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Spoilers Abound. Proceed at your own risk.

How To Be A Creative Writing Journalist

Lesson 85

Playing With Words In Your Titles and Imitating Yahtzee

The title “Bad Endings” in general is like finding a pink diamond for a writing journalist since it can refer to a “bad ending“, in which the protagonist ultimately fails in his/her quest to resolve the plot’s conflict; or a “bad ending” where the conclusion either fails to live to the rest of the plot, is poorly written. or is simply one massive clusterfuck of loose ends. The opportunity for this is easy to explain. Why would you do something so overdone and frankly childish? So that the jokes won’t meet a bad end! Praise and tons of fanfic writing girls will follow. Thing is that every writer, their dog, and their dog’s chew toy will have figured this shit out by then. Get people to pay attention to your title pun if you intend to make it look like you’re making the joke in irony, because the ironic fanfic writing girl isn’t particularly that much different from a normal one.

Next year on How To Be A Creative Writing Journalist: Fitting in with the otaku population of Japan and promptly gaining the scorn of their sane population.

Like so.

Forgive me for beating a dead horse here. I know that it’s really late to talk about this, considering that Mass Effect 3 has announced the extended cut of it’s notorious ending for quite a while now. The way it was initially done had understandably pissed off a lot of gamers.

But you know, there have been other games that weren’t given particularly good endings. I can already think of one that came out rather recently. Of course, the games I’m talking about are Final Fantasy XIII-2. Arguably speaking, it didn’t get such a nice ending either, having the bad guy win (which is a first in the entire series). Nonetheless, the game was generally well received with FFXIII-2 averaging an 8. But it isn’t whatever IGN or some other shitty review site thought about the game. It’s about how the endings for these two series worked out  in the end.

Let’s start this off then, shall we? Final Fantasy XIII-2 starts off directly from the end of it’s prequel, Final Fantasy XIII, except that something is terribly wrong. Lightning (yes, that’s her name), the main protagonist of the prequel, after saving the population of her home world, a floating planet thing called Cocoon, quite literally just vanishes on the spot without anyone noticing. How do we know that? Because the only one to have noticed this was her younger sister, a cutie given the less awesome name, Serah. Promptly skip forward almost a decade, and then you get the game as it basically becomes the journey of Serah and her time travelling protector, a boy name Noel, as they jump up and down time to find Lightning. Naturally, it becomes far more than just a journey through time to find Lightning. It becomes a race to save the very concept of time itself. The future that Lightning has disappeared into is a literally timeless land named Valhalla. At war with the forces chaos led a man named Caius,  Lightning leads the armies of the in-universe goddess Etro.

Now, I’m just gonna skip everything else about the plot, including the multiple (non-canon) endings, and focus on the villain, Caius.

Yeeeeeup. I’m focusing…

Er, I didn’t mean that kind of focus. Anyway, during the development of this game, Caius was stated to be the most powerful villain in the entire series. And they weren’t kidding. The strength behind Caius’s character is the tragedy behind him. Think of Caius as… a way of completely tearing apart the whole “Messiah Complex” thing. Constantly trying to save this beloved, a girl who is endlessly dying and being reincarnated (not reborn; that implies that she has the same soul and stuff) just to die again. While the girl in question turns out to accept her death, Caius does not. It’s that tragic inability to accept the girls death that makes him such a powerful character. As a result, that literally undying love sends him past the edge of morality, leading him to take on his quest to destroy time itself, not caring about the casualties he will inflict upon the world.

And remember that part when I said that bad guy wins in this game? I wasn’t kidding.

Naturally, the game having multiple endings and a completion meter, you can feel free to get 100% completion. And once you do, good job! Here’s your reward!

…………Did Caius just tear down the fourth wall!? Did he just mock the player’s drive for victory!? There are only two words to express the general reaction to this:

HOLY SHIT

I remember reading this quote somewhere on the net: “The strength of your story depends on the strength of your villain.” And by god, Square Enix did not pull any punches on that! Being the first villain to ever truly win in the Final Fantasy franchise, Caius shows his power, not only by having manipulated everyone to his own ends, but by tearing down the fourth wall to deliver a final “Fuck You” speech to the player for desperately trying to get the good end that never existed!

Okay, my love for the FF series and the ending for XIII-2 aside, let’s look at the endings for Mass Effect 3.

Still confused?

It’s understandable. No matter how many times I look at this, I’m still befuddled by this total clusterfuck of an ending. But let’s start this with what Bioware did right throughout the entire series: character construction, and choice reward. Throughout the series, Bioware has proven themselves to be one of the best developers in creating video game allies. Not only are you rewarded in terms of gameplay for bonding with your team, but you are also given that sense of accomplishment, that sense you just helped this guy take down whatever was tearing him apart from the inside. Even if they aren’t real, they feel real, and for anyone that wants to make a good game character, that should be the end goal when constructing your characters. On top of that, the player is rewarded over and again for the choices that are made, not with guns, but again, with a sense of accomplishment. Whether as a Paragon, a Renegade, or something in between, when you deliver your judgment, it is satisfying.

Forget the credits, new weapons, armor, or whatever you get when you complete these missions! Taking the opportunity to show that you are not someone to fuck around with is reward enough!

So what went wrong with the ending, aside from being so unrewarding compared to everything else in the game? Well, look at it again real quick. Hearing the Catalyst go into its monologue about why the Reapers existed in the first place… made them lose their magic. For so long, we knew them as synthetic lifeforms, having minds and possibly souls, but not organic bodies. We saw their power from the start and found that even if it’s possible to take down a Reaper, it would take a lot to kill just one. They were the ultimate weapons, capable of causing genocide without a single hint of remorse… And yet we suddenly discover they were… erm… good(?)… all along, and that they existed to harvest life for the next cycle because the current cycle became so overcome with hubris in making their own synthetic lifeforms.

And it wasn’t just the Reapers. One of the downsides of the Mass Effect was how fundamentally petty the villains were. We have Saren form the first game, who was looking for a device to bring the Reapers about, and was bigot against humans; the Illusive Man, the head of an extremist pro-humanity group known as Cerberus; and ME3 gives us Snow VilliersOops, I meant Kai-Leng, a cyborg ninja, a cowardly powerhouse, and overall, a major dick.

But it isn’t just the ending and construction of these villains. It’s how many are just suddenly made to look sympathetic in their last moments. This especially goes to Saren and the Illusive Man, who kill themselves with the last bits of their willpower to escape control of the Reapers. Two enemies whom we’ve been interacting with, directly and indirectly, and suddenly, by the end, we discover a more likable side to them?

And then there’s the ending again! SO! MUCH! ‘WTF?’!!! It just doesn’t make sense! After everything you’ve done to save the galaxy over and again, you’re given only three choices, all with varying amounts of suck. You have destruction of synthetic life, which means getting rid of the reason why the Reapers came rolling along in the first place, but if you completed the Quarian/Geth loyalty mission with flying colors, that would mean getting rid of the Geth that were now doing what they could to help organic life, and providing only a temporary solution. There’s banishing the Reapers, closing the door on them altogether, costing your life in order to do so, getting rid of the galaxy’s greatest hero and pinnacle of hope: you. And there was synthesis, fusing synthetic and organic life, therefore forcefully bringing about the next evolution by getting rid of their differences. But think about it. No differences between all life. Nothing to give life the variety it needs. All of that work to make everyone get over their differences goes to waste.

Remember the quote I said before, that “The strength of the story depends on the strength of the villain”? This is what I mean here. People tend to not figure out that the amount of ass the villain can kick does not equate to how powerful they really are. The villains of Mass Effect exemplify this lack of understanding with how little motive they have in the shit they pull off. Most of them amount to wanting nothing but power, or simply being a bigoted dick. Caius, on the other hand, was given a lot more, thanks to how much is revealed in the constant interaction with him. He is more than just an asshole, he is an asshole on a mission to save his girl. Love is a cliche motive, but you can’t deny that it is can still be a very powerful motive because it’s one that we can never fully comprehend, leaving it open to work both ways. And having said that, it becomes the reason why the ending to FFXIII-2 makes more sense! Unlike the Reapers who failed because they were carrying out their directive and couldn’t think of a better solution, Caius decide that instead of being some cliche-ultimate-hero-who-gets-the-girl, he succeeded in being the most powerful being in his franchise, destroying the very concept of time itself, because he was not going to let anything get in the way of him and his love!

Therefore, you see that just because you’re given a “good ending” doesn’t make it “good”. Art isn’t so much about making you feel good as it is about making you feel. And that’s where Mass Effect 3 ultimately fumbled the ball, with an ending that only resulted in confusion rather than actual outrage. FFXIII-2, on the other hand, takes everything you done, wrapped around its fist, and punched you in the gut, mocking you for trying so hard to make yourself feel good, and leaving you to wallow in despair. It may not be a good emotion, but does serve to show how the power of narrative. Happy or sad, what matters in the ending is that it makes sense enough to make the audience feel something.

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