Sometimes games don’t let you enjoy your victory. Sometimes, you can do everything right, put countless hours into getting every required collectible, beat the boss with level 1 characters… and the game suddenly takes control of the plot and punches you right in the gut when you don’t expect it. These endings aren’t necessarily shaggy dogs or even downer endings. These endings are simply when the game developers decide to hijack the plot.
For this list, I implemented the following rules:
1. You had to actually accomplish something (no “it was all a dream/VR simulation”), even if you just made things worse.
2. The event has to happen right at the end or a little before.
3. If there are multiple endings, it has to be the “True” ending (Whether it’s true because of canon or if it’s the hardest to unlock)
As always, this is an opinion-based list and there will be tons of SPOILERs so if you don’t want to read SPOILERs then go back now…SPOILERs
10. Ultima 5/8 You got jacked/The Guardian actually conquers Britannia
Before we start getting into examples of games spitting in your face for the hell of it, let’s cover two games that kicked you in the shins…but actually enhanced the plot. For example,Ultima 5 has you save Lord British and defeat the Shadowlords, only to be transported back to your home on Earth, where thieves have made off with most of your valuables (even your couch). While it isn’t technically the final scene (there is a short bit at the end where Blackthorn goes through a moongate), it still happens virtually at the end and lessens the glory of your victory. However, it’s both a reminder that there are plenty of evils in the real world that need to be fought as well as a reminder that the path of the Avatar is not an easy one; you’ve already seen what happens when your religion is used for evil, and your next adventures are now going to try you and what you are.
Ultima 8’s on the other hand doesn’t exactly come out of nowhere but it does enhance the plot. After conquering the titans and taking their essences, you finally can return to Britannia and rescue it like you did in the past. Unfortunately, you’re too late: the Guardian has won. Not only has he conquered most of Britannia, he also has made the avatar, the once proud paragon of virtue, do unspeakable acts. Seeing the Guardians visage is effective and makes you think of all you went through to get there and makes you wonder if all the horrible things you did were worth it. Unfortunately, the Guardian had to keep blabbing about how Britannia was burning so the real surprise comes from the fact that the Guardian was successful. Let’s be honest, up till Pagan, the Guardian hadn’t been the greatest villain, he wouldn’t shut up about his plans, Batlin betrayed him the first chance he got, he didn’t kill you when he had the chance, and he claimed to have a plan during Serpent Isle but whatever it was wasn’t revealed (unless he wanted the multiverse to be destroyed), so it actually was a bigger surprise that the big red lug could actually conquer Britannia in such a short time. In any case, the ending came as a surprise and created some excellent buildup for the next game, where we would surely see the Avatar have to walk a path of redemption and have a final showdown with the Guardian, the being who made him sink to new lows. Oh wait…
9. DOOM: We’re on your planet, killing your doods
DOOM is awesome. What other game has you beat up the forces of hell so bad that they open a door for you that takes you directly to to your home? Well, while that may seem right hospitable of the demonic legions, it’s also how they get to Earth and go on a rampage, killing millions. While this ending is more funny than cruel (after all, it’s not like you met anyone on Earth). It’s a pretty iconic ending where you didn’t really save the day and is also a pretty shameless way of saying “buy our next game to find out what happens next.” It still raises a smile more than ire though, so I had to put it pretty low on the list.
8. Fallout: The Overseer is a dick
Fallout is one of my favorite rpgs of all time time. The voice acting, the world, the bartering system, the side-quests, everything was amazing when I saw it in 1998 and it has still held up. The feeling you get when you have taken out the general (voiced by Tony Jay no less) and The Master (getting to talk a psychic mutant into killing himself has to be one of the best moments in any game) is exquisite and when you march back to vault 101, having saved the wastleland and your home, you feel like a big damn hero…then the overseer of your vault tells you that you’ve become corrupted by your exposure to the outside world and that you can’t come back in. He then walks back into the vault and seals it, leaving you to go back into the wasteland alone.
To be fair, this isn’t that big of a deal for your character. Unless you wiped out all the NPCs, you probably have some allies to go back to and your end-game gear will get you by. Heck, Fallout 2 even reveals that the Vault Dweller went on to form his own peaceful community with other vault members who were dissatisfied with their lives (which also kept them from encountering The Enclave decades later). Still, back in the day, seeing that bastard who sent you out with barely any supplies at the beginning of the game just telling you to f’ off was a pretty rage-inducing moment. Makes me wish there was a way to show my displeasure with him. Oh Wait…
7. Final Fantasy: Who are you again?
Final Fantasy’s plot has always raised more than a few eyebrows due to its use of time loops to explain the final boss’s power. After all, when you started this game, you thought it would be a sword and sorcery RPG, not a lost Doctor Who episode. Still, the plot really played second fiddle to the game’s job system, combat, and musical score which were all excellent for the time. Besides, no matter how confusing you found the time loop plot, you didn’t need a diagram to tell you that you had beaten the big bad and that now it was time to reap your reward. After all, you won the day and are now the greatest heroes in the land. Time to tour the country, get a book deal, and then rest on your laurels… or not.
Yep, you might have saved the world and known you saved the world but, thanks to all this wibbley-wobbley nonsense, nobody else knows what you did. By saving the world, you’ve prevented it from ever needing saving in the first place. You return from the 2000 year time-loop with even you not knowing what you have done. You’re right back to where you started at the beginning of the game. Garland is even alive and ready to face you once again.
So why didn’t I rank this ending higher? After all, it reduced your characters back to where they were at the start of the game and the only people who will remember your adventure are people who won’t even be sure why they know it. Well, a couple reasons. First: your journey did make a difference since there is no longer a time-loop for the Fiends and Garland to use and if Garland is the worst thing the world still has, it is a much better place than before. Second: there’s another rpg on this list that shows how to really use time-travel to troll players.
6. Quest for Glory 3: Wages of War: YOINK!
Quest for Glory 3 is a bit of a rough spot in the beloved franchise. While it definitely has fans, it has plenty of bugs, the thief class gets barely anything to do compared to earlier entrees, and it has an ending that just comes out of nowhere and then tells you to buy the next game if you want to know what is going on. So what’s the ending? Well, after bringing peace to the Simbani and the Leopardman, and stopping the demon wizard, from summoning an even greater evil. When you go to meet your friends after the battle, a text box opens up warning that you sense impending danger. Nothing happens at first but your friends are ecstatic and you get an invitation to a wedding and an unborn child named after you…all in all, a great day. Then you get surrounded by dark magic and are spirited away, only to see that your nemesis, Ad Avis, whose supposed death helped start the events of QFG: 3, still lives and is with his dark master, who is staring at your wayward character in a crystal ball. Sierra Online is then helpful enough to tell you to buy the next game to see what happens.
Unlike Ultima 7: The Serpent Isle, where you at least knew the Guardian was around, you have barely any idea that Avis survived his fall in Trial by Fire and your character is whisked away so abruptly and anticlimactically, that the shock of seeing Ad Avis alive and well with his master is mixed with a heaping helping of confusion on things. To be fair, the game that followed this, Shadows of Darkness, was a high water mark for the series and seeing your old nemesis alive is a good enough mystery to get you to check it out. Still, this is such an abrupt and cheap kick to the balls after your hard-fought victory that it made a number of players slap their keyboards and drop the series entirely.