The greatest reward players can earn for doing well in video games is a good ending. Being given a sense of closure to their hard work is gratifying and could range from something like watching a kingdom being restored to its former glory, escaping a zombie outbreak as the city is obliterated by an explosion or quelling an alien invasion. No matter the setting, seeing your character come out on top with no menace to stand in your way is blissful.
But before the credits roll or in a scene after, something unexpected happens to undermine your win. A villain is still alive, someone you thought was a friend turns out to be a foe or your victory is short lived as another is about to begin. These sudden revelations are examples of cliffhangers: finales that end in ambiguity rather than in definite closure. Hoping your game does well enough is one thing but advertising a sequel this way is brave as you are promising to continue where you have left off.
It is a big gamble for developers to attract people towards a sequel. Sometimes the risk pays off and players get interested enough to want a sequel and get that wish. Halo 2 and Prince of Persia: Warrior Within are examples of games that resolve cliffhangers because of their success. Other times the gamble is a bust and not all games are so fortunate as to conclude their stories. Poor sales, bad reviews, company shutdowns and other unforeseen circumstances can sideline games with cliffhangers. Many of these games still have the misfortune of having no continuation.
Here are four noteworthy ones that have cliffhanger endings that still remain unresolved, why they remain so and if there is any possibility of resolution.
Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion
Acclaim Entertainment‘s fourth Nintendo 64 game (the multiplayer oriented Turok: Rage Wars was the third game) in the popular Turok first-person shooter franchise returned the series to its roots and has one of the most in-depth stories of the series to boot.
Turok 3 begins with the murder of its biggest character, Joshua Fireseed, the current holder of the Turok mantle, by worshipers of a horrific abomination known as Oblivion who threatens the world. Players choose to play as either his sister, Danielle Fireseed, or his brother, Joseph Fireseed, to take Joshua’s place and combat the threat of Oblivion.
After a bloody campaign this edition of Turok ends with a huge battle against Oblivion. Should players win the fight, the game isn’t over and is followed by one last tussle with Oblivion’s followers. In the genuine final battle, players fight against a possessed Joshua Fireseed brought back from the dead and are forced to kill him a second time. Before he dies again, Joshua reveals that Danielle is pregnant saying that the child she carries is special and it is imperative that it be protected.
There’s more: a scene after the credits shows Adon, a female alien who aided Joshua in Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, abandon her post against the wishes of her superiors, believing she can rescue him. After Adon takes her leave, a mysterious new figure known as Yvree replaces her and is instructed to prevent her from succeeding as Joshua would frustrate their plans.
Turok 3 earned positive reviews and was a hit with players. For a while it seemed likely a sequel would emerge but internal problems at Acclaim Entertainment stonewalled this. The company shut down in 2004. They later released a prequel, Turok: Evolution, in 2002 before their collapse. Unfortunately, the game does not address or resolve the cliffhanger ending at all.
Hope again abounded that a continuation would happen when Touchstone Games announced a new game featuring Turok. This hope was dashed when it was released in 2008 as Turok, a video game that attempted to reboot the Turok universe.
12 years have passed and still no proper sequel has emerged. To make a proper sequel would mean using the Turok universe Acclaim derived from the comics it produced and which the Turok games they made depended heavily upon. Since no interest has been shown in doing this, a continuation will continue to remain unattainable.
Lucasarts‘ turn based RPG adventure for the PS2, Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube is not just an entertaining game. Gladius features an equally entertaining story that is set in Imperia, a fictional counterpart to Ancient Rome, but with huge doses of mythology and fantasy mixed in. You control a school of gladiators run by one of two heroes, Ludo or Ursula, as you battle across four regions acquiring enough wealth, warriors and fame to take part in the kingdom’s high tournament to become grand champion.
At least that’s what Gladius would have you believe. Immediately after you win the final tournament, events spiral out of control and your party ends up on the run eventually battling against a dark god freed from years of imprisonment. Once defeated, Ursula ascends into the heavens as preordained by an ancient prophecy. Valens and the rest of the party are left alone in a darker Imperia now run by an old friend of Valens turned enemy: Ludo, who has been twisted by a powerful sorceress responsible for bringing back the dark god. As his eyes glow with a dark energy, the credits roll.
Gladius received great reviews from critics but it was the customers who thought different. Sales for Gladius were low and are undoubtedly the biggest culprit in why Lucasarts never ordered a sequel. They have left Imperia to remain locked under an iron fist with none to fight back.
Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned
The third game in the Gabriel Knight PC adventure game series again puts players in the shoes of writer/supernatural warrior, Gabriel Knight. Taking place four years after the previous game, Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, Knight travels to France with friends with the task of defending James Stewart’s child, who is next in line to inherit the Scottish throne. Unfortunately, Knight discovers that the kidnapping is part of an age old conspiracy involving Jesus, demons, the Knights Templar, Freemasons and vampires to boot (Dan Brown, eat your heart out.)
Throughout the game, players must help Gabriel and his friends foil a plot to gain the blood of Christ. After a final battle that puts a stop to this, the game’s final scene plays as Gabriel Knight is greeted warmly by his friends. Everything appears to be perfect but for one thing: his love interest, Grace, is not there to see him. Knight discovers a note from her saying that she has left. Gabriel is heartbroken as he crumples the note and walks away.
Gabriel Knight’s third outing was not as successful as the preceding two games causing Sierra, the game’s developer and publisher, to show reluctance in producing a fourth game. Making matters worse was Sierra’s merger immediately after the game was released into a new collaborative company: Vivendi Universal Games. The merger caused huge problems for the company, which was eventually shut down having never made or given any true consideration to a fourth game. Thus Gabriel Knight’s adventures end on a down note.
There is hope however that this won’t be permanent. Jane Jensen, creator and lead designer of Gabriel Knight, has said that should her newly formed game studio, Pinkerton Road Studio, establish itself, her plan is to make more Gabriel Knight games.
The sequel to the groundbreaking Dreamcast game is part of one of SEGA‘s most ambitious game franchises. Taking control of Ryo Hazuki, a young and headstrong martial artist, you explore a vast and immense open ended Japan spanning two episodic games as you aid Hazuki in his quest for vengeance against the man who murdered his father: Lan Di.
As with the preceding game, Shenmue II ends on a cliffhanger. In it Ryo travels all the way to Guilin. There he meets and travels with a wayfaring young woman named Shenhua to her home. While exploring her home Ryo discovers her family has a connection with an artifact his father kept secret and which he has brought with him: the Phoenix Mirror.
After spending the night at her home, Shenhua takes Ryo to meet her father at a nearby stone quarry. He is not to be found, but the two discover a cryptic letter from him and an ancient sword. Combining the sword with the Phoenix Mirror, Ryo causes two huge stone depictions of both the Phoenix Mirror and its counterpart, the Dragon Mirror, to rise. Shenhua recites a prophecy revealing that the destinies of herself and Ryo are intertwined. The scene ends as the words “the story goes on” appear against a black screen.
The Shenmue franchise was intended to be a trilogy of interconnected games. But factors have conspired against this, namely the cost to create, market and distribute the Shenmue games: $70 million. Sales for both games were disappointing barely earning back the money SEGA spent to create them. With the third game not having yet entered development at Shenmue II’s release, SEGA decided against allowing it to begin this phase: a decision it still stands by today.
Shenmue III is one of the most petitioned-for games SEGA has. Though aware of the demand, the company has continually stated they have no intention of making the game as it is not a priority for them. Complicating matters has been the departure of Yu Suzuki, the creator and lead designer for the games; in the split, he took a completed script for the third game from the multi-million giant. Despite not having the luxury of working for the company, Suzuki has said that he has hopes SEGA will eventually allow him to finish the trilogy and says it’s possible for him to acquire the license from them to do so.
Still, SEGA has refused and unless some action is taken on their part, Ryo’s journey is over… for now.
These are just a few of the many games whose tales were meant to continue but have remained unfinished, each for various reasons. There is always a chance of a continuation in the near future but it is impossible to know what that holds. The sad truth is that many games are destined to remain with unresolved feelings, much like when a TV show is cancelled just as a season ends on a shocking twist.
Perhaps a game company may find it profitable to grant a sequel to game ending in uncertainty or such games are destined to forever remain without a followup. For now though gamers can still find enjoyment in these games even if they end on a question mark rather than a period.