This is the final installment of my examination of anticlimactic video game endings. We’ve reflected on Firewatch‘s sombre final moments, and revisited Hotline Miami‘s brusque statement about player motivation. These endings disappointed some, but if we cast aside the desire for a neat resolution, they’re both fascinating and thematically fitting. But I believe I’ve saved the best for last here.

Many would vehemently disagree, but I think that Limbo’s finale, in spite of its jarring brevity, is the most potent video game ending I can think of. Without a single word, it says so much in its final moments that it demands analysis and has left me dissecting its implications even now. It’s elegant subtly concludes the dark experience flawlessly. 

A silhouetted boy with glowing eyes traverses a hostile, bleak environment and endures many gruesome deaths on his journey. All we’re told about his reason for doing so are these ambiguous words: “Unsure of his sister’s fate, a boy enters Limbo.” A simple premise, fitting of a puzzle platformer, but through Limbo’s fleeting interaction between the two siblings during the conclusion, those words can take on a more menacing tone.

After the final puzzle is completed, the Boy crashes through a pane of glass, leaving behind the churning machinery he’d overcome, and finds himself back amidst the silence of the rural wilderness from the game’s beginning. The cyclical nature of the Boy returning to where he began suggests that there is no escape from the purgatory he’s in. He’s doomed to repeat the arduous task of searching for his sister infinitely. Further down the path, perhaps exactly where she always is, he finds her. She’s bathed in angelic light and perched beneath a treehouse they likely shared. The Boy cautiously approaches her. Then a simple gesture occurs, maybe one that I’m reading too deeply into, but it changed the way I thought about Limbo. When the sister hears her brother approach, she bolts upright. She doesn’t turn around to greet him, but stares straight ahead, motionless. She knows who’s behind her. Her hesitation to acknowledge him poses a new question — is the Boy a welcome saviour, or a feared pursuer? Perhaps much like Braid’s infamous twist on the tale of a valiant rescue, the one who has been searching is the one who is being run form. On his journey through Limbo, the boy enacts violence on other living things. He mutilates a harmless dragonfly so he can progress. He leads several children to their deaths because they stood between him and his task. Perhaps those children were there to protect the girl from her brother. It gets darker still.

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The same scene where the children meet is shown at the end of the credits, but it’s clear some time has passed. The tree house is dilapidated and the ladder leading up to it has become so decayed that it dangles high above the ground. Where the two children stood in those final moments reveals their dire fate. A swarm of flies festers above where each of them were. It’s a chilling revelation that still raises goosebumps on my skin. There was never a way to save either of them. They’re both long dead. Meanwhile, their endless game of hide and seek continues in another world.

Like the rest of Limbo it’s minimalist and understated, but through careful attention, and perhaps a little imagination, new angles present themselves. And all of this sublime exposition is conveyed in under two minutes by an ending that many decried as empty.

By re-examining these games I’ve realized that they all share a common trait aside from their unresolved endings. They each focus on creating a particular mood and feeling over traditional storytelling. That works in their favour when their endings are delivered, because we could never be sure where things were going in the first place. All we had were unfounded expectations of what these stories were. We’re afforded a few meager details, allowed plenty of space to form our interpretations, and then the truth continues off-screen without us. Our hunger to know more can only be somewhat satiated by our own theories, and those found on internet forums.

While they may not deliver the kind of punchy, satisfying conclusion as a game that deals all its cards face up, these open-ended video game finales are some of the most interesting because of the intrigue and thought their unique approach creates.

About The Author

As an Australian, Simon enjoys paying slightly more for games, and occasionally isn't allowed to have the really naughty ones. When he isn't writing about video games, he studies journalism so he can actually one day be good at it. He also experienced an existential crisis after writing in the third person.

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