Never actually intended to do a companion to my Best Endings list rant, but (at the risk of spoiling the below content) Bioware’s works in the last year and a half or so have inspired this compilation.
I explored what made a good ending in the other list. But what makes a bad ending, really? Sure, poor writing, stupid ideas, plot holes, these are part of it, but to me, the greatest crime an ending can commit is to disappoint. There are a lot of lousy endings to games out there. The ending to Suikoden 4, for example, is amazingly boring, and provides no particular satisfaction beyond a reassurance that the torment of playing Suikoden 4 is finally over. Yet you won’t see it listed below. Why? Well, it’s not that it’s of better quality than those below, necessarily. It’s that Suikoden 4 is already an insanely boring and unlikable game. You get a lousy ending to a lousy game, you’re not surprised. It’s no worse pain to experience than the rest of the game was until that point. Sure, Final Fantasy 8’s ending makes no goddamn sense at all, but neither did anything else in the game. Its ending is stupid and nonsensical, but not unexpected, so there’s not much reason for disappointment. It’s when you have a bad ending whose effects are felt upon a game whose quality was better, that the ending truly becomes terrible.
The other major problem I think an ending can have is a lack of closure. Now, I’m not saying that every single detail needs to be wrapped up in a game’s ending. I’m not even necessarily saying most of them have to be. But if you don’t have some feeling of satisfaction, of completeness, after seeing an ending, then that ending has failed utterly. An ending must END a game in at least some significant capacity; it must reflect a closing of the story, or at least, a closing to this part of a story. I don’t necessarily mind an ending that is a transition, such as the ending of Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1. The SMTDDS games are 2 parts of a whole story, and the second picks up where the first left off. But the ending of SMTDDS1 still provides all the closure the gamer needs to enjoy it. Even if it’s not the end of the story (in some ways, it’s just the beginning), it’s still the end of the first major part of the characters’ journey, a turning point in their tale of great significance. It provides closure for how far the characters have come, even as it promises that there will be more trials for them ahead. If a game has no closure in its ending, then it has no true ending, just a poorly executed stopping point.
Lastly, just as an ending needs to have comparable (or even superior) quality to the product it’s concluding, an ending should also be thematically consistent to everything that’s led to it. You don’t end a standard whimsical Pokemon game with a gritty, blood-soaked gorefest as the Pokemon Champion fights to the violent death against overwhelming odds, for example. A developer should have an ending kept consistent with the ideas, tone, and traits of the product. Otherwise you just get a mess. You’d think this would be patently obvious, but plenty of writers are so obsessed with having their work be edgy, unpredictable, and/or some gross misunderstanding of the word “deep” that they’ll throw such a curveball at the player that said ball loops full circle and winds up hitting them in the ass.
Anyway, that about covers the most major reasons an ending can be bad, at least for me. So let’s see which RPGs have the worst ones, which games trip and fall right at the finish line.
One note: at times, the last part of the game itself is fairly inseparable from the actual ending, so some of these picks may be more a case of the finale being terrible, not strictly just the ending. I doubt the non-distinction really matters to you, but all the same, just gonna explain that in advance.
Other note: Spoilers. Duh.
5. Final Fantasy 7
Ah, yes, the classically indeterminate ending to Final Fantasy 7. Prior to SquareEnix going sequel-and-spinoff crazy with FF7, we were all just kind of left to scratch our heads in confusion about the ending’s ambiguity. While most of the ending is pretty decent, with the escape from the North Crater, the impending doom from Meteor, and Aeris rallying the Lifestream to bolster the strength of Holy to stop Meteor’s descent, the end result is incredibly vague. We cut from the climactic struggle between Meteor and the combined power of Holy and the Lifestream, to a scene hundreds of years later in which party member Red XIII leads some little cat-lion-wolf (whatever he is) kids along some cliffs, to finally reach a good viewpoint of Midgar, now a ruin covered in vegetation. And that’s it. What the hell does that mean? What happened? Did Holy win, but, as was suggested as possible earlier in the game, eradicate all humans in its purge of that which is evil from the planet? Maybe Red XIII’s kind are the only sentient life forms left alive, and he’s showing his kids (we think they’re his kids, that is, though really they could be anyone’s cubs) the ruins of the long-dead human race? Or maybe humans are just fine in this future, and we just don’t see them. Impossible to say, but frankly, leaving your audience unsure of whether an apocalypse happened or not is not exactly a great way to close your story.
And if humans did survive, what’s the reason Midgar was abandoned? Too much collateral damage from Meteor’s near impact? Abandoned due to the inevitable collapse of the Shinra Corporation due to the deaths of its leaders* and tremendous losses in personnel, equipment, and holdings thanks to the actions of Cloud’s group, Sephiroth, and the WEAPONs? Some other reason entirely unrelated to the game’s events? No explanations are given for what we see of the city’s state in the future, nor whether it’s indicative of all human civilization or just isolated to Midgar. Not as important as knowing whether the entire human race is extinct, I suppose, but still an aspect of confusion and lack of closure.
And lastly, aside from knowing that Red XIII survived and presumably got a little nookie at some point, the ending tells us nothing of what happened to the cast that we’ve (presumably) become emotionally invested in during our 60-hour journey. Did they die during the Meteor incident? Were they fine? If they didn’t die, what did they do with themselves? Until you see FF7: Advent Children, you have no idea what happens to Cloud and company,** and frankly, a game’s ending shouldn’t require an entirely separate product to provide its answers. Especially when that separate product only comes into existence 10 years after the game’s release. We’re given no closure at all for almost every important character in the entire game, and even seeing the 1 character shown, Red XIII, doesn’t really tell us all that much about what happened with him.
Granted, a lot of this was cleared up a decade later when SquareEnix decided to start capitalizing on FF7’s legacy with the trite garbage they call sequels for it. But in the context of just the game, which is all you can reasonably judge it by, it’s...not good. Ambiguous in every important way, providing questions without answers in place of any closure or satisfaction, Final Fantasy 7 has a legendarily perplexing and lousy ending.
4. Wild Arms 4
Now how is it, after all that yakking I did earlier about a bad ending needing to disappoint to be truly bad, that Wild Arms 4’s ending can be on this list? Surely if there is any game terrible enough that its ending cannot possibly disappoint, it is Wild Arms 4. Well, you would think that, logically, but WA4 is the worst RPG in existence for a reason, folks--it manages at every turn to confound your expectations and get worse. As unparalleled as its shittiness may be, WA4 still manages to find a curveball to throw at you with its ending to piss you off.
Basically, this ending is not just wretched in the ways you would expect, given the game. It is even wretched by the game’s own wretched standards. Throughout this shithole of a game, the repulsive little irritation that serves as its protagonist has never, not once, shut his yap about how grownups should be more like kids because kids trust each other and work together and grownups only destroy and blah blah blah SHUT UP JUDE JUST SHUT UP. He has reassured his friends time and time again how they will totally be BFFF (Best Friends Forever Forever) and how unbreakable their bonds of friendship are and so on and so forth. They make pacts to always be friends, to meet up together after the game’s events, to help each other always, and on and ON. It’s safe to say that a major theme of this game by the time of the ending has been that if you are friends with someone then you should HOLD THEIR HAND FOREVER AND NEVER LET GO EVER, NOT EVEN IF ONE OF YOU HAS TO GO TO THE BATHROOM, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND GUYS THE GROWNUPS MIGHT GET YOU IN THE LAVATORY AND MAKE YOU EVIL LIKE THEM USING THE DIABOLICAL MIND-CONTROL MAGIC THAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TURN 21.
So what does Mr. Codependent Friendship is Forever end up doing in the ending? Why, he becomes a forest ranger, living a life of solitude in which he never sees his friends again.
So...so you’re telling me that the game that would not stop harping on the immeasurable value of positive, lasting human connections of childlike innocence and solidarity from start to finish for 50+ hours...has its theme’s poster child become a fucking HERMIT!? Why...what the...how...but...
This game’s ending is not only crappy from the player’s perspective, but it’s completely inconsistent and totally opposed to every annoying, unexamined value the game has held! Jude’s ending throws his character, his outspoken never-shuts-up character, completely out the window! You literally could not have an ending more opposite to everything the game has been trying, in its terrible and idiotic way, to say. Just...words cannot describe how completely unfathomable this decision by the development team is.
Also, I hate the ending of WA4 for the fact that, after having had the game more or less promise to the gamer that Racquel, the one shining light of great characterization and innovation in the whole game, would live, it kills Racquel off, off-screen, using the same method (her illness) to do so as was explicitly stated would be prevented. Thanks a lot, WA4, and fuck you, too.
Wild Arms 4’s ending: it flips you off with one hand, and flips itself off with the other.
3. Mass Effect 3
Originally, Mass Effect 3 had, no exaggeration, the worst ending I had ever seen or conceived of, in any media form. I wasn’t alone in this belief, not by a long shot, and so Bioware released an addendum DLC package to the ending, altering it somewhat to improve it. You can read all about it in the 2 rants I did about it, but in short, they succeeded in improving it, by a LOT, and addressed each of the biggest problems I had with the ending. It's still unacceptably horrible, of course, one of the most spectacular failures in the history of human storytelling that still to this day makes me ill to think about, make no mistake! But, y'know, a little less than it was before.
I still can't believe this thing's not at the top of the list. What kind of species are we, that I cannot objectively say that the ending to Mass Effect 3 is not technically the worst ending ever created?
Anyway, as it stands now, ME3’s ending is not the absolute worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s disappointing, stupid, out of place (feels like someone shoving a poor imitation of Isaac Asimov into Star Wars), and makes it impossible to achieve a victory that stays true to the ideals of the series and its protagonist. ME3’s ending basically gives you 4 options:
Destroy: You sacrifice an entire race of life, along with a cherished companion and friend of Shepard (the protagonist). Needless to say, this is unacceptable to anyone who ever played a good guy Shepard, who has, on multiple occasions, spoken out against any mindset that sacrifices innocents for a cause.
Control: Everyone but Shepard lives, but only by taking the action endorsed by the game’s main villain. In addition to making the game’s focus on opposing the villain largely meaningless, this option directly opposes a running theme of the Mass Effect series, which is the danger of finding and using advanced technology that your culture is not ready for yet. Major characters in the series like Legion, ones we’re obviously supposed to take seriously, warn against this. Events in the history of the series, like the shortsighted uplift of the Krogan people, warn against this. Hell, using technology that one’s society has not earned through its own discovery is how the bad guys of the series set their trap against the galaxy’s people to begin with! Sovereign, the main bad guy of ME1, says himself that by leaving ultra-advanced technology behind for people to discover, those people’s technological advancement follows the paths that the bad guys want it to. Sorry to go into too much detail, but I want to make my point clear--as attractively death-free as Control is, it is VERY much against this major theme of the Mass Effect universe.
Synthesis: The option that Bioware obviously likes the best and wants us to pick is quite definitely the worst. It’s morally repulsive (Shepard basically violates every sentient being in the galaxy’s right to bodily self-determination, and it implies that the best way to guarantee peace is to make sure everyone is the same), it completely disregards some important character development (Legion’s Geth and Javik would be philosophically and morally opposed to this, EDI claimed to have felt alive through Shepard’s influence in the game, yet in this ending acts as if it’s a new concept to her, and more), and it’s ridiculous and makes no sense in countless ways. It also doesn’t seem to solve the problem it aims to address, since the conflict of the created rising against their creators can be easily recreated by any of the surviving people in this ending who happen to want to build new machines. It also incorporates a very similar instance of the galaxy's people suddenly gaining access to technologies and knowledge they have not yet earned themselves, so it contains the same violation of series themes that Control did. And lastly, if the Reaper-ized beings regain consciousness, as the ending seems to imply in its cinematics, it’s just creepy and horrible--they live now as twisted, sad, freakish abominations. No thanks.
Refusal: This is the only option that allows Shepard to stay true to himself and that upholds the spirit and themes of the Mass Effect series. Unfortunately...everyone dies in it. Fucking hooray.
If there was ever a perfect embodiment of the concept of tripping at the finish line, it’s the finale of Mass Effect 3.
2. Dragon Age 2
Dragon Age 2’s finale is the one that put the thought of a list of Worst Endings in my head to start with. Whether or not you liked DA2 (a lot of people did, a lot of people didn’t), the game’s finale is terrible through and through. And I mean, perfectly. If you want a perfect example of how to make a lousy finale to your story, Dragon Age 2’s conclusion is a great guide. I may find Mass Effect 3’s ending to be far more disappointing and a greater betrayal of its game and audience, but objectively speaking, even I have to admit DA2’s ending is a greater storytelling catastrophe. Describing how bad, how utterly inept it is in detail would be a rant in itself. Which is why I already made a rant about it. Go read that if you want the details.
1. Valkyrie Profile 2
I’ve mentioned this one a couple of times, but man. This is so awful as to almost be inconceivable. And yet, it is no difficult matter to explain it. Valkyrie Profile 1 is a legendary game, one of the most remembered RPGs and arguably the biggest feather in SquareEnix’s cap. On a system remembered for some truly groundbreaking and legendary RPGs, Valkyrie Profile 1 is one of the Playstation 1’s finest, and its original copies are some of the rarest, most sought-after RPGs out there, right up there with Suikoden 1 and 2, or an original copy of The Legend of Zelda. So, what did SquareEnix do in the long-awaited sequel?
Use the finale to kill off half the cast, including Lenneth, the unforgettable protagonist of the 1st game, and then make it so the original beloved, legendary, monumentally artistic piece of gaming history never happened. The ending of VP2 is slash-and-burn storytelling at its worst, its worst, not just eliminating most of the major cast of this game, but even rewriting the history of the VP world to prevent the possibility of the original game’s events from ever happening. Valkyrie Profile 1 was, from an artistic standpoint, one of the proudest moments of the combined history of SquareEnix, and they decided to not just disrespect it with a poor sequel, like they did with Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy 10--they actually decided to erase it altogether. Even Mass Effect 3’s ending only destroyed the intangibles of the ME series, the themes and spirit of its predecessors. This one does all that and more...this ending is not just a lousy ending to Valkyrie Profile 2, it’s also an active murder of Valkyrie Profile 1.
Dishonorable Mention: Fallout 3
There was a bit of a stir about the ending of Fallout 3 originally, in that its key event, the death of the protagonist or Sarah Lyons, was completely unnecessary and illogical--to sum it up quickly, the protagonist or Sarah has to go in a chamber filled with immediately lethal radiation to flip a switch, but there are 3 potential party members in Fallout 3 who would be fully able to do this task, AND are completely safe from just about any amount of radiation, meaning the fact that the ending forced someone to die was completely needless and stupid. I did a rant about it.
And then I had to retract the rant, because Bethesda had the intelligence to listen to its fanbase and, through the downloadable content package Broken Steel, adjusted the ending so that the obviously completely avoidable sacrifice became, whaddayaknow, obviously completely avoidable. Good on Bethesda for that one. It’s quite easy to be a bunch of stubborn jackasses and refuse to fix what is obviously completely broken, but Bethesda rose above that, apparently having the basic intelligence that Bioware lacks on this point.
Granted, the rest of Fallout 3’s conclusion is fairly unsatisfying and inappropriately brief, especially when compared to previous Fallout games’, and the post-ending content doesn’t really have an end of its own, but the major stupidity of it was rectified, and that’s what saves it from being on the main list here. Nonetheless, it IS worthy of some note for this list, so, Dishonorable Mention it gets.
* According to the game, Rufus died. Just because FF7: Advent Children later shows him to have inexplicably survived, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s dead from the perspective of the game only.
** Hell, you still don’t really have any idea what happens to half of his group in that movie anyways, since Barret, Cid, Yuffie, Vincent, and Cait Sith are all reduced to little more than cameo roles.