Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link
The Adventure of Link is a strange egg in the Zelda series as a whole, but one of the stranger parts of it is that Link never actually fights Ganon in it. However, that does not mean that Ganon is absent from the title entirely; if you lose all of your lives, you are treated to the bright red screen above. It’s strangely ominous, and the awkward phrasing of “Return of Ganon” actually serves to make it even creepier. Bad translation finally does us a favor.
Keeping the “strangely ominous ending” train going is Chrono Trigger. Since the game focuses entirely on stopping Lavos’ return, losing obviously means that Lavos returns no matter how much effort you put into it. The phrase here is unique like Zelda 2’s, but not as a result of bad translation. The game over screen proclaims that “the future refused to change”, as though the future were an active force working against you…which, in a sense, it is. Chrono Trigger teaches us that time travel doesn’t work entirely on the butterfly effect, and to get a change made it would take the massive investment into the game to see it through.
Metal Gear Solid
This would hardly be a top 10 list of game overs if we neglected to include Metal Gear Solid’s game over sequence. Along with the stylish Game Over text you see there, your death is accompanied by one of your comrades desperately screaming your name into the communicator. It’s simple but is just as hammy as anything else in Metal Gear Solid, ensuring that even when you fail you’ll walk away with something to remember.
Fallout only has one game over screen, but a few different descriptions from the narrator that range from bittersweet to completely hopeless. It includes an interesting sense of time lapse as you see your body possibly dozens or hundreds of years in the future, completely rotted away with only your skeleton left behind. It’s hardly a pleasant game over by any stretch of the imagination, but then again what part of living in the wasteland is pleasant?
Being the progenitor of Dark Souls, you can be assured that Demon’s Souls won’t let you forget when you pass on from this world to the next. However, what’s notable is your first death in Dark Souls; the statement underneath the classic “YOU DIED” text is bleak and gets across the finality of the situation. Your death is permanent; while you may succeed in the trials found in the Nexus, you will still remain dead. There’s no going back from here. Not only this, but there is also the fact that the first boss is almost impossible to beat unless you go into it knowing what you’re doing; new players will almost assuredly be destroyed, necessitating at least one death to proceed. So not only is this a game over screen that is very final, it is one that every Demon’s Souls player sees at least once.
Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th for the NES wasn’t a good game by any stretch of the imagination, but its game over was one of the more brutal game over screens from the NES era. It shows nothing, but it definitely leaves you with the finality of the situation, letting you know that you really screwed up by letting all of the camp counselors die. They haven’t disappeared, or are just gone from this plane of existence, but are in fact straight up dead. And it’s your fault. Way to go, jackass.
Bonus points to this screen for effective use of punctuation. The period on the first sentence but not the second really drives the point home.
This strange, eclectic title has been somewhat lost to the ether of time, but Total Distortion is not entirely forgotten. Total Distortion was a game about making a music video by fighting with musically-inclined warriors, and it was known for being brutally difficult. So, to really mock the player for dying, the game has an entire two and a half minute song dedicated to laughing at you for failing. And so, since the game was difficult, this was a song you would be hearing a lot. At least it’s catchy?
Sega Rally 1995
This weirdly cheery game over screen only lasted for about 8 seconds before kicking you back to the main screen. Possibly the best part of the game too, since it’s the only part anybody remembers.
GAME OVER, YEAAAAAH!
Banjo-Kazooie’s rather involved game over sequence showed you something that games rarely touch upon- the villain’s victory! If you get a game over in Banjo-Kazooie, you see Gruntilda fulfill her plan of stealing your sister Tootie’s beauty. Gruntilda becomes rather attractive, immediately attracting the attention of Mumbo Jumbo, who makes it clear that the skull he wears isn’t the only bone he pays attention to. Tootie emerges a terrible growling monster, and proclaims that she has a bone to pick with you…yours, probably, if she gets those meaty hands on you. The only irritating part about this game over is that it is long and the game counts you saving and exiting as a game over. I just wanted to go to bed, Rare. Don’t do this to me.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Finally, we have the game over of Majora’s Mask. If you let the clock run out completely without stopping the moon or turning back the clock, you get a very visceral cutscene of the moon plowing into Termina, completely decimating the clock tower in Clock Town before wiping everything else out, including Link, in a giant wall of fire. A suitably grim end for a grim situation that ensured that next time you will remember to play the Song of Time in time.