Disclaimer: The intended audience for this article are those who have already completed the game. And even if you have, we herein lay out several Easter eggs that you may prefer to discover for yourself. Ye be warned.
Ron’s gonna Ron. If you’ve played through Return to Monkey Island (and turn back if you have not), you’ll know that the mischievous creator of the series didn’t resolve the enigma he left us with at the end of LeChuck’s Revenge so much as toss eighteen additional layers of abstraction over it. A vocal adorer of the Blazing Saddles ending, the designer has time and time again shown that challenging the reality of the worlds his games occupy is his shtick something of an artistic preoccupation of his, and one might have known he was only ever gonna double down. That said, Return to Monkey Island is particularly giving in its variation on the theme, generously leaving players with all sorts of interpretations to select from as freely as if they were options on a difficulty screen.
Did Guybrush’s adventures really happen, or is he just a flooring inspector living in a rarely interrupted state of imagination? Or is it one of the innumerable gradients in between, thanks to the suggestion that he, or his listener, or perhaps both, are unreliable narrators? With its gooey regard for the importance of truth, Return seems to tell us that all permutations are valid. The frame narrative offers a few escape hatches for those who Want To Believe - Elaine’s parting, whispered words, Boybrush’s awareness of Captain Madison outside his father’s stories, and the fact that pieces of eight remain the currency of the "real" world give you just enough to cling to in support of any version of events you prefer. The game pulls the rug out from under you while offering Janus-faced assurances you might be hovering an inch off the floor.
To some, the effect will have the hollowness of self-congratulation; a copout. To others, it will be received as an ingenious, multilayered commentary on the art of storytelling. Beyond either verdict, the game’s open-endedness functions as a series-binding pool shot; it’s as if the designers lassoed all six games into the same continuum by slapping a big Gaussian filter over the lot of them, dissolving the contradictions in a shallowed depth of field. It might just be the signature Ron Gilbert ending.
Or is that endings? The “choose your own adventure” spirit of the game’s finish is furthered by ten different epilogues, each triggered by a decision you make in the finale at "The Original Secret, a pirate adventure park." As a public service, we’ve broken them all down for you. At least, we assume these are all of them.
Epilogue #1: Leave with Elaine, having not obtained the chest key
If you’ve completed the game even once, you may be aware that it is optional to open Stan’s gaudy chest containing The Secret, which is, of course:
It turns out that obtaining the key out of the locksmith’s hand without actually opening the chest is itself a branch in the ending, as is not obtaining it at all. Leaving with Elaine no matter what you do with the key will result in a return to the framing narrative and more or less the same wrapup, but if you did so without obtaining the key, a post-credits epilogue will depict Chuckie chasing Dee – who has the key in her hand – in the Big Whoop amusement park.
Epilogue #2: Leave with Elaine, having obtained the chest key but not opening the chest
Suppose you nabbed the key but didn’t bother opening the chest with it before leaving with Elaine? Then your post-credits scene is Guybrush watching the chest key sink into a pool of lava, Ring of Power style.
There’s an additional wrinkle with this ending. The last shot before the credits in all the “leave with Elaine” scenarios is an extended moment of Guybrush looking wistfully on the bench all by his lonesome. But if you grabbed the key and did not use it, Guybrush will pull the key out in those last moments, hanging yet another question mark on where the fiction begins and ends.
Epilogue #3: Leave with Elaine, having opened the chest and telling Guybrush’s son it was filled with riches
Whereas if you did get the T-shirt before leaving with Elaine, you’ve just opened up a whole new slew of potential epilogues, triggered by what you tell Guybrush’s son in the final dialog tree. For instance, if you select this…
…your post-credits scene will be Boybrush frolicking in a mound of gold.
Epilogue #4: Leave with Elaine, having opened the chest and telling Guybrush’s son The Secret was the friends made along the way
If you select this…
…your post-credits scene will be Guybrush and some other characters happily carrying on in a boat together.
Epilogue #5: Leave with Elaine, having opened the chest and telling Guybrush’s son The Secret is best kept that way
If you select this…
…your post-credits scene will be the chest being buried.
Epilogue #6: Leave with Elaine, having opened the chest and telling Guybrush's son it was all true
If you select this…
…your post-credits scene will be a hand pushing forward tickets on a countertop.
Epilogue #7: Leave with Elaine, having opened the chest and telling Guybrush's son there isn't any one answer
If you select this…
…Guybrush will make an analogy...
...and your post-credits scene will be a banana balancing precariously on a rock.
Epilogue #8: Backtrack through the catacombs, having not obtained the chest key
Did you know that Stan’s keys don’t only turn off the lights? They can also open the door in the alley that locked shut behind you when you emerged from it. Turns out, you can ditch Elaine and re-enter the catacombs beneath Monkey Island, backtracking all the way up the three levels of stairs. Notice Guybrush’s mental description of that final exit when you hover your cursor over it:
Proceeding will kick off the end credits immediately, with no return to the Big Whoop framing story. But the backtracking decision comes with its own series of epilogues depending on what you did with that chest key. If you never grabbed it, your parting shot will be Guybrush and Elaine on the high seas together, continuing their pirate adventures.
Epilogue #9: Backtrack through the catacombs, having obtained the chest key but not opening the chest
Guybrush choosing denial with the chest key in his pocket will trigger an epilogue depicting LeChuck and Lila swordfighting beneath Monkey Island as a cackling Murray floats across the foreground in the flowing lava.
Epilogue #10: Backtrack through the catacombs, having opened the chest
Have Guybrush backtrack after finding The Secret, and you’ll instead get presented with this coda, in which the Voodoo Lady returns to her trashed shop.
Bonus: The Drowning Ending
As in Monkey Island 1, you can allow Guybrush to drown. The first time you do it, the game kicks back to the frame story on the bench, where Guybrush’s son calls him out, very reminiscent of the gag in Monkey Island 2 where you allow Guybrush to descend into the vat of acid.
Let Guybrush drown a second time, and you get a similar scene:
But the third time’s the charm, resulting in the following ending:
Brutal! But very true to life.
That may account for all the endings you can find, but don't think all the nooks and crannies of the game have been exposed here, not by a long shot. Fortunately, we have a forum thread for ruining those. With the game only a few days old, its secrets are still being uncovered, so join in on the fun. The joint's good enough for Dom, after all.