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Axe of the Blood God: Making Meaningful Decisions in RPGs

PODCAST | We share Ni No Kuni 2 impressions and talk about ways to make RPG endings meaningful.

Article by Kat Bailey, .

Axe of the Blood God is our weekly RPG podcast hosted by Kat Bailey and Nadia Oxford. You can find the previous episodes here.

In this week's episode of Axe of the Blood God (download link here), I'm joined by Caty and Mike to discuss meaningful endings in RPGs! Also, I share my Ni No Kuni 2 impressions, and we talk Yakuza 6!

This discussion originally grew out of my fear of getting the "bad ending" in Witcher 3. But it eventually grew to a wide-ranging talk in which we broke down the endings in Mass Effect 3, Witcher 3, and Dragon Age Origins (among others); talked about making meaningful decisions in RPGs, and discussed how we roleplayed those decisions. Sticking the landing in an RPG is quite tough, especially when a lot of moving parts at play. We talk about all the ways that can affect an RPG's story.

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Show Description

Kat is joined by guest hosts Caty and Mike to discuss the difficult dance of making meaningful decisions in RPGs, breaking down the endings of Witcher 3, Mass Effect 3, Chrono Trigger, and more in the process. Plus: Kat shares her impressions of Ni No Kuni 2, and Caty and Mike talk about the localization of Yakuza 6!

Music from Axe of the Blood God is courtesy of Lena Chappelle, who has also contributed the themes to Active Time Babble and Roleplayers' Realm. I also use music from the RPG Music Pack over at rpgmaker.net. Check it out!

This article may contain links to online retail stores. If you click on one and buy the product we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

Comments 14

  • Avatar for daverhodus #1 daverhodus 12 days ago
    I bought a Saturn and 10 games for under $200 near the end of its lifespan. It ended up being one of my favorite consoles.Edited 2 weeks ago by daverhodus
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  • Avatar for StJudasOfSleep #2 StJudasOfSleep 11 days ago
    NB:
    SPOILER FOR FALLOUT 1

    Great episode, I really enjoyed the spoilerific discussion of RPG endings. We don't usually get good in-depth comparisons of them them since people are so wary of ruining games for future players.

    My own inclination is towards the type of endings that are determined by your actions throughout the course of a game. I still remember the feeling of surprise (and not a small bit of satisfaction) when my Vault Dweller shot the Overseer at the end of Fallout 1, instead of quietly accepting his destiny.

    As much as I love JRPGs, I'm usually a bit annoyed by the "true ending" model, requiring very specific actions and pathways. To me, multiple endings should be about multiple viable endings, rather than a bunch of bad or so-so endings and only one true conclusion providing narrative closure.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #3 Flipsider99 11 days ago
    I am not a role-player. So personally meaningful endings just come from good storytelling, for me. I don't particularly care about a game providing meaningful decisions, and find that games that put too much of an emphasis of role-playing your own story tend to have less interesting stories for what I'm looking for.
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  • Avatar for Mola_Ram #4 Mola_Ram 10 days ago
    Fallout 1 had an immensely satisfying ending. You save the Vault, go back and they don't want you anymore. So you wander off into the wilderness, The End.

    It wasn't a happy ending by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt like a natural extension of the plot that came before it. I don't think I've liked any game ending as much as that one.
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  • Avatar for MasterEMFG #5 MasterEMFG 10 days ago
    @Mola_Ram There was just nothing like those first couple of Fallout games... I still remember blowing away some kid who was throwing rocks at me and a hooker with a shotgun blast to the groin (when you could still go for the groin ;_; )

    Yes, I know that sounds evil, but there's something special about the true freedom of choice in video games. Fallout 1 and 2 had it.
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  • Avatar for MasterEMFG #6 MasterEMFG 10 days ago
    If anyone want's a good decision/consequence RPG you might want to try Tyranny.
    Currently playing it and am pretty impressed by the amount of consequence and decision making in it thus far. It's pretty good. Baldur's Gate style game with very deep yet informative lore. (Hover over many words to get more meaningful explanations)

    In the dialogue decisions effect several aspects of reputation with others like loyalty, wrath. fear etc... Decisions even lead to abilities based on reputation and other dialogue decisions further down the line can be influenced by these traits.Edited 2 weeks ago by MasterEMFG
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #7 riderkicker 9 days ago
    Open your heart Kat, don't just walk on by.

    Thanks for the tip about Super Robot Wars Alpha 3. I only played it straight to the end, not sure if I got the best ending as I do fight some old guy in a Akashic thiningamabob and finished it. I should carve out some time to play it again, even if on the computer. I'm just waiting for Bandai to announce 2 and 3 on the Switch and that would be the bee's knees, even if it's Japanese only.

    I am however making a little more progress on V, as usual. Just got Bonta-Kun.

    Now that I think about it, I have not played that many multiple ending video games, must less RPGs. Zero Escape 999 is the first ME game that comes to mind, as I spent about two weeks trying to get every ending and enjoyed how things turned out, especially with very different puzzles for the paths. Chrono Trigger is the first multiple ending RPG I ever finished, but those weren't scary at all compared to the games you talk about in this episode.

    Come to think of it, Shin Megami Tensei games generally have multiple endings, as I remember a summer playing through the first Devil Survivor on the DS, but getting only three endings before I gave up. The main games have at least three endings, but steers you on the Evil, Neutral, and Light path, as two of those paths lead to rather grisly ends, as the goal of the game is to save the world. Siding with the Angels or Demons leads to ultimate destruction, while, the Neutral path leads to something like the ending of Wall-E, as the people left have to build a new world I think. I could be wrong!Edited 2 weeks ago by riderkicker
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  • Avatar for Nuclear-Vomit #8 Nuclear-Vomit 9 days ago
    @MasterEMFG I think we all killed that kid. Got the Child Killer badge to prove it.
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  • Avatar for moochan #9 moochan 9 days ago
    So many thing to talk about in this podcast. I tend to pick when I feel is the right choice and see how things go from there. Like with Witcher 3 I am a snarky guy but turns down money to poor people when I am given the chance. Think one of the issue people have with the ending of Mass Effect (at least one my friend had since I could never really get into the games) is that you are pretty much doing the thing you were stopping in Mass Effect 1. So it pretty much "it's only ok when you are doing it because you are the hero" which feels weirdly wrong. I just couldn't enjoy it because I honestly hate the whole idea of Mass Effect. Humans are the newest race but for some reason they are treated as pretty much gods and even given the highest office for no really good reason just "well it was meant to be" which never sat right with me.

    As for Phantasy Star they have Phantasy Star Online 2 which I really enjoyed until I burnt out but that sadly never came here. As for Shining Force what is "doing it right" because seem to Sega the series is just them doing whatever they want at the time. Since it was a First Person Dungeon Crawler, a SRPG, and even a Diablo Clone. So there really isn't one game to say what a Shining Force game is.
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  • Avatar for andrewhathaway15 #10 andrewhathaway15 9 days ago
    This was a fascinating discussion, in part because of how differently players view endings. The most interesting camp is taking the endings as they are. Perpetually dangling the possibility of a "best" or "true" ending is a misnomer as the ending the player gets is the ending the player gets. It's easy to get bogged down in discussions of intent when it comes to games with alternative approaches to endings such as Nier: Automata, but if the player dies in the first forty minutes or so an explanation of what happened comes up and the credits roll. There's an ending, what do we make of it? Different weight and resonance comes in depending on the information the player brings in, be it knowledge of the universe from Drakengard and Nier or replaying the game after doing a full A-B-C-D-WIP(E)-Restart.

    On the historical examples I'm less satisfied by Chrono Trigger's multiple endings as time goes on in terms of what they reflect of the main characters (Crono is a terrible void of a character), and more in how the endings show the story of the land, its shifting territories, and how different groups handle the erosion of their homes over time. In contrast, Mass Effect 3's original ending was deeply satisfying precisely because BioWare refused to provide easy catharsis or a clear vision of the future. The element of choice in the previous two games was always window dressing with little bearing on the gameplay (Ashley or Kaidan, for one, isn't so much a big choice as it is whose voice box do I want following me around.) The original ending forces the player to confront this, that there is no easy solution or grand narrative that will make it all "worth it", and it was a stunning failure of artistic confidence that BioWare kowtowed to pressure then altered the ending.

    I've been following Caty's work for only a wee bit and that led me to this podcast. I'll be checking out earlier episodes on the strength of this one, and I hope ya'll continue this level of quality moving forward.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #11 NiceGuyNeon 9 days ago
    Blood and Wine is the best Witcher game if you've played the whole series I think. The first game's ending set up the conflict with the Wild Hunt and the end of worlds snow deal, the second game set up the war taking place and the countries in the balance. But Blood and Wine feels like an epilogue to the entire series. It's very stand-alone, but also entirely connected to the entire trilogy.

    Because it's a much more manageable open world with its smaller region, you learn the lay of the land pretty quickly. And the plot is much more focused from the moment you get there as opposed to Wild Hunt which by design can't be focused so the first 3/4 of the main plot revolves around looking for someone rather than initiating some sort of action that requires your immediate attention.

    And I love how it ends. It's so simple, but it's a crowd pleaser. I love what Mike talked about like how Geralt retires and whoever you romanced comes to live with you (Yennefer is the right choice, don't fight it), but what I enjoyed most was the moment before the credits.

    Geralt just wants to sit and rest a while, and the game basically ends on that note: You DESERVE to sit. I know, it must seem silly where most games opt for the big guns of saving the world, dismantling empires and yadda yadda, but the game having that moment of "just sit a while" felt so much more meaningful to the character, the player, and to CD Projekt Red. Like, take a bow, you deserve to sit too. All three of you did dang good.

    Also, entirely unrelated, there's this AMAZING Dark Souls reference that's completely hidden in Blood and Wine. It comes after a pretty cool boss fight in a stormy cloud-like arena and there's this kind of hidden path that felt so right to follow for me. It leads you to a bonfire in a cave. And Geralt will light and kneel like in Dark Souls. And you get a badass sword that you can use against the final boss, who also happens to be the best boss fight in the entire series. I'm just saying, Blood and Wine is the business!
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  • Avatar for davedalrymple11 #12 davedalrymple11 8 days ago
    I think that meaningful choices work best on a smaller, character-centred scale rather than on a larger Earth-defining scale. Take Dragon Age: Origins for example. The fate of Alistair in the first game (King, drunk, or corpse) is a lot more interesting to me than the fate of the Circle of Mages. And it's a lot easier for developers to incorporate in future games. It's possible, in the first game, to convince Enora to disband the Circle, and let mages roam free in Ferelden. Of course, they immediately dial that back in subsequent Dragon Age games, because it changes the core narrative too much. But Alistair stays dead and/or drunk.
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  • Avatar for blueberryboll #13 blueberryboll 4 days ago
    Ni no kuni for PS3 came out 2013 in the west, 2011 in Japan.
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  • Avatar for Gillespionage #14 Gillespionage Yesterday
    Katie, Love ya, and I know it's not your fault, but Mr Drippy is actually Welsh. He's voiced by Steffan Rhodri, a Welsh actor who most people might have seen as the bus driver in Gavin and Stacey.
    Anyway, as a Welsh man with an American wife, I have spent a lot of time in America explaining to people that there is a country in the UK called Wales. For some reason people have never heard of it, everyone just thinks I am English.
    (Side note, I hate it when people refer to Britain as "England"... As if the English haven't screwed the rest of Britain enough! )
    Also! Hayao Miyazaki is actually a huge fan of Wales and apparently based the mining town in Laputa on the Welsh Valleys he has visited a number of times!

    phew! glad I got that off my chest!
    Great cast guys, keep up the good work!
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