Remember the ending to Star Wars: A New Hope? Rebels getting shot down left and right, Luke swooping in and just as all seems lost, he uses the Force, fires the missiles into the Death Star and BOOM! The day is saved but the movie doesn’t end right there, does it? After the final, climactic battle, we get to see the characters smiling, celebrating their victory in grand fashion. We are left feeling like the future is bright just as the credits begin to roll.
This is called the epilogue. It’s a brief moment where we get to say good bye to the characters and know that everything will work out for them. Some epilogues are short, such as that last scene in Star Wars, and some are much longer but most fiction has some form of epilogue. It’s a key component in what is called Dramatic Structure.
Fiction has stuck with this since the times of the Greek epics, at least. Literally thousands of years.
Until video games.
I read an article about a year ago (I looked for this article for hours and couldn’t find it! I’m sorry! If you know the one, please let me know so I can credit the author/site here.) talking about how games have been lacking a denouement and need to fix this. If you look up to the handy dandy chart above, the denouement is basically the epilogue or conclusion. It’s that moment when you can see characters going back to their everyday lives. It’s something very few video games contain.
Think about Halo: Combat Evolved. The Halo is exploding and you are careening left and right in a Warthog, desperately trying to reach the last ship headed off the ring. As everything explodes around you, you leap through the air and make it, just in time. You get to see Halo explode as Cortana asks Master Chief what’s next. The end.
Yes, we got to catch our breath but would you call that a conclusion? Of course not! If you saw that in a film, you’d walk out thinking they ran out of budget and couldn’t film an ending. But with video games, this is the norm and I don’t recall anyone at the time having a problem with Halo’s ending.
Is this a problem that needs fixing, though? I recently finished playing through Grandia 2 Anniversary Edition, a port of one of my favorite classic RPGs and I realized that Grandia 2 is one of the only games that has a proper denouement. After the final boss is defeated and the world is saved, there is actually a short segment where you walk around some of the towns you’ve saved, talking to the people you’ve met along the way. Ultimately, you get to see how things worked out for everyone after their grand fight was won. Compared to the rest of the game, it’s short, but if you take your time and talk to everyone, it could still take 15-20 minutes to complete. And this is after the game is over!
After spending 35 hours getting to know and love the characters in the game, it felt emotional getting to see how things played out for each character and saying good bye. I remember finishing Persona 3 and having a really tough time saying good bye to everyone. That game was 100 hours long!
For those games, having that epilogue can be a good thing but does every game need one? Did Halo need a 20 minute segment where you got to move around Halo, seeing the friends you made along the way? Probably not. High octane games like Halo, Call of Duty or Uncharted don’t need to waste a ton of time after the final boss has been felled, especially not if you know a sequel is coming anyway. It would simply kill the pacing of the story.
So ultimately, do games need an epilogue? Honestly, I don’t know. Do stories need to stick to thousand-year-old traditions if they’re gaining love and attention without it? Are video games any more or less respectable by flouting tradition and doing their own thing?
Give it some thought and let us know in the comments below.