The release of Fate/Apocrypha has put me in a very Fate mood recently. As a result, I was inspired, over the weekend, to go back to the Fate/Stay Night visual novel. I’d got hold of it this time last year, but at the time I didn’t get far passed the prologue. This time, I got a little further, and discovered a new facet of the gameplay: the ‘bad end’.
All things said and done, I can think of five visual novels that I’ve had experience with. Out of those, one didn’t have any decisions, three are largely linear (though there might be some deviation if I keep playing, though I’m fairly sure there isn’t) and then Fate/Stay Night.
The workings of the Fate VN will need no introduction to most familiar with the series so I’ll keep this section brief. The VN is split into three routes: Fate, Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel. On the face of it, these three routes fit in largely with the three heroines of the tale: Saber, Rin and Sakura, though in truth there is a lot more to it than that. The game doesn’t allow you to play the routes out of the order above and as such the game gets progressively darker as you play each route. But I digress.
One of the beauties of this particular visual novel, besides this progression into despair you get through playing each route, comes from actually failing to complete a route. Never before I have experienced failing a visual novel. Often it’s not possible to do so, with decisions just leading to a different route. Or on other occasions the decision for failing is so obvious you’d never choose it. Yesterday however, Fate forced me down a bad end.
So here’s the scenario (sit back and enjoy if you’ve played): opposing master appears with behemoth servant (Berserker) that is almost certain to kill you. Saber, your servant, is all but defeated and you, face the odd choice of: running with your other ally in an attempt to escape, or pushing Saber out of the way of Berserker’s killing blow. Now maybe it’s obvious to you which option I should have taken, or maybe it isn’t, but all I’m going to say is, I got it wrong.
This was actually the best thing that could have happened to me at this point though. Plodding through the visual novel, following the story, much as it was told in the 2006 Fate/Stay Night anime adaptation by Studio Deen, everything was becoming a little predictable. Following a path not told by the anime, is not just great for story background, but seeing the alternatives to, what I considered (and still consider for that matter) a stupid Shirou decision, opens up just why Shirou might do the things he does.
What’s more, when I went back and made the correct decision, the moments immediately following didn’t seem all that different in terms of jeopardy level (someone pretty much dying is a common factor here). While I wasn’t swung to agreeing with Shirou’s point of view (after all, the decision he makes, with the skills he has in the Fate route are ridiculous), it’s a bit easier to understand the rational behind the decisions that lead to the final result.
If that’s all a bit of incomprehensible mess I’ll give you the point of this post a bit more concisely: by making decisions that lead to bad ends, but don’t immediately end the game with a black screen, you learn things about characters that you can’t in anime, manga or the ‘true’ route of a visual novel. By failing, you learn more about the world, story and characters of the game.
So what I’m really saying is… make sure you fail once in a while – because it can lead to good stuff (don’t say I never do life lessons on this blog).
What do you make of alternative or ‘bad’ routes in visual novels? Are there any visual novels, beside Fate/Stay Night that do it really well? And are there some visual novels that would really benefit from including them?
As a little postscript, it occurred to me when I came back to this to edit that the first season of Rewrite’s anime has a ‘bad’ ending, so that suggests the visual novel does too. Not sure that really adds anything, but I wouldn’t want anyone questioning my analysis…