It’s been a long road to get here, but Minecraft: Story Mode has officially wrapped up its season with an eighth and final episode. Bringing a close to Story Mode, but also capping off the enchanted flint and steel story arc, ‘A Journey’s End?’ has a lot of work to do. While not packing as much of an emotional punch as the end of the Wither Storm arc, and admittedly not the most original premise, Episode 8 still delivers in the fun, fan-loving way we have come to expect.
With great characters, another strong stand-alone narrative, and plenty of action, it’s hard not to enjoy the Story Mode finale. Following Harper, the Old Builder the gang met and rescued in the previous episode, Jesse is on the hunt for the Atlas, a map that could finally lead the group home. It just so happens the Atlas is in the hands of three of the Old Builders. And before they know it, Jesse and friends literally stumble into a never-ending gladiator tournament.
Though the episode never fully delves into why the Old Builders created the world they have, the three remaining Old Builders host The Games, pitting teams from different worlds against each other, all for entertainment. There is an entire Competitors Village and everything. However, what started as a fun Olympics-style event meant to celebrate healthy competition has since turned into a brutal spectacle, where the losers are sentenced to work in the mines and only the victors are allowed to go home. Accept, thanks to an impressively stacked set of rules, no one ever actually wins.
Pulling from every great gladiator story, and even from The Hunger Games, the premise of ‘A Journey’s End?’ doesn’t hold many surprises in and of itself. Telltale makes up for that though, through hilarious characters and some of the best action scenes of the series.
The lovable-but-violent guard Facemeat, the chilled-out surfer girl Nell, and the guard-turned-competitor Em all stand out. Moving along at a fast clip through it’s hour and a half run time, the episode unfortunately doesn’t give you much of a chance to get to know these new characters. Their personalities are fun and interesting enough to ride from one scene to the next, but they are also good enough to beg for more time with each fresh face. As with Story Mode’s previous episodes, it’s this lack of background and depth that keeps the world from being quite as engrossing as it first appears.
Complimenting the wonderfully over-the-top characters, the action scenes throughout the episode are more intense and frantic than almost any in the rest of the series. In yet another well-placed nod to the Minecraft community, Jesse and friends fall into the Old Builder’s world directly in the middle of a match of spleef. A fan-made competition that started gaining popularity back when Minecraft was still in Alpha, spleef involves players fighting to break the blocks beneath the feet of their opponents, sending them into a pit hidden below. With multiple teams competing, Minecraft: Story Mode takes the idea of the spleef and blows it out into hectic, exciting chaos.
With two more competitions to follow in the episode, spleef is just the beginning as massive fight scenes continue throughout. While not quite reaching the gleeful absurdity of Tales From the Borderlands, each scene was a blast, leaving me wide-eyed and laughing.
More than anywhere else, this is where Episode 8 excels. It makes you laugh as it builds and embraces the fantasy of an out-of-control gladiator tournament in a Minecraft universe. As far as action and spectacle, you can’t ask for much more. And perhaps because the finale delivers handedly on those strengths, its lack of more emotional depth is that much easier to see.
There is a touch of back story, along with some weighty emotions on the part of the competitors trapped in the Old Builder’s sick games, but these each ultimately feel contained and don’t have the far reaching impact like events we’ve seen in the past. The loss of Rueben at the end of the Wither Storm arc was shocking, well crafted and surprisingly painful. There just isn’t anything quite of that caliber here. While a strong episode on it’s own, ‘A Journey’s End?’ fits its title a little too well and doesn’t offer a climactic end to the larger story, even though Telltale has proven they are capable of handling such climaxes in the past.
Likewise, while there is ample set up to allow for something to finally come of the Jesse-Petra or Jesse-Lukas relationships, any possible romances feel entirely unresolved. It’s true, Telltale may simply have wanted to keep romance of any kind out of the game, but it still feels like a misstep and a missed opportunity overall.
Episode 8, ‘A Journey’s End,’ is another enjoyable, humorous entry in the series. But it also does little to earn its place as the rousing climax to what became Telltale’s longest season to date. Take all of that with the rather open-ended final scenes and you end up with the distinct impression even the developers might not be entirely sure whether or not there will be a Season 2. Either way however, the finale does prove there is still fun to be had in a Minecraft narrative universe.