Disclaimer: (Yeah, late again as usual but oh well...)The first part of this article may start off non-game related, but I promise it is relevant to the topic. Just bear with me for this the best example I could provide for my point.
Also, I am going to be doing like I did when I wrote about the Chzo Mythos series by providing a link to an image that farther describes what I have to say without risking unintentionally spoiling anything. So please, do not read the links if you have any intention of playing or watching what I am speaking of.
Thank you, and you may now continue with your reading. Anyway...
Have you ever seen To the Ends of the Earth? No? Well, I am not surprised so allow me to tell you a tad about it, and spoil it. It was a mini-series consisting of only three episodes that aired in 2005 and is based on the book trilogy of the same title. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, it tells the tale of a young aristocrat's voyage from England to Australia in 1812. We can assume that as an aristocrat, Edmund lived a fairly sheltered life but was exposed to a more colorful scene as he is socially forced to interact with his fellow shipmates. His ignorance slowly fades away as we witness a young man grow mentally and emotionally through hardships and others' perspectives.
Half way through the series, the ship ends up encountering a second ship upon which the two spend a night mingling in celebration of the end of the war. During the party, our fine young gentleman meets a lovely young girl who he almost instantly falls in love with. He tries to convince her to travel to Australia with him but she refuses as she cannot go against the wills of her elders. The two are separated when the ships part, leaving Edmund heartbroken but learning to accept that life moves on despite his brooding over faith in love.
After surviving all the struggles of the journey, he begins to settle in Australia which opens a new chapter to his ever growing life. Edmund is forced to face new challenges as friendships are severed from social statuses, leaving him alone with what could have potentially led to him realizing he needs to let go of his dependency and become a real man. However...
Just as Mindy from the network said: I am not happy with happy.
To the Ends of the Earth was a bit of an eye opener for me. My realization of how upset I was over a sweet, romantic closure to such a bleak set up, I took some time to think about my favorite games upon which I discovered a rather interesting (perhaps disturbing) pattern about them. In Resident Evil... Amatersu cleansed the world once again but... Persona 3 ended with you.... Then in Trilby's Notes...And do I even need to speak about Metal Gear Solid 3?!
In other words...I discovered that the games that stuck with me the most were ones involving bittersweet endings where the protagonist was put into dreadful peril upon which they only overcame by great sacrifice or ultimately resulted in their own death. Turning a character into a justifiable martyr is a delicate, difficult process. If the character is placed into danger with the sole reason only to add a tad bit of dread to the plot, the worrisome connection the player has towards the character can be lost.
For example, let's take a brief look at L.A Noire...Throughout the whole game we see Cole Phelps work to create a solid career for himself- working his way up from a standard cop to being an successful detective on Vice. Half way through the game...
Being filled with dread while watching a character you like struggle is far more thrilling than seeing them in a peaceful environment. Conflict gets adrenaline pumping, putting the player on edge and keeping attention locked on the situation occurring before them. The battle does not just involve the character, but it also involves the player as well, making the two work together to overcome the crisis together. You feel the character's pain and suffer together thus strengthening the invisible bond between the two but what happens when the fight ends?
With happy endings, the story just stops dead in its tracks. All loose ends are tied together and little is left to the imagination regarding how the character lives out the rest of his or her life. Though it feels almost too much like cliché; a forced moment of unrealistic harmony just to make the player feel good as a reward for their hard work but I feel satisfaction can come from more than just serenity. Part of the joy that can be felt after a hardship comes from knowing you survived it. Battle scars become your trophies and a greater sense of respect rises from a character who shows the effects of their suffering.
Darker themes have a stronger impact on you than lighter themes. Melancholic endings carry on within you after the credit rolls because it makes you think a bit by leaving some aspects of the story open for interruption. They keep the connection between yourself and the character active because you both share the same pain; or you suffer the loose of a close friend when the protagonist dies on you. With a happy ending, there is fairly solid closure to the plot. It leaves you with wiping your hands clean and saying, "That is the end of that!". Then you move with no reason to look back because the game gave you no reason to.
Mario can save Princess Peach a hundred times but he will never become as an iconic symbol of heroism as a character like Big Boss... As Mario lives peacefully until the next kidnapping upon which he cheerfully rescues the princess again, Big Boss had to carry the weight of his mission like a real man.
Now you are probably thinking, "But, Steph, the tones and themes are so different between the two. How can you possibly compare them?" Well, my dear reader...That is my point. Joyful tones soon fall into the same reoccurring, predictable pattern. You always know the hero is going to win and that is just boring.