or her suit (depending on how quickly you completed the game), well, if you were a kid in 1986, you got your world rocked by the truth that Samus was a woman. Cementing the ending’s impact is the fact that this revelation was preceded by one of the most memorable boss battles in games up to that point against the evil Mother Brain, and the timed escape sequence that followed, a series staple that has become somewhat cliché today, was a pulse-pounding surprise at the time.

Sadly, even then Nintendo framed Samus’ gender as a kind of gimmick and reward, with the gender reveal becoming more…ahem…revealing as you beat the game more quickly. Some subsequent games in the series, armed with more sophisticated graphics, objectify Samus more explicitly with the art you “earn” for a job well done. Alas, the history of female representation in video games is full of complication and internal contradiction, and so, my feelings about this ending are complicated as well. On balance, I’m still glad that the heroic Samus was revealed to be a woman all those years ago, but let’s not pretend that she, Lara Croft, and most other female heroes throughout much of games history haven’t been used at least as often to serve as eye candy for straight men as they have to offer women a few scraps of representation.—Carolyn Petit

Mega Man 2

Capcom / ArtificialRavens

Proof that sometimes the most memorable and beautiful endings are also the simplest, Mega Man 2’s closing cutscene doesn’t have any big story revelations or explosive action. It’s just an image of Mega Man, having successfully destroyed several of his fellow robots and thwarted the plans of Dr. Wily once again, walking toward the screen while the seasons change and a bittersweet tune plays. Finally, Mega Man himself disappears, leaving only his helmet in the bucolic landscape.

I’m not kidding when I say I think there’s something existential about this somewhat abstract sequence of images. Watching it as a kid, I always felt that Mega Man must be conflicted about the fact that he’s so often called upon to destroy his own kind, and the abandoned helmet at the end spoke to me of a desire on his part to leave it all behind and go live his own life. That theme music imbues the whole thing with deeply felt emotion, making it impossible to see Mega Man as an unfeeling machine himself. (The tune clearly left a lasting impression on others as well. Here’s a lovely piano rendition of it someone posted to YouTube some years ago.) Unfortunately, come 1990 and the release of Mega Man 3, Dr. Wily would once again be up to his nefarious antics and the Blue Bomber would be called back into action. But I’m still hoping for that day when, his duty done, he can go live his own life at last.—Carolyn Petit

Killzone 2 / Killzone 3

Guerrilla Games / tanny92225

Oh how I miss Killzone. I was always a fan of the series, but the ending of the second game will always be a “moment” for me. I typically find it hard to follow along with fictional politics stuff, but that wasn’t the case in Killzone 2. After a satisfyingly sludgy first-person shooter campaign, the final moments sees Rico, always the most rash and foulmouthed character, act out of turn and murder Visari, Helghan’s dictator. I often wonder if Visari was intentionally taunting Sev and Rico to kill him. It’s hard to say, but I like that in an ending: something that keeps me guessing and thinking about the implications and character motivations after the credits roll.

Killzone’s politics and visual connections to real world political movements and conflicts is complicated, and to be honest, I don’t particularly know what to make of it all, even so many years later. But Visari’s final speech planted some doubt in my mind that anything I had done so far in the campaign was going to actually make a difference.

The fleet of new Helghast ships and the reality that the war is far, far from over, met with Sev’s casual motion of putting his gun down, taking a seat on the steps to Visari’s office with a gesture of, “well, now what?” always gets a bit of a laugh out of me. It feels quite human in that moment: when the situation is fucked and you have absolutely no idea what you can do as just one person.

Sadly, I cannot say the same about Killzone 3 which decided to essentially end its conflict by blowing up the planet. No resolution, and none of the unexpected drama of Rico’s reckless behavior in the second game. It just felt like a quick and lazy way to get out of a narrative someone wasn’t sure how to wrap up. — Claire Jackson

Halo 2

343 Industries / Sam Mallin

My issues with Halo 2 started long before those credits rolled. And in hindsight, I actually think the “Sir, finishing this fight” line is rather fitting. Poetic, even. But II did not feel that way in 2004 as I watched this game just decide to end after what felt like a painfully short, truncated version of a game I fell in love with Combat Evolved.

Perhaps that is why I’ll never forget Halo 2’s ending: it was an abrupt and unsatisfying way to end what is basically an abrupt and unsatisfying campaign. Dual-wielding diluted the weapon sandbox, maps were so small and missions reduced to “stand here and shoot through hordes of enemies” in a way that Combat Evolved was clearly not. English-speaking aliens sucked the mystery out of the room. And Breaking Benjamin? Really? When I got to that infamous cliffhanger ending, all I was left with were complicated feelings and a hope that it’d be better in the next game.

And I had to wait for a new console generation for it! — Claire Jackson

Mass Effect 3

BioWare / JELLIS Gamer

I bet you thought I was gonna dunk on the ending of Mass Effect 3, but like an artificial intelligence taking the form of a child you saw die at the beginning, surprise, I’m here to drop the bomb on your life. The ending to the Mass Effect trilogy was good, actually. Messy in the execution? Sure. But damn, I still remember bawling in the moment as I headed up to the Crucible to decide the fate of the Reapers and the galaxy at large.

I don’t think certain parts of BioWare’s trilogy conclusion are above criticism, but what I do take onus with is anyone saying the choice you make in the end doesn’t matter or is lacking in consequence. In Commander Shepard’s (possibly) final moments, they’re setting the entire galaxy forward on one of four paths. Destroying synthetic life, controlling the Reapers, or integrating them into society through an unexplainable space magic synthesis of organic and synthetic life, have huge implications on how this universe will move forward. No, we didn’t see this unfold in the original ending, but that was never really the point.

Mass Effect is positioned as a series about choice and consequence, and while not every storyline panned out into some huge permutation, there are significant moments where, by the end, the games made it clear that your presence altered history. The final moments of Mass Effect 3 are the last breath the player lets out as they make a declaration of what they’re willing to sacrifice, and just like Shepard in most of these endings, they don’t get to live and see if it all panned out. The Mass Effect trilogy takes you to all corners of the galaxy and shows you who this society is. The final choice you make is an expression of your fears, your cynicism, but also your hope for this universe. There is no “right” choice. There is no “canon” (or at least there shouldn’t be) decision that Shepard should make to get the best possible outcome. It’s just you and choosing paths forward, even if you might not get to be there to see where it leads. Was it messy? Sure. Did it create one of the most compelling framings of choice and consequence in the franchise? Yeah, actually. Not every video game has to justify why you make decisions to you. Sometimes it’s on you to decide it for yourself.

Ya know, until they release an Extended Cut that tells you that no matter what decision you make everything turns out happy and okay with zero friction. —Kenneth Shepard

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