Recently I finished Far Cry 5 and to not give any spoilers I’ll just say that the ending I wanted did NOT happen. Instead I was left looking at the screen saying that it was horse shit and the most unsatisfying ending to a video game since I completed Halo 5. But, as I thought about it more I realized that the ending for the game was set up so that the player would remember it. The unsatisfying ending made it a more memorable experience and overall a better story.
An unsatisfying ending feels like a cop out at first. The knee jerk reactions are that they are setting up for a sequel or that the writers got lazy and just let the story end without resolving the conflict that incited the story. I have a different view though, as I stewed with the ending of the game I thought more about how I would remember it as a story and how those mechanics could be used to make my own stories more memorable to readers. Not all endings should be unsatisfying because then no one will read it because every reader will leave the book feeling blue balled by the lack of catharsis in the ending. They are a great thing in moderation and can be used expertly in the context of fantasy writing.
Fantasy, whether high, modern, or noir lends itself to great story telling and some great unsatisfying endings. Leading with a main character and then at the end of the book with their goals almost accomplished a supporting character swoops in, kills the main character, and completes the plan because it was his all along. Or your hero is about to slay the BBEG(Big Bad Evil Guy) but unexpectedly the BBEG pulls out some trump card and overpowers the hero leaving him either gravely wounded and unable to stop him or dead as the narrative for the BBEG continues to show him ruling over the world, realm, kingdom, or universe.
These ending moments will frustrate readers because they will come out of left field and leave them staring blankly at the page wondering what just happened and they will wonder if they wasted their time, but if done correctly then as they marinate with the ending they will start to remember it as one of the best stories they have read in their recent memory. I enjoyed the ending to Far Cry 5. Honestly, I did. After the initial frustration wore off. I will remember it as great story telling in the game even if it was a little bit railroading in the way the ending happened.
But, I am always curious as to what you guys think of unsatisfying endings. Do you like them after the frustration wear off or do you stay frustrated that you wasted your time reading a story that didn’t end the way you wanted it to. Please let me know and I will be happy to discuss either view point.