While their fans may throw the occasional cash at their favourite live-service game, or even “whale” to obtain every character and/or weapon on offer, it is the sad reality that the live-service games we play today will one-day end service and become inaccessible to the thousands if not millions of people who called themselves fans of the service. Whether being too niche or having its userbase move on rendering it financially unviable to run the game any longer, the developer/publisher going out of business, technological limitations or, in the best case scenario, that game being succeeded by another – there will be a time that you will no longer be able to pass that login screen – the hours you dedicated to it having been lost to the ether. Those who have been reading The Otaku’s Study over the past few months will be aware that Pokelabo and Square Enix’s SINoALICE, has concluded service globally and will on 15 January 2024 be shuttering its original Japanese servers for good – bringing the original narrative spearheaded by creative director Yoko Taro to an end.
Released in 2017 in Japan and receiving a global release in 2020, SINoALICE is a mobile-exclusive fantasy RPG featuring a rather simple gameplay loop but shone with its amazing music and charming visual aesthetic which complemented a dark fantasy narrative revolving around iconic characters from fairy tales such as Alice, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty (Ibarahime), Gretel (from Hansel and Gretel) and Pinnochio – each representing the darker elements of their personality, a sin, as they end up in a nightmarish and cruel loop of combat in an attempt to resurrect their author. It arguably never achieved mainstream acclaim like NieR: Automata did, but I feel there was more the series could have done in the gaming space, similar to what Granblue Fantasy has done in recent years, as the concept surrounding SINoALICE and its characters is strong. However, what we did receive were numerous “Acts” or chapters, non-linear in nature allowing players to follow each arc from the perspective of a slowly growing cast of characters, and even if there were a few clear favourites for the writing team, the game gave each character the chance to shine.
Please be aware that if you are looking to finish the Japanese server questline yourself, please note that full spoilers are ahead.
If you have a somewhat levelled account on SINoALICE and want to experience the ending for yourself, there is a cheat to get to the final chapter. Interested? Click Here.
The End of “The Worst of All Stories”, SINoALICE
Sadly for the Global and Taiwanese servers of SINoALICE, they were a couple of years behind the Japanese servers content-wise, and with less time until the servers concluded, they received an alternate ending. The conclusion was well received given the circumstances and worked around where the narrative ended. Ultimately with how many live service games don’t give their narrative any semblance of a conclusion, props to them for doing so. However, with more time to deliver an ending, and the fully written story behind them, the SINoALICE creative team has arguably managed to deliver a more fitting conclusion to the story – and most importantly, working in some Yoko Taro-esque tropes that enrich the experience.
What do I mean by Yoko Taro-esque tropes? From the ending of Drakengard which literally spawned the NieR franchise, to NieR itself which saw you playing through the game’s ending multiple times before making an irreversible sacrifice to save your travelling companion, to NieR: Automata which did the same but only after making the final boss the end-game credits with other players supporting you – games he direct tends to leave a lasting impression, evoking emotional responses and (in later games) giving you the option to sacrifice dozens of hours of hard work.
Upon starting Chapter 7: The Act of Desire, as the story unfolds you begin losing access to some of the game’s systems – with the chat functionality, and the ability to set your home screen character progressively taken away. The final boss battle itself, while it can be soloed by creating a one-player guild, is meant to be played with a guild of 15 players, your partners in nightly colosseum battles against other guilds, as you take down the final threat – which I can imagine in itself is a powerful moment, the last battle you will all take together after battling together every night.
But, what I love, is that going down this route serves as a point of no return. Completing the final mission is irreversible, leading to the final completion of the game. While this will be the case for everyone in only a couple of weeks – all your levelled characters, upgraded weapons and other accrued medallions and items are no longer usable. You have sentenced yourself to finishing the game just that little bit earlier. Without any further notice, you will finalise your profile and receive – in return – an image of your account’s tombstone. But what’s this? You can still log in?
Preservation: シノアリスだったナニカ | The Story That Was Once SINoALICE
SINoALICE is pulling one more trick out of its hat, which means that anyone who completes the game by the end of service will have their app “converted” to シノアリスだったナニカ, translated into English as The Story That Was Once SINoALICE. The game is over, and “playing” SINoALICE is no longer possible. However, you can instead enjoy the character stories and information on every Character/Job, weapon (although they trapped me in a loading loop as of writing) and summon you have collected (excluding those of crossover events) while playing SINoALICE, watch cutscenes/story events from the game’s history and read farewell messages from each of the characters. It is all complemented by sombre music, and I am curious if a Version 100.0 update will go live on 15 January to roll out additional features one last time such as a music box. The caveat, of course, is that with servers down, The Story That Was Once SINoALICE will only function while its cache remains intact (so don’t wipe it) and only on the current device.
Whether it is money or just precious time in your life dedicated to a live service game, bidding farewell to characters, lore and more you have grown attached to over the years can be hard once a game has become ‘unprofitable’ or just can’t stay live any longer. While I am hopeful that the SINoALICE franchise as a whole is not done and that Square Enix or Pokelabo will repurpose it in the future, given that many games leave their loyal player base with a login screen and an error message, granting players continued access to story events and their character events is a nice gesture. Of course, I can imagine being disappointed playing on the Global servers and not having this luxury after three years of play.
While I believe that the gold standard response for any live service game shutting down is finding a way of converting it into a purely offline experience, given how these things work, I think this is an exemplar of what games should offer to players once their game hits end of service – whether it is associated with the user’s activity, like SINoALICE, or just an official showcase of everything the game offered players. Live service games are notoriously difficult to preserve, and this is a fitting way to ensure the game’s narrative and creative legacy lives on – at least to those who finished the game – well beyond its closing date. Plus, it continues to showcase the work put in by hundreds if not thousands of developers that made the game happen.
In all seriousness, here’s hoping Square Enix and/or Pokelabo revisit SINoALICE with Yoko Taro in the future. Even if its days on the mobile and manga market are soon over, I could see it adapting well to a solid console RPG or type of game similar to NieR: Automata.
SINoALICE is no longer available outside of Japan, and will reach its end of service on 15 January 2024. The game was available on both iOS and Android platforms.
* Please note that until the service goes EOS, things may be subject to change. This is based on my own readings and experiences based on official announcements as of the time this was posted. The most recent news (as of writing) is available HERE.