Last-Second Ending Choice

The Last-Second Ending Choice is a type of Golden Snitch that occurs near the climax of a Video Game, where a single choice made by the player determines the ending that they get, irrespective of the prior choices that they may have made during the game.

Considering that a Karma Meter is generally intended to track and rate the player's progress throughout the game as a whole, this can result in awkward moments where a character who has spent the game playing to one side of the spectrum makes one choice that earns them an ending completely at odds with how they've previously been playing. This also means that the player does not need to go through the game again with a different character of a different alignment; just make a save before the important choice and they'll be able to see all the endings, killing the replay value that having Multiple Endings would normally give to a game.

Note, however, that this trope can be done well, like any other. Some stories have the nature and symbolism of choice as the main theme, or intentionally set this up as a Golden Snitch to convey a certain emotion, thought, or plot point to the player.

A Sub-Trope to Multiple Endings and a Sub Sub Trope to Story Branching. Compare One Judge to Rule Them All, a sibling among Snitches. Contrast Big First Choice, where the story-changing choice occurs near the beginning of the game and may not impact the ending.

Examples:

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    Adventure Games 
  • The ending one gets in Azrael's Tear depends on which direction one goes at the last (physical) fork in the path, although at least one of those paths is only available if you take a certain other path a little earlier, and another turns out differently depending on whether you did a particular thing before arriving. Plus, only one of the endings is a "proper" ending; the others are essentially Game Overs.
  • Short of getting on the Golden Ending path, there are three basic routes in Killer Bear. Each route leads to a final choice that immediately determines which of two endings you get.
  • Somewhat played with in Primordia. While the availability of the endings involving the Thanatos virus, as well as the number of characters who show up in the "good" ending, are determined by the way you solved certain puzzles, the actual choice between the endings is this trope, as most other options don't have any additional requirements. The reason for this is that, ultimately, Horatio's own worldview by the end of the game is ambiguous: it is up to the player to decide which events and characters influenced him the most over the course of his adventures.
    • Special mention goes to the two choices that can significantly alter the "good" ending regardless of which way you get it, to the point of turning it into a Downer Ending. Near the end of the game, Horatio is given a chance to preserve Crispin's and Clarity's remains with the intention of eventually rebuilding them. Saving one or both characters leads to a version of the "good" ending with them appearing alongside Horatio in the final scenes. Saving neither results in depressed Horatio subjecting himself to Laser-Guided Amnesia and starting from scratch, with a strong implication that something like this has happened before.

    Action Adventure 
  • Bastion has two, one after the other. They're the only real choices you get to make in the whole game, which slightly justified as it's implied that the rest of the game was told as a story while the hero was actually in the final level (It Makes Sense in Context). At the end of that level, you can choose to save or abandon Zulf, who betrayed you earlier, and then to restore the world from a save before the magical apocalypse and hope it works out better the next time through, or fly away and try to find the Motherland.
  • inFamous. As the recipient of electricity-based superpowers, Cole has to choose whether to use them to help others, or help himself. Like all Karma Meter games listed here, your final karma, as well as the ending received, are determined by a specific choice just before the final boss. There's an interesting spin on it, though; the story event involved in taking the evil choice can leave absolutely no doubt about Cole's malevolence. Essentially, there is the Ray Sphere, a device that will rob the life force of thousands of surrounding people, then concentrate it in a single individual, killing them all while making that individual a Physical God. You may destroy it or use it. Even if you make this choice with full positive karma, the karma meter locks.
    • Inverted in inFAMOUS 2, where your karma actually limits what the final choice you make is. You have to be Good to take the good choice, and same for evil.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks has Zelda ask Link just before going into the final battle against Chancellor Cole what he's going to do with the rest of his life if they manage to reseal the Demon King Malladus. "Soldier", "Engineer", or "I dunno" all lead to three barely different endings.
  • The Bard's Tale reaches its climax when you are given three choices: Side with the demon princess, side with her druid captor, or side with yourself. The first two options result in a boss fight against the one you didn't choose, while the third option sees you getting drunk in a bar with some dancing zombies.
  • The ending you get in Dark Messiah Of Might And Magic is determined by two separate choices; one about 1/4th of the way through the game's last chapter (which determines which love interest you take with you into the finale), and one at the very end of the game after you beat the final boss (which determines whether you save the world or take it over).

    Action Games 
  • In Singularity, the ending you get depends on who you shoot in the final scene. You get your choice of ending depending on if you shoot one man, the other man, or both men.
  • In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the final room of the game contains two bosses. Which one you choose to fight determines whether you get the light or dark ending. The sequel doesn't even go that far. There is one final boss, and the choice you make after defeating him determines your ending.
  • One of the few exceptions in Star Wars video games is found in the first Jedi Knight, where the ending-deciding choice is made automatically based on your Karma Meter. Played relatively straight in the Jedi Academy, though: while it's actually a few levels before the finale, none of your behaviors prior to deciding whether or not to spare The Scrappy make a lick of difference.
  • In Spec Ops: The Line, the ending you get is entirely dependent on the actions you take after "Konrad" (Walker's hallucinatory object of blame) pulls a gun on you and counts to five rather than any of the choices beforehand. However, the endings are based on whether you think Walker is redeemable after all he's done rather than the developers' choice. Thus, the previous choices aren't there for karma points so much as for providing context for your final decision.
    • And in an aversion of Karma Meter, most of the previous "choices" in the game are anything but, resulting in equally awful consequences no matter how the player acts.
  • Battlefield 4 has you decide at the very end of the game which one of two teammates you are willing to sacrifice in order to destroy the Big Bad's ship, resulting in a Bittersweet Ending. If you don't do anything, both teammates live, but you get a Downer Ending.
  • In Hitman Codename 47, there are two endings to the final mission depending on if you hesitate to kill Dr Ort-Meyer or not, with the former being the bad ending.

    Flight Simulators 
  • The climax to Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom involves a face-to-face confrontation with the Big Bad on the floor of the Confederation Senate (starting with the third game, Dialogue Trees become an important part of the game between missions). Your dialogue choices affect the Senate's decision of who to side with. In particular, they will not be overly concerned with secret unmarked ships or advanced anti-ship weaponry, but they will be horrified at the revelation that Admiral Tolwyn was using biological weapons.

    Hidden Object 
  • Averted in Rite of Passage 3: Hide & Seek. If you've been picking selfish conversation options throughout the game, it's impossible to select the unselfish one at the very end, and vice versa.

    Point and Click 

    Puzzle Games 
  • The 11th Hour gives your protagonist Carl a single big choice after finishing the final puzzle, in which he's asked to pick between three doors. Or, more accurately, between three women — Marie, Samantha, or Robin.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • In the original Knights of the Old Republic, regardless of your Karma Meter, your final side is chosen in one action right near the end of the game, as is rather typical for SW games. (KotOR II does better at this, as it is based on if you kill the Jedi Masters, which is a major plot choice in each area. It's still possible to be "light" on the karma meter and go for the dark side ending, but much more unlikely.)
    • If you play a Dark Side character all the way through the game to reach the very base of the meter, go through the vital conversation mostly dark side but make the ONE vital light-side choice that pushes you up into low neutral, you can get back into deep Dark Side during the endgame and still get the Light Side ending with a pale, evil-looking character... not to mention Bastila apparently coming back from the dead, despite being killed in the Star Forge for DS points. Likewise, you can play through the whole game on the Light Side, make the one Dark Side choice, and get the Dark Side ending as a Happyshiny Jedi.
    • Of course, your Karma Meter determines how well you can use various Force powers if you build your character around using Light Side abilities and then suddenly turn to the Dark at the end of the game, you'll probably find yourself with a rather less powerful Sith Lord than if you'd been evil from the get-go.
  • In Jade Empire, your final alignment (and ending) is determined based on whether you kill the Water Dragon or not.
  • The final choice in Fallout 3's Broken Steel expansion basically sets your karma meter to one of two karma extremes depending on whether you Kill Sat the Brotherhood or the Enclave. Not that it matters much, since the game is effectively over the moment you do, but it can net you some otherwise difficult achievements with relative ease if you Save Scum.
    • The Downloadable Content increased the level cap to 30, and in doing so introduced three perks that allow you to instantly change your karma to Neutral, Very Good, or Very Evil. This is the preferred way to get those pesky "Get to level 30 with <Good/Bad/Neutral> Karma" achievements, since the check occurs only after choosing your perks.
  • Baldur's Gate 2 has the Trials in the final dungeon, where taking even a single selfish choice instantly makes you Neutral Evil. This has no effect on your reputation, however, but changes your ending in Throne of Bhaal if you play that one.
    • Throne of Bhaal itself offers a choice of two endings at the very end (after defeating the final boss). One is the same regardless of alignment, the other choice will vary depending on character alignment.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey gives you a choice of three paths shortly after beginning the final level, unless your Karma is very skewed towards either Law or Chaos, in which case you're simply locked into that ending.
  • Fable I and its The Lost Chapters expansion both have climactic choices between Good and Evil that the Hero can make independent of his prior alignment. In the original game, he can opt to destroy the Sword of Aeons or murder his sister to harness its power for himself. In the expansion, he can destroy Jack of Blades' Soul Jar mask once and for all, or take the Schmuck Bait, put the mask on, and promptly have his soul overwritten by Jack's.
  • Fable II offers three options: revive all those who died under Lucien's reign (good+ selfless), revive your sister, dog, and utterly nameless/optional spouse/children (good), or get a mountain of gold (evil+ corrupt). The good/evil bonuses are so massive that they can pull a complete 180 on any choice you made prior, and ultimately you're left with no middle ground or moral ambiguity. If you wanted to be neutral, well, at least you can pick the good end and go kill some peasants for balance.
  • The Mass Effect series uses this in each game of the trilogy, where the ending is primarily determined by a major choice near the end. Other factors in each game influence dialogue and exact events, but still focus on the two or three final options. If your Effective Military Strength is too low in Mass Effect 3, you may not get additional options.
  • Dragon Age: Origins bases its ending off of who makes the Heroic Sacrifice at the end of the final battle, provided the player didn't Take a Third Option. It's notable in that the choice is only available if you take a certain party member to the final boss fight, and if you don't take a romanced Alistair.
  • In Dragon Age II, the ending you get depends on whether you ultimately side with the Circle or the Templars, and it doesn't matter how often you've sided with one or the other during the game. It still all comes down to one dialogue choice in one conversation. This is heavily foreshadowed throughout the game: you can resolve most mage-Templar conflicts without picking sides, but you are always reminded that you can't please both sides forever, and sooner or later you will be limited to a binary choice and will have to make a stand.
  • Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War both have the ending you receive determined by a choice about halfway through the final level. It's egregious in Invisible War as the entire game gives you multiple choices to side with multiple factions, but at the very end the faction you join and ending you receive is determined by a 3-option pull-down menu at the Daedalus Hub at the very end of the game (granted, your earlier actions in the game determine which factions are shooting at you and which ones are non-hostile in the final level prior to reaching the Hub).
    • Partially averted in Deus Ex at least, in that the three endings don't correspond directly to "good" or "bad" or to one side or other, so you're not negating any earlier choices. Although, the lead designer has said that he was trying to invoke this effect deliberately, because he didn't want players to be locked into a particular ending based on choices they made ten hours previously.
    • Invisible War does have a fourth ending, with the prerequisite of getting Leo Jankowski out of Cairo before you leave for Liberty Island. He suggests you take out the leaders of all of the factions, leading to the Omar becoming the dominant species.
    • Deus Ex: Human Revolution subverts this. Two of the choices are invariably available, while the other two only require a short sidequest in the final level. The tone of the endings depends on how you've acted the entire game. If you slaughter everyone in your path, then Adam's narration will be detached and robotic, indicating he's abandoned his humanity, and he'll essentially state that humans are bastards and it's in our nature to destroy ourselves. Take them out non-lethally, and he'll be mostly hopeful, mentioning that he resisted abusing his power, and held onto his humanity despite losing (the vast majority of) his 'human' body; and he'll express optimism that humanity as a whole can do the same and make the right decisions for their own future. If you kill a moderate amount of people, Adam will be neutral, painting himself — and humanity — as a moral question mark.
    • The Nameless Mod also falls into this trope, but introduces more complexity. It essentially splits into two distinct storylines right at the beginning, but the choice on which of your current storyline's endings you get is determined at the very end. Thus, your choice in the beginning isn't invalidated at all. However, there's also a chance to Take a Third Option toward the end.
  • Star Stealing Prince: which ending you get is decided by whether you just rest up after the whole village has gone into the caves to find a boat to get off the island, or whether, before you rest up, you get Erio to enter your dreams with you so that you can take care of the demon possessing you once and for all.
  • In OFF, you get the decision to choose the ending literally right before the final boss where you can either choose to side with The Batter or The Judge. The game even tells you that the former is the "official" ending and the latter is the "special" ending.
  • The Witcher has the "Free Elves" quest at the end of Chapter IV. Geralt must choose between helping the Order of the Flaming Rose rout the Scoia'tael hostage takers, help the Scoia'tael fight off the Order, or Take a Third Option and just escape the village with Dandelion and Alvin, antagonizing both the Order and the Scoia'tael. Whatever choice you make locks you into that specific path (Order, Scoia'tael, or Witcher/Neutral) for the rest of the game.
  • Alpha Protocol plays with this. The game has three choices, all near the ending, which determine which of the four ending branches you'll get; however, all of them are missable depending on previous actions. In addition, minor differences in the ending occur due to various events throughout the game, but most especially during the final chapter.
    • The default ending ("Crime Buster"), occurring if you refuse (or don't receive) both Shaheed's and Leland's offers. In this case, you defeat Henry Leland and the Halbech Corporation, but Alpha Protocol survives and will never be held accountable for its actions toward you.
    • The first choice occurs if you let Sheikh Ali Shaheed survive early in the game, in which case he'll offer you an option to bring down Alpha Protocol and the Halbech Corporation. Should you accept, you get the "No Compromise, No Mercy" ending.
    • The second choice occurs when you finally come face to face with Henry Leland. If your reputation with him is high (which means you responded well to him in conversations throughout the game and completed your missions thoroughly), he'll offer you a job with Halbech and the chance to bring down Alpha Protocol. If you accept, this overrides the Shaheed choice and leads to two new endings.
    • The third choice occurs at the very end, should you accept Leland's offer. You then have a choice whether you want to remain loyal to Halbech and get the "Rising Star" ending, or turn on Leland, kill or disgrace him, and take control of the Halbech Corporation for yourself. The last ending is, appropriately, referred to as "Thorton Inc."
  • The ending of Dubloon depends on whether Russel saves his crew or the Golden Chest, a decision done right after beating the Final Boss.
  • Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World has its ending determined by whether you win or lose the fight against Marta and Lloyd following the actual final boss fight.
  • Tales of Xillia 2 does this for its normal and true endings. Which one you get is based on whether or not you have Ludger decide to sacrifice his life in Elle's place.

    Survival Horror 
  • Silent Hill 3 has a karma/ending meter, and one event near the end can give a massive amount of negative karma. You enter the priest's side of a confessional, and a ghost on the other side pleads with you to absolve their sins. It sounds like offering forgiveness would be the moral choice, but in fact the scenario is testing whether or not you accept the responsibility of absolving sin, the domain of God. Since God Is Evil in this game, forgiving the woman nets you enough negative karma to push you into the Bad Ending unless you are squeaky clean.
  • In Silent Hill: Homecoming, the two choices that determine what ending you get both occur towards the end of the game, although there is an hour or two of gameplay between them and the final fight. Interestingly, one of the choices is identical to the one presented in Silent Hill 3, except the game considers the "good" choice to be the exact opposite one: this is most likely the difference between forgiving someone who's wronged you, an act of humanity, and absolving a stranger of their sins, an act reserved for God.
  • Silent Hill: Downpour continues the trend of SH3's karma meter, but five of the six endings are entirely dependent on how you manage the final fight against Officer Cunningham. If you win, not killing her leads to ending A or B, depending on if your karma meter is positive or negative, respectively. If you kill her, you will get ending C or D under the same conditions. Finally, letting her kill you gives you ending F.
  • While the original Resident Evil was more of a guide-dang it when it came to saving Barry, the remake on Gamecube gives you a literal yes or no choice. Jill and Barry are cornered by a monster and you're given the choice of giving him back his gun or not. Guess which one guarantees his survival, and which one scores you a free gun?
  • In Paranoiac, saying whether you think the monster's real or deciding it was an illusion determines whether you will get the good ending or the bad ending.
  • At the end of most chapters of The Crooked Man, you have dialogue choices that give you a Non-Standard Game Over if you give the wrong answer. Ultimately this trope doesn't apply to the game as the whole, but to the individual chapters it does.
  • In The Witch's House, whether or not you go for the wardrobe that will open when the house returns to normal decides if you get the true ending or not, although really both endings are the same, all that changes is how much you know about what's really going on.
  • Corpse Party D2: Depths of Despair has one when Ayumi is given a choice between burying the black book or using it to resurrect the others at the cost of her own life. Neither choice is presented as entirely 'good' or 'bad'; it's more a matter of personal preference.
  • Misao: Who you choose to sacrifice at the end is the only thing the ending hinges on. Anything else done or said before is irrelevant.
  • Haunting Ground: If one wants to go for the worst ending, you have to have a low relationship value with Hewie. You can treat him like a king beforehand, but all one has to do to get the ending is literally Kick the Dog a few times just before finishing Riccardo's area, and then don't bother to save him in the forest.
  • Rule of Rose: There are only two endings, and it only hinges on one choice during the Final Boss; kill Gregory/Stray Dog yourself, or let them do themselves in.
  • Mad Father: The game has three endings; at two points, you have to make a big decision that affects the ending. The first is whether you Save Father or Grant Mother's Wish. The latter leads to an unfortunate end for Aya, while the former leads to another choice down the line; whether or not to save Maria; however, this second choice doesn't count, as one has to have seen Maria's backstory to get the choice.

    Visual Novels 
  • Unusually, this is the only choice the player ever has to make in Umineko no Naku Koro ni. After the climax of Episode 8, Ange is shown a "magic trick" and you must choose whether this is genuine magic (which leads to the Magic Ending) or just a trick (which leads to the Trick Ending). There will also be slight variations depending on how you performed in the quiz mini-game early in the Episode, but nothing significant.
  • Usually averted in School Days, as most ending choices are made by the final state of the Kotonoha/Sekai gauge, but there's a few exceptions:
    • On certain paths, Kotonoha is in danger of going insane and murdering Sekai. In those paths, there's always a last chance to appease Kotonoha and salvage her sanity.
    • One route has Makoto accepting advances from both Kotonoha and Sekai, resulting in a highly emotionally-charged situation with the two fiercely competing for his affections and Makoto stringing both along. Eventually, the two corner him on the school rooftop and force him to pick a girl to have sex with right then and there; this last choice picks between two VERY different endings. If you choose Sekai, she'll begrudgingly accept Kotonoha's proposed solution of an ongoing threesome, producing the game's best ending. If you choose Kotonoha, however, the emotional trauma Sekai's already been through (the shame of having Kotonoha seduce Makoto away from her with her more voluptuous body, and being coerced into a threesome with Makoto and Kotonoha) will catch up with her, and she'll run away from home, returning after 6 months living on the streets only to stab Makoto in the most heartbreaking scene of the entire game.
  • Much like most visual novels of its kind, DRAMAtical Murder has the choices made in the beginning determine which route the player ends up on; however, once the player is on any one route, the only choice that has any effect on which ending the player gets is the one made in the scrap sequence, which is always the last choice the player makes. With the exception of Ren's route, where a series of choices outside of the scrap sequence can lead to Virus and Trip's bad ending. The choices before then have no effect on the ending.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • Grand Theft Auto IV has a literal version of this trope. Niko has been working his way up to the top to get revenge on Dimitri for trying to kill him and his cousin Roman and towards the end of the game, Niko is asked by a mafia boss to make a deal with Dimitri for guns and other supplies. Niko is heavily conflicted by this and it doesn't help that Roman wants Niko to take the deal so they can get a lot of money and make life easier for themselves while Niko's girlfriend, Kate, threatens to leave Niko should he give into greed instead of following his heart. What you do here determines the final two missions and the ending. If you take the deal, you get a ton of money for your efforts, but Dimitri betrays you yet again by sending a hitman to Roman's wedding to kill Niko, only for Roman to be shot and killed. You then go on to find and kill Dimitri for revenge. Should you decide to go against the deal, you get to kill Dimitri, but then the mafia boss gets upset that you betrayed him, so he and his goons come to Roman's wedding to kill Niko, but they wind up killing Kate, taking away the one person Niko had feelings for and was happy with. The final mission has Niko getting revenge on the mafia boss.
    • Likewise, in Grand Theft Auto V at the end of the game, you're given a choice of who to kill, which determines the nature of the final mission and the ending you receive.
      • Or say screw killing Trevor or Michael and Take a Third Option, killing the ones who ordered you to kill the playable characters, as well as some other Jerkasses.
  • True Crime: New York City does a decent job of having it both ways. The ending you receive is determined by your Karma Meter, which is influenced by how you've been playing throughout the entire game. However, the game doesn't determine which ending you're getting until you actually enter the final mission area. If you save before the final mission, then spend some time grinding your Karma to the opposite extreme, you can see the alternate ending.
  • Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell ends with Johny Gat literally meeting God, who, in recognition for him beating up Satan, offers him a spectrum of boons: be reunited in Heaven with Aisha (his girlfriend whom he failed to save in Saints Row 2), become the new ruler of Hell, lead the Saints to a new planet to colonize (since Earth was destroyed in Saints Row IV), retcon the entire Saints Row canon from ever taking place, or learn the answers to all questions of the universe.

     Non-Video Game Examples 
  • The Matrix Reloaded hast this forced onto Neo and his predecessors as a Sadistic Choice by the Architect - Ending A where he, as his predecessors have also done, goes into the Source of the Matrix to give back the code allowing him unique powers in the Matrix and choosing 23 couples to repopulate Zion or Ending B where he goes back to the Matrix and every human in Zion and the Matrix is killed. However, what the Architect doesn't realize is that the choice was tampered with by the Oracle. Because she gave him a person to love, she gave Neo a reason to choose Ending B which no other One had, continuing the fight and eventually making peace between the humans and machines.

Alternative Title(s):

Last Second Karma Choice