The good old game over screen. It’s been around since God looked upon the world, saw that there was too much human suffering, and balanced things out by giving us video games. It’s been falling out of use in recent years, although it’s not hard to see why. After all, for most games, a game over is just as much a failure state for the game itself as it is for the player. A good game wants to push the player to their limits, to drag them to the border of death, but not go over. If the player loses and has to start over, that kills all the tension the gameplay’s built up and replaces any emotional heights previously achieved with base frustration. So of course games are going to want to skip over these, to get the player back into the game as much as possible.
Not all games have held that mentality, however. Just like everything else, in the right hands, game over screens can be a tool to further what a developers trying to accomplish with their games. Here’s a couple instances in which I think they’ve been done particularly well.
My favorite series, as far as game over screen go, is Megami Tensei. Their game over screens are usually simple, but always serve to emphasize the tone of the game, particularly in the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series. In keeping with the series’s religious motifs…
Shin Megami Tensei has you crossing over to a nondescript afterlife when you fall in battle.
SMT 2 gets more specific, with Charon guiding your soul across the River Styx, in keeping with Greek mythology.
The third game in the series, SMT Nocturne, has your soul being drawn up to heaven upon your death.
An unofficial entry in the mainline series, Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey, takes a different tack. Rather than using death to advance the games’ themes, instead it serves to underscore the importance of your mission and the consequences of failure. Should you die, you’ll get a front row seat watching the demon world consume the Earth.
Chrono Trigger famously took a similar tack. Lose to the games boss, and you get to watch him execute the very cataclysm you’re fighting to prevent, reminding you of why it’s so important that Lavos be defeated.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 does the very same thing.
Banjo-Kazooie emphasizes the game’s tone with a brief humorous movie should you lose all your lives, with the witch Gruntilda stealing damsel-in-distress Tootie’s beauty.
And finally, horror game Haunting Ground gets one less creep in should you be killed by a pursuer. The game normally deals in a pretty understated horror, making it all the more powerful by contrast as the game freezes to a static screen, leaving you to listen as your enemy deals with your body. From the sounds of Debilitas accidentally breaking you apart, to Daniella cackling as she dissects you, to Riccardo… doing things I’m surprised they managed to get past the censor, every one of the game over screens successfully makes my skin crawl.
So, that’s my collection of favorite game over screens. Not that I’ve ever seen any of them, because I’m such an amazing gamer. You wouldn’t even know. I bet you see the old game over all the time, though! Enough to be an expert! So I’m interested in hearing your super-experienced point of view. What’s your favorite game over screen?