The "Best Ending"

Apr 28, 2020 at 6:42 PM
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This is an opinion thing about the "Best Ending." Lots of people have said this kind of thing before in pieces, and maybe someone made a thread on this years ago. But I've been thinking about it for months now, and I need to get it off my chest. Great wall of text time.

About two years ago, I got my friend (let's call him Jay) to play freeware Cave Story. He was pretty new to this kind of game, but beat the Normal ending and really liked it despite having some trouble. A few months later, he got the Switch version, and we decided he should get the Best Ending this time. It went really smoothly and he had lots of fun. About a year ago he got to the Sacred Grounds...
...and he's still there. The game is far from a priority now, and he only picks it up once or twice a month, does a few attempts, and then stops for the next few weeks. To Jay, it's like hitting his head against a brick wall, and he doesn't think he's improving at all with his attempts. He refuses to play any other part, since he wants to beat this; not because it's fun, but because he has to so he can say he did, even if it's by dumb luck. I don't think that's a good decision on his part at all, but it got me thinking about the BS Sanctuary and its place in the game.

CAVE GAME
I think a lot of us know about Pixel adding the Sacred Grounds (and Hidden Final Cave) because his playtesters thought the game was too easy as-is. Lots of games have some secret super hard bonus dungeon or boss, but Pixel (presumably) realized there wasn't much room for one as the game was then, and (presumably) didn't want first-time players to find it and get absolutely wrecked. So he (presumably) patched on a couple cutscenes and items to the game to lead up to it, both so it has some buildup and so you'd need to replay the game from the start to access it.
The Sacred Grounds was a bonus challenge for people who had mastered the game and knew it inside-out (mainly Pixel's personal friends), which is why it's so obtuse. The 290 Counter is there because pretty much everyone who got this bonus in the first place would be the type to try speedrunning it. Some of the events don't make sense (Tow Rope is only in the Core Room if you ignore Booster?) because if it did, it might be more likely that someone would get it on their first try.Ballos and just about everything that you need for it seems tacked on and out-of-nowhere, because it kinda was. He could've tried to integrate it better, but it makes some sense from the perspective of one guy who's adding bonus content onto a huge, mostly-done solo project. And maybe he decided to add on a couple bosses before the bonus level, tie up a few loose ends, make it less sad, and have the game end differently. Hint at the bonus content so that some players could still find it themselves, but only if they were really attentive and probably after several playthroughs. Players who don't find it have little reason to believe it exists in the first place, and so probably don't feel like they're missing out. He ended up putting a lot of effort into it, even if it was only for a few people. Just like the game in general.

And then Cave Story got famous, more than anyone could've expected.

It probably didn't happen immediately, but as the game got more players, more people learned of the secret bonus level/boss, even though who would never find out about it themselves. But since Pixel put so much effort into it and added more than most of the games that have one, it wasn't called that. It was a secret ending. A happier ending with more stuff in it; usually the happiest ending is the best, most fleshed-out one, so it was the Best ending, maybe even the only True Ending.
Because of that, this True Ending is considered mandatory. You have to do all these complex steps that make no sense. You have get through these two difficulty spikes that'd be ridiculous for anyone who hasn't mastered the game. And you have to do all of that for a cutscene that's literally just the island staying afloat and the main characters escaping death through the power of Asspull, followed by twenty seconds of casual dialogue and slightly altered credits. If you don't, you haven't really beaten the game.

And that makes sense, in a way. If only a few dozen people played the game in general, it'd work as an awesome reward for the few who know it exists, but the game feels mostly complete without it. But if you read about this crazy in-depth secret in this famous game, then now you're missing out on so much without it.
But because of this, lots of people criticize the game itself. The ending is way too obtuse and super hard, how is a new player supposed to get through this?
And sure, the BS Sanctuary is an ending, but not THE ending. Treating it as the only option is missing the point.
It's not a super huge deal, but I find it kinda disappointing.

EDIT: On re-reading this post 15 minutes later, maybe I should clarify something: This isn't about if anyone's at fault, or against people who "miss the point." This kind of thing happens all the time: A small project gets big, and so it's treated like a huge masterwork, and given so much more weight and scrutiny than it needs to be. Oftentimes it leads to criticism that ignores or misses that it's really just a passion project; something small, made with different standards, for fewer people. There's never really anyone to blame for this, it just happens.

This post's getting long, and I'm tired of writing it. When I feel like it (tomorrow?), I'll write the 2nd half. It's the main reason I wanted to write this, about why I vastly prefer the Normal Ending's STORY.
Discuss this, I guess.
 
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Apr 28, 2020 at 7:17 PM
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Yeah, I've always been on the idea that Ballos was a last minute idea, and he could've very well just have been sequel content, that is, if it also weren't for the theory where the island falling to the Surface being the possible idea of Ballos wanting to off himself from the get-go.
Some evidence behind it
- During testing, it has been complained to Pixel that Cave Story is too easy, leading to the development to the Sacred Grounds. That could've easily just been it, but there had to be an incentive to going there to begin with. Otherwise, it would've been a second Wind Fortress. There was strong evidence suggesting the Wind Fortress has been part of Cave Story development even after the do-over from the Beta to the Current version. But it was removed due to no placement in the story.
- All information regarding Ballos happens entirely at the end of the game, in the Sacred Grounds
- There may have actually been a third ending in development anyway, when althroughout the route to it, it involves just saving Curly. Everything including draining Curly, leaving Professer Booster, and even the Hidden Last Cave were already planned to be a thing. But it wouldn't have ended like how it does now.
- Everything in the main story becomes irrelevant after defeating Ballos. There was more satisfaction sticking with the Sakamotos after jumping off the island with Sue. They've been a part of the story from the very beginning, so it makes a whole lot more sense that the player tags along with them at the end. And not only that, but there are two versions of the Second Ending, with the Mimiga Mask, and with the Booster. The hypothesized planned Third Ending may have also been a Second Ending variant.
So for that last point, the hypothesized Third Ending/Second Ending C probably could've gone something like this.

Quote still has to ignore Professor Booster, much to the dismay of the player, as the Tow Rope would still have to be used. Quote still has to drain Curly after draining her in the Waterway Cabin, and he loses her after facing Ironhead. He has to go kill Ma Pignon and feed him to Curly, Curly remembers who they are and retells him when they fought off Miakid, and then gives him the Iron Bond.
Now here's where it does get interesting, after Quote wakes up, he finds Curly standing alongside Momorin and Itoh, and she says she noticed that the Plantation felt oddly quiet, and while she was looking around, she came across the two and decided to hang around. Now, Momorin takes back the Mimiga Mask and returns Quote the Booster 2.0. Remember, Booster still had to be ignored in this scenario, so naturally, the Booster 2.0 had to be obtained anyway. And as for the Last Cave? Well, because Quote already has the gear, it shouldn't be changed that Quote still has to go through the Hidden Last Cave. I feel this was actually intended from Pixel from the get-go, especially when there is now a boss Quote has to face, the Red Demon. The same enemy Arthur had to fight off from Mimiga Village long before he was killed by the Doctor. So Quote must fight him off and obtain the Clay Medal. He's fought off one enemy from Arthur's past, now to fight the other. The battles with Misery, the Doctor, and the Undead Core still go normal, and the island starts falling. The game then cuts to Momorin, Itoh, and Curly starting the helicopter and feel the island starting to shake. Curly insists that she must go and find Quote, but Momorin tells her it's too dangerous for her and they have to fly off immediately, and the robot hopes that Quote makes it out okay. Now this time, Sue doesn't wake up Quote, he's awakened from the Iron Bond, as if Curly's words were heard from him. He then wakes up Sue and she still leads him out of the Balcony tower and still have themselves jump off the island. The island crashes onto the surface, Kazuma catches Sue and Quote, and the Sakamotos are reunited, with Quote AND Curly residing with them.

And there's how the third ending could've gone, if it can still be called the third ending, considering it ends just like the second ending, but with Curly sticking around. Could this have been Pixel's intended ending? Probably not, but if there was an ending planned where Curly lives, but without any Sacred Grounds or Ballos, then this would be my interpretation on how it could've gone.
 
Apr 29, 2020 at 12:08 AM
Okay I give up... for now
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This is the first interesting thread I've seen pop up on these forums in quite a while.

I as well felt as if the third ending was rather lackluster, and that the second ending was much more climactic and satisfying. I agree on many of the points of the counter-intuitive nature of skipping Booster, the sudden appearance of the tow rope, and the redemption of Balrog and Misery that pretty much came out of nowhere. Ballos does indeed seem to be shoehorned in at the last minute, I concur with the common sentiment that he would have been okay sequel material if done right. None of that really bothered me at first; what really bothered me the first time I got the third ending was that after getting rescued by Balrog, Quote and Curly suddenly decide to abandon the Sakamotos and all three live together. I never liked this, as going home with the Sakamotos was far more satisfying, and jumping the gun on deciding to live out your days with someone that killed one of your friends (Toroko) and was your enemy until five seconds ago just didn't make any sense.

So yeah, that third ending left me kind of disappointed, especially given that saving Booster and Curly along the way got my hopes up for something much more grand. These issues, along with this thread, were what inspired me to spend a large chunk of August through November of 2011 pondering what a more satisfying ending would look like, which eventually resulted in my fourth ending mod.
 
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Apr 29, 2020 at 1:44 AM
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I agree with this, even with the Counter being optional the game kinda just says "Yo by the way, you can go here if you don't get a item you thought was mandatory." (Booster v0.8) and if you do that you go through a couple new areas and get the "Best" and inherently the cannon ending, however what you need to do to get those items are so obscure that it makes you wonder if that's really what is intended. I was one of the few who got this last ending because I notice a small red dot and then explored everywhere more after ignoring him to see if anything changed (which, yeah.) and afterwards, it didn't make me think "That was a nice ending," it made me think "That was cool I guess," it felt like the Godmaster DLC to Hollow Knight.

(Tow Rope is only in the Core Room if you ignore Booster?)
I believe this was mainly because you can't beat hell without the Booster v2.0 (or its much too difficult for anybody trying to beat the game) but then again I haven't 100% CS+ yet so my opinion doesn't count (so says my friend)
 
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Apr 29, 2020 at 2:30 AM
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You know, when writing my take on how the third ending could've been, I completely forgot about the Nikumaru Counter. I'm very certain that's even more last minute than Ballos, and whoever suggested to Pixel the idea of speedrunning Hell should very well go to Hell. Where in Hell? Sacred Grounds - B2. Worst level design choice, Jesus christ.
 
Apr 29, 2020 at 3:31 AM
Okay I give up... for now
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(Tow Rope is only in the Core Room if you ignore Booster?)
I believe this was mainly because you can't beat hell without the Booster v2.0 (or its much too difficult for anybody trying to beat the game) but then again I haven't 100% CS+ yet so my opinion doesn't count (so says my friend)
Yeah, I think StudioDixel was mostly referring to the fact that it just seemed silly that the tow rope just magically (literally, sparkles) decides to appear if you skip Booster.

Sacred Grounds - B2. Worst level design choice, Jesus christ.
Yeah, back when I started speedrunning, I realized B2 was not an example of good design. The amount of luck that you rely on to have a good pace and good amount of health from that room is greatly irritating.
 
Dec 7, 2020 at 10:32 PM
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Fun Fact: "When I feel like it (tomorrow?)" is Dixelese for "in 7 months." Apologies for my lack of clarification.

So I had a giant wall of text written up about the actual story stuff here, monologuing about obvious things. Misery and Ballos take over the plot with little buildup! The final cutscene is kind of an anticlimax! It was probably sequel material that got stuffed into an Easter Egg! But then I realized this is a forum thread and not a Youtube video analysis. But there's one part that's actually worthwhile. So here it is.
I don't like the reveals for the backstory between Curly and Quote. At all.

In the normal pathway, lots of Curly's characterization is about making up for her past as a mimiga-killer. She's ridiculously humanlike and cheerful, if sometimes not the brightest bulb. She literally raises the children she was created to gun down. Heck, I'd assume she's personally met mimigas aside from the Colons, considering how much she knows and the working teleporter in Sand Zone. We don't know how long she's been active, but it seems she's succeeding.

The "soldier from the surface" is probably the best way to have a "blank slate" protagonist. Never speaks, shows up halfway through the plot, and mainly just runs around and shoots stuff while the actual characters deal with the story. It means we spend less time on his personality/backstory/dialogue, and have more time on fun shootyshootybangbang adventure-y platforming. There's some clear backstory and motivation there, mainly to do with his past as a mimiga-killer. But it's still really easy for players to project their own feelings onto him.

And heck, the robots' character dynamic is pretty awesome. Both were born as heartless villains, yet meet by chance and quickly become allies. Just through a few interactions, they form an unbreakable bond from scrap metal and become the heroes they were never meant to be.
ok this is a total tangent so don't read this if you don't wany unnecessary excessive longwinded melodramatic (pretentious?) gushing of praise and love over a scene from a 15 year old indie game

Curly's sacrifice is one of my favorite story moments in games. Ever.

The Labyrinth is a turning point in Cave Story. There's a lot of shootyshootybangbang gameplay, but it's where the story's darkness really sets in. King and Toroko are dead, and you don't know what's happened to everyone else. Meeting Curly and fighting alongside her in Labyrinth M feels amazing, because at least there's somebody who's alive, and fighting to get out and save the mimigas, just like you.

And then you enter the Core room.
It's the only fully mechanical area aside from Egg Corridor. Unlike that, this place is grey, lifeless, and flooded, with countless dead robots and a black background. The locked doors get pretty tedious, but on a first playthrough they give time to let the mood sink in and solidify that you are not supposed to be here. It'd be straight-up creepy if not for Geothermal; the song is slow, industrial-sounding, and vaguely mournful. While the suspense is still there, Geothermal shifts the focus to desolation and loss, even if you don't know exactly what's been lost.
It's an amazing contrast from both the energetic fight in Labyrinth M and the sudden frantic boss against a giant almond. In this sense, the immediate aftermath is even better, when the flood returns before you can react, drowning the chaos along with you.
...You can breathe.
What makes this moment great is how understated it all is. There's no cheesy Big Sad Epic Cinematic where Curly tearfully says goodbye and you vow to take care of her kids and avenge her or whatever. You wake up, and there she is, lying there, lacking the air you now breathe. No goodbye, not a single word. Just a gift from a newfound friend, and the hefty price of that gift. In might take a few seconds, but putting the pieces together is so much more powerful than watching a cutscene.

And yet, it feels... empty. No music, no movement. Only the steady rising and falling of the water. This lack of fanfare especially hammers home what this means for Curly. She joined this world as a cold hunk of metal, along with all the other mimiga-killers. And now, she's left the world as a cold hunk of metal, along with all the other mimiga-killers. Just another broken scout robot.

It's no wonder that Colons are explicitly shown or mentioned again. They are gone, along with Curly's humanity.

There is no reply...
You can stay there however long you want. Look around, keep checking her body, do anything to find another way. But nothing changes. You have to abandon her. The second you step out of that room, the door closes, and Geothermal plays again. The atmosphere as you walk out is similar to entering, yet so much more palpable. Now you know what's been lost, who's been lost. Behind that door and among the junk is a friend, a person who fought for the mimigas and became better than what she was made for.
It's might feel like the most depressing, hopeless moment... but maybe, just maybe...
It'll give you an even greater resolve to finish what she started.

Some might say that this is too cruel, or that it's bad game design for forcing the player to abandon her. I disagree immensely, but being able to save her makes this even better. Since there's a 99.999% chance that you'll see her die on your first playthrough, I count saving Curly as taking place after her death from a player's perspective. In this sense, you've already left her, beat the Doctor without her, and seen her body in the montage where the island falls.

Returning the favor ties in (hehe) so well with everything about Curly and her sacrifice, that it's easily the best moment of the "Best" ending. Now she has another chance, now her life still means something. Now, you might not have to "finish what she started."

Counting both her death and rescue, I feel that this sequence is leagues ahead of everything else in the game story-wise. King and Toroko were sad, and Kazuma's Bad Ending had some cool player choice, but this takes both scenes' good aspects and does them even better. It knows that less is more, and takes advantage of being a retro-style video game in a way that's powerful and rather impressive, given its roots. It's not the most genius, most polished, or most artsy-fartsy story moment in a game, but it holds a special place in my heart.
But then you restore Curly's memory. Now, her and "Quote's" whole arc is moot, basically retconned out. Now, they were always good guys, always true pals from the beginning. Now, their bond has always been of the strongest steel. Now, they are the heroes they were always meant to be.

This could work even better than the former characterization, but everything about it (i.e. Curly's exposition) is so vague that all we have is a general idea. Things like their fighting together and Quote saving Curly may rhyme like poetry now, but we only see them after they meet in the Sand Zone, so we don't have anything to rhyme them with. This incomplete poetry is the only thing that replaces their previous dynamic. It isn't even like the anticlimactic final cutscene, since this is now the canon backstory.

This ending also fleshes out "Quote" with hints of a personality... as he continues to be a mute shootyshootybangbang-er who doesn't remember any of this. Unlike the Soldier From The Surface, I think of Quote as an awkward middle ground between a blank slate and a developed character. It's similar to when some games give the "blank slate" character an intricate background and friends and motivation, and then forget the personality that makes an actual character.

And by its last-minute nature, they don't have time to elaborate or transition to this new backstory. It ends up practically erasing everything we thought we knew. Curly herself just kinda... sits in the Plantation, until the Sacred Grounds. In the normal ending, virtually nobody mentions Curly after her death, and the Colons are nowhere to be found. These things made her death way more depressing, but they're just disappointing now that she's alive. What happened to the Colons? Why doesn't she interact with anyone else? Hell, Curly herself forgets all about the Colons! Without so much as a passing mention, she beats up a wizard and then decides to live her days with her robo-soulmate and a toaster who contributed to the possible deaths of her children. It makes you wonder if Ma Pignon adheres to the Law Of Equivalent Exchange.

Again, it's not bad on its own, but it replaces something that's IMO way more compelling. With a little more time, it could've been way better.
Post might still be way too long, but it's something I've never seen anyone else say, so hopefully it's new/interesting/worth discussing.

Also a disclaimer, I like almost everything non-story about the "Best" Ending. Aside from B2.

Fuck B2.
 
Dec 7, 2020 at 11:39 PM
Okay I give up... for now
"What is a man!? A miserable pile of secrets! But enough talk, have at you!"
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Oh hey, this thread from several months ago. Cool, I've set a reminder on my phone to give that post a read this weekend and maybe respond to it. Just thought I'd go ahead and make a post now, since I know that it takes some work to write large walls of text like that, and it's nice to get an immediate post or two acknowledging up front that you put forth a lot of work into something, even if they haven't had the time yet to look into everything you wrote.
 
Jan 13, 2021 at 12:18 AM
Okay I give up... for now
"What is a man!? A miserable pile of secrets! But enough talk, have at you!"
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Whoops, forgot to reply to this. I guess I was waiting for someone else to reply so that I wouldn't double-post, but since it's been over a month now, a double-post won't hurt.

You know, I never took much issue with the backstory reveals for Quote and Curly, but now that you lay it all out there like that, I think you make a really good point. Many aspects of the story changes that occur if you're on the path for the 3rd ending, despite being relieving, just don't quite have the same emotional impact as the events that you're most likely to trigger on your first playthrough. A lot of this is due to the fact that the path for the normal ending just feels like it was really well thought out, and the "best" ending was kind of an afterthought that was slapped on top. Of course, this particular point with Ballos and the ending have been beaten to death, but I've never quite considered that another symptom of this lackluster feeling is that the reveal of Quote and Curly's backstory could have been done in a much more effective way. If the reveal of that backstory would have been more fleshed out, and if the Colons' story arc continued on the path for the "best" ending, then maybe that would have helped set that ending up to be more climactic and fulfilling.

I find it interesting that you're so hung up on that point of Quote and Curly being hinted at as former Mimiga killers. Even though this was hinted at, I never quite fully bought into this notion, and it never really weighed that heavily on me. A lot of their personalities and desires from before were likely to carry over to their present behavior, so it didn't come as too much of a surprise to for me when I found out that Quote and Curly were sent to destroy the Demon Crown.

Also yeah, I totally agree with you on how amazing Curly's sacrifice is in the game, and how the simplicity of it helped make it impactful. That really hit me hard my first playthrough, and the scene where you briefly see her body again when the island comes crashing down was also a really nice touch.
 
Jan 13, 2021 at 2:06 AM
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Oh hey. Thanks for replying.

Yeah, I might seem hung up on Quote and Curly being former mimiga-killers. It's kind of a personal thing. When I first played Cave Story (at like 9 years old) I took Curly's word that she and "the soldier from the surface" were part of the robot army. When the reveal came along I accepted it, and (IIRC) was glad that they were good guys all along.
But then a few months ago I started work on a very story-heavy mod that would be closely tied to Quote and Curly's backstory. And while conceptualizing it, I realized that the mod's story just doesn't work if Quote and Curly were good guys from the start. It would technically make sense, but one of the biggest elements hinges on Curly believing herself to be a former mimiga-killer. If Curly is just wrong and she was a good guy all along, then that point loses all of its emotional weight. And then I wondered if the same sentiment applies to the original game.
And so I looked back at the original game and did a little runthrough of the normal ending, making the same decisions I made on my very first playthrough. It also brought back some of the feelings I had that first time playing. The section about Quote and Curly's "character arc" sounds kinda presumptuous, but 9-year-old me was really invested in the story, and I projected a lot onto the characters. My imagination turned Labyrinth M, a fun section about pewpewbangwapooshing evil bugs, into a beautiful moment of companionship in your darkest hour yet.

The "Iron Retcon" idea is also about how everyone sees Quote and Curly's backstory (along with the rest of the "Best" ending) as The Canon Story. Especially looking at the stuff NICALIS has done with the characters, where QUOTE AND CURLY are the generally the only characters they show off. Which is extra funny because Curly isn't really a main character. She's awesome on her own, but she's mostly disconnected from the main plot, and never even meets the Sakamotos. She only shows up 5 times (Sand Zone, Dr. Gero's place, Labyrinth M/Core, Plantation, Sacred Grounds), make that 3 if you don't go for the "Best" ending.

...I kinda wonder what people would think of Cave Story if the "Best" ending just... didn't exist. If the normal ending was the story. Curly and Booster dying before your eyes, escaping with the Sakamotos, and watching the island fall from the sky, possibly killing a majority of its inhabitants and the people below it. Would there be nearly as much art and discussion of Curly Brace and the nameless protagonist? How many people would be saying "man, Cave Story's a fun game and all, but it's just too depressing for its own good." Would there be a "3rd Ending" mod about saving Curly and Booster?

Just a little thinky-thing. Maybe I just care too much about the plot of a 16-year-old boombambopbadabopboompow indie retro platform-adventure game.
 
Jan 13, 2021 at 3:59 AM
Okay I give up... for now
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Interesting, I've thought about going back and re-experiencing Cave Story all over again like that. In my case, I'll be coming up on my 10-year anniversary of first having played Cave Story this June (I was 14 then, now I'm 24), but I probably won't set aside the time for that, at least not this year, given the other projects I have going on that I want to make progress on.

Yeah, it is really interesting when you think about it, Curly doesn't have all that much screen time, and even on the path for the 3rd ending, she still plays a lesser role than Misery, Balrog, and the Sakamotos.

Haha, that's a really interesting thing to think about, if Cave Story only had the first 2 endings. The Booster 2.0 is only an idea in a notebook. You know very little about Curly. You never even knew what the protagonist's name was. I especially chuckle at your proposition of a "3rd Ending" mod about saving Curly and Booster. Even if things technically turn out better in the 3rd ending, the normal ending still left me pretty satisfied and didn't feel abrupt at all, and it was the abrupt nature of the 3rd ending that made me want to make my 4th ending mod, so that incentive wouldn't be as strong. Nonetheless, I can't help but picture myself in an alternate universe posting a video on youtube and saying:
HaydenStudios said:
As most any Cave Story player is most likely aware, there are lots of secrets hidden in the game Cave Story. In this video, I will assume that you are familiar with the first two endings to the game Cave Story. But did you know that there's a THIRD ENDING?!?!?!
 
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