There's an art to writing a bad ending.

They're my favorite endings to write, even if it kind of hurts me to write them. If it hurts me, too, it must be able to hurt someone else. Being a writer involves that sort of schadenfreude[1], you see.

A bad ending for a visual novel, done well, teaches a lesson. It tells the player "Perhaps you should have focused on something else in your responses." It communicates how terribly things can go south. There's an archetype called the "fatal flaw" where something that could be a character's strength becomes a weakness that takes them down. Hamlet's, for example, is indecision. A bad ending can happen when a character's fatal flaw isn't dealt with properly. That's probably the most clearcut type of bad ending, but nonetheless satisfying in a...terrible sort of way.

Everyone knows the frustrating Dark Souls-ish endings where you turn right or pick the color blue and immediately get killed. That's no fun because there isn't a clear path between what you did and what you got.

Mouth off to vampires and piss them off, so they kill you.

Avoid opening up to someone to the point where they lose all hope, and then...well.

Turn a blind eye to your friend's racism, enabling them to commit an act of terrorism.

Those are just a few examples from my own games. Basically, there needs to be direct consequences for the player's actions. Points systems are all well and good, but there needs to be a sense of relativity alongside them. Even if you have 10 affection points with a character, if you've killed their entire family, they shouldn't just leap into your arms at the end without a care. Upon reaching an ending, a player should be able to think "Okay, I see how I got this based on what I picked."

That's something I strive for in my own writing because I hate pointless endings. Different endings in a visual novel explore all the what if's. Some of those are...probably not worth exploring, to tell the truth. Some discretion is definitely needed.

But ooooh, I love a good bad ending. The horror on a character's face as they realize they're not going to get what (or whom) they want, so they take drastic measures that blow up in their face. When a character dies in vain. When the main character has inadvertently pushed another character over the edge... They're gutwrenching. That's what makes them lovely. You have to really care about the characters—and be able to write about them in a way that gets others to care—for that feeling to occur.

One of the things I loved about Diabolik Lovers was the bad endings. Those always made sense to me. Keep saying mean things things to this character and fuel his inferiority complex...and he'll kill everyone else around the two of you to make sure that he's always the best. After all, he won't have to compete if everyone else is dead[2]. Talking about this is making me feel nostalgic for Rejet games. No matter how many times I see that "bad ending where the heroine is completely mindbroken and just repeats the same (traumatizing) phrase over and over to the guy, who's gone mad", it's still so bad it's good.

Anyway, today I set out to write two of the bad endings for Without a Voice, but I was so inspired that I ended up writing four of them. Now there's just one left to write and then I'm on to good ending land. I'm so proud of my writing for this game and so excited to share it with more people. The bad endings are truly brutal, some of the saddest ones I've written in a long time. The updated demo should be coming out in another week or two! It'll cover the first three days of the game and I think it gives a pretty good taste of what the game will be like.

I'm going to try to keep up this momentum for tomorrow!

  1. A fancy word that basically means "sadism." ↩︎

  2. Of course this is Ayato's ending 02 from Haunted Dark Bridal, what kind of fangirl do you take me for? ↩︎