In every genre there is one defining aspect which usually makes them stand out and defines them from all others. One specific element above all others which helps them to appeal to a certain audience. In Rogue-like games it’s the potential for failure and the sheer uphill battle you face, with fighting games it’s the ability to break out endless combos and air-juggle your opponent through the air for minutes on end, and in RTS titles it’s the potential for how thoroughly you can obliterate them. In RPGs of many subgenres it tends not to be the stats or combat which is the most memorable but the stories driving them forwards. Any story can make or break an RPG, especially in how the ending is handled as Bioware found out not too long ago, so what could be considered the best within the genre?
Here’s few suggestions with Paranerds.com’s Top Ten Greatest RPG Endings. (Spoilers! [Obviously])
10 – Summoner 2
What allowed Summoner 2 to edge out from amongst the competition was one specific aspect of its final cutscene – how it shows you coming full circle. It is effectively the reverse of the opening to the game, showing the tree of life and existence being born anew from Maia and Lahara tending to its branches. The scenes are very well presented and have graphics which even today aren’t too bad, even when looking at the comparatively crude skin textures and facial structures.
It does show the fates of your surviving companions as well, disappearing into history or returning to their homes which is always something to be applauded in such games. The chief reason is isn’t higher on this list really comes down to the speed of its ending, it only lasts a couple of minutes and tries to get a huge amount of information out of the day in that time. You still know you’ve effectively saved the entire world but it lacks the feeling of triumph or success present in later examples. None the less it was a fitting end to the game and was a culmination of the sense of mysticism and wonder which had made the games so addictive.
9 – Fallout: New Vegas
I was on the fence about this one as it’s not a traditional sort of ending, rather than having a single cutscene it’s a compilation of various stills focusing upon characters and locations of the game with voiceovers. The reason it gets put on the list is due to one specific reason – it provides a much greater level of closure than you’ll find in many other endings. Seeing each specific place you’ve been involved with talked about by its residents and their individual fates helps to give a greater sense of scale to the world and how the future turned out for them. It also gives the added bonus of allowing you to have far more flexible conclusions. Rather than having only one good ending and one bad you can help most people in the game but can still fail to help a few who you met. It’s that added bit of replayability and freedom which makes the Fallout games so great, and it’s New Vegas which does this the best.
While the lack of a true animated cutscene is still a visible flaw, the fact its ending shows far more than almost all others on this list, and does the same for each DLC expansion earns New Vegas’ place on this list. Also the fact that the way it was set up meant that no matter who you supported in the main storyline you could still be a colossal arsehole or hero without it feeling out of place.
8 – Kingdom Hearts
Well, this was a top ten of RPGs list so you knew there was going to be at least one SquareEnix on here somewhere. Kingdom Hearts has been a solid series overall with few flaws in spite of an increasingly convoluted story and multiple instalments across many different platforms. However, the ending to the first game stands out as the strongest out of all the games and the reason for this is, well, you don’t completely win.
You get rid of Ansem, find the king, get Kari back and save the universe but for every victory you have you lose something. The King (Mickey Mouse) and Riku are last seen locking themselves inside Kingdom Hearts facing an army of Heartless, Kari is restored but loses her memories of Sora and is separated from her, seemingly trapped where he defeated the final boss. Nonetheless, it’s done in a way which leaves hope for the protagonists, you’ve still halted the villain’s doomsday plan and are alive. There are also hints of larger mysteries and a bigger universe which left the possibility for a sequel without feeling like blatant sequel bait. It’s an odd situation where the conclusion is not completely nihilistic nor does it feel like a kick in the teeth but at the same time you’ve still lost as much as you’ve won.
The characters, presentation and voice acting are mostly what help with this and the only thing which drags it down is the soundtrack. I’d really like to have known what SquareEnix had running through their heads when they added that pop song over the end credits.
7 – Legend of Legaia
This is easily the least known of the titles on this list and it’s unfortunate to see that because it was a really good game for its time. It had a good story, the shot composition was great for a game of its era and it managed to retain that unique balance of humour and triumph in its ending which we rarely see today. Its ending effectively focused upon one thing – you had brought the world a bright new era. Defeating the villain had cost the world much but it has given it a new lease on life and a chance to reclaim what humanity lost to the “mist”. You’re given a chance to walk around the village you started in and really see how things are going to change for the better thanks to you.
The flaws in this stem from its style of presentation, outside of the village you only really see how the rest of the world is benefitting through a few seconds worth of cutscene per location. What’s more is that while you do see what will happen to the characters in some respects, it could have been delivered in a far better manner and doesn’t tell us that much about them. Nevertheless it does somehow manage to convey a feeling that everything will start to get better now you’ve given the world a chance.
6 – Final Fantasy VIII
Opinions have been fairly divisive over the years involving VIII, but the ending itself genuinely felt like one of the strongest in the series. What it did more than anything else was bring a great deal of closure to the events of the game. Unlike a lot of current SquareEnix titles, most of them with Final Fantasy in the name, there was no need for sequels after this. The world had been saved, the protagonists were perfectly happy. As clunky as the camera footage of the party might have been it felt like they characters had come to a good end; and both their behaviour and the way it was shot felt very “human”.
It impacted on a much more personal level than VII did, which left their fates ambiguous, and unlike X had no one audibly speaking. Meaning the animators had to show rather than tell and it was relying upon animators rather than voice direction to convey emotion. Say what you will about the recent Final Fantasy titles, but let’s face it dialogue isn’t the series’ strong point of late. What’s more is that unlike titles such as those it did give some hope for the future of the side characters; displaying Seifer and Laguna’s lot while the rest were in the academy. If there is one thing worth criticising it’s that the game doesn’t exactly explain some aspects of itself or how Squall escaped where he was trapped, but I don’t think that’s enough to deny it a place on this list.
5 – Golden Sun
This is an interesting one because in many ways it’s not an end. While it does give some closure to the group’s fight against the main villains and their efforts to halt their plans, aside from that it’s just the end of part 1. Defeating Saturos and Menardi only results in a bigger mystery with those you were trying to rescue being willing, and determined, to carry out their plan. What’s more is that even after stopping them the characters note they still have a promise to Babi they need to fulfill.
It effectively did the same thing Kingdom Hearts did but managed to pull it off far better. It really feels less like the end of Golden Sun and more like the end to Golden Sun: Part 1, and that’s the reason it is on this list. Rather than giving full closure to events, with the characters settling down, preparing to end their story it finishes in a very hopeful manner.
Heading for a secretly docked ancient, technologically advanced ship the group talk about how far they’ve come, make a few reflections to what has happened in the game. All the while they look as if they are talking to the player as much as each other. They then leap on-board the ship and to the main theme heroically sail out of the docks towards new adventures. It’s not an ending which says “we’ve done it, it’s finally over” it’s an ending which says “congratulations on getting this far, the best is yet to come”. Unlike a lot of recent titles through, it still manages to make you feel like you’ve still accomplished something big.
4 – Mass Effect 3 (Extended Cut)
If there was a big criticism to make about the Mass Effect series it was the endings. I don’t just mean ME3, I mean all of them. Both of the first two games had endings which felt like pauses in the story. Like they were hinting at things to come but unlike Golden Sun they lacked the feeling of finishing one chapter in a bigger tale. Not to mention they left Reaper sized plot holes in what should have tied things together. That changed dramatically with the Extended Cut DLC, which as well as answering the uproar to the original conclusion gave the series its first proper conclusion.
Like Legend of Legaia the big strength of this ending is the way in which it shows how you change things. It doesn’t do New Vegas’ thing of having someone narrate specifically about each location but instead how things have changed overall and what will happen in the future. While it doesn’t feel quite so in depth the lack of individual narrations for each place makes the ending feel less clunky and batter structured. Plus the actual still images tend to tell more to the viewer than most narrations ever would – Zaeed lying on a deck chair finally retired, Jack standing in front of either gravestones or her students; it’s a much better way of doing things.
3 – Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Okay, let’s get this out of the way – Yes this is an RPG. Most RPGs these days are based upon choices and the customisation aspects (Elder Scrolls Oblivion, Knights of the Old Republic etc). However, the term role playing game mains you play out the role of the main character and do things as you’d want. You can complete dungeons and levels in the order you’d like. You’re given the option to perform side quests which exist due to the open nature of the world, and unlike most level based games you don’t have to do things entirely in sequence. It depends upon how you define the RPG genre but as far as I’m concerned this counts as one.
The ending to OoT is something which manages to hit all the right notes. You see everything you’ve done in the game, it’s brought to the fore after an epic confrontation with Ganon at his full power, you seal him away halting his evil after his rampage across the land. You see everyone you’ve met celebrating his defeat, finally victorious after seven years of hell, and it really is just about everyone. There’s barely any character models left out, quite an accomplishment even by today’s standards.
There are even a few tragic moments. Link is separated from Zelda and his only reward for all his efforts being the chance to regain his lost time, with Navi leaving him and Zelda who knew him being left in the hellish future to rebuild. None of this manages to crush the jovial nature of your victory, nor do the celebrations manage to overwhelm this display, and it manages to achieve an emotional balance between the two. All to the glorious themes of the game. Best of all is the very last frame showing the words “THE END”. You can’t progress past it nor will it won’t go away until you restart the game. It brings that added touch of feeling like things are finished to the title.
2 – Vagrant Story
This is a hard one to explain because of the style the game presents its final events in. For one thing the game ends rather open endedly, bookending how it began with “the Vagrant” becoming wanderer of the world. For another, it’s about as insane, suggestive and disjointed as a David Lynch film. Half of what you are told is extremely contradictory, muddling the truth behind the protagonist’s background and eventual fate to the point where the player is left to personally decide what is what. Atop of this many characters meet quite horrible ends, usually death at the absolute best and the conclusion is extremely bittersweet.
What helps to not only prevent this being a failure but an example of great storytelling is the approach taken to it. Rather than this just being a case of the writers shrugging their shoulders or creating a needlessly grim end, this is something the game has been working towards. It was carefully cultivated and built up over time, and even when it does contradict itself it relates to the story’s themes of the subjectivity of memory. The graphics certainly haven’t held up well and you’ll probably be asking many questions once it is over, but there’s no denying the quality found within the ending to the game’s events. It really is something you have to experience for yourself, but there’s no denying that it is one of the best handled endings to a storyline in the long history of gaming.
1 – Dragon Age: Origins
Out of all the RPGs I have played, Dragon Age: Origins stands head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to its conclusion. It embraces nearly all of the strengths outlined in the previous examples and goes that extra step further, giving near perfect presentation and balance between every factor you could want. It manages to weld together the individual endings spoken about in games like Fallout, the individual final choice seen in Legend of Legaia with the cutscene oriented strength of a scripted conclusion without any of these different elements conflicting against one another. Rather than feeling overstuffed it instead gives the conclusion level of grandeur befitting your accomplishments.
Better yet, the way it is put together allows a great deal of emotional flexibility, allowing the game to both display the final victory over the archdemon, your smaller victories and your failures without any feeling out of place. It shows you where you have saved the world, but does not pull its punches from showing you where you have failed and wrought disaster. It’s quite the achievement for an ending to both show you slaying a dragon, forcing the legions of the underworld into retreat and then telling you “by the way, you did monumentally screw up this…” The fact this even extends to your companions, showing some of their individual fates and futures is also a nice touch, especially with the risk of their futures being especially grim and dark.
Then for none of it to feel out of place as one follows another. If there is one criticism to make, besides the occasional bug with the multiple endings, it’s how the game tells you some information. At least when Fallout resorted to having still images be narrated over there was at least Ron Pearlman talking over it, in this you just get text. Not even scrolling text, or it appearing while panning across the image, just a series of stills you open up and then go through like a powerpoint presentation. While the attention to detail is certainly nice and the descriptions are well made, the lack of any movement or motion within each image just comes across as uninspired. Even with this flaw however, it still stands out as being one of the best conclusions to a game I have seen.
So that’s the top ten endings for RPG games. As a final note it needs to be pointed out that this list is based purely upon how well their endings worked, not the game as a whole. For example I rate Rogue Galaxy as being a far better game than Final Fantasy VIII but felt that it has a much weaker ending.
No doubt I’ve missed out at least one title you feel deserves to be on this list. As such please feel free to add your own top ten, suggestions or even arguments to which games don’t have any reason to be on here.