Crazy Returnal Theories And A Secret Ending

Learn everything you need to know about the ending and secret ending of Returnal.

Returnal Ending and Secret Ending Explained
Returnal Ending and Secret Ending Explained

The Returnal’s plot was hard to follow and disorienting to the players, and the two endings are accurate representations of that, leaving audiences baffled about what happened and what it meant for the main character – Selene.

Remember that Returnal has not confirmed the meaning behind its ending or plot, leaving it open for interpretation by the players and audiences, and it shows in how it was presented. Therefore, much of what you will find here will be speculation and theories revolving around the facts the two endings brought to light. 

WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS!

Key Takeaways

  • The ending takes place after defeating Ophion in Act 2 of the game.
  • It shows a mother and son in a car crash after narrowly avoiding an astronaut in the middle of the road.
  • The ending seems to show the existence of a time loop and that Selene was pulled into it by a sea monster after she could not save her son.
  • The secret ending is unlocked after collecting all the Sunface Fragments and getting the car keys.
  • The secret ending shows that the astronaut was Selene herself.
  • Moreover, it seems to show that it was all in Selene’s head but also appears to confirm other popular theories.
  • Both endings leave much to the player’s interpretation.

Ending Explained

Returnal Ending ExplainedCredit: IGN YouTube

In the game’s ending, Selene encounters a sequence suggesting a connection between her and a mother driving with her son, Helios. The mother, resembling Selene, swerves to avoid hitting an astronaut on the road, leading to a car crash into the water. As she struggles to save her son, she is seemingly dragged away by a monster.

The ending leaves many questions unanswered, including the identity of the person swimming away from the car. It hints at themes of sacrifice, motherhood, and the cyclical nature of time, inviting players to interpret its deeper meanings.

Major Theories

Theories Regarding Returnal EndingCredit: IGN YouTube

The ending of Returnal has sparked various interpretations and theories among players. One basic interpretation is that it’s another instance of Selene being pulled into the time loop, with the red-eyed monster responsible for her return to Atropos.

However, some players find this explanation too simplistic, as it doesn’t account for all the mysteries and hints dropped throughout the game.

A popular theory suggests that none of the events in the game are real, and they exist only in Selene’s mind as a way for her to cope with trauma and guilt.

This theory gains support from various in-game references and the recurring astronaut figure. Nevertheless, it raises questions about certain game sequences, such as Selene’s return to Earth and the personal connection between the bosses and Selene.

Ultimately, the game’s ending left many players with unanswered questions. The secret ending, if considered, may offer additional insights and explanations to help clarify the game’s narrative.

How To Unlock Secret Ending

How To Unlock Returnal Secret EndingCredit: IGN YouTube

  1. Collect all six Sunface Fragments scattered throughout various biomes.
  2. Return to the Echoing Ruins and enter the House once again.
  3. Complete the House sequence, ensuring you have the car keys.
  4. Progress to the end of the game and defeat Ophion again.
  5. Reach the final area with the abandoned car.
  6. Use the car key to open the door and trigger the secret ending.

Remember that you must defeat the boss in the third biome before attempting to unlock the secret ending, and you need all six Sunface Fragments. Interacting with the terminal in the room is essential to trigger the secret ending.

Returnal Secret Ending ExplainedCredit: IGN YouTube

The secret ending, revealed by Selene opening a car door, delves into a surreal encounter for Selene. In a dark void of space, she confronts Theia, a humanoid figure in a wheelchair. Theia attacks Selene, who fights back and discovers Theia’s true identity, calling out her name.

The perspective then shifts to Selene, seemingly inside her helmet, focusing on her hands and stars before reflecting her eyes. A car nearly hits her, revealing it as the same one driven by the mother in the original ending. 

The scene transitions underwater, showing the mother swimming away from the crash, leaving her son behind, shedding light on the “Helios Abandoned” message. While the secret ending leaves much open to interpretation, it confirms and deepens player theories, enriching the game’s narrative.

Theories Regarding Returnal Secret EndingCredit: IGN YouTube

Due to the ambiguous nature of the secret ending, much speculation has been surrounding its meaning. Some theories have grown incredibly popular due to how much material is available in the game to support them.

None Of It Is Real

None Of It Is RealCredit: IGN YouTube

In this theory, Selene’s guilt and trauma play a significant role in shaping the narrative:

  • The car crash symbolizes a past trauma for Selene, reflecting her guilt over her son’s death.
  • The recurring message of “Helios Abandoned” and the presence of a stuffed toy signify her profound guilt.
  • Selene’s strained relationship with her mother, Theia, contributes to her feelings of inadequacy as a parent.
  • The song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” hints at a connection to her past, possibly involving her father Hyperion.
  • The time loop represents Selene’s inability to escape her grief and guilt, trapping her in a cycle of confronting her trauma repeatedly.

History Is Repeating Itself

History Is Repeating ItselfCredit: IGN YouTube

The mother and son in the car crash are not Selene and her son but instead a young Theia and a possible older brother of Selene named Helios.

It is an intriguing interpretation of the game’s narrative. It offers a unique perspective on the story’s dynamics and the relationships between the characters:

  • Theia’s distant behavior stems from losing her first child, Helios, and facing rejection by ASTRA.
  • The recurring car crash may symbolize Selene’s repeated cycles of suffering, mirroring Theia’s past loss.
  • The rejection letter likely belonged to Theia, indicating a shared experience with Selene.
  • The biome structure possibly signifies a transition from Theia’s story to Selene’s, paralleling their experiences until the conclusion.

It’s All Real

It’s All RealCredit: IGN YouTube

Selene is indeed stuck in a time loop and the events in the game are real occurrences is another compelling interpretation of the secret ending. This theory suggests that the car crash is the initial event that led Selene to Atropos, and her gasping and calling out “Helios” in both the Earth and Atropos scenes indicate a recurring cycle of her experiences:

  • Selene’s recurring return to Atropos upon death indicates a genuine time loop.
  • The car crash is seen as the trigger for Selene’s journey to Atropos, marking the beginning of her recurring cycle.
  • Parallels in Selene’s dialogues between scenes suggest she’s trapped in a real-time loop.
  • However, hints and references to Selene’s trauma and past on Atropos suggest a blend of reality and psychological elements in her experiences.

Greek Mythology

Greek MythologyCredit: IGN YouTube

The theory that Returnal draws inspiration from Greek mythology, particularly in its themes and character names, is an interesting interpretation. While it may not have gained widespread popularity, it’s worth exploring the connections and parallels between the game and ancient myths:

  • Atropos, the planet’s name, references one of the Fates in Greek mythology, symbolizing fate and finality.
  • Themes of hubris, fate, and the cyclical nature of life and death echo common motifs in Greek myths.
  • Boss fights against creatures like Gorgon and Ophion further connect the game to ancient legends.

Overall, while Returnal is not a direct adaptation of any specific Greek myth, the game’s story and themes draw on common motifs and elements from ancient myths and epics, adding a layer of depth and meaning to the game’s narrative.

This theory gained little traction due to the lack of significant evidence other than the characters’ names.

References In The Game

References In The GameCredit: IGN YouTube

Returnal is a game that is intentionally designed to be mysterious and disorienting, with many of its secrets and story details hidden beneath the surface. Several hints throughout the game point to the game’s eventual ending. Here are a few examples:

  • Repeating patterns throughout the game underscore the cyclical nature of Selene’s journey, with recurring artifacts and symbols hinting at her reliving events.
  • Audio logs left by stranded explorers shed light on Atropos’ true nature, the time loop, and the perils Selene will face.
  • Environmental cues, such as strange organic growths, suggest that Atropos harbors secrets beyond its appearance as a lifeless rock.
  • Selene’s memories and experiences provide clues, like remembering events yet to occur or encountering echoes of herself from previous loops, indicating the non-linear passage of time on Atropos.


Overall, the hints and clues in Returnal are designed to slowly reveal the truth about the game’s story and the nature of the time loop that Selene is trapped in. As players explore and discover more of Atropos and its history, they can piece together the game’s ultimate ending and the choices that Selene must make to break free from her prison. 

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