You’re walking in the woods….There’s no one around and your phone is dead.
Out of the corner of your eye you spot him…
What do you do?
Take the first swing before he can
Your choice will affect the ending you reach.
When you have a story, there has to be a starting, development and conclusion. What sets game narratives apart from the normal linear narrative structure is that there is an element of being able to choose how the story will play out and conclude. But have you ever wondered what kind of story endings there are out there?
I was asked on Curious Cat to talk about some of the different types of bad endings but to get there it might be easier to talk about all the general types that are prevalent in otome games to begin with. These can apply to any narrative, particularly those belonging to the same categories like galge and other general visual novels, but I’m hesitant to speak on absolute terms so for now I’ll just specify this is for otome games, particularly in my experience.
My main resource for this was the pixiv dictionary article with a little bit of searching here and there for more substantial information since this is mainly popculture related rather than a Academic Study™.
I think it’s easier to think of endings as being on a spectrum, with happy endings on one end and bad endings on the other.
A list format may also suffice;
- Happy ends
- Normal ends
- True ends
- Bad ends
- Then there are some other minor variation
Keep in mind that the labels aren’t all mutually exclusive and some endings do have the potential to fall under several labels.
Pretty self-explanatory; the best outcome possible. I’m using it as an umbrella term here but it may not necessarily be treated as such in every game.
Pretty much used interchangeably with happy end. Generally the ending where most characters are happy, main couple is together and all conflicts are resolved.
Usually also used interchangeably with the above two but where game do make a specific good/best end, the good end is usually one that is slightly less happy than the best ending, for example when something that didn’t need to be sacrificed was lost.
Endings where the player character are not bound to a single love interest but are in a polyamorous relationship with many, if not, all of them. In otome games these ends are rarer nowadays but they do exist, like for example Storm Lover has one after Yuna is able to date every guy in the game. Many older R18+ otome games also feature these.
Bitter ends are endings which contain a mixture of happiness and sadness, where for example the player character has been able to prevent some catastrophe but accompanied by some other great sacrifice. Contrary to what the name sounds this is considered a type of happy ending.
Also I found out that the saying ‘to the bitter end‘ may also have a definition unrelated to the end being ‘bitter’ but rather, originating from a nautical term.
Usually endings that are not particularly happy or sad. In otome games they are the endings where the heroine doesn’t end up with anyone while achieving the overarching goal of the game or when she fails to enter a character route. Sometimes they can be treated as friendship ends or bad ends in otome games as well depending on the content of the game.
Many sequels or fandiscs use the normal ends of the original work as the starting point which is why sometimes you hear players complaining of ‘relationship reset’, that is, rather than seeing an after story of a pre-existing romantic relationship, the new game forces the player to build the romantic relationship from zero again. Games that do this for example are Geten no Hana Yumeakari, all the Quinrose Alice games and their other sequels.
The true outcome or the ideal outcome of the story in the eyes of the creator. These aren’t tied to either good or bad ends as usually the result for characters can vary but are simply where the story would have ended up originally.
Sometimes this can be mixed into a specific character’s route and in those cases are usually the final character to be unlocked. Other times, they may not be labelled as such and the character that is unlocked will be treated as the ‘true’ route.
Games that have true endings are likely to be those with an underlying mystery like for example Yoshiwara Higanbana, Eikoku Tantei Mysteria and most of Quinrose’s games.
However since ‘true’ ends are usually a mixture of good and bad (see below for types of bad ends) for the characters in the game but with the added resolution to some mystery presented to the player, there can be conflict between the ideals of the makers and the players as the latter would usually want to treat the best ending as the ‘true’ end.
Despite the name, I personally feel there is no real reason to treat a singular ending as the canonical ending given the other endings are just as canon (as in, they both exist in the official work for one thing).
The opposite of happy ends; endings with the worst outcome possible.
Merry bad ends
Merry bad ends or ‘メリバ/meriba’ in Japanese, are a type of open or ambiguous ending. Originating from the ‘cheerful‘ definition of ‘merry‘, it basically means ‘happy bad end‘. What sets merry bad ends apart from other bad endings is that depending on the perspective taken, be it another character’s or our own as the player, it could be seen as a happy end.
The first searchable definition for ‘merry bad end’ stated that it was a ‘tragedy born from excessive dependence on one another; those involved feel satisfied but those around see them as nothing but miserable. Conversely, where those involved see it as misfortune but from outsiders’ perspective it is seen as a happy end would also be considered a merry bad end‘. Over time it seems that it has become more interchangeably used with ‘open end’.
Merry bad ends can come in many forms and due to many differing perspectives existing, they can be considered more involving as they require more thought, as the player, into the consequences of the characters actions.
Many of the darker otome games have instances of merry bad ends, for example Gekka Ryouran Romance, Ken ga Kimi and Kokuchou no Psychedelica.
Usually endings which take place during a moment of great tragedy within the story; are endings which make the player feel melancholic. They’re endings where the actions of the player character lead to a point of no return and no one is rewarded or saved.
If you look at Black Wolves Saga you may find a few…
Sometimes when game creators are feeling particularly sadistic, these endings may also be the true ending of the game.
Considered one of the worst types of bad ends, they’re ones where the player character ends up dead. Sometimes they may be treated as a ‘game over’ and are also common in RPGs.
Some of the other less common ending names I’ve come across.
Sad love end
Usually endings where the heroine and her love interest have reaffirmed their interest in eachother but for one reason or another they don’t end up together.
A type of bad ending where the ending itself is a gag triggered by the player failing to achieve the condition to enter the next part of the story.
There are a couple of games like this most notably Heart no Kuni no Alice has one ending like this and so does Code Realise…but the most irritating ones I’ve come across has to be the ones in PRINCE FIVE.
Miserable happy end
A type of happy end that is built on a large amount of sacrifices. Mildly similar to bitter ends mentioned above but the usage of ‘miserable happy end’ seems to be largely the opposite of the first line definition of ‘merry happy end’.
If the meaning of ‘merry bad end’ is one where the characters are happy despite appearing as a tragic end to outsiders, then the meaning of ‘miserable happy end’ is an ending where the characters are unhappy but to everyone else it appears to be a happy ending. However as it was defined earlier ‘merry happy end’ does already encompass both of these meanings already so the term ‘miserable happy end’ is redundant.
Now, which ending have you reached?
You’re finally safe from Shia LeBeouf.
But at what cost?