In the most general sense, 2021 wasn’t the greatest year for video game releases. We didn’t get a massive mega-hit from Bethesda or Sony or Nintendo, and some of the biggest games launched with a thud. And still, 2021 gave us plenty of incredible experiences. So many games this year did the impossible — they gave us secret endings.
And not just one secret ending. Sometimes games were layered with multiple secret endings. Sometimes the entire goal of the game was finding the “true” ending, and sometimes unlocking that “true” ending kicked our collective butts. There’s something so rewarding about discovering a hidden ending in video games, and it is one of my favorite things that only video games can do. The games of 2021 encouraged us to push back against the boundaries and forge our own path — usually by doing something incredibly obscure. Check out some of our favorite hidden conclusions, and let us know all about your favorites.
The Best of 2021:
Just Leaving [Far Cry 6]
We’ve come to expect hidden ending in the Far Cry series — Far Cry 4 and Far Cry 5 have their own versions of the “do nothing” ending where you literally do nothing and earn an ending early. Far Cry 6 changes things up. To earn an early ending and avoid all the conflict, you can steal a boat and drive it off the map. You’ll leave the Cuba-ish island ruled by the despotic Giancarlo Esposito forever. Instead of getting involved in a violent civil war, you can relax on the beach of Florida. So far away from villains monologuing at you.
It’s kind of genius. We finally get an answer to the question; why don’t we leave? Now you can. There’s nothing stopping us from hightailing it out of there. Think about how often that works in video games.
Memory Loss [Hitman 3]
Agent 47 is on a mission to end the villainous Constant — the leader of a global secret society that runs the world from the shadows. You know, typical evil secret society stuff. In Hitman 3, you finally close in on your target after. Sneaking through an armored train packed with soldiers, you’ll have to use all your wits and skills to outsmart the enemy and breach the Constant’s lair. In the last confrontation of the game, you’ll find a drug that wipes out memories. Normally, you’re meant to use it on the villain in a cruel fate that’s far worse than death for a power mad maniac.
But you can go another way. Instead of sticking up with Constant, you can simply wait and do nothing. Wait long enough, and you’ll get a special prompt — Agent 47 can use the amnesia juice on himself. This is basically choosing to continue working for the Constant. Maybe the pull of doing more cool assassination missions is too strong for Agent 47, and he can’t go forward into an unknown murder-free lifestyle. That’s my headcanon and I’m sticking to it.
The God of the Dead [The Forgotten City]
The Forgotten City is a wild indie game that dumps the player into an ancient Roman City that’s seemingly still going strong. Trapped in a time loop, you can repeat the same day over and over again — slowly learning clues about a mysterious ‘Golden Rule’ that the populace is forced to live by. Discovering the mystery of the ‘Golden Rule’ is how you unlock the true ending, and it requires many complicated steps. Steps that we cover in complete detail in the guide here.
Once you’re able to enter the temple everything is revealed. The being behind the ‘Golden Rule’ is the God of the Underworld — he goes by many names, and he has deigned to provide mortals with guidance before departing forever to Elysium. That guidance is ‘The Golden Rule’ — which, if broken, basically wipes out an entire civilization. The best part of The Forgotten City is how you can fight your battles with words and defeating the God of the Underworld in a debate is definitely one of the best difficult-to-obtain endings of the year.
The Source [Five Nights At Freddy’s: Security Breach]
The spookiest true ending award goes to Five Nights At Freddy’s Security Breach. This big version of the shockingly popular kid-friendly horror games has many different endings, which fits with the series it is based on — all the games have extremely weird secrets related to a bottomless pit of lore. And all that lore is mixed up in the Five Nights At Freddy’s secret ending we covered here.
To unlock it, you have to pull off the most difficult task in the game — smashing up all three stalkers, upgrading your robotic buddy Freddy, and entering a series of locked doors that lead down to a terrifying underground secret. Beneath the Mega Pizzaplex, players can find the original Freddy Fazbear Pizzeria, along with the original Freddy and the evil Springtrap… who is a serial killer trapped inside an animatronic bunny. This is a very weird series of games.
Fifth Ending [NieR Replicant Remaster]
The best part of the 2021 NieR remake for modern consoles isn’t the combat overhaul — although, that is extremely good. No, the best part is the hidden fifth ending you can unlock. The original NieR has one of the most memorable endings of all time. After running through the same story multiple times, you’re asked to sacrifice your memories and delete your save file to help Kaine, a fan favorite character voiced by Laura Bailey.
In the remake, the story continues if you choose to start a new game. You’ll reset yet again, playing as a lonely Kaine who goes on an adventure — reconnecting with other characters along the way. If you played through the original game many years ago, this new ending is an incredibly rewarding emotional journey that lets us have our cake and eat it too. Maybe these crazy characters are allowed to have a nice ending for once.
The First Door [Death’s Door]
A small but important ending is waiting for players. The developers of Death’s Door also made Titan Souls — a boss rush action game. At first blush, these two titles have nothing to do with each other, but the hidden bonus ending links them together. By finding all the Ancient Tablets of Knowledge, you can meet with a strange primordial god (in the form of a giant glowing eye) and discover the hidden past of the doors. The very first door was opened by a human… the same human from Titan Souls.
This ending is really more about the journey than the destination. Finding all the Ancient Tablets is pretty dang rewarding — searching the lost lands with all your Zelda-like powers unlocked, able to discover the tiny nooks and crannies of hidden content everywhere, that’s one of the simple joys of an extremely detailed little game. This is a reward for the fans of developer Acid Nerve, and I’m excited to see what’s next in their multiverse.
All Your Old Allies [Blaster Master Zero 3]
Blaster Master Zero 3 might have the most robust “True Endings” of the year. And most people barely know what Blaster Maser Zero 3 is. The final game in this weird retrowave sequel series to the old Blaster Master on NES, they’re metroidvanias that don’t push players around too hard. They’re pretty easy. Until you reach this ending.
Here’s a quick overview. Your hero enters portals that lead to alternate dimensions. Enter enough portals, and you’ll unlock a special ability in the final cutscene. After defeating the last boss, an unprompted trigger can be activated — which leads to a final zone to explore. This final zone is populated with all your old friends. And you have to fight them all. It is a series of increasingly brutal boss fights that are far more difficult than anything else you’ll encounter. You definitely get your gameplay money’s worth for this ending.
Infinite Loop [Returnal]
Rogue-likes are by their very nature mysterious, and Returnal is somehow even more mysterious. This is advanced double-decker mystery vibes, where every answer makes us ask more questions. That absolutely is true of this mind-bending “true” ending. To unlock it, you have to beat the final boss, enter the post-game, enter the weird House (a suburban house in the ancient alien ruins) and then track down six hidden collectibles. There is one in each biome and finding them all eventually unlock the Car Key item.
With the Car Key in hand, you can defeat the final boss again (which is hard enough as-is) and unlock the car you find in the underwater Abyssal Scar area. This is where things get weird. I’ve played this game and I can’t really explain what happens here — main character Selene appears before a withered alien figure she calls Theia (Theia is Selene’s mother) then appears on a road in a space suit. An incoming car swerves — a car containing much younger versions of Theia and Selene. Time has fully looped.
Breaking The Loop [Deathloop]
Deathloop is a unique game where the entire point of the story is the true ending. That makes this not really secret at all, and yet finding the path to the true ending is your goal for the full 20~ hours of game time. You’re given a few clues to get you started; locations for all your targets, and a limited time window to take them all out. It’s up to you to figure out how to solve the murder puzzle. You’re kind of like a killer detective. To break the cycle forever, you have to kill all the targets in a single day. To do that, you have to unravel a complex web of actions and reactions. Setups and payoffs. Discovering the one true path to wiping out the bad guys is incredibly involved and nonlinear. You have to do all the sleuthing (and experimenting) on your own.
But once you figure out the perfect path of destruction, there’s no better feeling. See how complicated earning the true ending (which is really just the normal ending) with our full in-depth guide here.
Breaking The Fourth Wall [Bravely Default 2]
Bravely Default 2 practically taunts you with false endings, and discovering the real, final, for-realsies secret ending is a eureka moment to end all eureka moments. If you don’t want to be spoiled, and are considering playing this 50~ hours JRPG yourself sometime in the next decade, I recommend turning back now.
Earlier in the game, you’re slapped with multiple bad endings. When you go back and attempt to change things, you get another different bad ending. To finally get your good ending, you need to challenge the ghost of Sir Sloan to a duel to unlock the ultimate Bravebearer class. And… then it really isn’t clear what you need to do.
Here’s the trick. Open your book to the Load screen to load a save file. You’ll now have a new save file that’s glowing purple. Reload that file and you’ll be on your path to saving the world and saving everyone in your party. No sacrifices guaranteed. You just had to reload a very special save file to get it.