Grand Theft Auto IV
The choice: GTA IV protagonist Niko Bellic's two in-game best buddies, titties-happy Roman Bellic and titties-having Kate McReary, counsel two different courses of action in the game's final act. Will you follow the bloodthirsty advice of Kate, who comes from a long line of Irish-American stereotypes, and can thus be inferred to possess more than her share of earthy wisdom? Or, after Roman's suggestion, will you choose a peaceful resolution that somehow results in just as much tragic death and histrionic soul-searching for poor Niko?
The stakes: In a ten-thousand-spoons-level dose of irony, the character whose advice you choose to follow will end up dead. Embark on Kate's roaring rampage of revenge and Niko's girlfriend will become the victim of a drive-by shooting, leaving Niko disillusioned with an America that would let him end the game still hanging out with Roman. Choose the latter's peaceful path, though, and it's Roman himself who's clipped, prompting Niko to fear for his very soul. Suggesting that he has never actually met Roman.
Your best bet: The wheels of GTA IV's narrative turn on the engine of Niko Bellic's self-loathing disillusionment, but the game also follows a strict action-movie code of ethics: losing a girl is a bummer, but losing a buddy is a living hell. And because the worse things get for Niko, the better the game's script becomes, choosing “Make a Deal” and sacrificing Roman is the obvious choice. He's ogling American titties with Jesus now.
Super Street Fighter II
The decision: The one-on-one genre's weird attitude toward story – utterly superfluous, yet fully-developed and packed with details about everything your character does when you’re not actually playing the game – is highlighted by finishing SF2 with Chun Li. Whereas series favorites Ryu and Ken get to punch a waterfall and marry a blow-up doll, Li completists get to choose where the plucky teen goes after defeating Bison: enjoy a carefree life in the hedonistic paradise of Communist China, or continue her career as a detective?
The stakes: Here’s the cruel part. Examining this heartless illusion of choice reveals a grimly fatalistic twist: both endings are almost exactly the same. The only things that change are the clothes Chun Li's wearingand the dialogue between herself and the poor schmuck she's whalloping. The implication: life, for Chun Li, is a callous simulacra of free will, leading to more conflict whichever path she falsely believes herself to be choosing. Which, yeah, she's in the next two games, so no shit.
Your best bet: Choosing the “normal life” prompts a weak vision of what the SF2 designers thought nightclubbing was like in the 90s (an episode of Miami Vice as written by Beyonce Knowles). Whereas, as a detective, she taunts villains with the superb threat, “No one can escape from my mighty legs!” a line sadly cut from the script of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. Assuming it was ever in there, we mean.
Final Fantasy VI
The choice: Faced by two characters hanging from a ledge – a cuddly moogle or an ignoble thief – the game's characters can only save one. Will this be the arbitrary single moment in every Final Fantasy game when death suddenly decides to be irreversible? Is there a deeper moral about not judging a character just because they're down with OPP? No, it's Final Fantasy, just save the moogle. Have you not played a video game before?
The stakes: The thief turns out to be carrying a vaguely valuable item that might save you ten minutes of level-grinding later down the line. The moogle, on the other hand, is Mog, who's basically the John McClane of moogles. You'll get to recruit him later (turns out this isn't the game's arbitrary-irreversible-death moment), but if you don't snap him up at the cliff face, you'll never be able to bring the character to his full potential.
Your best bet: Obviously, save the moogle. Let him fall and, when you eventually meet up with the character again, you'll never be able to teach the character his most powerful special attacks. And years from that moment, when your grandchildren ask if you've done all that you could with your life, you'll have to wistfully tell them that you have not. Plus, “impossibly cute thing” wins out over “asshat who steals stuff” pretty much every time on the whole “characters who deserve to not die” scale.
Far Cry 2
The choice: Far Cry 2's story is a relentlessly bleak litany of factional warfare and uncomfortably topical genocide. As such, it's little surprise that the game's non-linear, multi-pronged story always manages to wind up the same way: putting you in a shack with the game's enemy-turned-ally, The Jackal, choosing whether to take the detonator for a home-made explosive or a briefcase full of blood diamonds. Look, if you wanted an upbeat take on the subject matter, you should have gone with Resident Evil 5.
The stakes: Pick the explosive and the mission is to blow up the enemy's path to their daily dose of genocide, with the unfortunate side effect of blowing yourself up also. Choose the diamonds and your task becomes bribing airport officials to let a mission-critical group of civilians out of town. After which, Far Cry 2 slams the brakes on its game-long policy of player agency, forcing you to shoot yourself in the head to make some hazy sort of political point.
Your best bet: If you choose the diamonds, you never actually see your character die (whereas the “explosives” ending leaves things fairly cut and dried) – so if you're that attached to your FC2 character, feel free to concoct a lengthy narrative in which your guy lives on beyond the vaguely ambiguous ending. On the other hand, if you're down with this being the end of the game, just blow everything up and start again on a higher difficulty level.