WARNING: Major spoilers for Wanderlust: Rebirth. First and only warning. Read at your own risk.

So a friend of mine recently got the four pack of this game and I got a copy of it (special thanks to ThirtyThree for the game), and I have to say it’s been… fairly decent. Balancing is a serious issue and the game suffers hard from Linear Warrior – Quadratic Wizard syndrome. But overall it’s not so bad, combat can be pretty fun and the continue system means you can pretty much brute-force your way to the end if you so desire, though it’ll be a grind since the levels won’t be awarding any points.

My allies are doing more damage than me. I’m a very sad wizard.

And that ending will utterly ruin the game. I’m not even joking, I went from elation to annoyance to outright seething in no time flat. So here was the run down, we were playing four-player co-op and made it all the way to the last level. Pretty fun all things considered, and the boss had some fun mechanics and was pretty well done. However, due to a mistake one of our dps died. Then I died because the ‘Critical!’ box is massive and I couldn’t see myself standing in the fire. You’d think two years of WoW would train to avoid it, but alas I died and we didn’t have the damage to kill the boss.

So we get a bad ending. I mean bad, the villain wins, the world gets over-run by the undead and ruled with an iron fist by Mr. Demon and his Lich underlords. And I’m fine with that. I loved that. Seriously, think about how many games actually give you a bad ending for screwing up? How many show a consequence for failing at the moment when you needed to succeed most? Well Wanderlust isn’t one of them, because within thirty seconds it ass pulled an “it was all a dream!” segment. I wish I was kidding.

Failing the game makes the freaking item shop guy show up and reveal himself as an uber-powerful wizard (who, of course, you’ve never heard of prior to this) and reveals that everything you just did was a dream. All of it, literally the entire game. It never happened. Since you die, Godman here asspulls the entire thing from existence, claiming that “you needed to know what would happen if you failed, so I made you dream it all!” I didn’t need to know what happens if I fail you absolute cretin, I saw an entire city overrun by undead and demonic influences. I saw the dead mutilated and desecrated along the streets. I know damn well what happens if I fail.

Oh, gee. I wonder what could POSSIBLY HAPPEN if this guy wins.

So the ending went from great, because we did fail and deserved a bad ending, to crap because it literally invalidated everything we had done up until then and introduced the mother of all deus ex machina delivered by a surprise Mary Sue that only shows up at the last second. So by now I’m annoyed. I liked the bad end, but my friend Tel said she liked that it was at least an in-universe explanation for why we can keep playing the game. Which is true, and while we both agreed it was a really bad way to deliver it, it served its point.

So we reload the game and spend the next hour trying to beat the boss, fighting an uphill battle against a variety of bugs. The most fun one was when my character lost all her skills, meaning I did no damage and was missing about 800 life, so I got gibbed almost instantly by the boss. Boy, that was so fun.

So after a lot of trial and error, we finally make it to the last bit, which is a dps-race against the boss to kill him before he can complete his super-spell to instant-kill everyone in the party. And this time we had everyone alive, which means the Warrior’s Berserker Rage on top of the Alchemist Adrenaline. For those that haven’t played the game, that combination got up to 17,000 damage in mere seconds, and we blow through the boss’ life bar like a hot knife through butter, until it completely disappears.

And he doesn’t die.

So he blows us all up anyways.

Now I’m absolutely seething with hate. That’s not the bad ending of the game, that is the default ending of the game. Now I’m raging non-stop over the phone, and this time my friend Tel agrees with me. This is the worst kind of asspull, where you can clerely kill the boss, you win, the world is saved, only it’s not because the game says so. So you fail, because the game says so, not because of anything you did wrong.

This is the worst possible thing you could do, because I really liked this game. About this time, I’d played about 12 hours of Wanderlust. Despite balance being knocked on the head, it was still fun. I enjoyed it greatly, right up until this, which instantly soured the entire thing to me. 12 hours rendered meaningless by the game, because “it was all a dream,” so none of what we did actually counted anything. 12 hours for us to get up to the end, beat the boss, and then get slapped down. “Nope,” the game says, “You beat it on the default difficulty. For shame.  Go back and grind a couple thousand more points so you can beat it on hard and get the real ending!”

Thats right folks, time to grind! And grind… and grind…

That is absolutely ridiculous. If you are going to give the player a bad end for playing on normal (which is stupid in and of itself, it’s not like we’re putting it on easy), then you better give a damn good excuse for why we can’t win. Because we shredded the bosses life bar, completely removed it, but he doesn’t die. Make him heal faster than we can damage, or gain a shield, or anything besides letting us ‘win’ before forcing a fail state. Give us an in-universe, justifiable reason for why we can’t win.

The other option is to not use your bad ending/ass pull as the default ending. It’s ridiculous that by playing on the default difficulty I’m being punished for playing the game. If we had knocked it down to an easier difficulty (which there isn’t, so this is even worse), fine, do that for us cheesing it. But not for playing it as you designed it. And I’m not asking for sweet sunshine and kittens everywhere. I like dark and bittersweet just as much as happy endings. Make all the heros die on normal anyways, but have it so they win the battle. Heroic sacrifice is an overused trope for random npc’s that we care little to nothing about, but incredibly rare for the actual player character. Make it bittersweet. Then on the next difficulty we live, but our companion/friend/dog/whatever dies to break the shield/heal/whatever so we can kill the demon without dying. Then the last difficulty can be all sunshine and rainbows. Make me work for the good ending because I want it, not force me to because you want to force me to play the game more.

So that’s how a good game managed to crush a lot of fun and sour a playing experience in about two minutes. Never disregard your ending, people will remember it. Often it will be what sticks out the most, you want it to be an important and powerful climax to the buildup over the course of the entire game. Don’t slap the player in the face for just playing it and not screwing up.

While I’m at it, I could probably write an entire article on why balance is wank throughout the game… there is a lot good there, it just has really bad parts that sour it. For sure in a day or two when the taste has worn off, I’ll go back to playing it. I just won’t be doing the last level again to avoid bringing the seething rage back.