July 2, 2022

The End to justify the means.

Video game endings are important.

This isn’t merely about the actual context of the ending either; because to tie up the story, or lay the seeds for a sequel, is par for the course when it comes to writing a script. Whether they are clever and witty like the ending to Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, or cliffhanging teasers like Beyond Good and Evil, or even to set up the next playthrough like Vagrant Story, game endings are important.

The thing is this; you’ve just spent some hours playing a game and you’ve finally nailed that boss. A simple “Congratulations! You is teh winnar!” doesn’t really cut the mustard anymore. A game ending has to be a reward; it has to be the conclusion, and feel like you have earned it.

It’s not always easy, as Assassin’s Creed 2 and the subsequent two sequels demonstrated, there’s a fine line between setting up for a sequel and cheating your audience. Equally, sometimes the endings can be very blunt and unfulfilling; Final Fantasy XII demonstrated perfectly how a blunt, matter-of-fact, neat ending can actually be pretty dull.

So, games need something to end things off, and once upon a time, this was done through music. Some of the best music I’ve heard came from the 16-bit era, when I beat a game. It was music that sent tingles down your back, and let you know you were special, this music was designed to massage your ego, lift your spirits or tug at your heart strings. Dynamite Headdy had the oddly uplifting Curtain Calls, even though it felt quite sad. Lufia 2 ended with a toned-down orchestral score that moved you, as the ending played out and you realised the gravity of what was going on, it tugged at emotions and heartstrings. Even the Sonic games of the era were mash-ups of the stages you had played in the game, and felt like you had earned it.

Final Fantasy 8 and 9 were the epitome of this in the 32-bit era. Eyes On Me and Melodies of Life are fantastic arrangements, with meaning and depth, performed by lesser-known (in the West at least) artists. These songs reflected the games, their tone and just worked. And it would be a crime to forget to mention Portal and Portal 2 – with ending music that can only be summarised as sublime (Portal 2’s Choir is a fantastic moment in gaming history – opera for an ending? Oh yes! AND IT WORKS!).

These days, video game music is getting a little generic. Sweeping orchestral scores are thrown about with reckless abandon. Big name artists are being drafted in to get their voices at the end. The sad fact is, ending music is getting a little droll. They’re just not interesting enough anymore. There is no sense you are being rewarded for your efforts. They’re just there to play out the credits reel and nothing more.

This makes me rather sad, because I love good ending music. For me, in the old days, it was part of the appeal of beating a game – because you knew someone had worked hard on the ending score. Now, it’s all just a bit bland.

I’ll leave you with the Curtain Call tune from Dynamite Headdy. Yes, it’s old 16-bit sound. But after what is a pretty rock-hard game, this was the sweetest, most delicious tune to get to.


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