Tunic: How The True Ending Explains the Whole Game & Why We Play
Tunic is the new Little Game That Could that's become a new obsession amongst gamers. An indie game that combines Old School Zelda with Souls-like combat difficult, it's endlessly meme-able and streamable because it doesn't explain anything to the player. They're left to figure everything out by themselves, from how the combat works to where to find weapons, what weapons there are, where to go, what to do to progress and just how hard the boss fights are.
WARNING: everything from here is a major spoiler explaining the story of Tunic.
You play a cute little fox fighting its way through a ruined world. It's already ended and the lil' fox is the only one in this world with only enemies trying to kill them. The fox has a mission, which is open up the closed areas of the map, defeat bosses to get the keys to open the golden doors of a fortress, and meet the final boss, an ethereal adult female fox called The Heir. A final boss fight occurs only for The Heir to prove too powerful and defeat the lil' fox. Now a ghost in ethereal form, the lil' fox has to fight their way through a haunted night-time version of the same world with different ghostly enemies, encountering the ghosts of the previous – adult–fox heroes who perished before, fight new bosses to gain new powers, regain their physical form and confront The Heir once again.
The obvious path that every player would find is another boss fight with The Heir. If the lil' fox defeats The Heir, they end up imprisoned in a gem for all eternity. It seems to be a punishment. The Game Over screen tells the player to either start again with New Game Plus or go back to before the Boss Fight to recover the missing pages from the Game Manual that the lil' fox had been collecting throughout the game. Putting together a complete copy of the Game Manual turns out to be the real objective all along before the lil' fox confronts The Heir.
This means having to go through hours and hours of complicated and elaborate puzzles that the player must work out by themselves. Who knows how any player can solve them all without looking up hints or walkthroughs on the internet, which might be what the game designer had intended all along. Using the internet, finding clues and advice or outright solutions are part of gaming culture. Somehow, some of the first players of the game managed to unlock all its secrets and puzzle within the first week of release.
It's when the lil' fox brings a complete Game Manual to The Heir that the True Ending of the game is revealed. Instead of another long and painful Boss Fight, The Heir reads the Game Manual, is freed from her magical prison and becomes a normal adult fox again. Thus, the lil' fox is reunited with their mother. That turns out to be why they've been fighting through the game all along. Their mission had been to free or cure The Heir. The story of the whole game is a child's struggle to be reunited with their mother.
This is a surprisingly emotional payoff and explanation for the game story. Suddenly all the fights and torturous boss fights and insanely complicated puzzles have an emotional reason: who doesn't identify with a child who wants to get back to their mother? It's a commentary on the nature of stories in games. It acknowledges that games are often for children. You might wonder how many children have enough patience to play through Tunic, then you start to think that perhaps this is a game that a parent might play with their child, teaching them about patience, perseverance and asking for help, learning to look for answers (on the internet). Tunic is a game for the family and community after all, and a celebration of it all.