Warning: spoilers ahead.
Rise of the Pirate God, the fifth and final installment of the episodic Tales of Monkey Island adventure game by Telltale, opens up with Guybrush, the pirate protagonist, killed by antagonist LeChuck and stranded as a ghost in the Crossroads, a limbo dimension that connects the realm of the living with the one of the dead.
He soon learns that, in order to come back to the land of the living, he needs to craft a spell:
Courage, anchor, direction, sacrifice: place these things in a ring at the center of the Crossroads
He then finds four objects, each of which embodies one of these “ingredients”, and is thus able to make his way back – abeit still as a ghost. With the help of pirate-hunter Morgan LeFlay and his wife Elaine Marley, he is able to defeat LeChuck – only at the cost of again getting trapped in the Crossroads, far from his love and friends, this time with no obvious way out.
I really liked this moment, because at this time, no clue whatsoever is given to the player as to how he can make his escape. For a few instants, the feeling of hopelessness is real and tangible – somehow harkening back to the era of early adventure games where puzzles where extremely difficult and no hints were provided to lead the player towards the right direction.
The key to the exit from the Crossroads, which is also the final puzzle of the episode and of the game as a whole, is great in that it involves both lateral thinking and acknowledgement of the overall sense of Guybrush’s journey. The player will have to realize that he is actually in possession of courage, anchor, direction, sacrifice – moreover in a ring, as the spell requires.
Elaine’s wedding ring, which he carried with himself since the very beginning of the game, is the sole object that never found a use in any of the game’s installments – yet it was always kept as an embodiment of his love for her. A love which gave him the courage to fight even when the situation seemed hopeless; an anchor to cling to in desperate times; direction like a bright star to look at; and even the willingness for sacrifice. That’s where the protagonist becomes somehow real and one with the player.
Somehow harkening back to the E-ticket from Monkey Island 2, Tales of Monkey Island gifts its happy ending only to those who are willing to go beyond the mere mechanicism of the adventure game genre and see a story behind it.