After spending my weekend playing Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, just to see all the endings in the game, I started to get a little pissed. Mostly because all the endings are pretty different. I've seen the "Good" ending, so why do I want to see the 7 others? I know the canon logical ending, but what else could have happened? Half are slight variations and half are "bad" and one is just...different. Forget the fact that each ending takes hours to unlock, why did I do it? The completionist in my had to see them all, and looking them up online goes against my principles. But let's get on to the subject on my mind, multiple endings.
In the case of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, only one ending really works because of the sequel. Overall, multiple endings are a mixed bag. If taken in the sense of a game as single story, how do you know which one is the proper ending? Video games in general are a story, where we get to participate. We get to explore this world created for us, but no matter how you look at it, we walk the path the writer has laid before us. How should the story end though? Why leave it up to the player?
Proper endings. Seems like it shouldn't be hard to pick out right? Well, take Cave Story. With no sequel, we are unable to deduce what was the intentional ending. While fleeing is obviously not the proper ending, does saving Curly give the proper ending, or was her sacrifice part of the story? Are you supposed to go above and beyond with the game or just save the island and the friends you made? While the "standard" ending, take Disgaea again, is much sadder than the proper ending, but the standard ending almost makes the most sense story-wise and starts to pull at your heart strings, almost leading to believe it was intended by the writers.
Alright, so why let the player decide? Stupid question. Any game where you can change the ending based on your actions increases the level of immersion the game can provide. Of course, in some games it is just used to increase replay value. Chrono Trigger is the prime example of both. With the ability to fight the final boss at any point in the game, you get the option to skip out on content during later play-throughs and change history, immersed and leaves you wanting more.
Wrapping up, so are they good or bad? Overall, when done right, multiple endings are one of the best things for a game that is not intended for a sequel. Where if a direct sequel is in the works, tread lightly developers.