What is a Branching Path? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]
Video games and our daily lives sometimes share similar themes. What we mean by that is sometimes in life, we find our paths don’t go exactly the way we plan. Maybe an event occurs or we find our career choices being altered and thus, our path in life has branched off going towards a new direction. This may cause someone to find themselves going a different way then they planned but ultimately, will allow this alternative route to lead them in the same direction. Ironically, there are quite a few games that do something similar and the gaming community has defined this gameplay style as branching paths. Still a little confused? Well, that’s why we here at Honey’s Anime are doing this article titled What is a Branching Path.
Now, as we mentioned earlier, branching paths in games will still lead to the same end goal; that’s very important to know. However, with most games that incorporate the branching path mechanic, the ending can be altered slightly or even other big parts of the story’s narrative can be changed dramatically. It can be a bit overwhelming if you’re new to these gameplay ideas, but don’t worry, as we’re going to help you better understand What is a Branching Path. Below are several games and examples that will let you better understand the definition and meaning behind a branching path and by the end of the article, we know you’ll be able to understand the term without an issue from here on out. Now then let us begin our lesson with some proper explanations, shall we?
Multiple endings, same true ending
In many games with branching paths, while the story may change and can even lead to different endings, ultimately there is only one true ending. However, how you get there is based on a few things that must occur to get to said ending. First, you must usually see multiple endings, this in turn unlocks what most consider a true ending or the true finale. Second, no matter the endings of the various branching paths you’ve taken, you will never alter the actual ending thus making it truly the real or true ending. This can be seen in tons of video games in the world but for our example we’re going to look at two game one being Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and the other Heavy Rain.
1. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
- System/Platform: Nintendo DS, iOS, PS4, PS Vita, PC
- Publisher: Spike (JP), Aksys Games (NA)
- Developer: Chunsoft
- Release Date: Dec 10, 2009
Nine passengers have found themselves kidnapped and placed on a cruise liner somewhere in the middle of the sea. A voice echoes throughout the hallways telling them that they are participants of a game called the “Nonary Game”. If they wish to leave the boat alive, they must look for a door with the number 9 emblazoned on it. However, as Junpei—one of the nine passengers—and the others will soon discover, this “Nonary Game” isn’t an ordinary game but one with terrifying puzzles and deathly consequences for breaking the rules. Can Junpei and the others somehow survive the puzzles created by the so called Zero and learn why they were placed in this predicament?
Visual novels are usually a good example of games with branching paths and for us, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors—or simplified to 999 for most—is our main example of different endings all reaching to the same true ending. In 999, players must navigate various puzzles behind different locked doors but there is a catch. Each time a player enters one of these numbered doors, they lead towards one of several endings in the game. Once a player has seen all the endings offered—which we will say are interesting—they can then unlock the game’s true ending. It may seem like a repetitive notion to have to redo parts of the game you’ve already done but in games like 999, the beauty lies in the fact that there are so many endings and puzzles that you very rarely feel like you’ve done this repeatedly. That’s why if you want a game that has branching paths but won’t change the true ending, you should think about trying 999.
2. Heavy Rain
- System/Platform: PS3, PS4
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer: Quantic Dream
- Release Date: Feb 18, 2010
Ethan Mars, Scott Shelby, Norman Jayden and Madison Paige are about to endure a hellish nightmare soon. Each of these 4 individuals will find themselves trapped in a world surrounded by death, mystery and anguish as they deal with not only their personal issues but a killer known as The Origami Killer. Can these four poor souls somehow unite and defeat the elusive Origami Killer or will they find their lives ended prematurely by various actions they take? You’re in control of their lives now, and your choices will forever shape theirs in Heavy Rain. Choose your paths carefully as mistakes can sometimes lead to a life being cut short and thus impacting the others.
Developer Quantic Dream has been known in the gaming world for a while now with several titles that have a branching path gameplay style but we still love Heavy Rain. Here players control 4 different characters as they navigate various events and survive dangerous encounters in a third person exploration title. The branching paths mechanic comes into play when you make decisions with characters that can sometimes cause them to either die off or deviate from helping one another. While there are almost 20 endings to Heavy Rain, only one of those endings is considered canon and the others are almost akin to dead ends seen in Japanese games, which we may have as an example. That’s why in Heavy Rain, be prepared to have to really think about each action—even though that’s tough with most choices being timed—before you make it, as it can really send ripples throughout the story. Though we won’t lie ,we played Heavy Rain to 100% completion just to see how every ending could have gone and most likely, if you love Heavy Rain yourself, you’ll want to do the same.
Change the conclusion
Now maybe you’re in the mood for a game that changes the ending based on your choices you’ve made so far. Yes, there might what is considered a true ending but equally these endings can and are considered possible outcomes. It almost sounds like a contradiction but in the world of video games, this is surprisingly the closest you will get to being able to change the course of the conclusion. That’s why one of the games we’ve decided to choose to better illustrate our example is a horror RPG known as Corpse Party. Let us dive into this nightmarish game to show you what we mean by changing the conclusion.
3. Corpse Party
- System/Platform: PSP, Nintendo 3DS, , iOS
- Publisher: 5pb, XSEED Games
- Developer: Team GrisGris
- Release Date: Nov 22, 2011
Several friends and their teacher are about to enter a living hell. After performing a ritual that was supposed to be a means of a going away gift for a transferring student, the ritual lands the helpless souls in a condemned school known as Heavenly Host Elementary School. Here, the students and teacher find themselves trapped in different dimensions and pursued by evil spirits of murdered children. They must find a means to escape before the spirits can either kill them or the school’s negative energy alters their minds and brings upon them the darkening. However, can they somehow manage this feat when so many others have been here before and have died here as well?
We could almost feel some of you on the internet telling us that Corpse Party does have a true canon ending that leads to the various sequels and such. While this is indeed true—we do our homework folks—the idea is that in Corpse Party there are several endings based on choices, or lack of, made by the players. For example—without spoiling anything in case you haven’t played Corpse Party—say you’re playing as one of the students and forget to find a key item during the game. This simple event can lead to a completely different ending and not just one of the game’s numerous dead ends. Branching paths are like that sometimes where players can alter the ending and get different ones because of simple mechanics like missing an item or an event. That’s why we think Corpse Party is a fitting example of a branching path game and one of the prime examples of multiple endings based on actions not just one last choice near the end of the game, which can be seen in quite a few titles nowadays.