The credits are rolling and you’re already choosing what to play next, but do you ever wonder if you’re missing something important?
There are very few certainties in life, but there are two things we can be absolutely assured of: Stan Lee will cameo in every Marvel movie for as long as he is fit and able to do so, and that movie will contain a post-credits scene that extends the current story or hints at what is to come. There is always a palpable burble of excitement around the theatre, as those who care excitedly point out (to those who don’t) that Stan Lee is the security guard or the mailman, but these minor titillations are nothing compared to the collective snorts of disappointment and derision from the faithful, when common philistines dare to get their coats and leave while the credits still roll.
Does the same phenomenon exist in video games? Is there extra-content light at the end of the lengthy credits tunnel that we have been missing all these years, and if so, have we been missing anything of great import?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
Some venerable series in the gaming world almost make a point of featuring post-credit scenes. Square-Enix’s biggest franchise Final Fantasy and its kid brother Kingdom Hearts are both frequent proponents, while post-credit scenes feature in nearly every Halo title – certainly every major release in the series – to impart some important information after the final curtain has fallen. In Halo’s case the post-credit scene takes the Marvel route; it usually focuses on completion of the immediate story, and often features a nod towards the next storyline in the arc. Prequel Halo: Reach delivers both to devastating effect. Final Fantasy on the other hand generally prefers to deliver a true epilogue – it’s hard to forget that moment from Final Fantasy VII, with one of our heroes looking out over a ravaged world that nature is beginning to claim back – it only lasts for a few seconds after seven minutes of credits, but it’s powerful stuff and well worth hanging around for.
Seven minutes isn’t that long to wait in the grand scheme of things, but part of the issue is the inconsistency, not just in whether a title will actually feature post-credit scenes – as few game (or movie) studios are as clockwork-reliable as Marvel – but also in whether the payoff ultimately befits the effort. There is an argument that credits should be watched regardless of any dangling carrot, to pay tribute to the efforts that went into making the title, but as a culture we are voracious consumers and by the very inclusion of post-credit scenes, developers are acknowledging they aren’t so naïve to believe that will actually happen.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow features an epic seven-minute post-credit scene, complete with Patrick Stewart voiceover, and this serves as a bombastic reward for a mere five minutes of actual credits. Assassin’s Creed III on the other hand has the player sitting through nineteen minutes of credits, only to furnish them with an inconsequentially pointless cut-scene lasting a mere two minutes (before its obligatory epilogue free-roam). The original Metal Gear Solid features a sixty-second phone call after a short six minutes of credits that is a major reveal and critical to the series going forward, but no other game in the series was given the same treatment. I’m willing to wager that many players, myself included, sat through a lot of subsequent Metal Gear credits in the vain hope this would be repeated – it was not – and once again, the risk/reward balance felt like it was tipping towards the unfair.
It is to be hoped that the playing community as a whole hasn’t lost faith in the post-credit reward, though, and it is Bioshock Infinite that perhaps offers the greatest treat for the player, with a masterstroke that really must not be missed. After an ending that can best be described as a twenty-minute playable epilogue – a twisting, torturous rollercoaster of revelations and emotions, complete with incredible Kaiser Soze moments and a trip back (or forward?) to Rapture – the completed game can leave one feeling somewhat spent, and rightly so. But if you can give it another fifteen or twenty minutes of your precious time then the payoff is remarkable.
Remember how the music through Columbia was something of a confusing barrage of songs found out of their own time? From the eye-wateringly stirring turn of the (Twentieth) Century covers of God Only Knows by The Beach Boys and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s protest song Fortunate Son, to the drips of Tears for Fears trickling through the tears in time and space, something simply felt a little off; at least until the quantum mechanics dynamics of the story were revealed. Of course it wasn’t as stark an epiphany as recounting all the would you kindly moments from the original, but for those of a musical bent who understood the anachronisms (and were perplexed by them by way of punishment for their wider knowledge) it was one of the more subtle and beautifully crafted revelations in gaming.
The one song that wasn’t out of place in its setting was the 1907 hymn Will the Circle Be Unbroken – it befitted the time and the tone of the game perfectly. What did feel a little strange though, was that Booker found the time to pick up a guitar, only to have Elizabeth accompany him in a sweet and charming rendition. Mid way through the credits, we’re treated to some backstage footage of the real life Booker and Elizabeth (Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper) recording their cover around a microphone, discussing the best arrangement and tempo as they play. At one point, a member of the production team asks them if they could try and be a bit less “excellent and professional” for the sake of the recording sounding more authentic – it’s a touching moment and is one of the best payoffs in the mid or post-credit world. That is of course, until the credits finish, and Booker wakes up at his desk to reveal one very special, very final part of the playable epilogue…