Warning: This contains major spoilers for the game. Do not read this unless you have played through Ending E. Do not read this even if you don't care about spoilers. You must play the game without spoilers.
Oh boy, where do I even begin? Maybe I should begin at the end, since I still remember it so vividly. I don't think I will ever forget it. I wasn't even trying to get Ending E, I was grabbing an L Part near the end to upgrade the laser pod, and I decided to grab the other ending (Ending D) while I was at it, since there are no save spots after that point.
When the credits rolled and the pods talked about the data noise, I wasn't sure what to pick. I picked Yes. When the pod mentioned the personal data of 2B, 9S, A2 and deleting them, I thought I fucked up. I should've ignored the data noise so the leaked data didn't get deleted. When the other pod denied the request. I felt the game. When the pod said it was unsatisfied with the conclusion, I felt that. When the pod said it wanted the main characters to survive, I felt that.
Then the credits rewound and I saw Ending E. I wasn't looking for it and I found the final ending.
I fought through all of the credits without dying until the Square Enix (I have some experience with shmups like Touhou although I'm not a pro by any means). The game asked me if I wanted to give up. I can try a few more times. The game asked me if games were silly. Fuck no, now it's personal. The game asked me if the world has no meaning. Fuck no.
Since I was playing blind, I didn't know if the game was going to help me out or not. I felt like it might, but I heard about Yoko Taro being a troll. Doesn't matter, I was prepared to go through to the end. I beat Celeste without cheats, dying over and over. If I had to beat this myself, then by God I would do it. I saw the messages of all of the people encouraging me. They could do it. I can do this.
Then Zelda offered to help. Oh, here's the game throwing me the bone, I thought. With my newfound firepower, I started blasting. I wasn't sure what would happen if I died again, so I played more recklessly. I got hit and I saw the message at the side of the screen. "Zelda's data has been lost."
Oh shit. I wasn't sure what that meant at the time, but I felt like I had to play more carefully. I assumed that players registered a message at the end of the game, and when I died, their message got deleted. Not a huge deal, but I had the shmup skills, so I did my best and got through only getting hit one or two more times.
The final ending scene was perfect. The little bit of humor about life being a constant stream of embarrassments. The question about whether anything will change. Saying we have to grasp the possibility of the future. The ending scene was short, but every second of that scene was utilized fully. The ending scene was left open, but that was all I needed. Not a happy ending where all the problems get solved. Just a ray of hope. Beating the credits was worth it.
After that, I got asked to leave a message. I expected this, and hell yeah I left a message. The game asked me if I wanted to help others. Hell yes. Would I give up my save data for that? Ah, now I know what that message meant.
I wasn't planning on getting Ending E. I still had a few quests to finish. I still had a few weapons to upgrade. I didn't collect all of the archive items, I didn't finish the colosseums. I do have some backups, as I keep nightly backups of my computer, but I would still be losing the hours of progress I made today.
Would I give up my save data for someone I hated? Of course, even my worst enemy deserves to see the conclusion of this awesome experience.
Would I give up my save data, even if it was just for show? I'm a programmer, a logical thinker. My subconscious is racing, analyzing the situation. I still wasn't sure if the game would actually delete my data or if it was a test. There was no way other players deleted their data to only help one person, because the average player is going to be dying more than me, and I died more than once. The number of lives used up had to be more than the number of players giving up their data. So this has to be for show. Would I give up my save data, even if it was just for show?
Would I TRULY give up my save data? I still wasn't sure if the game would actually do it. If it did, I could restore from my backup. But the game was testing me. At this point, it no longer mattered if it actually would delete my data or not. The game was testing me. Are games just silly little things? Was I prepared to start the game from the very beginning if I wanted to 100% it?
At the new title screen, I had to check. There was no "Continue" option. The madman has actually done it. He's actually done it.
I stepped away from my computer for a few minutes to try to make sense of all these feelings. And now, a few days later, I still can't stop thinking about the game. That's why I'm writing this.
If you're wondering, I went back and hit "New Game". I didn't restore my backup. It felt wrong.