It's pretty rare that a modern game releases without some nods to similar past titles.  Gaming has grown up over the years in ways not unlike the movie and music industries.  When was the last time a new band or movie came out where it wasn't compared to others that came before?  I can't remember one and I'd be willing to bet many of you can't either.

I like the granny smith's better but who's to say really?

Many would argue that the inevitable comparisons to past titles shows a lack of originality or creativity on the part of the developers but I would like to argue that new titles can still stand on their own two feet while showing a shared heritage at the same time.  Since the beginning of the year I've had the pleasure of playing two highly regarded new releases.  I'm 30 hours in to my play-through of Ni No Kuni (I'm known for taking my time with JRPGs) and just recently finished the first of what will be many plays of the new Tomb Raider.  Both games are fantastic entries to their particular genres that bring new ideas to the table while at the same time sharing characteristics of games from the past.

Myself and many others have referred to Ni No Kuni as a 'love letter' to JRPGs.  I've described it on Twitter and elsewhere as a blend of Pokemon and Dragon Quest 8 with just enough personal flair to set it apart from the others.  While I've never played a Pokemon title (I was just old enough when it released to think it was for kids and my spare time thanks me for it!) I know enough of the series to understand the comparisons.

Gotta catch them all I suppose!

While I'm uncertain how many familiars exist in Ni No Kuni as I refuse to use guides anymore (a subject for another blog in the future) I would assume the herd is of similar size to the amount of Pokemon found in one of Nintendo's titles.  Another common theme between the two is upgrading your creatures into newer, more powerful versions of themselves.  Does the fact that one title borrows a theme from another cheapen the experience for gamers?  I don't think so as most games find a way to distinguish themselves from entries that came before.  The real-time battle system is what sets Ni No Kuni apart from it's Pokemon brethren and that is enough of a difference for me to overlook the oft-criticized similarities between the two.

Dragon quest, (in particular 8 as Level-5 developed it as well) is another title that Ni No Kuni is often compared to.  The similarities are definitely there as both feature common RPG tropes as well as a well-designed world map and a heavy reliance on grinding for levels to prepare your characters for the regular boss encounters.  What sets Level-5's newest title from those from the past is again it's active battle system.  No longer are we just watching animations while waiting to input another command from a list.  Moving around the battlefield and making split-second decisions gives Ni No Kuni's fight sequences a sense of immediacy that Dragon Quest titles never managed.

The newest Tomb Raider title is another excellent example of how comparisons can't quite adequately describe the experience.  I've read reviews that call it Gears of War meets Uncharted and have even described it myself on Twitter as part Uncharted, part Far Cry 3, and part... Tomb Raider I suppose.  None of these comparisons do justice to the masterpiece that Crystal Dynamics has created for us though.

What kind of awesome cross-over would Nate and Lara make?

Using Uncharted as the first example is a pretty easy one.  Both games feature cover-based third person shooting, huge amounts of exploration, gorgeous graphics, and nail that 'adventure' vibe.  It's also not entirely fair as Drake's exploits have often been called Gears of War meets Indiana Jones so the comparison gets even more convoluted than before.  While sharing several similar themes, Tomb Raider sets itself apart from Naughty Dog's creation with a tale of survival and a massive amount of character customization via upgradable weapons and a changing skill-set based on experience.

The other title I often compare Lara's newest (and first) quest to is Far Cry 3.  Both have an island setting, a young main character who's forced to make difficult decisions, a huge upgrade system, and tons of little secrets to unearth over the course of the game.  Aside from the first versus third person perspective differences the two games seem pretty similar on paper.  Comparing them really does neither justice though as Far Cry 3 has been simplified down to 'Skyrim with guns' and other comparisons are easy to make as well.  What Tomb Raider manages to do to differentiate itself from other survival tales is actually make me care about the protagonist.  Jason Brody never felt real to me.  His story was merely a vehicle to get you from one part of the island to another while Lara became someone I actually wanted to care about.  Getting to the next story-related point of the game became so important to me that I skipped nearly all of the optional side-content the first time around just to find out how the tale would end. 

It's possible that part of the reason I cared so much about the story in Tomb Raider is just my male ego reacting to a female in distress but I don't think the answer is that simple.  The trials and tribulations she encounters are done in a way that seem realistic rather than fanciful, borderline when they could have been exploitative.  Brody's journey to become the 'king of the island' and Lara's personal tale of becoming a survivor couldn't have been more different and that's where Tomb Raider sets itself above the comparison made.

It's extremely easy to describe a game as the sum of the parts of titles from the past.  I've found however, that these comparisons don't do the titles the justice they deserve as there's always some detail left out.  Calling Ni No Kuni a 'love letter' to JRPGs brings images to mind of weird characters, endless grinding, and static, boring battles.  While some of those ideas are in place it's a disservice to the little details Level-5 added to make the game stand out on it's own.  Similarly, calling Tomb Raider 'Gears meets Uncharted' misses the entire story which is what sets that game apart from it's adventure game siblings. 

Does anyone else find themselves describing through comparison?

What other recent titles can be called 'part this' and 'part that'?

Why is it that we can't describe a game on it's own merits rather than use previous titles as the bar?

Thanks for reading everyone!