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March 28, 2012 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Video games with bummer endings?

I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day about video games and art and what-have-you, and he made the point that perhaps one reason why video games aren't really considered art is because the endings are almost always the same -- kill alien overlord, save galaxy, get to the last castle, save princess, etc. So we spent about a half an hour trying to think about games with bummer endings and came up with a few -- Shadow of the Colossus, the Prince of Persia reboot, Starflight sort of. Someone else mentioned single player Bubble Bobble as being a bummer, but he may have been joking. Can you think of games with bummer or ambiguous endings? Or is there a good list somewhere?
posted by the dief to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (62 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sword & Sworcery. I actually teared up a little at the end.
posted by Specklet at 11:52 AM on March 28, 2012

Thank you, Mario! But our princess is in another castle...
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:53 AM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Half Life
posted by Artw at 11:54 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is hella obscure, but the NeoGeo game Cyber-Lip ends with your character discovering he's actually been paving the way for the alien invasion he thought he was fighting.

Bubble Bobble has a good ending and a bad ending, and the good ending is only obtainable if you beat it with two players.

In that vein, are we talking about games where the canonical ending is a bummer, or that just has bad ending as well as good?
posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Half Life series, definitely. The patched Portal ending, where you're dragged back into the facility. Some endings of Bioshock.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:56 AM on March 28, 2012

Dark Souls
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:56 AM on March 28, 2012

Planescape: Torment. Ending is highly ambiguous, and actually depends strongly on how well you do in the game. But the "good" ending is downright melancholy.
posted by valkyryn at 11:58 AM on March 28, 2012

posted by Fully Completely at 11:58 AM on March 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

I don't know. I'm not much of a video game person, but the King of All Cosmos's in "Katamari Damacy" was an interesting twist to the usual video game approach.

I mean, the Little Prince is actively seeking approval from his father. It's pretty different, if not a bit messed up.....
posted by zizzle at 11:58 AM on March 28, 2012

I cried at the end of Red Dead Redemption, and the flash-forward scene with the son didn't make me feel any better.
posted by ladygypsy at 11:59 AM on March 28, 2012

Also, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger. True, you destroy the Kilrathi homeworld, and yes, the war is over, but you lose three wingmen on the way in, and the unpleasantness of destroying the entire planet to end the war is not downplayed. It's very somber.
posted by valkyryn at 12:00 PM on March 28, 2012

At the end of Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special, your character (this is a fictional professional wrestler that you have created) has fallen in love with the (fictional) sister of (real) wrestler Akira Maeda, and she has rejected you. Also, your American trainer (you pick one from a couple real ones, I think Ric Flair is one) has been killed in front of you just before your championship match. You go on to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, but you decide that ultimately your victory is hollow and meaningless.

You then go buy a gun and blow your brains out.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:01 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Pretty much every Twisted Metal game had a bad ending for every playable character. There were a few exceptions but in general the winning character would be granted a wish and the results would be the usual "be careful what you wish for" type gotchas.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:03 PM on March 28, 2012

Oh, the canonical ending for the original Fallout game was pretty sad. [SPOILER FOR 15-YEAR-OLD GAME] The best case scenario is that you're kicked out of your Vault and exiled to the desert.
posted by griphus at 12:03 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The ending of Limbo (hell, the entire game, really) made me feel pretty damn hollow and morose.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:03 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also: the thing about video games that makes them a new form of art (in my opinion) is that they allow for any number of outcomes based on your input. Many games make use of this by having multiple pre-baked narratives, some good some bad, based on your choices. Theoretically, most games allow you to have bad endings; it's called dying. In my mind a positive ending to Battletoads does not exists; that game just ends in failure.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:04 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know it's not a popular view, but I did take a minute to sit and think for a while after Mass Effect 3 ended; chose the synergy ending. Not often I have that kind of reaction, either- maybe it's vaguely Stendhal-esque.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 12:04 PM on March 28, 2012

Yeah, I'm thinking the canonical ending as bummer. These are all terrific examples though, thanks folks!
posted by the dief at 12:04 PM on March 28, 2012

Off the top of my head (including basically "pyrrhic victory endings" and "they don't live happily ever after"):

FFX (sort of)
Persona 2 Innocent Sin
Shadow of the Colossus, yes
Drakengard (some of the endings)
Prince of Persia 2008 reboot, yes
Bioshock (some of the endings)
Fatal Frame 1, 2....3?
Silent Hill 2 (some of the endings)
Metal Gear Solid 3 (you survived...but...)
posted by vetala at 12:05 PM on March 28, 2012

Rather obscure, but Dungeons of Daggorath, a game for the TRS-80 Color Computer. (also the first ever FPS and the greatest game ever made.)

"Behold, destiny awaits at the hands of a new wizard!"

WTF? Eight billion A-space-Ls in a row, I survive the sudden teleportation to level 4, kill five galrods, and then figure out how to decant the final ring and all you give me is a single sentence? Am I the wizard now? Is there gonna be a sequel with some newer badass wizard? Fuck you, computer, fuck YOU!
posted by bondcliff at 12:05 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by Skybly at 12:05 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

[spoilers] Mass Effect 3
Persona 3 (multiple endings, but all of them are pretty sad)
Link's Awakening
Klonoa (apparently, I haven't actually played this)
posted by aparrish at 12:07 PM on March 28, 2012

posted by demiurge at 12:07 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's worth mentioning that the ending to the wrestling game is the only one. It's not like there's a way to avoid committing suicide.

Also there are basically two endings to Grand Theft Auto 4 - in both of them, your character loses something important to him.

In one ending, the woman who's been portrayed as a genuine love interest is killed.

In the other ending, she says she will not talk to you anymore or see you again. Your brother is then killed. She then calls once to express her sympathies but that's it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:08 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, and this is a little weird, but the ending of Mega Man 2 makes me pretty emotional.
posted by aparrish at 12:10 PM on March 28, 2012

Are you including flash games? Because there are a number of short indie games with ambiguous, if not outright dark endings. Here's a partial list:

Air Pressure

The Alice is Dead Series

The Majesty of Colors
The Company of Myself

One Chance
posted by Diagonalize at 12:11 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare does it to you TWICE. You have two different characters. One of them dies in a cut scene after a lot of heart-pounding heroics that mean absolutely NOTHING in the scope of the game. With the other, you basically save the day at the last minute, but only after having to watch helplessly as your buddies (a couple of whom have decent personalities) are shot near-execution style.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:12 PM on March 28, 2012

Red Dead Redemption
LA Noire
The entire God of War series, if you consider that the entire premise is that this dude has already lost everything he cares about, and everything after that is just trying to forget.
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:15 PM on March 28, 2012

Bioshock 2. Various endings depending on how you played the game but they all range from incredibly depressing to merely sad. Bioshock 1 also made me tear up but for completely different reasons.
posted by Laura_J at 12:20 PM on March 28, 2012

Doom: They kill your bunny.
posted by cellphone at 12:24 PM on March 28, 2012

The end of Phantasy Star 2. Link goes to the ending dialogue.
posted by Hactar at 12:28 PM on March 28, 2012

And of course TVTropes to the rescue.
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:30 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Catherine is another game with a couple of bad endings, although there are more good ones.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:30 PM on March 28, 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution had a series of choice endings that while I wouldn't call them bummers, I would say that none of them were a clear "victory", some definitely less than others.

No spoilers, but after the events of the game the future for the human race is very uncertain in the context of human augmentation and whose interests are being represented, plus the age old question of who is really pulling the strings is unresolved. Bottom line is that future is a very cool place to visit, but I don't think I'd actually want to live there if that's how it turns out.

And then there's all the flipping out over the Mass Effect 3 ending going on right now. I haven't played it myself, but I've heard about the ending and it seems like a pretty bummerific ending, no matter which one you get.
posted by barc0001 at 12:32 PM on March 28, 2012

Surprisingly, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream does not end with ponies and ice cream
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:34 PM on March 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

Oh yeah, and in the original Splatterhouse, you're on a quest to save your girlfriend from an evil doctor. One of the late-game bosses is, in fact, your girlfriend, who has been turned into a huge, hideous, misshapen monster that attacks you. Periodically it turns back into her, long enough for her to beg for help, then it turns back. And you kill her. And she disintegrates in your arms.

This was apparently later retconned as being a clone of her, and she's fine, but if you only had the one game you had no way of knowing that.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:40 PM on March 28, 2012

Surprisingly, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream does not end with ponies and ice cream

I was about to post the same game!
If you slogged through the myriad bugs, glitches and dead-ends, there were 4 possible endings. Only one could be considered "good".
posted by Thorzdad at 12:42 PM on March 28, 2012

The 7th Saga has a weird time-traveling twist ending that is definitely kind of a bummer - you end up reborn as the guy who got killed by the Big Bad which started the whole plot.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:44 PM on March 28, 2012

The ending to Mafia was brilliantly devastating the first time I played it. Which was then compounded by a particular mission in Mafia 2.
posted by postel's law at 12:54 PM on March 28, 2012

Postal 2. Not surprising, considering that what little plot/storyline the game had was a bummer. And most of the game play.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:57 PM on March 28, 2012

In Borderlands you're promised magical riches, but in the end, all you get is a giant vagina monster that drops some pretty worthless crap when you kill it.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:58 PM on March 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

None of the endings in Fallout: New Vegas are particularly bright.
posted by clorox at 1:07 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Final Fantasy X didn't exactly have a happy ending. I mean, they defeated Sin, which was good, though it cost two of the main characters and the central love story.

Portal and Portal 2 both had somewhat bleak endings, too.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:12 PM on March 28, 2012

Some people say Portal 2's ending was optimistic, but given the overall game, and the knowledge that it's set in the Half-Life universe at some distant unknown future date, circumstances of the game's opening... hell, even the Co-Op is depressing, story-wise. It does end with a glimmer of hope, but.. just the barest glimmer.

Supreme Commander has 3 endings, one for each race, and all surrounding whoever controls the "Black Sun" weapon. One is happy, and the other two are a bit pessimistic.

Left 4 Dead and L4D2.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:16 PM on March 28, 2012

And of course TVTropes to the rescue.

An even more relevant TVTropes entry.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:17 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Dragon Age II has a tragic ending. One of the characters that's been in your party for 10 years (the length of the game's story) does something that's basically the equivalent of flying a plane into the World Trade Center, and precipitates a worldwide war.

Even the original Dragon Age doesn't necessarily end happily for your character, since there are several choices you can make that mean your character doesn't survive and/or a friend dies or leaves forever.
posted by MsMolly at 1:42 PM on March 28, 2012

posted by en forme de poire at 1:44 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, Fathom.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:46 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know if that person was being flippant, but there's actually a good point in there. Like 2bucksplus mentioned above re: Battletoads (although for somewhat different reasons), many coin-op games inevitably end in death. The idea that a certain sort of video game can have an "ending," outside of running out of quarters/lives to rescue your character, was something that, at some point, a designer or programmer came up with. Before that, there was no way around failing at whatever the goal of the game was.
posted by griphus at 1:49 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Whoops, hit the button too fast.

Anyway, the fact that many of these early games were about defending/saving something -- Space Invaders, Missile Command, the eponymous Defender -- you had more downer endings in the early years of arcade games than in the entire ouvre of French filmmaking.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on March 28, 2012

Heavy Rain. Although frankly, the whole thing is pretty much a bummer (albeit a gorgeous one).
posted by jbickers at 2:01 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Final Fantasy XIII-2's ending is pretty bleak. Although it has a "to be continued..." so I guess it depends on your definition of ending.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:04 PM on March 28, 2012

By definition, any video game that has the ego to assume it will be followed up with a sequel will be like that. Dead Space, I'm looking at you.

I seem to recall none of the Xenosagas had a satisfying end, but it's been years since I've played.

At least one of the Deus Ex endings was a dud.
posted by spamguy at 3:18 PM on March 28, 2012

Heavy Rain. Although frankly, the whole thing is pretty much a bummer (albeit a gorgeous one).

Bummed by the ending? Play it another 19 times and you're bound to find one you like. The one I got satisfied me.

To add to my list above: Chrono Cross. Oh lord, that lame excuse for Chrono canon pissed me off.
posted by spamguy at 3:21 PM on March 28, 2012

Passage. It's an iphone game.
posted by hot_monster at 3:36 PM on March 28, 2012

Left 4 Dead one had an 'ending' prior to the sailboat thing.

It was you and three friends in a lighthouse... and help never came.

Aside from that, as previously listed Mass Effect 3, Half Life, and Red Dead Redemption hit pretty hard. Gears of War 3 to a certain extent too.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:49 PM on March 28, 2012

Not quite your classic console fare, but Gravitation makes me cry and cry. It's a very short play, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's the same designer who made Passage.
posted by Andrhia at 7:14 PM on March 28, 2012

Stationfall is an early example.
posted by vorfeed at 7:22 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the US version of Ikari Warriors for the NES - there was a bug that made the Boss unbeatable. This was a game that seemed to take all day to get to the final Boss... and to find him unbeatable was really, really sad.
posted by machinecraig at 8:28 PM on March 28, 2012

Dark Corners of the Earth. Which was great, great, great.
posted by rr at 9:16 PM on March 28, 2012

DEFCON involves the annihilation of civilization and the deaths of millions of innocents as a basic gameplay element, with plenty of haunting atmospherics to match. I'd definitely call it a (grim, chilling, postmodern) work of art.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:47 AM on March 29, 2012

Alan Wake had a bit of a bummer ending, in that you get what you want, but end up losing something almost as precious. It has two DLC episodes that follow sort of fix that though.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is especially infamous for its WTF ending that leaves things open to speculation and ambiguous.
posted by Senza Volto at 2:46 AM on April 6, 2012

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