opinion

Keep Newcomer-Friendly Sequels Coming

by Javy Gwaltney on Mar 23, 2019 at 12:00 PM

I turned 30 this year and am experiencing a sort of quiet realization that will be familiar to a lot of folks pondering their age: time is a valuable resource. The scarcity of the time I have to myself is after all the reason I didn’t play Kingdom Hearts 3 when it released earlier this year, mostly because everyone kept saying you had to play through 100-plus hours of content before you even started the game to get the most out of it. I was happy that long-time series fans received the quality game they had been waiting so many years for, but the cost of investing myself in the series to get to that point just wasn’t worth it. That’s not a knock against Kingdom Hearts, but more of a reflection of where I’m at in my life and what I look for in gaming experiences.

Cue Devil May Cry 5.

Before I loaded up DMC5, I’d only played Ninja Theory’s reboot before, and had not touched any of the mainline series games. I was intrigued by the look of the fast-paced action gameplay in the trailers for 5 and what my colleagues had been saying about the game in their various write-ups. I asked our reviews editor, Joe Juba, who reviewed the game if it was the sort of game you could just dive into without playing any of the others. I promptly picked it up and started playing it when I got home.

After a brief video that explains the character relationships and the storyline for Devil May Cry up to this point, 5 loads you immediately into the action and it’s frantic as hell. There are gothy dudes who look like they just walked out of Hot Topic circa 2005 wielding big guns and bigger swords and fighting demons. One guy reads Shakespeare from a little notebook right before commanding his panther to rip the mandibles off of a giant demon mantis thing. Entire buildings are covered in slime and oozing blood and, well, it’s just a lot, my friends. A lot.

But not in a bad way. Devil May Cry 5 is so dedicated to its over-the-top antics and thrills that while it does pay respect to the narrative threads running throughout the series, focusing on Nero and Dante’s relationship of begrudging respect, it’s also essentially a standalone game in the ways that matter. I devoured the game in three sittings. As I launched foes into the air with sharp uppercuts and then blew them apart with a literal bazooka, a huge grin broke out across my face. Whatever concerns I had about being overwhelmed by DMC's hefty amount of lore evaporated. 

I think the best point of comparison here might be The Fast and The Furious film franchise – an epic saga about family and speeding that can also be divided into enjoyable standalone films. Do you need to watch the first four Fast and the Furious movies to get the most out of Fast Five and understand the characters’ relationships to one another? Technically, yeah, but Fast Five also functions by itself as a ridiculously enjoyable movie. You can load it up, watch it without context, and have a hell of a time. And it’s that sort of setup that I appreciate in video game sequels.

I love when it feels like a game has gone out of its way to ease me into its world and Devil May Cry 5 does just that with its intro video and focus on action over building a story that really mines the depths of who these characters are. I mean, let’s be real here: this is a game about bonking demons over the head with swords and then blasting their faces off in cool slow-mo. The barrier for entry should not be high and I’m glad that Capcom has made it so.

Another sequel I’ve enjoyed recently is The Division 2 (our review here). I did technically play a little bit of the first game before getting annoying by its lackluster shooting, but that amounted to an hour at the most. Alongside moving locales, The Division 2 wisely makes its story standalone. “A devastating biological terror has reduced Washington DC to a city of warring factions you need to bring to order” is a  simple premise to understand and a fantasy that the game does a great job of turning into a playground for you to inhabit.  Other recent sequels that take their designation as a chance to bring in new players as well as enthralling fans of the previous games: Resident Evil 7, Red Dead Redemption 2, Yakuza Kiwami 2, and Valkyria Chronicles 4.

Of course, not every sequel needs to be accessible. Sometimes the nature of where the series is at and what the entry is going for means that a game has to be pretty inaccessible. I think Kingdom Hearts III fits that bill pretty nicely. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, one of my favorite video games of all time, is also pretty inaccessible to someone who hasn’t played The New Order and I think a large part of the reason that game works well is because it’s a straight up continuation of the fascinating characters the first game introduced. To interfere with that by engaging people who didn’t play the previous entry would probably be to The New Colossus’ detriment. So please don’t think I’m saying that every sequel should be accessible.

However, I am pleased that the vast majority of sequels I’ve played over the past year or so, including sequels to games I’ve never touched, have been very newcomer friendly. It’s a wise move for developers and publishers too. After all, I’m already carving out precious time next month to go back and play through Devil May Cry 4 because of how much I enjoyed 5.  Making games accessible on all fronts is a great, smart trend that helps build an audience for franchises and one that I hope the industry doesn’t stop embracing anytime soon.