Temple Run. You could get caught by the demon monkeys pursuing you, or fall into a temple trap, or run off the temple itself.
In The Darkness II, Jackie finally breaks through all of the lies and deceit of the Darkness to find Jenny's trapped soul in Hell. He manages to free Jenny, defying the Darkness's warnings, getting a touching moment with the woman he loves. After the credits, though, things go downhill. The game makes the player let go of Jenny before she transforms into the Arch-Enemy of the Darkness, the Angelus. The Angelus escapes from Hell, leaving Jackie trapped there with no way out, and having the woman he worked so hard to save not only fly away, but become his most powerful enemy, deadset on killing him and destroying everything he has left.
Both Left 4 Dead games can be considered this, depending on how you choose to interpret them. The first game was originally four unrelated campaigns, each meant to be a different "movie" that the characters were in, each of which ends in at least one of the characters surviving (assuming you beat the finale). However, later-released DLC filled in the time "between" two of the campaigns — suggesting that the whole thing is pointless, because each time they're rescued, they only end up in the next campaign, no better off than they were before.
The Sacrifice has its share of Shoot The Shaggy Dog moments and aversions. The comics take place immediately after the crew is rescued by the military where they're kept in quarantine in a military camp slowly dissolving into anarchy, by guards who don't even know what Boomers and Smokers are. Also, it's revealed that Zoey had shot her father for no reason - he may not have zombified, but they took their cue from horror movies once he got bit. It ends with Bill sacrificing himself so that the other three can get to an island.
The sequel makes this explicit — the five campaigns are in definite chronological order, rather than being distinct "movies" like the first game — and even taken as a whole might still end up shooting the shaggy dog. In the ending to the last campaign, the characters are evacuated by the military, but various things about the city in the last campaign suggest that the military may be killing off "carriers" (people who do not themselves become zombies when infected, but can spread the infection to uninfected people who will become zombies from it), which may include the player characters. An alternate interpretation has them being kept in isolated quarantine and being subjected to medical experiments in an attempt to find a cure, instead of just being killed off, because that's so much better.
Eternal Darkness, being a Cosmic Horror Story, naturally has most characters' chapters end this way. Special mention goes to Anthony and Paul Luther's chapters. Anthony reads a cursed scroll intended for Charlemagne, and rushes to warn him of the attempt on his life. Not only does he get to Charlemagne just in time to see him die, but the cursed scroll is slowly turning him into a mindless zombie, and it takes hundreds of years before he finally gets a Mercy Kill. (Incidently, by Paul) Paul Luther is a Franciscan monk who had the bad luck of working at a cathedral taken over by an evil cult, and he ends up falsely accused of a He Knows Too Much murder. He manages to find the evidence to clear his name and implicate the Obviously Evil head of the cult (who is actually the game's Dragon-in-Chief in disguise), but he's forced to indirectly sacrifice the one person who trusted him, the leader plans to have him killed anyway and as he pursues him to "put and end to the heresy forver", he is instantly (and brutally) killed by the Black Guardian, making everything he went through esentially pointless.
The Tower Defense game Immortal Defense Shoots the Shaggy Dog with an elephant gun. At the end of the fifth campaign, after nearly a hundred missions of defending your beleaguered home world against increasingly impossible odds, you finally learn that the enemy actually wiped out all life on your planet at the end of the second campaign, your character has gone insane, all the "transmissions" you've been receiving from the planet were in fact hallucinations, and you've been defending a lifeless ball of rock. You can still play on in the sixth campaign, though - as an insane spirit in Pathspace gunning down anything which approaches your former planet, finishing only "At The End Of Everything" (that's the actual title of the last mission)
The game's creator has said that some or all of the last campaign is a hallucination, so the enemy isn't really wasting ships or lives at that point (it also explains how so many of the unique boss enemies reappear).
Final Fantasy XIII-2: Timey-wimey stuff cancels out the seemingly happy ending from Final Fantasy XIII. The plot of this game centers around Serah searching for her sister Lightning, who has vanished for no apparent reason. Various time paradoxes destroy progress made by the protagonists. In the end, Serah dies after beating the bad guy, the world is consumed by Valhalla, Lightning is crystallized, and the bad guy gets better. The next game pretty much confirms that XIII-2 ended with The End of the World as We Know It, it's just taken some time to actually get to the actual ending, but now Lightning's job is to save people in preparation for the destruction of the current world and the creation of a new one.
Terranigma. The main plot turns out to be one big Evil Plan on part of a dark god that made the hero revive a previously dead world, complete with human life... So that the dark god and its associates could conquer it. Once he finds out he's been the Unwitting Pawn the main character is reverted to a baby for trying to stop it, nearly killed by his own love interest and Exposition Fairy and just barely avoids death due to the sacrifice of his love interest. Then comes the part revealing that the new world and his own world exist in a cycle of death and rebirth where the rebirth of one world means the destruction of the old one: Foiling the plot and saving the new world from the dark god means he, and everyone he knows and loves from his own world, must die along with said god (and yes, thou must). This isn't the part that makes it an example of this trope, though. That would be the part where the hero turns out to be the Chosen One by the Powers That Be who run the worlds: He is reborn to do the exact same thingover and over again every time the cycle is repeated. And the cycle would only ever be broken if he failed. The game tops this off with the mother of all Mood Whiplash endings, where the protagonist is 'rewarded' with a final day in his pre-heroic existence together with all his friends and family, all blissfully ignorant of the fact that they will die at the end of it.
In Silent Hill, two endings revolve around the protagonist not being able to save his daughter at all from the great demon, and possibly only delaying the Eldritch Abomination from doing...whatever it was going to do.
In Silent Hill 2, all endings reveal the protagonist, originally sympathetic, murdered his wife and is being punished for it. In one ending, he commits suicide. In another, he takes the malevolent spirit who looks like his wife with him, with hints she will 'die' for the fourth time just as his wife did, and in one ending, he attempts a resurrection of his wife with spells from a world which would make Lovecraft wince. One ending, however, at least has him coming to terms with his inner demons and concludes with him moving on with his life.
In Silent Hill 4, one ending kills both protagonists horribly, one ending kills one protagonist and the other is lucky to survive, and a third leads to an evil genus loci taking over the protagonist's apartment, with who knows what horror to come.
In Silent Hill: Origins, one ending leaves the protagonist trapped in asylum-like surroundings and given sinister injections by mysterious hooded individuals, as well as strongly hinting that the protagonist is in fact the serial murderer known as the Butcher.
And finally, in Silent Hill: Homecoming, one ending sees the hero turned into a walking symbol of evil, one ending sees him drowned by his own father, one reveals it was all due to electroshock therapy at Bedlam House. Oh, sure, the series has a couple of happy endings, somewhere...
And then, the joke endings traditionally show the protagonists make it through all that only to be abducted by UFOs, rendering the whole nightmare they went through moot.
The story of Dragon Age becomes this if you play The Darkspawn Chronicles DLC (A what-if situation if where your character dies at the beginning and Alistair is forced to be the leader) Even if you play as a Darkspawn, the codex and ending tell how Alistair manages to overcome his leadership issues and awkward shyness and gathers the party and army without the support of the Warden, presumably kills Loghain and even start a relationship with Leliana...only for them all to be slaughtered in the final battle, making it all pointless.
Fenris can suffer this in Dragon Age II. He escaped from slavery, having been marked with lyrium tattoos that cause him great pain and resulted in his amnesia. During the years you have him in your company, he slowly grows from his bindings as a former slave, potentially with Hawke even teaching him how to read. And then Hawke can sell Fenris back to his old master, an act that leaves Fenris so utterly gutted that he leaves with Danarius without even resisting.
In Dragon Age: Inquisition, if you sent Isabela to the Qunari, Varric reveals that the Arishok's story ended like this. Somewhere along the way, he winds up losing Isabela and the Tome of Koslun once again and returns home to find the Qunari equivalent of a court martial awaiting him, who strip of him of his rank.
In Resident Evil Outbreak, if you don't get the antidote for the zombie virus, every character's ending ends with them dying. The best you can hope for is a glorious death, taking out loads of zombies as you go — and that sort of thing only occurs if you're playing the final level with a combination of characters that can't be set up anywhere but online. And since Capcom took their servers down as far as this game is concerned...
Taking out a bunch of zombies becomes pretty pointless too, when you remember that they would have just been destroyed when Raccoon City is nuked anyway.
Resident Evil 2&3 is this, as well as Downer Ending. No matter what you do, Raccoon City is doomed. You cannot save it.
The entire first third of Summoner consisted of you going through great lengths to gather and destroy four magical rings on the advice of your Mentor (a renegade ex-Watcher) and the royal house of your homeland in order to become powerful enough to smash through Murod's Orenian army, free Orenia, and kill Murod. Unfortunately, it turns out that the king's brother and the queen were conspiring with Murod and broke the siege to let in the Orenian army, destroying the four rings actually releases the incredibly powerful demons imprisoned within them, one of your party members was a partially unknowing patsy for this scheme, and your mentor has actually been Possessed by the most powerful of the four demons from within one of the rings since the start of the game, meaning that your ENTIRE game up to this point has been nothing more than the fulfillment of the villains' Evil Plan. This is made more exasperating yet by a Side Quest earlier in the game which would have implicated the traitorous brother in an earlier crime if the NPC characters involved didn't screw up their part of the operation.
The ending to the original Doom had the Space Marine escaping from Hell and returning to Earth... only to find that the demons he had been fighting have already invaded. Cue the sequel.
The ending of the first episode wasn't a bad example as well. After killing the two bosses, the Barons of Hell, the only exit is through a teleporter and after taking it, you get killed by a bunch of monsters, and, no, god mode will not help you. And the debriefing text afterward is so meta:
"Once you beat the big badasses and clean out the moon base, you're supposed to win, aren't you? Aren't you? Where's your fat reward and ticket home? What the hell is this? It's not supposed to end this way!"
The plot of Diablo revolves around a protagonist who seeks to stop the titular demon from destroying the town of Tristram, setting himself free from the cathedral, and leading his demonic hordes to destroy the world. In the end, he kills the demon (actually, his human host) and plunges the stone containing his soul into himself, with hopes that he will be able to contain the demon's power. All in all, a reasonable ending. Now, cut to the second game. It is revealed that he couldn't resist it. He became Diablo, destroyed Tristram, set himself free, and is now leading his demonic hordes to destroy the world. Well, crap. It was actually revealed that by the time you face Diablo in the first Diablo game, you're already under his control. The entire point of Diablo's plotting in the first game was for him to find a stronger host body. He reckoned, correctly, that any being strong enough to fight his/her way down to him, and then "slay" him was exactly what he needed. The manual to Diablo II: Lord of Destruction even points out how every time people thought it was over, the brothers just kept reemerging.
Bonus points for the Warrior protagonist, according to supplementary material found in Diablo III: he was trying to rescue his little brother, the cathedral drove him to the brink of madness, and discovering that Diablo's host was none other than his little brother was the final nail to the head.
The expansion of the sequel isn't much better. You manage to smash Mephisto and Diablo's soulstones! Except that Baal is still left unchecked, and he's figured out the location of the source of the soulstones, the Worldstone. Oh, and he manages to convince one of the NPCs to give him a Plot Coupon, meaning free access to the Worldstone for him. By the time you catch up to and kill Baal, Tyrael comes down and notifies you that Baal's corruption of the Worldstone means that the only way to prevent the entire Realm from becoming an outpost of Hell is to destroy the Worldstone. Not even Tyrael himself knows what will happen afterwards. All you can do is enter the portal he opens for you.
Zig-Zagged in Diablo III: Your efforts are eventually nullified or corrupted, but every demon you slay makes your character STRONGER. By the end of Act V, when Diablo is free and stronger than he ever has been, your character is BEYOND DEATH.
The video game version of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream was built with this in mind. There is only one way to win in any satisfying, "good ending" kind of way. Either you get all the characters to face their personal demons and die with dignity, after which four of them sacrifice their lives to give the fifth one a chance to defeat AM once and for all but must continue to forever roam AM's deceased mind to make sure it stays that way, or the lone survivor is turned into an immortal, hideous, miserable monster. And apparently Harlan Ellison, the original story's author, had initially objected to the good ending. And the part where the characters can die with dignity at all. In this sense, it's entirely true to the original story.
Kya: Dark Lineage ended on what seemed to be a happy note with the heroine defeating the Big Bad and restoring peace to the alternate world... until the artifact that was supposed to take the heroine and her brother home dumps them in a desolate world where it's implied they're attacked by a monster... this was of course supposed to set up for a sequel-hook, but considering the game's sales, it's in the same limbo as Beyond Good & Evil.
Chakan: The Forever Man ends like this: Chakan, a soldier cursed with immortality until he destroys all supernatural evil because he bested Death in a duel, never gets his final rest in any of the two final endings you can get. After he has "rid the elemental and terrestrial planes of evil", Chakan impales himself with his own swords, only to be brought back to life by Death and mocked that, since there are countless planets in the universe that still have evil in them and he can never visit them all, his task will remain unfinished forever. You then duel Death. Be defeated, and Chakan will lament that his final rest can wait as he is still bound by his deal with Death. Defeat Death, and the game ends by showing you an hourglass that never empties: Death can't release you if you kill him. Either way, the plot Shoots the Shaggy Dog by not allowing Chakan to die at the end.
In an old Bullfrog game called Flood, you guide your character Quiffy through 42 levels of platform trouble and reach an ending animation where Quiffy climbs up a manhole to freedom and is immediately squashed by a truck. He deserved better.
This is the first half of the 4th Fire Emblem game, Genealogy of the Holy War. Everything starts going south for the main character, Sigurd after he enters Agustria. He promised the King he would leave after a year; the king sent troops to attack Sigurd before then. Sigurd's friend Eldigan, a knight under the king, gets executed for questioning his actions. Sigurd's wife Deirdre gets kidnapped. Sigurd's father is framed for the murder of Grannvale's prince and Sigurd's wanted by his own country for crimes he didn't commit. He is offered refuge in the country of Silesse but he leaves after Grannvale sends troops in. While making a slow march towards the capitol, he watches his father die and finds out his sister and best friend (his brother-in-law) were killed while bringing reinforcements. When he reaches Velthomer, he is tricked into leading his small, exhausted army before Arvis's troops by being told the King knows he's innocent and that he can now rest. Arvis shows off his new wife, a brainwashed Deirdre, and orders his troops to slaughter 'em all. Arvis himself kills Sigurd via setting him on fire. But don't worry, seventeen years later all their kids finish the job.
Along with the Replacement Scrappy and Mind Screw issues, this trope is perhaps another reason why Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty received such venomous reactions. Everything that occurs only served to further the plans of the villains, the main character nothing but a pawn who isn't even sure if what he's experiencing is real anymore; and neither is the player for that matter.
The most blatant example is probably taking Emma to the Shell A core to upload the virus to make GW bug out. You easily spend at least an hour on the entire ordeal, including killing Vamp for the second time, trudging your way through tedious underwater segments, sneaking Emma past several patrolling guards, and then doing a 5-minute long Sniping Mission to ensure Emma makes it to the end. If she dies through any of this, Game Over. If she makes it over to Shell A, Vamp jumps out of the water and grabs her. He can also kill her for a Game Over, but if you kill him... he ends up having stabbed her anyway, and there is nothing Raiden or Snake can do to save her. And on top of that? THE VIRUS DOESN'T EVEN FULLY UPLOAD. The only tiny consolation to that failure isn't even found in this game, but two games later. Emma's virus corrupts the Patriot AIs controlling the entire world, slowly killing them...but it also throws them into a massive, bloody world war that only ends when they finally die.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is even worse. Naked Snake, after having killed his apparently evil mentor, The Boss, finds out her defection was all just a ruse, and that her death was all orchestrated just so the government would be able to access The Philosopher's Legacy, and that she will go down in history as one of the worst traitors ever, when she in truth loved her country, and him as her son. Meanwhile, the woman who he had fallen in love with, EVA, leaves him and reveals that she was just manipulating his emotions to deliver the Legacy to the Philosopher's branch in China. While he is awarded with a medal upon returning home, it is a hollow victory. It's no wonder that he became Big Boss and did a Face–Heel Turn.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker pulls out the nail in Big Boss' heart and drives it directly into his brain. The Boss WAS a traitor, but in service of her own ideal view of the Philosophers and what they could have been - uniting the world's superpowers in the name of peace. The American government effectively ruined half their assets trying to assassinate her without implicating themselves, from ruining their opportunity to win the space race, to risking the Philosopher's legacy (which the boss had under control) by provoking Volgin into firing a nuke, inciting a kill order on their strongest. Of course, all of this finally gets revealed to the information networks at large when Peace Walker transmits the data... which nearly pushes Snake to the deep end, as Peace Walker revealed that his role as a soldier was one big fat lie from his mentor. Then Pacifica Ocean zaps the nail until it explodes , threatening nuclear annihilation of the American East Coast as an opening move by Zero, all-but-announcing Zero's plans for world domination and the complete control of war itself. This is the final straw that turns Big Boss into the fanatic Big Bad of the original games. AND most of your assets earned in 3, Portable Ops, and Peace Walker get blown to bits by XOF just in time for you to play the final chapter. Enjoy!
The basic plot of Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant goes like this: "There's a MacGuffin hidden on this planet. The Dark Savant is looking for it. Find it before he does, and don't let him have it." During the game's ending, after you've killed the Dark Savant and finally found the MacGuffin, the real Dark Savant shows up, hostage in hand, and demands that you hand it over in exchange for the girl you met earlier. The game actually lets you choose whether or not to hand it over, but if you decide to keep the MacGuffin, he just kills your party and takes it from your corpse. If you agree to the exchange, he gives you the girl, you give him the MacGuffin, and he goes off into space, with your characters in pursuit. Either way, you completely failed in your mission. Cue the sequel.
In I Wanna Be the Guy, if you don't move out of the way out of a slowly falling apple at the end of the ending sequence, you will actually die, which defeats the whole purpose of trying to be The Guy in the first place. Also, you have to fight The Guy all over again!
During the fight with The Guy to become The Guy, it is revealed that, The Guy is your character's father. He killed his own father to become The Guy, and you are going to kill him to become The Guy, and in the future your son is going to kill you and become The Guy. Geez...talk about pointless.
One possible ending in Shadow of Destiny has the main character escape death and, in the process, realise how precious life is. It's all very heartwarming... and then he lies down to look at the sky and is promptly run over by a car. End of game.
Peasant's Quest (a video game spin-off from Homestar Runner and parody of old Sierra games) — The goal is to gather up everything needed to be allowed to go fight the dragon, Trogdor, and then get past the traps guarding the gate to his lair. If you fail, of course, you die. If you succeed... Trogdor tells you how impressed he is that you got this far, and then burnininates you because, of course, silly peasant, you can't defeat a DRAGON! Fortunately, you get a statue in your honor, so it's not completely pointless...
In the Konquest mode of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Taven and his brother Daegon are forced into hibernation for millennia by their parents in order for them to participate in a quest to stop The End of the World as We Know It. The quest ends up destroying his entire family, with Daegon being resurrected early and killing their parents and enslaving his guardian dragon for his clan, Taven's own dragon being killed to prevent his progress on the quest, and finally the brothers facing each other in Mortal Kombat (Taven wins, though he doesn't like it). And when he finally does complete the quest, not only does it not depower or destroy the entire cast, as the quest was supposed to upon completion, but it actually supercharges them, essentially causing Armageddon to happen faster instead of stopping it dead in its tracks.
The same thing effectively happens in the Konquest mode of Mortal Kombat: Deception. In both cases, the protagonist falls prey to an Evil Plan thus creating the situation of the main game itself.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin. The heroes fail to prevent the Big Bad from having his way and all of the Earth is destroyed aside from the city they live in which now hovers above the destroyed Earth. Maya, the Cool Big Sis, also dies because she gets stabbed by some crazy woman and all is lost. In return, the heroes get to rewind time so the event that started it all 10 years ago never happened. Of course this means all they did during the game was for no reason at all and it's pretty much just a big Game Over, please load your latest save (which was 10 years ago).
Persona 3's Bad Ending can be considered as an example of this trope. The protagonist and the rest of SEES not only accidentally release the Sealed Evil in a Can ( Nyx ) but then are given the chance to kill him while he's still in human form. If the protagonist decides to do so, The memories of the entire SEES team are wiped and they lose their ability to summon persona (Which removes the only chance they have of defeating Nyx). Not only that, but they also lose all their memories and friendships garnered during the previous year. The game then fast forwards to the end of the school year, which has the protagonist, Junpei and Yukari singing karaoke, drinking, and partying their hearts out, unaware that the end of the world is nearly upon them...
Persona 4's Bad Endings also count. Towards the end of the year, the team corners Namatame, who has kidnapped and thrown every one of the rescued playable characters into the TV as well as taking Nanako into the TV world, as a misguided attempt in saving them from murder. However, the fog from the TV world causes Nanako to fall ill and lapse into a coma, and starts to seep into the real world. At some point, Nanako dies, and the player has the choice to throw Namatame into the TV in retribution, or choose to spare him and get to the bottom of what's really going on. If you take the first choice, Nanako stays dead, while if you fail to find the truth, Nanako is revived—but either way, she and everyone else will eventually die, either being killed by Shadows or becoming Shadows.
Resistance 2. Your first act in the game is to watch the Big Bad make a shiny escape, and then lose your home base. Your second act is to lose your second base, but just narrowly manage to save the inhibitor serum, which keeps you from turning into something like the Big Bad. But that doesn't matter, because suddenly you're going from place to place without ever bothering to keep yourself safely injected. What follows is a series of battles that you ultimately fail to win each and every time. But that's okay. At the end, you've set us up the bomb, and killed the big bad of the game. You ride the nuclear wave out of the flagship, and land, albeit roughly. Too bad it doesn't mean a thing. Some big, scary floating rock now dots the atmosphere, Earth is still screwed, and to top it off, your hero has just turned. Then he is very shortly thereafter executed.
The original Alien vs. Predator game had a particularly scary campaign for the squishy human Marine. Having fought your way through the infested colony and escaped to the unsurprisingly infested space station above the planet, having beaten the inevitable alien queen, you just get abandoned. You've probably seen too much. Yay.
In an old Aliens 3 arcade shooter, the players take role of two prisoners fighting for survival as the Xenomorphs invade the prison. Finally, at the end, they run into the Weyland Yutani team sent in to retrieve Ripley. However, rescue is not high on their priorities and the Weyland Yutani thugs opt to just shoot the players instead.
At the end of Grand Theft Auto III, Claude, our hero is implied to have flipped out and literally shot the shaggy dog, i.e. Maria, who he went through all that trouble to rescue. This is one of the few times this is played for laughs.
The diamond subplot in Grand Theft Auto IV. Practically every criminal organization (and there are a lot) in the city gets involved in one way or another trying to steal a bag of diamonds the size of your fist. At the end of a long shootout, one of Bulagarin's men throws the bag into a passing truck full of mulch. Newspapers later report that the diamonds are found by a homeless man.
The homeless man is later shown in the ending of Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony, right after Luis lands in the park. He is later seen partying, though he strangely is still seen in his ragged dirty clothes.
Fatal Frame: Miku heads into the haunted mansion to find and rescue her older brother. With that goal in mind, she fights against ghosts trying to kill her, learns of the mansion's history and the Strangling Ritual, finds and fixes a mirror that ultimately closes the gates to hell beneath the mansion and manages to remove the Malice from Kirie's spirit and its possession of her brother. Then Mafuyu decides to remain with Kirie, so she will not have to suffer on her own anymore, and Miku leaves the mansion alone, now having lost her remaining family. So her entire journey ended up with nothing accomplished, except Miku now suffering from huge amount of Survivor's Guilt in the third game.
Fatal Frame II: Mio and Mayu get lost in the Minakami village, but try to leave. Mio fights off ghosts with the Camera Obscura, all while trying to protect her sister, who is being possessed by Sae's spirit and complicating things. In the end, they enter the room of the ritual and Mio becomes possessed long enough to strangle her sister and fulfill the ceremony. It wouldn't have mattered if both had become possessed upon entering the village or hadn't found the camera and fought, as the spiritual possession made it all null.
Fatal Frame V: Depending on the ending, Miu's route can come across as this. In one ending, she finally catches a glimpse of her mother, the one person that she's been looking for the entire time and her whole journey was for. But her mother can't give her more than this glimpse and disappears, leaving Miu alone again and her actions seem pointless, leaving her with nothing but a momentary look.
In Infidel, the Player Character solves an ancient pyramid's brutal riddles, defuses its Death Traps, and opens the treasure sarcophagus in the Burial Chamber... only for the room to collapse, burying him alive. This is arguably justified, as the Player Character is a greedy, lying fool, but is that really a consolation after solving so many Expert-level puzzles?
Trinity tops this. It's a 1986 Time Travel game that begins with your narrow escape from a nuclear holocaust, which surely implies that your goal is to prevent World War III. And you do eventually make it to the site of the first atom bomb test... but you can't change history, and history now includes nuclear extinction. You're in a Stable Time Loop, and all you can do is escape from the holocaust again ... though it's implied you'll end up back there over and over again. While you do prevent disaster from happening in 1945, the final line emphasizes that, ultimately, you are surrounded by children who will never grow up.
To be fair, you did do something good: you prevented the nuclear test. The explosions caused when nuclear bombs fell were from the time paradox you created. You're all still doomed, but real nuclear bombs would have been much worse.
Subverted with the release of the Whistleblower DLC. The player now controls Waylon Park, the man who originally sent the warning e-Mail to Mike Upshur that made him go to the asylum. Waylon's events begin several hours before Mike arrives at the asylum, but ultimately end up happening simultaneously. Waylon runs away from the insane habitants of the asylum, was labelled a traitor by the company that hired him, got beaten up and tortures, and almost got his nether-regions mutilated, but ultimately manages to get outside of the asylum and heads into Mike Upshur's car. Mike Upshur, now the new host of the Walrider, begins to stumble towards Waylon and the Walrider practically pushed the car through the gate blocking Waylon's road to freedom. Waylon manages to leave the asylum in a rather decently state and has his own, unbroken camera with a lot of incriminating evidence against the company. His story ends with him uploading the evidence to the internet, ready to destroy Murkoff and putting himself and his loved ones in danger of being killed.
Jinxter. The game begins when you are about to be run over by a bus, when you are suddenly teleported away to become one of the guardians of a mysterious fantastic world. If you save the world, they teleport you right back and you are immediately hit by the bus.Computer Gaming World labeled this one of the top fifteen worst game endings of all time.
Tenchu 4. Gohda castle burns, Kiku and Sekiya are dead and Onikage has (possibly) infected Ayame
The ending of the Hierarchy Campaign in Universe at War. Orlok is betrayed and killed, his rebellion accomplishing absolutely nothing except getting the Masari prince captured — even the major characters he apparently killed during his campaign turn up alive and well when it switches over to the Masari.
In Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time, Larkeicus spent 2,000 years planning a way to restore the crystals to the world, building a tower miles high to reach the place the cataclysm would occur. It then occurs anyway, only BECAUSE of the methods he used in the process, and since he's there at the time it ends up killing him. To top that off, the only reason it happened so exhaustingly high in the sky was because he built the tower that high.
In the "Sisters" mode of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Since it's a prequel to the storyline of the main game, the ending doesn't surprise anyone who's unlocked it, but it's still a kick in the teeth. You don't even get to fight Brauner or Dracula. As soon as you walk into Brauner's room, he takes Cutscene Power to the Max and vampirizes the protagonists in front of their dying father. You have no chance to avoid this in any fashion. Fortunately things get better in the main story.
Activision's Apocalypse. At the end, Trey has defeated the Four Horsemen, and confronts the Big Bad Reverend himself. But before Trey can take him down, the Rev blasts him with lightning and transforms Trey into one of the demons.
Chrono Cross retroactively does this to Chrono Trigger, by revealing that the kingdom of Guardia was destroyed, with most of the cast living in 1000 AD implied to be destroyed, between the events of the two games, the residents of the timeline canceled by the Trigger heroes were sent to the Darkness Beyond Time, and the first game's Big Bad took on a new, even more dangerous form. Whether these things render the entire plot of Trigger pointless or merely explore a darker side of it is up to interpretation.
Both ports of Trigger released since Cross also added extra cutscenes to further emphasize this fact: The Fall of Guardia did not exist in the SNES version, so the game never ended with "Unexplainable army kills everyone in Guardia including our heroes." The Dream Devourer fight in the DS version was also new and pretty much exists for you to fight, win, and then be told you can't win and get sent back to the past...thus Chrono and his friends cannot stop the horrible events in the future from happening let alone their own horrible demises.
Certainly not the case. The day of Lavos is contained and the "apocalypse" gets delayed from the Day of Lavos in 1999 AD to the Time Crash in 2400 AD. Civilization gets an extra 401 years directly because of Triggers character's actions.
Probably less shaggy then most, but the Dream Chronicles series of puzzle games have this sort of ending. You spend the whole game looking for your kidnapped husband and child, and at the end you're whisked away to an enchanted prison. After escaping from that, you get amnesia and forget you even have a husband and child. It's not the worst and these problems are quickly fixed in the next game, but it's annoying.
Life Is Strange becomes this in a nutshell. Everything Max did to give Chloe a happier life and keep her safe is ultimately for naught. Either Max decides to travel back in time and let Chloe die from being shot back in Episode 1, making all of her actions pointless or allow the tornado to destroy Arcadia Bay and kill probably the entire population of the town, which will lead to Chloe surviving, but suffering from Survivor's Guilt because she knows that her being alive caused the tornado to begin with.
The game Cyber-Lip is a Contra-style action side-scroller developed by Neo Geo. The story appears to be fairly run-of-the-mill throughout: the President orders two Bad Dudes to find and destroy the titular Cyber-Lip, a military supercomputer that's gone mad and destroyed a good portion of the Earth with its deadly army of cyborgs. Throughout the game you receive briefings from the President after each level on where to progress next. Once you reach the final level and destroy the Cyber-Lip once and for all, you receive a message from the President congratulating you on a job well done. Seems obligatory enough, being an arcade shoot-'em-up and all... until the player is suddenly hit with a Cruel Twist Ending when it is revealed that the "President" was an evil alien leader bent on world domination the entire time. The aliens apparently were the ones that caused the Earth's military technology, including Cyber-Lip, to go haywire, probably via programmed viruses or some similar means, and you, being the naive pawns that you were, went right along and finished the aliens' job for them: destroy every last remaining bit of Earth's defenses, allowing the aliens ample room to take over your planet once and for all. "The Earth is ours," declares the faux-President, and with an evil grin and a pair of frightening, red glowing eyes to boot. The End! No sequel was ever made, nor announced, and it is highly unlikely that one will ever be made, so as far as anyone knows, this marks the end of the heroes' feckless, fruitless battle. Now, just imagine the reactions of the people who spent quarter after quarter to get to the end of this game and defeat the final boss, only for their efforts to be greeted with THAT.
Baten Kaitos Origins has the story of Seph and his True Companions. First they try to save the village of Rasalas from Wiseman, only to arrive too late to do anything. Then they try to negotiate with Wiseman, who uses the opportunity to wipe out their hometown while they're away and simultaneously prove to them that they were completely powerless against him. This is something that Seph takes to heart after he discovers the results of the aforementioned act, and he decides to make a Deal with the Devil for the power needed to defeat Wiseman. Once they return, they find that Wiseman has taken over the minds of everyone in the world's largest city. As they are fighting through the aforementioned group to get to Wiseman, the Children of the Earth see the "senseless slaughter" they are inflicting, and decide to fix the problem by killing them. Which they succeed in doing, thus allowing Wiseman to escape completely unharmed. And the best part? The Children of the Earth had viewed Wiseman as a threat and were about to do the same to him before Seph and his true companions stepped in. Meaning that if they had simply done nothing, there would have been no need to lift the world up into the sky, Wiseman would have been killed, and they wouldn't have had to pay the price of their Deal with the Devil - because there would have been no deal. Every single one of the problems faced in both this game and the original Baten Kaitos could have been completely avoided. Sucks to be those guys, huh?
In Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, none of the game's three protagonists manages to achieve their objectives. Although main character Zoë Castillo manages to prevent a societal and technological collapse in Stark, she fails at her mission to stop WATICorp from releasing the Dreamer and proves unable to rescue her ex-boyfriend—worse still, she is placed in a permanent coma. Over in Arcadia, April Ryan is unable to prevent the Azadi Empire from completing their Evil Tower of Ominousness, or even figure out what it's for, and is left for dead. The third protagonist, Azadi apostle Kian Alvane, is arrested for treason by the empire just after he decides to try to convince its leaders of the error of their ways. While some or most of these may end up being reversed if or when the game receives a sequel, calling the game's ending a downer would be a gross understatement.
ObsCure II: Mei spends the first half of the game trying to track down her twin sister Jun and save her. When she finally tracks her down, the game lets you control Jun's escape attempts, only to have her brutally killed literally seconds after yanking that control away.Things go downhill from there. One by one, the heroes suffer increasingly Cruel And Unusual Deaths until only two of the original students remain, all their attempts to stop the infection from spreading fail, and the ending leaves the two survivors facing down a cloud of black spores implied to be surrounding an even more horrific monster than the Final Boss.
In Super Robot Wars Original Generations, we have a mechanical dog who eventually develops and feels like an actual dog. After spending through hardships that affirms that it has emotions and is like a real person, er, dog, it is captured and was about to turned back into a mindless machine again. Thankfully, the dog gained an iron will and it was able to escape that predicament and was on the verge of being rescued... only to be shot down dead. What's the point of having an iron will and all those hardships if in the end, it just dies like that? It seriously makes her whole development, and the buildup that leads to its iron will escape completely pointless. That dog's name? Lamia Loveless. Thankfully, OG Gaiden dealt with the continuation, and ended up resuscitating that dead shaggy dog.
Played straight in Batman: Arkham Asylum. At two points in the game you have to save Dr. Young, getting a Non-Standard Game Over if you fail. After you save her the second time she dies about a minute later anyway falling for a trap left by the Joker.
Poor, poorCharlie... His death was a Foregone Conclusion (in Street Fighter II, Guile's motivation was that Bison killed Charlie. Charlie's debut game was a Prequel with no Guile in sight). Charlie can never win. In Street Fighter Alpha, he thinks he's defeated M. Bison, but Bison comes from behind and kills him. In Street Fighter Alpha 2, a Remaquel of the original Alpha, he gets knocked off a waterfall in Venezuela, but only after getting shot by a Shadaloo helicopter. In the non-canon Marvel Super Heroes VS Street Fighter, he's been given a Face–Heel Turn and works for Shadaloo. Somehow, in Street Fighter Alpha 3, he's alive and well. This time, he actually manages to beat M. Bison...but Capcom fixed that by adding Guile to the home ports of the game and declaring his ending canon. In his ending, Charlie infiltrates M. Bison's base with Guile and Chun-Li, and while Guile and Chun-Li escape, the base self-destructs, killing Charlie and Bison both. What's worse is that Bison came back, while Charlie has been Killed Off for Real (or not, since Capcom loves Retconning this series).
At this point it seems likely, but definitely don't bet the dojo on it. Don't forget that Gouken, who was killed before the first game, and whose death was a huge turning point and defining moment for no fewer than three major characters, was brought back. And Rose. And shouldn't Gen have gently shuffled off long before now?
Come Street Fighter V, made seventeen years after Alpha 3, Charlie is back but things are still far from happy for him. Now going by the name Nash, he was crudely brought Back from the Dead by an unknown group, implied to be The Illuminati (who are even worse than Shadaloo). He's Living on Borrowed Time due to his decaying body and has new dark powers that give him a much more brutal fighting style. He's abandoned all idealism and morals in pursuit of getting revenge on Bison and is willing to kill anyone that gets in his way, up to and including his old friends and allies. And to top it all off his Heroic Sacrifice in Alpha 3 was retconned away in place of the Cavalry Betrayal he suffered in Alpha 2. However, the cinematic story mode has him go out on a high note. He eventually reconciles with his old friends, gets back some of his idealism and goes out in a meaningful Heroic Sacrifice that weakens Bison enough for Ryu to finish him for good.
In the Twisted Metal series, competitors fight in a massive demolition derby with missiles, blowing up opposing cars, monuments, and cities with abandon. The prize? A wish granted by competition organizer Calypso, who wavers between Literal Genie and Jackass Genie. It rarely ends well, though occasionally someone will wise up and turn down the wish.
The Futurama video game ends like this, as the playable characters' reviving device is destroyed, and they, who have traveled back in time to prevent the beginning of the game, are crushed shortly afterward by the final boss. And then, just when it looks like their actions had prevented the professor from selling the company, Mom offers him the sombrero he was wearing at the start of the game. Return to the first scene.
Dead Rising ends this way as well. The protagonist, Frank West, enters a shopping mall that later becomes overrun with zombies. Frank can go around the mall, gathering information on the outbreak and/or save the remaining survivors. Of course, it ultimately doesn't matter, considering Carlito has infected a bunch of orphans, given them all a serum that delays the growth of the larva that turns them into zombies, and had them sent to various orphanages throughout North America, resulting in the infection's nation-wide spread. The rest of the world is left alone, but it can only be assumed that some infected people will cross into other countries. But then again, there is the sequel.
Some of the first game's other endings didn't use this trope (many people who die from plot live). Said sequel make all of Chuck's efforts for nothing if you fail to get the conditions for Ending S. Endings F-B all end with Chuck and Katey dying with no chance of escape despite everything you've done. Ending A leads into Dead Rising Case West, so you survive there, at least.
Driver 3: Tanner shoots Jericho, but spares his life. Then Jericho gets back up and shoots Tanner, who is last seen flatlining, the doctors attempting CPR. The game wasn't received so well, then there was the In-Name-OnlyParallel Lines, which was the final nail in the coffin. RIP Driver.
But then Driver: San Francisco came out, which carries on this plot line: Tanner is in a coma and a great part of the game, if not all of it, takes place in his head while he tries to wake up.
Pirated copies of Earthbound give us a meta-example. You play through the game, which ends up being almost exactly the same (more enemies, though) and, once you get to the final boss, The game freezes. And then deletes all of your save files.
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume. Admittedly it's the Bad End, but still- the hero devotes his entire life to taking revenge on the Valkyrie for killing his father, making a Deal with the Devil and crossing the Moral Event Horizon to do so. Ignore for a second the fact that the Valkyrie only escorts the souls of those already dead to Valhalla, the Norse warrior's heaven. He finally achieves his goal, but then Freya shows up and reveals that the Valkyrie will reincarnate eventually, rendering Wylfried's victory pointless and his revenge impossible. He then gets sent to hell per the terms of his contract, having accomplished nothing but bringing the kingdom he was trying to protect to ruin. To add insult to injury, the epilogue reveals that the Valkyrie took a dive in the fight as an act of repentance, as she felt that Wylfried's Face–Heel Turn was her fault.
Halo: Combat Evolved has several moments like this. At the end of the first chapter, John dramatically rescues a marine who trips and nearly misses the last lifeboat; unfortunately, all the marines on board die in the crash anyway. In the third mission, you have the objective the objective of finding/rescuing Captain Keyes; you do so, only for him to become a part of the proto-Gravemind later. The goal of the second chapter, plus side-objectives several times throughout the rest of the game, is to rescue groups of marines so that they can be evacuated to a safer part of the ring, which is destroyed at the end of the game leaving no survivors (later retconned in Halo: First Strike to a single dropship of survivors).
In Halo: Reach, Jorge sacrifices himself to destroy the Covenant carrier... only for an entire fleet to emerge from slipspace. In the mission before that, you lead an attack on a Covenant base and have a ship destroy a spire that has some unknown purpose. As the pieces of the spire are raining down, a Covenant Supercarrier destroys the ship rendering the whole mission pointless. Also note as the game itself is a Foregone Conclusion, this was all bound to happen anyway.
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. Roxas's best friend, who has spent the entire game trying to figure out her purpose and later defy the purpose Organization XIII have engineered for her ends up getting brainwashed/reprogrammed, doing their dirty work for them, including trying to kill Roxas. He is forced to kill her, and when he gets ready for a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, he gets beat down by The Rival from the first game, gets his memory wiped so that he doesn't even remember his friend, and the stage is set for Kingdom Hearts II... where he is absorbed by Sora in the prologue. At least you knew (most) of it was coming, if you played the games in the order they were released.
Divinity II: Ego Draconis. In the end, it turns out you have been manipulated by the villain's girlfriend the entire game. You end up resurrecting her, making the villain invincible, and then find yourself imprisoned in some sort of crystal, alive and conscious to watch the world you tried to save burn. That's not even to mention what this does to the already trashed reputation of the dragon knights from their last accidental betrayal of mankind. It's probably a good thing you are the last one.
BioShock had an Alternate Reality Game for the sequel called 'Something in the Sea' who's main character became well-liked enough to be placed in the game. Many a fan cheered when they saw Mark Meltzer's first audio diary in the game recording his heroic efforts to rescue his kidnapped daughter. Not so much cheering at hearing his last...since you take it off his corpse...after YOU kill him personally...with his daughter a few feet away from his body. Because he had been turned into a Big Daddy by Sofia Lamb.
However, if you have a soul and rescue Cindy and you eventually get the good ending, then his sacrifice is not in vain. If you harvest the girl...well...then it invokes this trope.
Plus that means that the Creator isn't real, and you're NOT the Creator, which was the main gimmick of the series!!!
The American campaign in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, despite being a Pyrrhic Victory in the grand scheme, ended terribly for the perspective of the characters. Everything that Sergeant Paul Jackson does, from taking part in the invasion of the Middle East, trying to capture Al-Asad (and failing), protecting a tank as it moves through a hostile area and rescuing a downed Cobra pilot from group of terrorists is all rendered moot as you evacuate the Middle East. A nuclear bomb goes off in the city, killing your commanding officer, your fellow teammates, the pilot you just saved, and, eventually, you. Al-Asad runs away, and the actions of the characters are reduced to nothing more than another figure in the death toll. This is done to drive home the point that war is (if you consider the actions that you just took in the campaign) pointless. General Shepard comments on this in the sequel: "30,000 of my men died in the blink of an eye, and the world just fuckin' watched."
In the sequel, this trope returns in spades. Private Allen goes deep undercover with a terrorist cell killing hundreds of civilians in a Moscow airport - and then gets shot by the cell leader Makarov. When Russian authorities discover his body, they declare war on the U.S. Later, Ghost and Roach are dispatched to gather proof that Private Allen was innocent and that there was no reason for the Russia and the U.S. to be at war. Roach then delivers the evidence to General Shepard - who then shoots him and Ghost dead, douse them with gasoline, and set them on fire amid Captain Price frantically radioing in that Shepard is not to be trusted. If only this had actually worked...
Suikoden Tierkreis doesn't require the death of this particular Dog, but it certainly tries to bait the player into it. All but two Dialogue Trees in the game end with you taking the same path you would anyway, one repeats endlessly until you make the right choices . . . and one lets you determine whether or not to Combined Energy Attack the Big Bad, risking the lives of those who participate in the attack, with a "yes" answer being the default option, and a "no" answer being a declaration that there must be some other way to defeat him, with no indication you're doing anything more than denying what's necessary. Choose "no," and you'll later discover that he made the same choice against a similar foe, and every single one of the participants except him died. He was warped and twisted into becoming the villain he is now, and if you choose "yes," you'll follow in his footsteps, over the bodies of a hundred and seven of your allies (all of whom have previously been given names and personalities, and many of whom have had side quests centering on them!)
Even better; the protagonist of the first game? Takes the protagonist of the second game and goes on a foolhardy run against the Sith Emperor without making any provision to warn the Republic the Sith still existed. The Exile ends up stabbed In the Back and killed, lingering on as a babbling Force ghost. Revan ends up as a chew toy for the Villain Sue for the next 300 years, goes nuts, tries a couple of genocidal and incredibly stupid plans, and ends up being put down like a rabid mutt to prevent him from resurrecting said Villain Sue.
Killzone 2. All the ISA's sacrifices have apparently been for naught, as they are about to be annihilated by the Helghast's reserve fleet. Well, there is the threequel.
The old Amiga game onEscapee has a doozy. The main character has been sucked onto an alien world, survived untold dangers, and has met up with some fellow humans. All he has to do is deal with an alien blocking the hangar controls, and they can fly on out of there. After dispatching the alien, he returns to the ship...and it's gone. The crew mistook a brief lapse in his life signs as him dying, and blasted off without him. Not only is he stranded, but the hangar was rigged with explosives to cover the escape. He has enough time to let out some Manly Tears before everything explodes...
This happens twice in Dragon Quest V. While your character is a child traveling with your father Pankraz, you get the assignment to rescue the incredibly bratty Prince Harry. After going through the tunnel complex where he's held, you find and release him... but some minions of the Big Bad get the drop on you! Luckily, Pankraz beats them both handily. The Big Bad then takes you hostage and says that he'll kill you if Pankraz interferes - and revives his minions. Pankraz then gets beaten to death by the minions, and you and Prince Harry are forced into slavery. Ten years pass before the next phase of the game. Later on, you get married and have children - but the day after your wife gives birth, she is kidnapped! It turns out that the former castle chancellor is in league with the monsters. You eventually find him right before he dies from monster-delivered injuries. Later on, you find your wife - when the Big Bad turns both you and your wife into living statues. You are then stolen by tomb robbers and sold to a rich man - where you watch him having fun raising his child for the next eight years. However, you are eventually found and restored by your children!
Robotron 2084 is an Endless Game that can't technically be won, then the sequel, Blaster retroactively shoots the shaggy dog, since it is revealed that the last human family has in fact been killed.
The fifth ending of Drakengard, which is only unlocked after 100% Completion (keep that in mind). After spending the entire game trying — and failing — to protect the seals that will prevent The End of the World as We Know It (all of whom are destroyed off-screen no matter what you do), Caim and Angelus manage to face down Manah. Before anyone can do anything, Manah is crushed and killed by her own brother, causing the destruction of the fortress you were all in that kills Caim's sister, Furiae (again off-screen). Manah's death and the destruction of the seals and Barrier Maiden angers The Watchers, who decide to enter the world and destroy it. After losing the rest of the party against The Watchers in a series of Senseless Sacrifices, Caim and Angelus engage the leader of the Watchers and both of them are transported into another dimension for a climactic final showdown... The 'other dimension' turns out to be modern-day Tokyo. After a grueling Bonus Boss fight, the Watcher leader finally gives up the ghost. At which point Caim and Angelus are instantly and anticlimactically shot down and killed by a JSDF jet fighter in the closing cutscene. DRAKENGARD!
These events cause the magical plague that nearly destroys humanity in NieR. That game ends with the title character destroying humanity's only hope of recovering from the disease.
And in the sequel to the "A" ending of Drakengard, Drakengard 2, also does this in its Ending A. The entire game is spent destroying the districts that essentially form the seals that bind Angelus, Caim's dragon from the first game. After destroying the dragon and launching the world into an apocalypse extremely similar to that of the first game (following Furiae's death), they realize that they have to make another goddess seal... so they place Eris as the goddess seal and the districts are remade. That basically means that the seals you've worked so hard throughout the game and killed a ton of people for the sake of destroying? They all have to be rebuilt to make Eris's burden more tolerable.
And it get's worse. The official timeline reveals that the previously mentioned Drakengard Ending E, is not another dimension, but the future of Ending C from Drakengard 2, meaning the bittersweet ending they achieved still ends with humanity wiped out.
And then there is Drakengard 3 where in all but one ending, Zero fails to destroy the flower and ends up losing either her life, Mikhail or her sanity.
The ending to Red Dead Redemption. Despite all the hardships John Marston had to go through to kill his partners in his old gang for the US government in order to get his family back, he's still gunned down by the government official that got him into the whole mess in the first place. Worst of all, John's son, Jack, dedicates the rest of his life to be a wandering gunslinger like his father in order to avenge his death, something John explicitly never wanted his son to be.
Almost all the Stranger side missions also fit - the majority of them end tragically, no matter what you do.
The [adult swim] flash game Corporate Climber goes somewhere between this, Karmic Death, and Eternal Recurrence. Promoted from "peon" steadily on upwards, you're often given dubiously ethical tasks (for instance, as a CFO you're ordered to "Cook the books" by throwing them into a fire.) As a board member your only assignment is to "Live it up," but once you're promoted to president you "Pay the piper," thrown out the window by all the people you've wronged. If you want, you can go to hell from here, but you can also return to Earth as a peon and start all over.
Ending 5, "Knife". After finding door 9, Junpei and the others backtrack to find Clover. While searching, Junpei finds Lotus stabbed to death and is himself stabbed moments later. Though Junpei sees his killer, the player doesn't, leaving the player with no real understanding of the plot and no idea as to who the killer is.
Ending 6, "Submarine", You walk into the main hall, and see Ace, Santa, and Clover on the staircase, covered in blood. Along with Seven and Lotus, you flee through a series of rooms, which had been unlocked, util you reach the Sun Room. Akane lay dead, and you find the dead bodies Seven and Lotus. With all of the others presumably dead, you run over and examine a strange submarine bobbing on the water. Then... you are stabbed and die, with all of your questions unanswered, and much more mysteries apparent.
One Chance: Possibly the most depressing game ever. The best ending you can hope for is only your wife, coworkers, and most of the world dying. And you can't play again until you empty your cookies folder.
Mondo Medicals. You wander through the corridors (of the eponymous facility?), solving your way past mind-boggling obstacles and generally being confused and creeped out, and at the end - instead of any answers at all - you get a sudden bullet in the head.
In Radiant Silvergun, our heroes are powerless to stop the Stone-Like from wiping out human kind. The Creator robot creates clones of Buster and Reanna, but dies before he can warn them of the future. Thus, humanity is doomed to repeat the cycle, and will never learn the error of their ways.
The PlayStation FPS Codename: Tenka: The main character is an honest citizen who has worked many years to get off a ravaged Earth, only to find that the colony he has chosen is run by a Mega Corp. that use its inhabitants to manufacturate mindless war cyborgs. He narrowly escapes being turned into one and wages war with the guidance of a rogue AI in order to escape the colony. After destroying countless assets of the Mega Corp., his "reward" is being killed by the AI, who no longer needs him.
The ending of The Treasure of Usas (for the MSX) involves the two protagonists placing the four jewels they painstakingly fought to obtain on the forehead of the statue of the titular goddess only for it to obliterate our protagonists with a giant explosion. In the Japanese version, it was explained as being the fuse for a nuclear bomb built by an ancient civilisation, and that it's switch was the jewels. There is no such explaination in the PAL version.
In stark contrast to the rest of the Suikoden series' normal endings, the normal ending for Suikoden 2 ends with Riou losing everything he ever cared for (his hometown, his sister and his best friend, the latter by his own hand), all his victories rendered hollow, and forced into a position he never asked for nor wanted as a figurehead ruler. The game ends with the not so subtle implication that Riou becomes a broken, bitter man whose status will likely be taken advantage of by ambitious advisers and generals...after all, what point was there to stop Luca and the Beast Rune, if in the end you become far worse off than you were before?
More of a YMMV instance due to optional dialogue somewhat allowing you change Riou's perspective, even seemingly to the point of making him committed to leading the Country. Thus, making him comparable to Jowy.
The ending of DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu. Next EXY went back in time in order to destroy the DonPachi Corps and prevent the events of DoDonPachi dai ou jou from happening. But in doing so, she ends up causing the events of DOJ—Colonel Longhena is appointed the commander of DonPachi, and the Blissful Death Wars happen anyway. Simply put, the entire plot of DFK was absolutely pointless.
"How long would this endless series of conflicts continue..."
Dead Nation at the end everybody dies and there is no cure, so really why did you play it? Oh yes the scores and the fun.
Dead Island pulls this twice in the final few minutes. First, the voice (a Marine Colonel) guiding you to find a cure for the disease gasses you, leaves you for dead, steals the cure, and calls in an order to bomb the island - making all the work you did getting survivors to shelters and gathering medical supplies for them completely irrelevant. Second, when the Colonel gets bitten by his zombified wife, he uses the only vial of the cure (which you spent a good chunk of the game buying time for the scientists to develop) on himself - which doesn't work and turns him into the final boss.
The "Relinquish" Bad End in Vacant Sky, which requires completing the final dungeon without your other party members and minus a few skill upgrades you'd normally get right before entering, a task far harder than obtaining either of the "good" endings. Auria kills the villain in a cutscene, but not before he uses his power to make her perceive that she dies immediately afterward, despite being immortal. Nothing is done to stop Halo Locks from being restored and killing countless people; not only is this the only ending where that happens but it would in fact fail to happen had you lost the game anywhere except the final boss, as the villain's plan hinged on getting Auria to the bottom of the final dungeon. But wait, there's more! This is also the only one of the three main endings in which Vastale does not die and nothing at all is done to even slow down the Virad menace, and it's likely that Vel never wakes from her coma. That's what you get for intentionally violating the story's Aesop.
An In-Universe example happens in The World Ends with You - Neku wins his first Game, Shiki is picked to come back to life, and everything is happy.... but, really, you didn't expect the game to be that easy to win, did you? Not only can Neku not come back to life because only one person may be reborn each Game, The Conductor explains that because Shiki became the most important thing in the world to Neku, she's been taken as his Entry Fee. Everything Neku worked for during the first Week is negated. It gets even worse when, at the end of the second Week, The Conductor uses an equally trumped-up excuse to not only take away Neku's victory, but make it as if the second Week never even happened. When Neku learns, at the end, that these were all created because Kitaniji literally could not bring him back, and everything he thought he was playing for is a lie, he is, understandably, upset. Neku even lampshades this at one point during the third Week, where he's given up on the Game entirely - he tells Beat that even if he won, Kitaniji would just come up with a stupid excuse to disqualify him. When, after the last events of the game, The Reveal (and a doozy it was), and his apparent loss and (second) death at the hands of Joshua, he believes everything to have been in vain, he wakes up in the exact manner he does at the beginning of each Game, in the Scramble, leading to believe he has to play again. His literal "What the HELL!?" is big enough to have almost become a meme in itself. Of course, the game itself isn't an example, and in fact, is the complete opposite - if it weren't for Neku, his growth as a character, and all of his and his partners' actions, Shibuya would either be destroyed, under the complete control of Kitaniji, or ruled by Minamimoto, and he does get to come back to life at the end and reunite with all of his friends...except one.
This is part of James Vega's backstory in Mass Effect 3. On a mission against the Collectors (the big threat from the previous game) gone FUBAR, he had to choose between keeping his team alive or getting out with intel the Alliance could use to stop the Collectors once and for all. He chose the intel, only for Shepard's team to take out the Collectors themselves before any good could come of it.
This serves as the inspiration for the animated movie, Mass Effect: Paragon Lost. While not cruel enough to let us see the ultimate Downer Ending where it turns out the information that James Vega saved was useless, it's still wince-inducing to watch for anyone who's played the game it serves as a prequel to.
The original, controversial Mass Effect 3 ending shot the shaggy dog in the fridge, as it included the destruction of the Mass Relays. Problem is, earlier games established that destroying a Mass Relay causes an Earth-Shattering Kaboom, and everywhere you've been in the game probably had one handy.. so everything you've done in the game? It's all just been destroyed. The ending rebrand changed this to just damaging the Mass Relays, so the planets aren't destroyed.. well, not instantly, as they're probably doomed to slow death due to the loss of their critical trade network.
Fragile Dreams has the protagonist searching for the first survivor he's seen since setting out, find out there's others elsewhere in the world, stop a second apocalypse, and then go off to look for the survivors with the girl he spent most of the game chasing after. The last part is ruined because a narration from the older protagonist reveals that said girl died before him and he is alone when he dies.
Conker's Bad Fur Day. All the titular character wanted to do was go home. He ends up going through hell, and, at one point, his girlfriend is kidnapped. Then, when he finally finds her again, she's brutally killed right in front of him.Then, just to add insult to injury, he was actually presented with a chance to bring her back to life. But, by the time he realized that it was even an option, it was already too late. Even after becoming the king and basically ruling over the entire land, it's easy to see why he's so bitter over the whole thing.
Michigan: Report From Hell has Multiple Endings, but all of them end with the cameraman getting killed before he can reveal who's behind everything. The only thing your actions really determine is his identity and his reaction to the hell you've been through. On top of this, if you've been nothing but cruelthe whole time, in the end he claims to be the one responsible for the whole mess, and transforms into a monster. Thanks, Suda 51.
In RayStorm's 13-Ship mode, you stop the Secilian rebellion by plunging the entire colony into a gas giant, just like in the other modes. Unfortunately, The Stinger reveals that Earth got wiped out too.
In Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, win the last fight as Megatron and you both get sucked into a vortex that leads to Earth, along with your respective ships. Win the last fight as Optimus and you... both get sucked into a vortex that leads to Earth, along with your respective ships. The entire animation is the same. Yup. Doesn't matter who kicked whose ass; the war goes on. It's fairly symbolic, and not unexpected since the game is a prequel, but still kind of an 'up yours'.
The entire Ultima series can be considered this, if you take the events of Ultima IX as canon (which many fans don't). The Guardian, an interdimensional conqueror and your nemesis, is revealed to have been created from the Stranger's rejected evils as he/she underwent the Quest of the Avatar, meaning that countless worlds would have been spared if the quest had never been undertaken, and in the end you have to sacrifice yourself to finally defeat the Guardian. Also, Lord British admits that the quest itself failed in its purpose - the idea was that the Avatar would be a paragon inspiring others to lead virtuous lives, but instead the Avatar became a legend only appearing when some great evil was afoot, leaving people to lead their ordinary, petty lives since the Avatar wasn't someone they could relate to.
Spec Ops: The Line starts out with the protagonist and his squad looking for survivors in Dubai after it's savaged by massive sandstorms, and a military battalion led by his former commander, John Konrad, disappears. Unfortunately, Walker finds himself making things worse by acting like your typical modern military shooter protagonist a la Call of Duty in a game that serves as a vicious Deconstruction of the genre. In the end he's personally killed civilians with white phosphorous mortars (and possibly gunned down a few more,) single handedly massacred the battalion, doomed the survivors to death by dehydration by destroying their water supply, led his squadmates to their deaths, and then discovered that the former commander that he thought was responsible for everything was Dead All Along and that he was merely hallucinating him. He then dies in 2 of the 4 endings, with a third one dooming him to certain death anyway, and the final one leaving him alive but a broken shell of a human being.
The life of Mirmulnir, the very first dragon you slay in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Survives the Dragon War which saw the disappearance of Alduin himself, escapes the dragon pogroms of the Akaviri Dragonguards and their successors, the Blades, heeds the call of Alduin's return... and promptly gets killed by an unwitting Dragonborn and a handful of guards from the nearby city of Whiterun.
Potentially also the fate of Paarthurnax. After struggling for centuries against his own dark nature as a dragon, he could be killed by a Dragonborn simply because some members of the Blades cannot accept the existence of a benevolent dragon. Even one who has become The Atoner for his part in the war.
A heavily implied example would be Dark Souls as there are two endings. As it turns out, both Primordial Serpents, Kingseeker Frampt and Darkstalker Kaathe were witholding the full truth from the Chosen Undead: by rekindling the First Flame, the chain of the undead coming back to life will not be stopped, and the Age of Fire will definitely come to an end. By leaving, the Age of Fire ends, and the Age of Dark (aka the Age of Man) begins, but from what can be seen from what happened to Oolacile, mankind may not even survive. As such, it becomes a wonder if the world will ever become better than it was before.
The story of Dark Souls II becomes this for the King Vendrick. He was once a chosen Undead who fought and defeated the four great souls of his time and obtained the eternal flame and created a mighty kingdom. He soon learned of the curse of the undead and tries to prevent it without sacrificing himself. While doing this, he soon meets a woman from a distant land who tells him of a threat by giants across the sea. Vendrick invades the giants land; gives them a sound defeat and steals a powerful item that lets him create life out of stone and mud. he marries the Mysterious Woman, making her his queen and builds a castle in her honor. Meanwhile he takes the item and creates all kinds of wonders, trying to prevent the curse of the undead. Even creating a clone of the ancient dragon, and a human firekeeper based off the DNA of the ancient dragon. However, none of this works. Vendrick soon finds out that the woman he married was Evil All Along and spends his last efforts trying to prevent her from obtaining the eternal flame, and at the same time gets invaded by vengeful Giants that ultimately sack many parts of his kingdom. Vendrick ends up locking himself away with his most trusted knights and eventually goes hollow.
Mercedes' storyline in Odin Sphere ultimately becomes this after Armageddon. Her book has her becoming queen of the fairies after the death of her mother and having to prove herself, overcoming a rebellion by her cousin and eventually leading the fairies to victory against Odin. Then Armageddon happens and Onyx burns down Ringford Forest and drives the fairies to extinction, while Mercedes (after finding out that her love interest Ingway died before she could meet him again) dies in battle against him, bemoaning that she'd failed her people (though she at least gets to take Onyx down with her, and her Pyrrhic victory does ultimately ensure that somebody survives Armageddon.)
A partial example with Alundra. While the main conflict is against the God of Evil Melzas, you also spend most of the game trying to save the people of Inoa from horrible, lethal nightmares. By the end of the game, none of them survive anyway, as even the ones you save are eventually killed when the Murgg burn down Inoa.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is all about the futility of vengeance and violence. None of the cast members achieve anything of significance, most of them are killed by one another, and events taking place entirely off-screen result in the remaining characters being killed in a full-scale nuclear war. With the futility of violence being a core theme, it was already expected things would end poorly, but just how incredibly wrong it all goes still packs a punch.
In Star Trek Online, there's the Romulan character Taris (who was only seen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Contagion"). After being (supposedly) tricked by Hakeev in using a device that ended up triggering the Hobus supernova that destroyed Romulus and Remus, she goes to great lengths in order to find the Iconians with the intent on getting them to go back in time and stop it from happening. In the mission "Uneasy Allies", Sela confronts Taris and calls her a bigger fool than she thought for the idea, pushing her off a ledge and declaring as she falls that the Iconians would never do that and that, even if they could, time travel fries their minds.
This trope is at the utter core of the Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy afflicting the BlazBlue series, as many of the things done by the protagonists are used as openings for the villains to make things worse; in particular, there is not a single damn thing Ragna the Bloodedge (the series' main protagonist, we should inform you) has ever accomplished that wasn't used to hurt him in turn. He attempts to defeat Nu in Kagutsuchi? She impales him anyway and drags into the cauldron. Noel stops him from falling in and ends the depressing timeloop that would have resulted, but Yuuki Terumi uses that to kickstart his plans to destroy the Master Unit. Ragna tries to fight Terumi? Terumi jams Ragna's Azure Grimoire and puts him at a disadvantage. Ragna beats the shit out of Terumi after Lambda's Heroic Sacrifice? Terumi wanted to die so he could infiltrate and lobotomize Takamagahara, and Relius finishes him off so he can. Ragna fights Mu-12 and reverts her to her "incomplete" state as Noel? The window of opportunity Terumi needed to do the job. Ragna fights Nu at Ibukido and holds his ground without the Azure Grimoire? Izanami uses Takamagahara to jam it and push the fight to a stalemated deathmatch. Ragna, Jin and Noel decom Take-Mikazuchi with Ragna later beating Nu with the Grimoire turned off? Izanami reanimates Nu, merges her with Ragna (like what Ragna was trying to avoid in Kagutsuchi), and he can only keep himself from outright killing his two colleagues, with Noel injured and Jin beaten to an inch of his life. And that is not including all the crap he goes through on the way, like getting carved by Carl and Ada, being conned out of what little money he has by Tao and Platinum (the former has no idea the meaning of money, to her only credit), getting pwned by Kagura with Celica in proximity, getting smacked down by Jin, and nearly losing control over his Azure Grimoire when facing Azrael. There are very, very few who haven't jumped ship or started mocking the games' story that don't wish he could just get something resembling a break from all of it, one which preferably doesn't involve his death.
Those few people instead treats this whole event as merely the Darkest Hour of the series, and patiently waits for the next series for the chance of the one light waiting at the tunnel, the series and saga did not end at Chronophantasma after all. Those who don't...
Leon's Side in the remake of Tales of Destiny. You get to play through the story as Leon Magnus, work through his trust issues, and finally get Marian's full approval, only for Hugo to still manipulate him with ease and force him to steal the Eye of Atamoni (and beat him into a coma), then have him betray the rest of the party. And he still dies for all the character growth he's been through. In fact, it's probably even more of a Player Punch than fighting Leon was in the first place, because now the game makes an actual effort to make you like the guy.
The 2015 sci-fi/horror FPS Solarix starts off dark enough with you being stranded on a far away ruined base on an alien planet being all but decimated by a rampart infection, but goes full on STSD by the end. By the end of the game, not only do you fail to synthesise a cure, but EYE openly mocks you for thinking that there was ever any hope. Your other companion Betty is revealed to not only be nothing more than a voice on your head, but a women you killed in a mental breakdown. Literally every other person, named or otherwise either dies from the infection or gets turned into a feral zombie. The only reason you survived for so long is because you were in stasis from the aforementioned incident and were the only other person your AI companion AMI could turn to for help (she even states in an audiolog that she greatly fears you). Your attempt to stop EYE fails miserably because not only does AMI senselessly sacrifice herself to try and take out EYE from within, EYE even tells you that there are thousands of copies of him below the surface of the planet, meaning that you were doomed from the start. At the end of the game, everyone is dead, the ship is destroyed and you neatly conclude the game by committing suicide by jumping off the ruined ship and into the endless void of space. But hey, at least you prevented the infections from getting to Earth right?
Dying Light ends on a positive note. Rais, the ruthless leader of an army terrifying the survivors is dead. His army is in shambles and Kyle is confident that a cure will soon be created based on the research he discovered. Then comes the DLC follow upThe Following. The research doesn't amount to anything. Many of the survivors of the main game are now dying one after the other. Kyle learns of a group that is able to not be infected by the Zombie outbreak and goes to their land out of a desperate attempt to save the remaining survivors. He discovers in the end that their is no cure, a screen prompt makes it clear that the survivors are dying, and the Rais army is still a threat and being led by a man Kyle meets at the beginning of the DLC. Not to mention the one person he hoped to get help from goes Ax-Crazy and tries to kill Kyle if he doesn't cooperate. She makes it clear that he is already exposed to the Zombie virus and the so called cure only makes people an intelligent version of a Zombie. In the end, Kyle has two choices: Nuke the whole area killing everyone, or kill the person and become a monster literally, making his whole struggle throughout the game pointless.
Wick pretty much becomes this after 5 am when it's revealed that you didn't survive the last six hours.
In the end of To the Moon, one of the main characters, River sacrificed her life for nothing. She denied treatment hoping that Johnny would eventually remember how they met by using the money to finish building the house. When given the chance to help him remember, Eva instead decided to wipe all of Johnny's memory of his wife, turning every effort and sacrifice River made to remind him utterly pointless.
In the Final Decision of Zero Time Dilemma, the only way for the group to save themselves is to swap places with a version of themselves in an alternate timeline where they escaped Zero's hellish puzzle box unscathed. They'll escape, but the only version of themselves that actually had a happy ending will be doomed to a horrible death in their place and never understand why. To drive the point home Zero shoots Team Pet Gab — a literal shaggy dog.
Season 1 of The Walking Dead has Lee go through so much. His wife cheated on him with a senator and he apparently killed him in retaliation, which has Lee arrested and being hauled away to jail by the sheriff. He gets caught up in the Zombie Apocalypse and meets an 8 year old girl named Clementine whose parents went missing when the walkers attacked. Every survivor Lee meets is either crazy, hotheaded, hates his guts, or puts everyone in danger. Lee eventually runs into his brother, who had become a zombie and has no choice but to kill him in order to get a key. True to The Walking Dead formula, most of the survivors Lee meets will wind up dead sooner or later. Clementine is put in danger several times (something another survivor points out to Lee to criticize him), causing Lee to go through hell and back just to keep her safe. Did you not side with Kenny whenever he got too hotheaded with Lee or another survivor? He'll make things harder for Lee in crucial moments out of spite. The van Lee's group uses to get away from the motel invaded by bandits? It's either stolen by a survivor in the group that snaps or the engine fails. Kenny's idea of finding a boat in the heart of the city? Yeah, there ain't any boats by the time Lee's group arrive. And just to seal the deal, Lee gets bitten by a walker and will become one himself in a matter of time. Even if you choose to have Lee's infected arm amputated, it doesn't slow the infection at all. In the end, Lee dies and the only thing you can have Clementine tearfully do is either leave Lee handcuffed to the radiator so he'll turn while restrained or have her shoot him so that he can die while still human.