IMHO: Let’s Make Another
After satisfying audiences with a fulfilling experience from a book, film or game, publishers are keen to cash in on the hype of the first by rushing out a sequel. In the case of books and films, this is usually a very bad idea (with exception to Darth Bane: Rule of Two, Empire Strikes Back, Toy Story 2, Godfather 2, etc.).
Fortunately, in the case of video games, it is very rare for a bad sequel to be made. Somehow, games are able to recapture or strengthen the flame of the first game.
Last night, I stayed up until 4am playing the last two memory sequences of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, I realized that there are four types of sequels in the video game world. By the end of this editorial, I welcome your suggestions of games and where they fall, and if you can think of a fifth sequel category, let me know with an example of a game.
As for the rules, a sequel is a proper addition to a franchise. In other words, LEGO Indiana Jones is not a sequel to LEGO Star Wars. That is branding, not franchising. Also, a sequel must be judged by its original. Just because I enjoyed Hitman 2, the fact that I never played Hitman: Agent 47 makes me unqualified to judge the sequel.
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The Bad Sequel
Beginning at the bottom and moving to the top, a bad sequel is a game made with the same philosophy as most films: Get it on store shelves.
The most tragic bad sequels, though, are the ones that had a decent development cycle and still could not improve. Whether its a poorly written script, buggy graphics, or broken gameplay, a bad sequel runs the risk of ruining a franchise.
Usually, players get a sense that the game was developed for the developers, rather than the audience. Changes are made that didn’t need to be made.
After such an interesting original game, most fans knew that the franchise had no where to go but up. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was a game with solid gameplay, compelling story, and enough bugs to make Bethesda jealous.
When the sequel was announced, gamers were ready for more fluid gameplay, a less convoluted plot, and better graphics.
Lucas Arts delivered almost the exact opposite.
The gameplay was very similar to the last, with the same camera problems as the first. The plop was holier than the Vatican. And the graphics looked the same.
Sadly, because of how badly The Force Unleashed II was received, fans of the series will likely never see a third game in the franchise.
The More-of-the-Same Sequel
Sometimes, when the developer of the original moves on to a new project, a new developer is tasked with creating a sequel to a great game. Unfortunately, this is never well-received. Ask Treyarch how many fan letters it received when it was given its first Call of Duty game.
Like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, these sequels are not bad. However, the developer has respect for the original game. Rather than build a new game and ruin the franchise, the developer tries to make slight improvements to the last game.
It’s a fair development direction, but it does not make for a good sequel.
When Irrational Games told 2K that it was taking the BioShock franchise out of Rapture City and would need time to develop a sequel, 2K accepted the new premise.
But 2K wasn’t going to let gamers forget the franchise before it released. Instead, 2K Marin was called to make a sequel to BioShock.
But how does a developer improve on a near-perfect game?
It doesn’t. The only “improvement” made in BioShock 2 was the ability to dual-wield the left-handed power with the right-handed weapon. Fortunately, 2K Marin was able to add a multiplayer aspect, but when few people care about the game, fewer people will be available to play online.
BioShock 2 was not a bad game by any definition. However, because it could not bring anything new to the franchise, it was just more of the same.
A Different Game Sequel
Sometimes, continuing a story is too difficult. Sometimes, a developer has to create a whole new game and put it within the franchise. Super Mario Bros. is very different from Super Mario Bros. 2 in gameplay mechanics and “story.” However, just because it looks and plays nothing like the original does not mean it is not a sequel.
Rather than making the same game over and over, making an all-new game with a “2” tacked to the end can build more excitement. Non-gamers may not understand how the games are connected, but fans of the franchise are able to accept that none of the original characters or stories are available in the sequel.
In North America, Final Fantasy on the NES was followed by Final Fantasy II on the SNES. Many years later, American gamers would learn that II was actually Final Fantasy IV, but because of Final Fantasy III (VI), gamers didn’t feel like they missed anything.
From the first to the second, none of the characters remained. Many of the magic spells were the same, but the story and gameplay mechanics were radically different. Between the second and third, Cid became a recurring character, and summons were a standard part of the franchise. But still, the game was completely different from the last.
At the beginning of the franchise, all of the stories involved heroes seeking crystals to defeat the ultimate evil, but by Final Fantasy VI, this concept was lost. Therefore, for American audiences, only two games actually required players to unite crystals in order to defeat an ultimate evil.
But no one complained that these games were not connected. In fact, fans enjoyed the new stories and gameplay mechanics of each Final Fantasy game until the fated Final Fantasy X-2, the first true sequel, which easily falls under the “Bad Sequel” category.
The Fan-Service Sequel
Take the image of Chun Li in the shower out of your head right now! Not all “fan service” means nudity. It means exactly what it sounds like: Giving a service to the fans by listening to their wants.
When a sequel is at its best, the best and worst elements of the last game are taken into serious account and rebuilt from the ground up to please the fan. The elements of the games that were a hit are exploited, and the parts that were a flop are axed or redesigned.
Mass Effect was a great game, but it definitely suffered a pacing problem. When BioWare made the sequel, a greater emphasis was placed on action, creating a fast-paced, exciting Mass Effect 2.
But there is a better example of a game that listens to what it did wrong to make what it did right even better.
If any game did not deserve a sequel, it was Assassin’s Creed. The game suffered the most repetitive gameplay and some of the worst hero voice acting since Tidus in Final Fantasy X.
The game forced players to travel from location to location with several minutes of in-game horseback riding. Then, when the player arrived, portions of the map were off limits, meaning the player would have to return and play more of the same missions.
The only thing Assassin’s Creed had going for it was a compelling story. But when playing a video game, gameplay is the most important, and no matter how excellent a story is, a bad game doesn’t deserve a sequel.
Fortunately, a sequel was made. Assassin’s Creed 2 picked up at the cliff-hanger of the first game and introduced a new hero. Traveling to different locations was actually interesting. The missions had variety. Players could invest money into shops to build their home. There was a level of customization to the hero.
After such an abysmal original title, Ubisoft published a sequel that more than made up for the original. Now, the franchise has established cliff-hangers as its primary story-telling mechanic, making each game feel like an episode in serial. However, without the solid gameplay improvements that each game sees, it would be a franchise that would fall flat on its face.
Sure, the graphics are getting old, but as long as the gameplay and story continues to improve, players will be able to overlook the screen tearing and awkward lighting.
These are just a few examples of the four types of sequels that exist. Again, if you think there is a fifth category, leave a comment and an example.