Milica here; I'm really happy to be a part of Fallen Snow Studios and helping complete the much-anticipated Lucid9. It's a great visual novel backed by a great crew, and I've certainly been learning a lot from them these past few months. This is actually the first time I've ever had any sort of involvement in the creation of a VN, so it's definitely an interesting and worthwhile experience for me.
As David mentioned in our last progress update, I'll be taking over the blog from now on as far as other content goes. We should have another update prepared for you guys sometime in January, which will be written up by either me or David. In any case, the heads-up is there :)
Though in keeping things a little more active around here, David had this really cool idea to write blog posts about topics concerning VNs, anime, and writing in general. He approached me with it; naturally, I accepted, and thought it'd be neat to turn these into monthly editorials.
Which brings me to the question of the day, as you can see by the title. It's something I've been thinking about lately, especially after giving my thoughts on the endings in Asagao Academy on another website (if you haven't played it yet, I highly recommend you do). I believe it'll also make for a nice discussion in the comments :)
An ending to a story seems to be the thing that either makes or breaks said story for us as the audience. The same idea certainly applies to VNs; although in this case, depending on the scope and nature of the VN, I'd say that endings should be judged within the context of their individual routes, and should not necessarily be indicative of the VN's quality as a whole.
Still, these endings often change the way we view those characters or situations if or when they show up elsewhere in the VN. They might even leave a dent on the routes entirely. But why is that?
Well, I've got some ideas. When it comes to VNs we find enjoyable or even just okay, we're expecting the routes to culminate in something profound, whether happy or unfortunate. What's always been so fascinating about VNs to me is how flexible they are in having a story go either way, with the usual advantage of being able to make choices that could very well make the stark contrast in how a scenario could've otherwise gone totally believable.
I should make the quick note that kinetic novels don't have this same advantage; as with film, for instance (since it's not often movies get alternate endings), the pressure on them is even greater to make the audience stand by their stories from beginning to end.
With that being said, VNs nevertheless require consistency in their storytelling, and there needs to be a plausible point to everything that happened in order to justify a given ending. While VNs are arguably closer to literature in design than they are to games, it's still important for them to have pacing, structure, and especially the climax down to a science. They're a visual medium, after all. But beyond that, you're interacting closely with and making even more (literally) direct connections to characters and their circumstances than you would with a movie's, or even a book's characters, so the conclusion is possibly a bigger deal here than in those other media.
The reason for this is because it all comes down to our emotions towards the events unfolding before us, since we're actively involved in the events. It's as if we've formed a bond with the VN, because of how much it relates to, understands, or even teaches us with the compelling story it has to tell. So then when an ending doesn't feel as though it's in the spirit of the rest of the VN, we may feel lied to or betrayed at that moment, because we know that's not what we actually would've done or allowed to happen in real life (even if it's something beyond our control, it still has to make sense within the context of the narrative). Everything that we thought we knew and came to appreciate may suddenly be all for not, and we might not feel a connection with a character, route, or maybe even the VN anymore. We'll probably assume that, because all that good stuff was leading up to lameness, then maybe it's all actually lame as well.
That's what ultimately changes our views on what we witness in VNs. One of the big things, as mentioned, is disconnection, but another major flaw is when a "twist" is added in that really isn't necessary. Again, there needs to be a logical reason for a reveal that can be discerned from the information provided to us in the story. Let's take Mr. Ryouta as an example of a twist that works. The reason why he makes total sense as the antagonist in the common route, is because all the information that Yama recollects about him cause him - and by extension, the player - to realize just how morbid Ryouta actually is, and how capable he is of such horrid acts. Ryouta might not have been high on people's list of suspects at first, but the subtlety in his cynical dialogue, his relationship to Yama, and what he does pre and in-game is what slowly clue people in during the deduction sequence - even right before the big reveal. It wasn't just devised out of left field for the sake of shocking people, who thought they otherwise knew who did it all along. You know what I mean?
So, we're all able to get behind what makes a good ending. However, will a "bad" ending always harm the story by default? Like with any product within the same medium, we have to remember that not all VNs are the same; thus, the acceptability of an ending will not be the same for each story, unless perhaps they're in the same genre or follow a similar narrative.
If a story is incredibly well-executed, then we might be able to excuse the ending. Again, if it's consistent in tone with the rest of the scenario, the characters are likeable, and the events are memorable, then the overall spirit and charisma of the VN could make up for it.
But what about the reverse? Can a good ending save a bad or lacking VN? Though if that's a stretch, how about saving a bad route? I personally think both scenarios are possible. I've personally experienced this in a couple VNs already (Liar! Uncover the Truth and Seduce Me the Otome are two that come to mind - no judgment towards anyone who likes them). It can make you appreciate certain moments, ideas, and characters more, and this definitely helps with the memorability factor.
There's also the possibility that a story is purposely unlikeable, yet the ending gives it significance by shedding light on why it had to be that way. I have yet to find a VN like this, though. If anyone has, feel free to share examples.
But despite everything I've written here this evening, it really all depends on you. If you can still find value in a VN or a route(s) despite one or multiple endings that didn't sit well with you, that's awesome. If you find you're unable to, because you're unsure as to what you're supposed to find valuable after a suddenly jarring conclusion, that's completely understandable and something that many people will likely relate to.
And that wraps it up for this editorial! Thanks, guys, for giving it a read, and I can't wait to release more of these. I also look forward to your comments - whether you agree, disagree, or have additional thoughts, I want to read it all :)
Have a good night!
~ Milica M. "Mimo"