In my years of gaming, I have run into several endings to games that just broke my heart, but the truth is sometimes it’s needed. Having a strong impact, even a depressing one, can really sell the overall story and message of a game. Here are a few endings in games that, while they crushed me, I believe they were entirely necessary. It should be pretty clear that this piece will be heavy on spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season One
The Walking Dead opens with Lee, who is being transferred to prison around the time of the zombie outbreak. Through a series of incidents, he ends up in the home of young Clem, who is completely alone. From then on, Lee’s number one priority is Clem. Throughout the series, Lee goes from being her protector to realizing that she will one day have to fend for herself and then becomes her teacher. In the end, the most important lesson that Lee can teach Clem is only possible through his death. As heartbreaking as it is, Lee has to die for Clem to learn to truly survive in this world. It is possibly one of the hardest moments ever in a video game, guiding Clem through Lee’s final moments, but it is what has to be done for the little girl to grow up and be prepared to face the world.
Red Dead Redemption
Like many people, I got to the end of RDR and thought that things were finally going right for John Marsten. Like many people, I should have known better. While RDR might be John’s story, on a broader scale, it’s the story of the American “Wild West,” and it’s falling to the more modern world. The game is set during the westward expansion, where more people and technology were moving out to the western part of the country, forcing it to change in the face of a larger population and more involved government. All of the things we romanticize about the wild west are here, and John is the perfect protagonist for it. He’s not a bad man, but he’s not good. He seems to want to be better (depending on how you play), but he will kill when he has to, steal if he needs to, and doesn’t want to be held down or told what to do. He wants to be his own man and do right by his family. This is a character we’ve seen in westerns before and one that we love. The problem is this isn’t some production code John Wayne flick, this is a modern video game, and we know what happened to the wild west. John has to die because he is a representation of those times dying. We get a brief moment of believing he can save himself before our hopes, and his life, are crushed. I don’t love this ending, but I must admit it sticks to the larger theme of the game.
Valiant Hearts follows 4 different characters as they make their way through the struggles of World War I. While each story comes with its fair share of hardships, it’s Emile’s ending that completely does it for the game. Emile joins with the intention of finding his German son-in-law, who was forced to fight and bring him home. On his journey, he gets thrown into a bloody battle and realizes that the officer is needlessly getting the men killed and rises up against him. The punishment for Emile doing this is death. The game ends with Emile’s voice-over apologizing for failing to find his son-in-law and telling his daughter that he is grateful for her. He also discusses the horrible price that everyone pays in war and how it changes them. Emile dies, and another voice takes over to talk about the sacrifices so many made in WWI. It is depressing, even writing about it has me choked up, but it was needed. The game attempts to put a personal face on war rather than a bloody one, and for the point to really be driven home, one of the main characters had to die. There is no way to end this game and have such an impact without this. It also serves as the perfect way to talk about the individuals that actually do the fighting in war rather than the larger picture that we all learn about.
Life is Strange
While there are two endings, we are going with the one that I think should happen. Max returns to the town she grew up in and discovers that she can rewind time when her best friend from childhood is killed in front of her. Max uses her power, saves her friend, and starts a journey to discover what is happening to the young women in the town. As they are on this journey things, start to go wrong in the town, and soon they are faced with the reality that Max saving Chloe has messed up time and that the town will be destroyed. Max is forced to go back to the moment Chloe is shot and, instead, let the most important person in her life die. This ending is needed because it has a more powerful impact on the message of loss and love than if Max allows the town to be sacrificed for Chloe. Max is forced to realize that she can save many lives for the price of her broken heart. It’s also important because it’s the most substantial character development from Chloe. Chloe finally admits that she has become selfish and that her own choices are what lead her to the moment where she is killed and that no one should have to die for her. A lot of people liked Chloe, and I get it, but to me, it was the most powerful moment she had in the entire game.
To The Moon
So this is a difficult one. To The Moon features a company that plants memories in dying people to fulfill their final wish. A man claims that he wants to go “To The Moon”, but the workers struggle to find the answer as every time they enter his memories, he seems to have no real interest in going to the moon. Finally, after some digging, it is revealed that the moon actually represents his dead wife. One of the workers doesn’t want to give him his final wish, the other does. The problem is if they plant the new memories of him going “to the moon” the memories of the love of his life will be erased. The one worker goes through with it angering the other because he believes she has destroyed what the dying man really wanted. It’s rather heartbreaking to watch the joy and struggles of a husband and wife fade away. Their life was not an easy one, but what remained was his unshakable love for her, and seeing that be erased is like a gut punch. In the end, though the worker that did this still found a way to plant the man’s wife into his new memories of his life as an astronaut, doing what she had to by the company but trying to preserve what she thought was really most important to him. It’s a bittersweet ending because even though they find each other again in this new “life,” the real-life they built together, the one he really wanted is still gone. But there is no other way to end this game and stick to the unique story that it was attempting. If they had allowed him to simply keep his memories, it would have been a fine ending, but it wouldn’t have hit as hard. Instead, we are left with a tear-jerking, ugly, beautiful, difficult question about love and what we truly want out of life.
What about you? Are there any sad endings that you think just had to be that way? Let me know