An Ode to the Ending
I was fourteen years old when I helped Yuna destroy her Aeons. As Junya Nakano’s breathtaking piece A Contest of Aeons played, I cemented myself to the reality of Final Fantasy X’s most brutal moment: I wasn’t going to simply finish out the game’s narrative by destroying its final boss, I had to eradicate Yuna’s journey down to its bones, pulling the final threads of her religious fervor until the basis of her belief in Yevon dwindled to nothing.
Lost to the Hours
Up until that point, Final Fantasy X had consumed much of my free time for the better part of a year. In 2002, I did not have the luxury of late night gaming binges or endless marathons. I was in eighth grade, and my parents were still wholly undecided as to whether or not I should even be allowed to touch a video game system. Final Fantasy X skirted the boundaries of their conservative comforts, as a game filled with horrifying monsters and black magic went beyond the pale of what a Christian should experience. Undeterred by any and all resistance that might keep me from my beloved RPG, I played the game in small chunks until I was finally facing down the end of the journey. School days were spent discussing boss strategies with my best friend. I lay awake at night mulling over the intense narrative struggles of Yuna, Tidus, Auron and the others. I played the game in my head as I scratched out test answers. Final Fantasy X had fully consumed me.
Then, I was there. The end of the game.
Yuna: “Everyone has lost something precious. Everyone here has lost homes, dreams, and friends. Now, Sin is finally dead. Now, Spira is ours again. Working together, now we can make new homes for ourselves, and new dreams. Although I know the journey will be hard, we have lots of time. Together, we will rebuild Spira. The road is ahead of us, so let’s start out today. Just, one more thing… the people and the friends that we have lost, or the dreams that have faded… Never forget them.”
Playing RPGs as a teenager was a part time job. Before Final Fantasy X, my nascent discovery of the titanic genre had included titles such as Chrono Trigger and Golden Sun. After Final Fantasy X, I embarked on a journey of consumption, wholly enraptured by the genre, which in my mind was the perfect fusion of reading a novel and playing a game. As a child I had been a voracious reader, putting away books faster than I could check them out from the library. At that point video games were Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog. The RPG awakened something in me, and cemented my current and future obsession with gaming. Despite their lengthy playtimes, RPGs had been given a special place in my mind that towered over everything else in the medium. Xenosaga, Kingdom Hearts, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic transformed me into an RPG junkie, but it wasn’t as simple as striking enemies with a sword or customizing my stats. It was the narrative that consumed me, and the incredible satisfaction of finishing such a lengthy game.
Role Playing Through Life
I’m long gone from the days of having to log my playtime for my parents or hiding my Game Boy Advance under my pillow. My time has been, for a while now, wholly mine. Despite my decade and a half of adulthood, the time spent in gaming past my eighteenth birthday has only increased. RPGs have long been my gateway to a better place that is absent of the dull woes of my daily life. The time spent with them hasn’t changed, and now it’s easier than ever for me to reach that satisfying ending.
Despite how many people take on the struggle of playing through a lengthy RPG (which, these days, can be well over a hundred hours of playtime), it seems that fewer and fewer are finishing them. This makes sense when you think about having to juggle a titanic story against your living responsibilities, and as someone who constantly plays older titles, it gives me profound respect for the RPGs of the 1990s and early 2000s. Chrono Trigger, which is arguably one of the finest games ever to come out of the genre, can be finished in under thirty hours. Each entry in the Xenosaga series sits at around 35, and the .hack// titles are piecemeal entries that add up to around 60–70 hours. Final Fantasy VIII, which at the time was the largest series entry, has a playtime of around 40 hours. The classic Final Fantasy titles that predate Final Fantasy VII are even shorter, but there is no loss of content.
I fondly remember the summer that my younger brother and I first played Final Fantasy IX. We were both fairly new to the genre, and we played the game during a tumultuous time in our lives. Our parents, newly divorced, were set on a bickering rampage that made our dual home lives unbearable and sad. When my brother and I had any opportunity we became lost in the plight of Zidane and Princess Garnet. Final Fantasy IX was unlike anything I had ever played up until that point, and this includes my forays with earlier entries in the series and smaller GBA RPGs. Final Fantasy IX, to this day, contains an infectious charisma spread across a cast of incredibly detailed characters. Its narrative arcs are satisfying and rewarding, and it remains a high point in the landmark series. My brother, too young to handle many of the bosses in the game, saw my help as I saved over his file at important points so that his misunderstanding of the mechanics wouldn’t hinder his progress through the world. Together, we sailed from one corner of Gaia to the other, our hearts both full with the hopes and tragedies of the characters that sought to defend the planet from the wrath of Kuja.
As we watched Zidane shout his iconic line, “Bring my beloved Dagger to me!” we both felt that same euphoric chill, that bittersweet touch of leaving behind all these characters that we had enjoyed for dozens of hours. The only balm for the sadness of finishing such a great RPG is to start a file on a new one.
Reaching the End
I wish there was a single, definitive word to describe the feeling of watching the final credits roll on an RPG. It’s not the same as the ending of a film, though it does share some feelings with the closing of a book. It’s bittersweet, it’s sad, it’s joyful, it’s triumphant. There is a longing there, and in that I can empathize with those who struggle to finish their files on RPGs, even if they’re at the save point before the final boss. We don’t want to leave these characters behind. We don’t want to see a beloved protagonist die or fade away to nothing. We want to feel, as if, these worlds live on forever — and in many ways they do. The adventure remains in a beloved cycle, with each journey as close as the selection of NEW GAME.
I don’t know if any moment affected me as profoundly as the finale of the original Kingdom Hearts. The last boss adequately destroyed by Sora’s keyblade, my young heart watched in awe as Sora and Kairi were once again split apart be circumstance in the same moment they were reunited. As the worlds returned as Destiny Islands was plucked from the darkness,
Sora: “Kairi, remember what you said before? I’m always with you too. I’ll come back to you, I promise!”
Kairi: “I know you will!”
With an explosion of auditory emotion, Simple and Clean played out of my tiny television and I watched as my heroes were torn apart again. I watched, dumbfounded, as a new journey was set up even as the one I had just worked toward had been closed behind a firm door. With tears in my eyes I let the feelings wash over me. RPGs, both then and now, speak directly to my soul.
If you’re the sort of person who finds that surmounting the challenge of reaching an RPG’s end credits is too much, I implore you to sit down with one of your favorite games and reach that pinnacle again. There is so much to be enjoyed from playing through these wonderful games, and even though it might be too sad or challenging, the narrative investment is unrivaled. There is a profound satisfaction in reaching the end of these incredible stories and realizing that your great reward at the end of all good tales is seeing things through.