Caution: The following post contains minor spoilers for various games, particularly Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. Continue at your own discretion.
Beating (or completing) a game is a big deal: viewing the ending cinematic, watching the credits, reflecting on the adventure, basking in challenges overcome, gaining achievements. The credits sequence, in most games, is naturally an end goal of the player. Generally, games will feature clips or content from the game, calling forth fond memories for the hours you have sunk into this title. Since the final boss fight is typically a big push of adrenaline, the ending sequence gives the player a chance to sit back and enjoy. In short, this is the closing ceremony, a celebration of the player’s accomplishments.
It seems this notion either isn’t shared among all developers, or that some forget it entirely. From most recent experience, I will take Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance as Exhibit A.
The Kingdom Hearts franchise is kind of a mixed bag from game to game, some being significantly better than others. Regardless of the quality of the games, the series has a strong following, sales well, and has established tropes, trends, and expectations. One such expectation is the inclusion of a “secret movie” which can be unlocked by completing a certain amount of the game’s secondary activities, encouraging fans to play well beyond the main story. Kingdom Hearts had players hunting down all 99 missing dalmatians; KH2 required journal completion; Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep included trophies, which were unlocked by completing specified challenges. Regardless, players know and expect to look for some set of challenges to complete during their playthrough in order to catch a glimpse of what game is coming next, and where the plot is leading. This concept isn’t exclusive for the KH series; plenty of games give extra awards or additional content to those who complete stated or unstated criteria: Metroid Prime had an extra ending; in Super Smash Bros. you must pass tasks to unlock new characters.
KH3D decided to change up this formula ever-so-slightly, and, in my opinion, soiled their ending for it. After meeting the completion criteria – earn trophies by meeting challenges; less trophies are needed at a higher difficulty – and defeating the final bosses (of which there are around half a dozen), the game throws two more requirements at the player. First, the player is asked three questions, each with three different answer options: what are you afraid of; why do you fight; what do you wish for? Note that these questions had not been mentioned previously in the game. If these three questions are answered correctly, the second obstacle is presented; if all three questions are not answered correctly, this second task is not revealed. The credits are split into three parts. During the second part, Sora is shown falling away from the camera (just like in the game’s many Drop sequences) with the credits moving up towards the camera. Inside these credits, specific letters are highlighted. If Sora collides with a golden letter, it is moved to the bottom screen; collect all golden letters to spell out: “Secret Message Unlocked.” If you do not complete this phrase, you do not unlock the game’s secret content.
Here is where my disappointment came in: I got lucky answering the questions correctly, without knowing what I was answering for; however, I missed one letter in the credits. This meant I could only unlock the secret movie by replaying the final sequence of the game, fighting and beating the ending bosses again, and skipping the many, many cut scenes along the way. It meant remembering how I had answered those three questions and making sure I didn’t accidentally miss another letter. Ultimately, it meant my celebration ceremony was cut short. This miss, this revelation, removed the sense of accomplishment I had been otherwise enjoying. Instead of being a victory parade, the credits became another trial.
By including the three questions, which are relatively esoteric and require a bit of Riku-role playing, followed by a mini-game requiring a perfect score, the developers have stated that players whom put in extra time to complete challenges and earn trophies now have a less than 11% chance of unlocking the secret ending. Why is this necessary? If, as a player, I have passed your trials, completed your challenges, beaten your bosses, why should I not be able to sit back and enjoy the spoils?
I am not against interactive credits sequences in games. I love them. Flower has one of my favorite credits presentations; WarioWare: Smooth Moves and Super Smash Bros. Melee have fun, interactive credits. The point, however, is that these credits don’t require anything of you. The mini-game, or activity, is fun, but not necessary. These are credits – the game is over. If anything, the player should end the game on a high note, feeling accomplished and pleased with the experience.
This is the problem I have with “bad” endings in games: the player doesn’t feel accomplished. Chrono Cross, the first time I finished it, since I killed Lavos at the end, gave me only credits and no ending sequence. Since I received no closure, I felt pretty jipped. The Wii version of Okami had its credits removed entirely, again, leaving me without a certain sense of closure when I finished the game.
Ultimately, the developers aren’t blocking me from any content – I promptly watched the secret movie on YouTube. That’s what bothered me so much. I completed the challenges in the game and wanted that pay-off there in the game. Instead I felt slighted – and that is the worst taste to leave in the players mouth anytime they play your game.
This post was originally written and published by me on a former version of my site on October 23, 2012.