One of the many (well, not that many) games I picked up during the Steam Summer Sale is The Whispered World. It's also one of the few (well, not that few) games that I actually finished.
I'd like to share my thoughts on its ending, but I'll begin with a spoiler free general review to help those that haven't played it yet decide whether they should do so first or read on.
The Whispered World is a Point & Click adventure. It's got beautifully drawn 2D scenes, interesting characters and good music and voice acting - at least in the German version. I usually play games in English, but The Whispered World is a German game and I figured I should thus play it in German.
The riddles, on the other hand, are occasionally not that good. The most important lesson I learned is: Always try closing the door. The game hides important things behind opened doors way too often. But even though I looked at a walkthrough multiple times - or maybe because of that - I enjoyed the game.
The thing I probably liked most and will henceforth discuss is the story. I guess you need a certain maturity to be able to appreciate it - I don't really think The Whispered World is a game for children.
So let's talk about the story.
Spoilers begin here.
In The Whispered World you guide the clown Sadwick through a beautiful world and get to know interesting characters. Early on you are prophesied to destroy that world.
A prophecy that is bound to be fulfilled. You're on your way to the king, trying to save him. When you're almost there, you cause the world to start falling apart. To stop it, you freeze time. Successfully.
But nobody ages any more. Nothing changes any more. And there's The Evil Guy. He planned an invasion of the king's realm. Change hurts him. With time frozen, he's god. Or pretty damn powerful, anyway. So you've kept the world from being destroyed at the price of The Evil Guy ruling... forever. You decide to unfreeze time and risk the world's destruction for a chance to save the king, hoping he can stop this.
But once you reach the king's room, it's empty. The only notable thing is a mirror. Looking at it, you see a little boy. He pulls you through the mirror. You're now between two such mirrors - one to the world you came from, the other to a hospital where the boy - Sadwick, you! - is lying in a bed, in coma. The whole world has just been a dream, based on a story your father read to you. (Hence the name.)
The boy urges you to return to the "real" world. You're given the choice to stay in your dream world which you know and love or leave it. (Apparently you're not actually free to choose, but I chose "correctly" so I didn't notice.)
Which, I realized, is just a metaphor for you playing the game. Which is brilliant.
You've visited this beautiful world, full of interesting characters, but now you've reached your destination and the game asks you to turn it off. You could stay in the game and keep things the way they were, but you know it's wrong. There's nothing for you in that world any more.
And it was bound to happen this way. By playing the game, you inevitably got closer to its end, the destruction of the wonderful world you visited. The story is over.
It's very effective. By (seemingly) offering you the choice to leave or to stay, it makes you think back to this wonderful world you've been in. I didn't want to leave. I liked that world. But I knew it was the right thing to do. It still made me sad. I wept. I'm not even entirely sure why, but I was deeply moved.
It may have made me question video games/my lifestyle... I'm not quite sure. Is spending time browsing the internet and playing games not somewhat equivalent to living in a dream world? Am I in some sort of coma, missing out on the real world? I don't really want to think about it.
But I agree that change is necessary. I should program more. Release some games. Advance. Waste less time.
It's a great achievement for The Whispered World to provoke such thoughts. I don't think it'll supersede Psychonauts as my favorite game, but it certainly has one of the best endings I've seen so far - in my opinion. I'm sure not everybody experiences it this way.
I'm glad I played it.