Statements are better with examples, so there's some spoilers here. Considering the topic I can't even give the title of a game without that already being a big plot spoiler, but I'll make a point of using old games rather than new ones. So just be sure you're ok with spoilers for some old games I guess.
How many times now have we gone through a story, or story arc within a longer story, where the whole basis of what you're doing is to stop something from happening, then you fail and it happens anyway, then you just kill the final boss after they successfully did the thing you were trying to stop them from doing this whole time. Making every moment of the game prior to that fight unimportant.
Games can indeed be written so that this problem doesn't happen. Dragon Age Origins has you preparing to fight the darkspawn invasion when it happens, not trying to stop it from happening in the first place, so when it does all feels well and good. They attack, you defend, as expected. In theory, a game could also be written under the pretense that you are expected to fail, and that doesn't feel bad either. And easy example of that is Halo Reach. A prequel about the fight on a planet that in the other games you already know was lost. You lose at the end, and it's a-ok. I belive that could be done in a game without it even being a prequel. I feel like I've played examples of it too, but can't remember any of the top of my head.
But other games have you playing through the whole story trying to stop the big bad from doing "the thing", then you fail, then you win anyway. The most recently encountered example of this for me, was the first half(?) of Fable. Technically it's not the final boss of the game, but insofar as that story arc goes, the whole basis is to stop Jack of Blades from obtaining a McGuffin because he'll be too powerful if he does. Then you just fail miserably at the last step of that process, he gets it, and you kill him regardless. Rather than feeling like I accomplished a great feat, I just felt like all the hours of gameplay before that were wasted and the game may as well have started there. There's plenty of examples of this happening. I included one on principle but I'm not making a list. By all means, speak of others in your comments if you like, it's so overdone I can barely even consider it a spoiler myself.
I suppose bringing up both games like that Fable arc and Halo Reach leads to a noteworthy question:
Is the dissapointment in the games behind this thread just about the failure after expected victory, where games that are openly an exercise in futility aren't dissapointing, or is it specifically because you win anyway in the fight that happens after everything before it ended in failure? If Fable just had you lose to Jack would that feel better than beating him after failing to stop him? Furthermore, for games that are exercises in futility, how much difference does it make if the game is a prequel like Reach or a new story of its own?
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