Games you can beat fast with hidden alternate endings

You're a busy person. You don't always have time to invest 10, 20, or 100 hours in a video game. You've got school or work eating away at your time, television shows to watch, families to care for, and friends to see. Finding the time to beat a game, no matter how good it is, can be a major challenge.

Good news: you don't always have to play the entire game to reach the ending—or, at least, an ending. If you take the alternate routes in the following titles, you'll be able to knock a few games off your ever-growing to-play list in a matter of minutes. Sure, you'll miss out on most of the content, achievements, and storyline, but you'll still be able to say that you finished the game. Your friends won't be any wiser.

Harvest Moon DS

For the most part, the Harvest Moon series gives players a calm, slow-paced alternative to the fast, twitchy, and violent action games that dominate the video game industry. You don't fight aliens, race souped-up cars, or beat on thugs. You plant and harvest crops, raise livestock, and perform chores around your fledgling farm. In your downtime, you head to town to participate in local festivals and woo potential suitors. Harvest Moon is the video game equivalent of comfort food. It's relaxing, and you know pretty much exactly how it's going to go every time.

But there's a darkness bubbling under Harvest Moon's pastoral façade, and it finally surfaces in Harvest Moon DS, the 14th entry in the long-running Harvest Moon franchise. Shortly after your would-be farmer moves to his new town, the mayor stops by to say hello and make fun of your fledgling farm. You reply by attacking him for his insults, but the mayor dodges. That's when your trusty dog comes to the rescue. The pooch attacks the mayor and the man yells for help. You have to decide whether to answer his call or not.

If you decide not to come to the mayor's aide, the screen fades to white as the mayor screams in pain, and then the credits roll. That's right: you can "beat" Harvest Moon DS by letting your dog maul and kill the mayor. It's a very dark conclusion for an otherwise light game, but we can't say that the mayor didn't have it coming. Don't mess with a man's farm. You might not like what happens next.

The Matrix: Path of Neo

If you've seen The Matrix—and if you haven't, where have you been for the past 20 years?—you probably remember the scene in which Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus offers Keanu Reeves' Neo a crucial choice. Neo can take a red pill and discover the truth about the Matrix, the virtual reality prison where he and the rest of humanity live, or he can take a blue pill and continue to live in ignorance. In the film, Neo takes the red pill, wakes up in a machine-built pod, and embarks on his journey to bring down his mechanical jailers. It's the right choice—otherwise, The Matrix wouldn't be much of a movie.

The 2005 video game The Matrix: Path of Neo lets players relive Neo's most memorable moments, including a number of the Matrix trilogy's biggest action scenes. Unlike movies, however, video games are an interactive medium, and with players guiding the action, things don't always unfold exactly the way they do in the films.

For example, at the very beginning of Path of Neo, players get to take the reins while Morpheus presents Neo with that fateful decision—and they don't have to take the red pill if they don't want to. If the person behind the controller wants to swallow the blue pill and live the rest of their lives as an unwitting slave, they can. Morpheus is disappointed (although, honestly, not that disappointed), Neo wakes up at his desk, and the player is booted right back to the menu screen.

Far Cry 4

Far Cry 4 has a few different endings, depending on the choices you make along the way. If you throw in with Sabal, one of the leaders of a band of rebels known as the Golden Path, the man rids the Himalayan nation Kyrat of dissidents in a bloody, violent purge. If you support Amita, the Golden Path's co-leader and Sabal's eventual rival, she transforms Kyrat into a drug empire supported by an authoritarian regime and child labor. Neither is a great option.

Thankfully, Far Cry 4 gives you a third choice, although you have to be very patient—and incredibly docile—to find it. At the very beginning of the game, Far Cry 4's hero Ajay is captured en route to dispose of his mother's ashes by Kyrat's flamboyant king, Pagan Min. Min sits Ajay down at a dinner table and offers to explain everything that's happening, but is distracted before he can reveal his plans. He asks Ajay to wait while he attends to business, and leaves Ajay alone, giving the young man plenty of time to escape.

If you take Pagan Min at his word, however, and do as he says, he returns after just under 15 minutes. At that point, he really does explain everything: Lakshmana, which Ajay assumes is the location where his mother wanted her remains preserved, is actually the name of Ajay's late half-sister. Min takes you to Lakshmana's final resting place and lets Ajay honor his mother's final wishes, then invites Ajay outside to fire some guns. Sure, Pagan Min is a bad dude, but compared to the alternatives, siding with the mad king is really Far Cry 4's only real "good" ending.

Super Paper Mario

Mario saves the Princess, the Mushroom Kingdom, and, sometimes, the world. That's just what he does—most of the time, at least. In Super Paper Mario, a spinoff of the psuedo-2D role-playing series, Mario gets to choose his fate. During Super Paper Mario's long, text-heavy opening scene, the wizard Merlon tells Mario about a book called the Light Prognosticus, a book of prophecies that foretells the coming of a legendary hero who will save the world by gathering the Pure Hearts and stopping the void from spreading. Merlon is pretty sure Mario is that hero, and asks for Mario's help stopping the villainous Count Bleck and saving the world.

In most Mario games, that'd be the end of the discussion. Mario has his mission, and it's off to fight the bad guys. But Super Paper Mario isn't most Mario games, and after Merlon makes his pitch, Mario gets to decide for himself whether he'll help or not. The first time Mario refuses, Merlon asks him to reconsider. If Mario says no again, Merlon starts to panic, pleading with Mario to accept the quest. Decline a third time, and Merlon informs you that the world is doomed. Cue the "game over" screen.

It's a funny and unexpected way to end the game, but it comes at a price: the next time you start Super Paper Mario, you have to watch the opening cutscenes again. All of them. That's a pretty big task, and it teaches an important lesson: in Mario's world, cowardice comes with a very, very steep price.

NieR: Automata

NieR: Automata has 26 endings—one for each letter of the alphabet—and while you'll find the first five by playing (and replaying) the game from beginning to end, endings F through Z take a little more experimentation. For the most part, you'll get them by doing things you're not supposed to do. To get ending G, all you need to do is to take control of one of NieR: Automata's heroes, 9S, and walk away from the mission. To get ending K, eat a fish that an ally gives you. Ignoring a village of peaceful robots when they need your help earns ending M, while murdering every inhabitant scores ending N.

But there's only one ending in NieR: Automata that you can earn right at the beginning of the game: ending T, or "Ending T: fa[T]al error." Early on, NieR: Automata teaches you how to upgrade your android characters by installing chips that boost their stats or give them new abilities. A couple of chips, most of which influence the game's user interface, come pre-installed. One, the game tells you, should never be removed: the "OS Chip," which (presumably) controls the operating system that brings the game's mechanical heroes to life.

So, naturally, some players removed it, and were immediately treated to the fatal aftermath. With the OS chip gone, the android characters try to reboot, only to run into a fatal error and a very quick version of NieR: Automata's credits. It's odd and funny, but isn't nearly the weirdest thing about NieR: Automata. Compared to the rest of the game, suicide by operating system is downright mundane.

Shadow Complex

In many ways, Shadow Complex is pretty conventional. Like many many modern sidescrollers, it's inspired by games like Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, plunging you into a dark and moody world where you must hunt for the upgrades you need to survive. Its storyline is familiar, too: your girlfriend is missing, and it's up to you—and Jason, your character—to rescue her (there's also a conspiracy-driven terrorist organization to deal with, but Claire's disappearance is Shadow Complex's main jumping off point).

Unlike other games of this type, however, Jason doesn't actually have to leap to Claire's aid. The two haven't been dating for very long. Jason doesn't know Claire that well, and she may not be worth risking his life for. If you agree, you can turn Jason around and take him back to his jeep after Claire is abducted via helicopter. Press B, and Jason hops into the vehicle, leaving Claire to whatever insidious fate her captors have in store.

"Eh," Jason quips as he drives away, "plenty of more fish in the sea." And on that ice-cold note, the credits roll.

Chrono Trigger

Eight years after Squaresoft unleashed the first Final Fantasy on the world, the company that'd became synonymous with Japanese role-playing games perfected the 2D JRPG formula with Chrono Trigger, an epic adventure released near the tail end of the Super Nintendo era. Like previous Square RPGs, Chrono Trigger featured a delightfully quirky cast, turn-based combat, and a twisty storyline that pushed the SNES' storytelling abilities to its limits. It also pushed the genre forward by eliminating random encounters and introducing a New Game+ function, which let players replay the game from the beginning without sacrificing any of their hard-earned gear or character progress.

That last feature is incredibly important, because Chrono Trigger has 13 different endings, and you'll need a fully charged character if you want to see all of them. See, the game's plot is all about time travel, and as a result, you can hop into Crono's time machine and face the final boss, Lavos, whenever you want. Depending on where you are in the story when you face Lavos, the story ends in a variety of different ways. In one ending, the entire royal family transforms into human-frog hybrids. In another, Chrono Trigger's female castmates rank their male peers.

And, if you go after Lavos at the very beginning of the game, before Crono meets any of his teammates, you'll find yourself at the End of Time, where you can chat with in-game versions of Chrono Trigger's developers. Some recite poetry. A few play pranks. A few send messages to their families and loved ones, while others talk about Chrono Trigger's development process. This is the hardest ending to get—even with a full team, Lavos is no pushover—but also one of the coolest. Just make sure you've got a full supply of Megalixers in the bank. You're going to need all of them.  

The Stanley Parable

In some ways, The Stanley Parable is more an art piece than a game. It doesn't have any real goal, and its plot is pretty thin. It does, however, carefully examine the way video game players do—and more importantly, don't—do what they're told. It's kind of like Bioshock, but with a much better sense of humor.

In The Stanley Parable, you play as Stanley, an office drone who suddenly finds himself without any mindless work to do. An omniscient narrator describes the action onscreen, describing what Stanley's doing and what he's about to do, but you don't have to listen to him. No matter what the narrator says, you're free to make your own choices and proceed as you like. The narrator doesn't always take kindly to this, however, and his increasing frustration and confusion is the crux of the experience.

For example, at the very beginning of the game, the narrator says that Stanley "got up from his desk, and stepped out of his office." Except, in some cases, he doesn't. If you decide to close the door to your office instead, the narrator drones on and on about how Stanley is a coward, and promises to give the poor worker answers that never come. Instead, the game boots you back to the main menu. It's not satisfying, but it is an ending. That's something, we guess.

The Witness

For most people, The Witness is a mind-bending challenge that takes hours—if not days—to complete. As they explore a mysterious island, players run across a number of screens filled with maze-like puzzles. In order to succeed, you'll need to find the puzzles (many are hidden behind locked doors, or only accessible from a certain viewpoint), figure out the maze's rules (every puzzle is a little different) and then find a solution. It's both a lot harder and a lot more fun than it sounds. Complete The Witness' challenges—allegedly, there are about 600 of 'em—and you'll find unlock bizarre videos and see an ending that explains nothing. The Witness is a great game, but it's also pretentious and obscure on purpose.

But a certain subset of players will have a very different experience. See, The Witness was developed by a very small team, with designer Jonathan Blow (the guy who made the time-shifting platformer Braid) handling most of the work. If you find The Witness' secret ending, you can see what the development process for indie developers looks like firsthand—and it isn't pretty. Once you emerge from the game's introductory tunnel, you can click on the sun—yes, that sun—to unlock an environmental puzzle, which eventually leads you into a dark and featureless space.

And then, you see it: a live-action video, shot from Blow's point of view as he wakes up on a couch in the middle of his development studio. Concept art from The Witness lines the walls. A monitor with code sits in front of him. He's attached to a catheter. A jar full of urine sits on the floor. Blow crawls to his computer, and then the bathroom, and then the kitchen, where he eats a cookie. We've heard that the life of an indie developer isn't glamorous, but this? This is something else.

Batman: Arkham City

Catwoman is both a hero and a villain. That's why we love her. As Batman's on-again, off-again girlfriend—and now fiancée—Selina Kyle skirts the line between good and bad. She's always flirting with the idea of going good, but she just loves shiny things a little too much.

During one of the chapters of Batman: Arkham City's Catwoman story pack, players get to choose which side of the law Catwoman ultimately falls on. Selina pulls off a major heist, but doesn't escape before Batman's life is thrown into peril. And so Catwoman must make a choice: either she can escape with the loot, or she can head back inside and save her sometimes flame. Now, there's a right and wrong decision here—Arkham City's developers want you to go back for Bruce, which kicks off some action scenes—but if you don't think Catwoman is that good, you don't have to. You can head straight for the door, leaving the Dark Knight to his grisly fate.

Arkham City is Batman's story, though, not Catwoman's, and without its hero Arkham City doesn't have a very long shelf life. Selina heads off into the Gotham night with a sultry "Screw him," and as the credits roll, Barbara Gordon sends out an emergency broadcast: Batman and the rest of the city's heroes are dead, and in their absence, the Joker has taken complete control. Thankfully, defeat isn't permanent. After an abbreviated credits sequence, the game rewinds—literally—and lets Catwoman make a different, more noble decision.