Be careful what you wish for, people. Sometimes you just can't win. Sometimes you realise all too late that you've been fighting for the wrong cause. Sometimes you fight so hard that you end up too burnt out to enjoy your victory. And sometimes you're just a great big idiot who messes things up so badly that any potential success is immediately buried under a huge, warm heap of stinking failure.
Those latter, shambolic resolutions are the ones we're going to be discussing today. But be warned--though you shouldn't really need telling--that this feature is going to be discussing game endings, a lot. If you fear spoilers, make sure you skip ahead as soon as you see a game you haven't finished. There will be tears otherwise.
The Gears of War trilogy
The victories: In the first Gears of War, the COG forces manage to push back the Locust horde and trigger a Lightmass bomb in the enemy's subterranean stronghold, with the aim of wiping out the entire species where it lives. In Gears of War 2, the COG sinks the entirety of Jacinto province into the sea in order to take out the invading Locust. In Gears of War 3, they use a DNA-coded genocide device to finish off the rest of them, worldwide.
It's pointless because: The Lightmass bomb systematically fails to kill the Locust, but is a lot more efficient in creating an environmental hazard that causes rustlung, a disease that results in milions of humans dying by coughing their insides up. The sinking of Jacinto fails too, with the handy side-effect of destroying the last human safe zone on dry land. By the time the Locust are dead, most of the planet is uninhabitable and there are only about 17 people left. Nine if you only count those not current dying. The world is saved!
The victory: File this one very much under the category of "He who fights monsters...". After helping to defeat the Mad Gear gang in the first Final Fight, Cody returned for a second bout of violent city-wide vengeance in Final Fight Revenge. After a year spent wandering the world in serach of scuffle-based self-improvement, his second victory over the newly reformed Mad Gear gang should have been a no-brainer. However...
It's pointless because: Alas, by this point, Cody's ongoing quest for fisticuffs had left him unable to settle down, with the fight becoming an all-consuming lifestyle. As a result, he got arrested, leading to a bitter separation from the girlfriend he was trying to rescue in the first place. Before being sent down to prison town. He escaped in time for Street Fighter Alpha 3, but he's never really found peace.
Klonoa Beach Volleyball
The victory: Joka wins the titular beach volleyball tournament, and has a canny plan to snatch even greater victory from the jaws of victory. He casts a spell to make his prize money 10 times greater. Surely a flawless and rather profitable flourish, right?
It's pointless because: Wrong. Joka falls victim to the pesky, occasionally staunchly literal nature of magic. Instead of multiplying into a greater total amount of money, his prize stash actually just becomes 10 times larger. As in, the notes grow to the size of pillow cases. And shopkeepers immediately assume that he's made ludicrously ill-advised counterfeit cash and call the police, making the entirety of his spoils utterly useless.
Mortal Kombat 2011
The victory: After an exhaustively long campaign spanning the truncated plots of the first three games, crossing two dimensions and taking in the deaths of thousands, if not millions during Shao Kahn's invasion of Earthrealm, Raiden finally, finally manages to enlist the help of the Elder Gods. With Liu Kang dead, the thunder god takes on the dictator and eventually beats him with a magic flamethrower. A swarm of tiny magic flame-snakes nibble at Kahn like those little fish that supposedly eat the dead skin off your feet. He dies.
It's pointless because: The second Raiden walks away from the scene of the battle, mourning the great cost of victory alongside Johnny Cage and Sonya, another portal opens up. Quan Chi and Shinnock walk through, and immediately reveal that having Earthrealm and Outworld fight each other to a standstill was their plan all along. With both sides battered, it's now time for Netherrealm to have a pop at the title fight.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
The victory: Shao Kahn wins! As the game itself tells us: "Blaze was no match for Shao Kahn the Konqueror. His strength increased tenfold, the forces of Light could not fend off his final invasion as he merged each realm with Outworld". Sound good? Well...
It's pointless because: It turns out that when you're a realm-conquering sociopath with a world view entirely focused on suppressing millions of innocents via the medium of snapping their arms off, once you run out of things to conquer, you have a hard time finding much of a point going on. So, much like Alexander the Great, when Shao Kahn saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. Or arms to snap off. And then he went mad. Actually, those last two bits aren't much like Alexander the Great. But you get the point.
The victory: Having staved off all attacks against his growing regime, secret last boss bad-guy Hyo Imawano is set to unleash an assault on the wider realm beyond his school, to the eventual end of taking over the whole country. His footsoldiers are ready, strong, and loyal, and it looks like no-one is able to stop him.
It's pointless because: Hyo realises that there's a price to pay for victory. More specifically, there's a price to pay for victory by way of being a big brainwashing bastard. He has the loyalty of his troops, but none of them like or even trust him. Even worse, he has destroyed his relationship with his brother. Loneliness takes hold, in the form of crippling headaches and foetal sobbing fits. There's no win in taking over the country if that means that everyone in the country hates you.
The victory: After a long rivalry and a whole load of third-party interferance by Dr. Robotnik, Sonic and Jet manage to track down a prophesised, supposedly immensely powerful treasure of the ancient Babylonians. But Robotnik has followed them the whole way and forces them to hand over their spoils at gunpoint. They do. Robotnik wins. Sort of.
It's pointless because: The treasure is a carpet. Robotnik is utterly unimpressed and seems to pass out in disappointment (Look, he's really, really unimpressed, okay?) But then, what's this? Tails has noticed that the carpet isn't just a load of old rag, but actually a magic carpet, capable of flight. The thing is, Sonic Riders is set in an age of jet-powered flying hoverboards. A flying carpet is only really impressive if you're an ancient Babylonian. In ancient Babylon. So, er, no-one wins really.
The Twisted Metal series
The victory: To be fair, most victories in the Twisted Metal series end up being pointless. Tournament organiser Calypso, you see, has the ability to grant the winner any one wish, but almost invariably pulls the "literal genie" clause in order to twist their request into something decidedly rubbish. But, for the sake of an example, I'm going to pick out Mike and Stu's ending from Twisted Metal 2. They ask for the ability to fly. Calypso grants it.
It's pointless because: Mike and Stu leap off a skyscraper. They instantly plummet to the ground and die with their faces stuffed halfway through a pavement, as is traditional in these situations. Calypso produces two plane tickets.
The bad ending
So there's our current list of the most fruitless conquests in video games. But are there any more deflatory victories you feel need adding? Let us know.
And while you're here, check out some of our related stuff. I'd recommend The Top 7... Most unrewarding games of all time (opens in new tab) and The Top 7... Most ambitious flops in gaming (opens in new tab).