Having completed Transistor three times now, my feelings about the ending have . . . not softened exactly, but they've become more complicated. I've come to view this game more as a song or a poem or a painting, and less as a story. Which is to say that rather than a collection of events connected by a plot, Transistor is more of a series of emotional impressions. There is a tenuous thread of melancholy that runs through them, and as you shift from situation to situation the emotional logic is clear, even if the backstory is obscure.
It's clever the way the second-to-last level is really just the first level, ruined and backwards. You first feel a connection to a place, and then later, the loss of a place. And the way the color and detail have drained from the previously gorgeous environment mirrors your growing despair. The world isn't going to get better, and the Process is out of control, thanks to the hubris of a few.
Seen in that light, Red's suicide is a sort of inevitable punctuation. A period at the end of a short declaration - what was unmade can never be restored. And maybe the reunion of Red and her lover at the very end of the credits is meant to extend that period into an ellipsis, and we are meant to find hope in the fact of this unspoken continuation.
But, of course, I don't. It just makes me sad. I suppose that this could be taken as to the game's credit. It is clearly trying to make me sad, and it succeeds. I feel the loneliness of the empty city, and the bleak hopelessness of the ruined city . . . it's undeniably affecting. Yet at times like this, I can't help thinking maybe I don't want to be affected.
It's a sentiment that makes me feel guilty, because of course I should like Big, Important Art that Dramatizes the Human Condition. It's the sort of thing smart people enjoy. But I don't enjoy it. I like things that make me smile. I liked fighting the Process, unlocking new powers, and solving the planning challenges.
Oh, I guess I also loved the beauty of the game, and that beauty is undeniably tied up with its sadness. It's something that will stick with me for a long time. When the game would stop for a moment of reflection, and cut to a dramatic and richly detailed painting, and the music would swell, I could not help but feel a shiver of wonder. And that is valuable. It's something maybe only one game in a dozen can do. So, as much as wish it ended differently, it's not a situation like Ride to Hell, where the writing is just stupid. It's more that I wish it ended differently like I wish life ended differently. That's not something that can properly be called a fault of the game. . .
But it is a fault in me, damnit. So, thank you Transistor, for providing me such a beautiful, enriching, and memorable experience. We shan't be seeing each other again.