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Like you, I love playing video-games. Yet some years, or most years, there always seem to be too many games. Or, rather, too many of the same games. As strange as that may sound, the dilemma of the rehashed formula takes its toll on my gaming experiences that's as noticeable as ever as we come into 2013. Many games exist on our store shelves, but how many of them carry the number 2, or 3, or 4, or another meaningless subtitle like Revelations or Revengeance? [my spell-check wouldn't even recognize the last one, lolz] Make no mistake about it that I love many series to death and play them almost religiously, but all the same my own loyalties towards long-standing franchises and emerging ones raises the question of whether the idea of the original game still holds merit. As GI's own opinion article so notably drew attention to, this year's The Last of Us has been heralded as one of the games of this generation all the while providing hope for fans that there won't be a sequel to it. Why ask this to a great game? Is it just a fear of ruining the original's impact with repetition, or are there other factors in play?
The pesky fever of "over-sequelization" is one that covers the entertainment industry in general, and it's immediate cause is easy: profit motive. Like games, television, movies, and businesses in general rely on a massive economic engine to run and that usually means shelling out products quickly and effectively to eager consumers. That usually means merciless advertisement and a relentless assembly-line strategy of games hitting shelves fast and hard, and it's only easier to do that from the pre-existing formula. Ubisoft has most notably stated it only considers developing a game if it has high potential for a sequel. As frivolous as it may seem to players artistically, there are deeper facts about the game industry itself that can be considered apart from their media contemporaries/rivals. Unlike tv and film, games have no secondary medium, a.k.a dvd and blu-ray 6-7 months after release. Games are simply what they are once made without any other form to resell to audiences. Thus its as practical a strategy as it is an annoying one for game developers to obsess with the highest sales they can get in their launch window. Still, the obvious case in point for all of the big three is that, whether on the tv screen, cinema, or game-screen, we buy into sequels whole heartily in spite of our every criticism about old formulas.
One may ask why we kiss up to sequels so easily, but its obvious if you look into who we behave as humanoids. Just look at your own daily schedule and you'll know that old habits die hard. We're creatures of comfort, namely comfort zones, and nostalgia and tradition ties into our desire for control. A sense of familiarity is what drives us to revisit our favorite series time and again, a tendency I would unapologetically admit to. If you read my 31/31 intro earlier this month, you'll of course see my top ten favorite game series listed. Like most, I usually have a difficult time getting into new experiences outside of them and always gravitate to what I'm already accustomed to. That's hardly a bad thing. I would have little enjoyment in life if I couldn't have my memories and a directed passion towards specific hobbies to experience. Al the same, that's not to say it's not a limiting attitude if abused. It's great to have a core group of friends, but sometimes, it's not bad to find new ones to add.
There are games that of course have their merits in never-ending formulas. In contrast, there are those that don't. That distinction is a hard line to find sometimes for video-games. In my mind there are usually three broad rules that I implement when I think of the game that should be rebooted/sequelized and those that should be left in peace:
Are We Building Something that Improves or Rehashes?
The simplest question is "What are you going to make in a sequel that's worth it?" For a video-game, the first part would relate purely to the game technologically, namely in gameplay. While movies and tv are visually engaging alone, games are meant to be played and need constants amount of new gimmicks and tricks to entertain my mind with mastering. In my experience, the best sequels have always been about building on gameplay rather than subtracting from it. Some of my favorite game series [or duology, if you will] have began rough around the edges. Ratchet and Clank, looking back on it, started with some unfortunately sticky and poorly designed combat with very empty levels and story and I'd count the first Sly Cooper in that same boat. Altair's lackluster fighting chops felt similarly frustrating in the first Assassin's Creed if you remember the series first bout at sword-fighting and platforming. Nonetheless, their sequels blew them all out of the park. Combat and level-design aside, each built upon the ideas they began with and made their stories into something that didn't just fix them, but helped launch a worthwhile formula to be explore more of. It's the lack of ideas and perhaps outright rebooting that's gotten taken me out of many series entirely. Prince of Persia rule platforming for the PS2 era, but once it introduced more gory, combat driven gameplay with a more outrageous focus to characters, it lacked any appealing additions to turn me on to its otherwise same gamestyle. Ratchet and Clank and Assassin's Creed, despite my appreciation for them, may share similar guilt for the one sin that bothers games like me the most: seemingly remaking the same game. Their respective moves of dumbing down their trademarks in humor and stealth represent what I fear most in likeminded series like Gran Turismo: we're putting in "new" mechanics that still don't seem remarkably different.
Is it Time To Say Goodbye to the Characters?
An equally important question for a sequel would be about the characters we play as. There comes a time when a protagonist has run their course in the story a game tells and it's only fruitless, if not damaging, to pursue them further. Examples for retirement would go to some very special ones in my heart. Male or female, Commander Shephard was the heart and soul of your decision-making in Mass Effect. The series' story revolved around his or her choices and without them, is it even practical to continue on? Even annoyances like Assassin Desmond Miles serves as a similar case-study of a series plot device that essentially functions with the premise he brings to the table. Heroes like him, or John Marston, or The Last of Us's Joel and Ellie are what we rely on for either plot or feeling, or both in the story. I still want to play AC IV and suck in its pirate escapades, but I wonder how much it could've benefited from being freed from pointless post-trilogy left-overs and become its own game without connecting pointless dots that've already been [mostly] resolved. MGS 4's finale with Solid Snake is my ultimate example of people who have had their peace to say. Hanging up the 'ole solid eye and sitting in the rocking chair for his last years was a reward for the end of a story-arc and dragging the poor guy out again would be a waste of a series stellar end scenario set-up. There are an easy batch of characters that can continue indefinitely, though. Mario, Kirby, team Star Fox, Samus, and Link in his various incarnations have either no humanoid lifespan nor a finitely designed story-arc to wrap up and their tales go on into infinity. Others like Batman and Lara Croft could still have emotional layers to dry up eventually, but not yet in their current versions and Beyond Good and Evil's Jade still needs answers to that, ya know, "cliff-hanger" surprise. Nevertheless, it's wise for a game to know when it wants to, or even deserves to give its heroes a break. You need to assure your players of a game's promise to give the answers or not at all.
Are We Ready to End the World?
Lastly and certainly not least, there is an argument for the worth of the spiritual successor. Many games may be very much ready to end the journey with their main series characters, but what about the in-game universe they've set up? Too many series choose to end or repeat their worlds all too often when another corner of the sandbox could be explored with someone else. Most any Grand Theft Auto or Final Fantasy is either a spin-off or spiritual sequel to their predecessors, with some loose cross-overs or none at all. Some games only requite the basic formula of their franchises to churn out new stories. New protagonists in the same world can balance both the nostalgia you develop with a series while taking it in new directions, sometimes to near perfection or failure. I was tired myself of Infamous's Cole McGrath or Big Daddy wannabes having ultimately reached their pinnacle of interest too early. I still want their basic mythology explored and getting to do so with Delsin Rowe or having done so with Booker DeWitt gives me greater pleasure in taking a similar journey with a more novel tour guide. There are those, of course, that have lasted for too long too painfully. The Prince of Persia's world is nothing but sand ruins and can't offer me anything more to see than I already have except more water fountains and wall-runs, and I feel the same apathy towards seeing another Uncharted if they can't match the last three's stunning locales. The best game worlds are ones that are crafted to last. Otherwise, why visit again if there aren't enough things to see?
To sequel or not to sequel, that's the question today. What's driven you to or away from sequels Blogging suggestions? Other comments? Unlike some games, there will indeed be a sequel to this blog. Stay tuned for it tomorrow and see you then.
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