Delivering on the promise of true multiple endings

Why bring up a classic like Chrono Trigger?  Quite simply, because it had multiple endings – real multiple endings.  There are a total of 13 different endings.  This includes the ‘you suck’ ending where Lavos (the end boss) takes a dump on everything you love and does not include the variation endings depending on certain things you did during the game.  It was impressive for a game that came out in 1995 to have such vastly different endings!

One of the infinitely awesome things about Chrono Trigger is that it gives you the option to attempt to beat Lavos at nearly any time (bad pun) you want.  Since the game involves a ton of time travel, depending on when you defeat Lavos in the story can have a powerful butterfly effect on the future of the world represented though the ending.  The easiest example of this is that in the prehistoric period you have to fight a reptile boss named Azala.  If you beat Lavos right before you beat this boss the future is dominated by humanoid like reptiles because Azala was never defeated. 

Most of the Chrono Trigger endings are quirky like that.  Some are just bizarre though.  Like in one ending, Lucca and Marle just scroll through the various male characters, say which are attractive, and make some possible innuendoes towards them.  The ‘New Game +’ option gives you the opportunity to start the game from the beginning with all your levels and gear from your first run through.  This mode allows you to actually beat Lavos with ease any time you want.  There is even the ‘developers ending’ which can only be seen through this method.    

Besides my obvious bias and love for Chrono Trigger, my point in using it as an example is that it is the model of what I think of when a game boasts ‘multiple endings.’  Sure some of Chrono Trigger’s endings are weak in comparison to its stronger ones, but they are still vastly different.  There are variations on the same ending depending if you saved someone, destroyed your ship, saved Chrono, let Magus live, etc.  These slight subtleties are the difference in certain games.  The Epoch flying by doesn’t have different colored fireworks depending on what decisions you made. 

Another good example would be Silent Hill: Homecoming.  This horror survival game rocks five completely different endings which vary depending on choices you made throughout the game.  There are three characters that, depending on how you interacted with them, will decide your ending.  Did you kill Lillian, did you forgive Adam, and did you save Wheeler?  The endings vary from a good ending, to you essentially becoming a Boogeyman, and even the now staple to the series – UFO ending.  My point is, that games don’t even need to have RPG elements to have successful multiple endings.

In conclusion to this rant, no matter how strong a game series is, don’t deceive or use technicalities to support your promises.  Fans remember what is said verbatim by publishers and developers, it is a boon and curse of the internet.  If a game boasts 20 endings, I want to see a way where I can view 20 drastically different endings; it’s simply a matter of following through with what is promised.  Multiple endings can also add multiple play throughs to your single player game.  I’m always down for more bang for my buck.  The discussions too!  You know those conversations you have with your friends after you both beat an amazing game, “Whoa, that didn’t happen in my play through – what did you do?” Or “You SAVED him… WHY?”  Happy fans make for happy gamers; give me true multiple endings if you boast about having them – that's all.

While it seems that the dust is finally settling towards the anger about the Mass Effect 3 endings, this dust has left an uncomfortable taste in the lungs of many.  The combination of the three color conclusions and the boasting of multiple endings did not fare well with a chunk of the fan base.  Many finished BioWare’s last installment of the Mass Effect trilogy disappointed; wanting more for than what they were given.       

Here’s the thing, if you boast you have 14 endings… have 14 vastly different endings.  While technically subtle differences in endings are well – different, if they don’t vary enough, people will feel lied to.  You don’t want your fan base feeling like that.  You want your fan base to be jolly and content.  A role playing game that has choices and decision making should reflect those hard decisions with results in the end.  Then once it’s all over, said and done, a player should be able to see the consequences and reap the rewards.  What I’m saying, is that if there are multiple endings – I want to see greatly differing multiple endings. 

On June 13th 2012, the ASA ruled in favor of Mass Effect 3’s endings, saying they were "thematically quite different."  The argument revolved around the Effective Military Score (EMS) rating in game.  Since the score could be raised by past choices in previous games which ultimately affected your ending, this was proof enough to the ASA that the past games did in fact matter.  They added "We also acknowledged that there appeared to be a large number of minor variations in the end stages of ME3, and that those were directly impacted by choices made by players earlier in the game(s)."  So there it is – it’s official.   

Despite my distaste for the endings of Mass Effect 3, the series is still one of my all-time favorites – hands down, and BioWare getting sued over this still feels ridiculous.  While the ending is a big deal, I can’t just simply throw the rest of the experience away due to it.

I recall a much simpler time though; an era that didn’t depend on fancy graphics, motion sensors, or even internet connectivity.  The height of the Super Nintendo was easily the era of the console RPG.  Another game on top of that list of all-time favorites is Square’s Chrono Trigger.  This game, now ported for both PlayStation and smart phones, is the RPG that arguably blazed the path for successful future role playing games.