When choosing what to write about Guacamelee!, it is natural to think of the combat system or the Metroidvania-style progression as the topics. I mean… they’re just SO well designed. Seriously, Guacamelee is a great benchmark and case study when it comes to those two things. It’s awesome. Go play it. Because what I want to discuss in this post is not one of those topics. I want to talk about the ending. Spoilers, obviously.
On paper, Guacamelee has a pretty standard trope-ridden story. The main antagonist, Calaca, wants to bring the end of the world, so he kidnaps the El Presidente’s Daughter (our love interest as well) to use her as sacrifice for the ritual, and our goal is to save her and stop him. Nothing special, right? It’s very engaging not just because of the great gameplay design, but also because the story is full of gags and references (not to mention the art style and atmosphere) and is generally very funny, so you don’t mind that the plot is basically go save princess from the castle.
But then the ending happens. You see, in the end… El Presidente’s Daughter dies. You know what, I’ll just let you watch the ending (up to 2:29).
I think it’s absolutely amazing. There’s so many reasons why this ending is so good:
– The whole game story is built on a bunch of tropes being played straight, so you fully expect to save El Presidente’s Daughter and live happily ever after. And the fact that this particular last trope is subverted… actually creates a very memorable and emotional moment. That even when you get to be the hero and save the world… sometimes you just can’t save everyone.
– But even though it’s sad, it’s not depressing. Through the credit images, it shows the importance of moving on and living a full life, even when there’s a piece of you absent and you miss it. Because at the end, the main character after his own death gets reunited with El Presidente’s Daughter in the World of the Dead.
Okay, that’s two reasons… but it’s still great. Without this conclusion to the story, the after effect of completing the game wouldn’t have been so strong. ‘Yep, this was great and fun, moving on’. But when I saw the actual ending… I couldn’t help but just stay speechless for a while. Pondering. Because I didn’t expect that. I think it elevates the game beyond ‘let’s just have some good and fun times with a bunch of gags and jokes’.
Which is why I was pretty disappointed when I learnt that there’s an alternative ending. You have to work to get it – collect 6 hard to get orbs, and in that alternate ending, the expectations are played straight. El Presidente’s Daughter lives, the main character marries her, and it’s happily ever after (video from 2:30 to the end).
On one hand, I understand why this ending exists. Because, really, even though ‘happily ever after’ might feel cliche, in the end everybody wants it and hopes for it. So the developers have added a way to get it, if you spend time and fight for it. That makes sense.
But the thing is, this alternate ending is considered to be the ‘true’ ending by all players. The first one becomes the ‘bad’ or ‘sad’ ending. It’s irrelevant now – it’s not the true one. And because of that, the first ending doesn’t have that power to it anymore, with the subversion of the tropes at the conclusion considered to be ‘false’ the impact is much lower.
Here’s what I think would be better if the game needs to have two endings – one standard one and one secret.
In the standard one, El Presidente’s Daughter would die, and the main character would remain the, for all intents and purposes immortal, Luchador – guardian of the world. Never to die or find the way to the world of the dead again.
And in the secret true one, the main character would become a normal mortal human with removing of the mask… but El Presidente’s Daughter would still die. However, after living his normal mortal life, Juan would also die, and find his way to the world of the dead to reunite with her.
I think that would keep the impact the original ending has in the game, while also providing two endings with one to strive for.
And it’s not that I don’t like happy endings. I do. It’s just that Guacamelee’s original ending feels special in the context of the whole game, and though sad it’s also beautiful and hopeful, which is why I don’t agree with the fact that it’s considered to be the ‘bad’ ending by players (and it’s largely because of the existence of a fully happy ending).
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