I suppose this could be discussed in the context of just endings in general as they are in a variety of media, but since many visual novels tend to have several endings/routes, I suppose I might as well just focus on that one medium. Besides, this is primarily a VN blog, so there’s that, too.
In the past I’ve already talked about certain aspects of the visual novel and why I find multiple routes fascinating, but let’s take that idea one step further. Some of the ideas presented below are based on my experiences with specific VNs, while others are simply stuff I read regarding VNs I have yet to try but want to eventually, and also others I just thought on my own (which, of course doesn’t mean they can’t have appeared in games). This whole post was also partly inspired by this particular topic. I do warn you though, for this whole discussion you kinda need to be in a VN-ish mindset because we’re going to be talking about silly little things regarding fictional heroines and routes and happiness and whatnot. But if you’re reading this blog you can probably do that. Anyway, in order to avoid spoiling stuff for you, I will not mention any titles or names, and even if I do bring up something, I’ll aim to be sufficiently vague (which is why there are no images between paragraphs this time, please bear with it for now :p). Another thing to keep in mind is that I don’t really want to arrive at a specific conclusion here. I merely wish to examine the topic a bit, chew it around then leave it out in the open, unsolved and up for further discussion. There are so many VN readers out there with different viewpoints and priorities that my opinion really is just a single drop in the ocean.
Okay, so let’s play around with this idea of having different routes. I once said that I find it very cool to see multiple outcomes to the same story, and that’s still true. If done right, it can unlock the true potential of a story without constraining it to one specific ending or turn of events, and if you’re into “what if” scenarios as much as I am, this is pretty exciting stuff all around. Especially since this is something we don’t have in real life. You can’t redo things: if a boat sailed, it sailed. The more interesting way to look at it is to consider what happens to certain characters if their particular route *isn’t* pursued. Let’s say something bad happens to them, and it’s up to the protagonist, or the events caused by his choices during that route to sort things out. Now consider that you choose to follow another route — what happens then? Do certain events of that other route still play out, but without the main character there to save the day? What if a character in question manages to overcome his/her crippling issues by intervention from the protagonist, but only in one particular route? “There exists no dream-like paradise where everyone is equally blessed with fortune.”, a peculiar shade of a man once said, and I can’t help but think of that line here. On the flip side, what if a character’s life ends up going in a more positive direction without a protagonist’s influence? There’s that possibility, too, and usually ends up eliciting “what if they had never met” (or possibly “never got close”) sort of reactions from people.
Another way to look at it is from the perspective of romance. Imagine a game with several heroines, and a fairly happy ending for each of them. There was one VN in particular that played around with the idea of a heroine only being able to find true happiness at the side of the protagonist, and as such, not choosing her route dooms her to a life with a certain something lacking, even if she’s otherwise successful. There are several ways to go about examining this. You may possibly feel sad about all this, in a “gosh darn but they made such a good pair” sort of way. I have even seen people consider the idea that starting a new route with another heroine could be a weird way of “cheating”, or that a route is effective if it makes you *not* want to read the others. Granted, as you may know based on my track record I don’t usually play “traditional” VNs where the focus is just on slice of life/romance, but I guess I can sort of imagine the situation. On the other hand, is such thinking (regarding the MC being the only “best” option for a heroine) not rooted in a bit of eroge logic? After all, in real life, people are often seen to be able to move on with their lives. Or not. You never know. Needless to say, if there’s a VN out there (I’m sure there must be) in which a given main heroine ends up with another character when her route is not pursued, I can only applaud that. If you were to look at it from a strictly feminist point of view you could even say that it’s silly to think that a heroine *needs* the protagonist to be complete. This also connects to what I said earlier about a character’s life being potentially better without the protagonist. I’m not gonna take any sides here, but these are some aspects to consider. In any case. it all depends on whether or not you believe in the whole “one true (canon) pair” idea, and besides, at the end of the day we’re only dealing with fictional characters. But the idea is still kinda interesting in itself. Of course, in certain VNs (you know which one), all routes are canon and happen at the same time, so yeah.
Now for something slightly different. Endings. Here the major point I wanted to bring up was regarding the difference between an ending that’s *fitting*, and an ending that is, for lack of a better word, *safe*. So what’s a safe ending? You may even call this a cop-out ending that aims to please and wishes not to offend. Things are a touch *too* convenient and consequently might feel out of place in the context of the story, even if they please a number of people. I’ve read one particular VN in which many of the endings were extremely positive — a fact that only made the canon (bittersweet) ending all the more painful, since you already knew things could’ve ended in vastly different ways with a lot more concerned parties satisfied. At the same time, I didn’t feel those “happy” endings were truly fitting, even though I did enjoy them. A fitting ending for me is where you potentially say “I don’t necessarily like everything about this, but goddammit I respect that this is how this story was meant to end. This is how it should be.” This, as I mentioned above, is often a bittersweet ending (although not necessarily; you can make characters go through hell but reward them with a satisfying happy end), where sacrifices were made, things were achieved, but at a price. Characters learn something, reach the end of their development and potentially reflect on what they have gained and lost upon arriving at that point. Sometimes I feel like an ending has to be earned, and sometimes that path is one laden with despair, but also growth. Another VN I’ve read in the past gives you a final choice that determines whether or not you see the true end: in order to get that “canon” ending, the choice to be made is 「選んだ道を進む」, which, in English, is something along the lines of “I will continue on my chosen path”, symbolizing acceptance, a refusal to falter, and a willingness to go through with things despite everything that had happened, even if the path in question is not all fun and games.
So I guess that’s it. I hope that was a decent amount of food for thought at least. I’m not entirely sure if all that made sense but hey, we all need a healthy ramble sometimes.