The Art of The Ending
Oh yea that’s right, it’s another “The Art of Blank,” article which means I guess I’m stuck with making this a thing. So to make this a special occasion or something, I’m not entirely sure what people do when they create a stupid gimmick, I’m gonna delve into one of my all-time favorite aspects of story-telling. Talkin bout the big finish, the grand finale, the culmination of all of our efforts in paying attention. The ending.
The ending is one of the absolute most important aspects of any story. You not only have to provide a satisfying conclusion to the main story, but also make sure each side plot and character is addressed in some way as well, tying everything together in a nice little creative bow of words and stuff. Though the ending is simply the last part of any major story, it is also the last thing a reader will see, leaving the biggest impact on them with what is most fresh in their minds. Some endings can even destroy good stories if they aren’t well designed, taking a lot of interest away from the better parts of the plot or characters, simply because it is the last thing they see, and what sticks with them the most. Unfortunately everybody is human and easily impressionable so this is something that won’t be leaving our major psyches quite so easily, but there are definitely work arounds to making a more satisfying ending.
Think of some of the best movies you’ve ever seen. Some of the most popular pieces of cinema history and tell me what you think of. You see the Terminator, getting into that fire with his thumb in the air, slowly sinking down with his last words, “I’ll be back,” resonating in your mind, leaving you with a powerful message, there will be another. You see the top spinning in Inception, that goddam mystical piece of symbolism that just does not stop moving at the last scene FILLING YOU WITH SO MANY GODDAM QUESTIONS, IS IT STIL A DREAM OR WHAT GODDAMIT I WANNA KNOW!!! You have every Disney movie ever where the hero beats the villain and gets the girl/boy/princess/prince/whatever and everything is fantastic and wraps up so perfectly that you can’t not be happy about it. These are satisfying endings. These are moments where you can truly walk away with a positive feeling, or even one of wanting more, to see the next one come out, waiting for that new film with such eager anticipation. The ending is meant to let us sit back and say, “Wow,” taking in everything we had just experienced, letting out a deep sigh of relief after having sat through so much, then to take a deep breath and let the rest of the story flow back into you, recounting on your favorite moments, or what you thought really resonated with you. An ending is meant to make you experience the story again because the payoff was good enough, or the reverse where it makes you realize you missed something completely and want to go back, eager to re-read or re-watch some of your favorite moments with a fine comb.
Of course a story can be good enough to draw you back to re-experience parts you love, but the main key focus of any ending is to draw you back in, to reflect on your experiences as you understand everything with a satisfied mindset. Because of this, the ending almost always needs to phenomenal. It needs gigantic amounts of build-up, with an eager to please final chapter that grants you that oh so sweet pay-off. The image in your head of the entire story, rests on this moment as it can easily make or break your interest in it. If you read one of my previous articles where I talked about how absolute shit-tier The Legend of Zelda, A Link Between Worlds was, you can remember I talked slightly about enjoying the final boss. Not only that but the ending scenes were great as well, really tying everything together in a nice and comforting way that, in all honesty, made me feel a bit inclined to replay the game. I delved more into it and still hate it with a burning passion, but the magic of the ending still almost swayed me to say otherwise. It is an incredibly powerful tool, one that can change the way you look at a piece of work in its entirety, all in such a short amount of time.
You remember moments from Rocky 1 where he’s training, running through the city to music, clearly getting stronger, letting us experience his growth and potential. We see him beating the meat, that iconic scene that always gets talked about for some weird reason that I can’t rightfully understand. But we also talk about one thing in particular. That beautiful ending. We’ve gone through so much with Rocky, we’ve seen him struggle through life, through training, through his boxing. We’ve seen Rocky go through bouts of emotional pain and turmoil leading up to this one culminating fight against one of the most renowned boxers at the time, and we are rooting for him with every once of our being. And then Rocky loses. What a heartbreak for some people, expecting the underdog to come through in the end, after all of his hard work that we sat back and experienced with him. But Rocky loses with such grit and grace, knowing that he did his best, and he took the champ for a spin, giving him the best run for his money that we could expect. And the fans rush the stage, and news reporters are everywhere shouting to Rocky with the music blaring and we can barely hear a word their saying, and the one thing that Rocky shouts over any other is the name of his sweetheart Adrian. He turns in place, beaten and bruised, doesn’t even look like he knows where he is, and he bellows from the pit of his stomach, screaming out loud, “AAAAADRIAAAAANNN.” Ask any fan of the Rocky series and I can guarantee you that this moment right here is one of the top best, the one they’ll remember forever. The moment that clinched the series, and made you come back to see the second one. This was a perfect ending. It didn’t follow the cookie cutter underdog story that we’ve come to know and love but we truly got to experience an eruption of emotional play here, swept along with exactly what the movie wanted us to feel, making every sweet moment after that even more powerful.
Now you’ve got those perfect endings of course, those ones that grip ya just right, those endings that cradle you in their arms and whisper sweet nothings in your ear while they rock you to sleep. . . .what was I talking about again? Oh yea, so you have good endings, and then of course you have bad endings. Absolutely, horrendous, nonsensical, and almost universally despised endings. These are far more common in video games where the player has a literal commitment to the game itself, and if that finisher is not worth the pay-off, oh boy is the internet gonna hear about it. Mass effect 3, a particularly well beloved series by all is widely accepted as having a crap, underwhelming ending (that of which I havn’t seen yet). Super Mario sunshine’s ending was as abysmal as all hell, taking the cookie cutter way out for every other game but trying to forcefeed the player some random emotional drama between bowser and his son as well as the death of your firehose (yea that’s what happens). And don’t get me started on absolutely every single one of the, IT WAS ALL A DREAM, endings that swing out from left-field simply as a way for the creators to say, “We didn’t know how to finish this.”
There are very few endings that will absolutely take over a game and force you to think twice about ever playing them again, but the one in my mind that reigns supreme in doing so was the new Alone in the Dark game from 2008. The game itself was a train wreck, having too many glitchy mechanics, bad story-telling to begin with, and so many different control schemes you ended up having controller schizophrenia by the end of the day. Besides all this, it was still a rather nice game to look at, and offered up some interesting new design choices on your basic gothic horror game. HOWEVER, I doubt anyone who has completely finished the game would ever choose to go back for reasons other than to remind themselves as to why they never picked up this game ever again in the first place. Throughout the story, the main character is wrapped up in this whole finagle with cults and demons and a plot to summon satan or whatever into the world. The finish slowly comes into place as the final keystone or relic or whatever, is used to bring satan’s soul into a thing so they can. . . beat it up? I couldn’t really tell what was going on here it was like I was having a really bad acid dream. After the main character’s love interest takes the stone for some reason, then becomes possessed by demons and stuff, you have the option to shoot her. If you choose not to, you share a very touching moment before she starts talking like Rob Zombie chewing gravel, explains that the main guy is gonna lonely his entire life, and the game ends. Yea it just ends right there. You get a sad scene about how fucked you are, and then credits. Woohoo pop open the crystal meth cus daddy’s gonna try and forget about ALLLL OF THIS.
Let me just try and begin to explain how absolutely terrible this is. While you succeed in winning the game, I guess, you ultimately fail on an emotional level. Your character is rung through the metaphorical mud as you are berated for doing what you were supposed to do. By completing the game, and doing the right thing, you are not rewarded, you are not praised, you are in fact punished. You are punished, and then kicked, and spat on, and everything else nasty you can think of. What was the intention here? What were they trying to accomplish by having you sit through something like that? Was the whole purpose to make you feel bad? For shock value? You really have to take a step back and ask yourself, why did the game just try to make me feel for playing it? There is nothing after this, just credits, and you sitting there holding the controller feeling like a piece of shit. You have no sense of accomplishment, no reason to want to try and play again for a better score because THAT WAS THE GOOD ENDING. The bad ending actually might make you feel a little better, with you just straight up killing your lover, and becoming satan or something. At least you feel good about going back against absolutely everything you tried to do throughout the entire game. I mean who would want to walk away from hours of fighting for a goal, only to have everything you ever did for it amount to a seething pile of shit in the end. Assholes, that’s who. Yea but seriously this game is bad, and the ending just pushes it harder to that point, proving it’s still bad, and will always be bad.
The point of an ending is for closure. You need something special to tie everything together, to satisfy the one experiencing the story in a way that leaves a positive impact on them, regardless of whether or not the story ends in a positive way. In fact, there are many endings of games and movies in particular that force the viewer to undergo unfortunate miserable things, but do so in a way to reassure them that this is still worth their time, having interesting scenarios that, of course, make sense. All in all, a good ending has a good pay off, with the intention of satisfying the player with the conclusion of whichever story they have experienced and the potential hope for a sequel, or something more. You gotta leave them wanting more, or at least leave them not raging at how unbelievably stupid anti-climactic the whole thing was.