Experienced Points:Son of Return to the Sequel II

By Shamus
on Mar 6, 2009
Filed under:
Column

In the latest Experienced Points, I both encourage and oppose sequels. Or something. Actually I guess I just want them to be done differently. You’ll just have to read it, which I guess is the point.

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201636 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Kimari says:

    Haha, that ending was eeeevil Shamus!

  2. Neil Polenske says:

    I see what you did there.

  3. Ludo says:

    Muahaha ! I was totally fooled, you evil evil man !

    Signed : Squirrel girl

  4. Sharon says:

    I thought the ending was predictable but the Title was gold.

  5. MPR says:

    I too just want to done differently. It make happy me good.

  6. Trianglehead says:

    Want… It? Them? Done differently. Something besides ‘to’ though, I’m assuming.

    … I guess that’s the downside of geek blogs. We nitpick.

  7. Bizarre says:

    The Umbrella Corporation could do something to shock me.

    They could redeem Resident Evil’s storyline.

    (Hi-yooh)

  8. Scourge says:

    Ever played Gods – Lands of Infinity? No? Well, the ending is one of the most horrible cliffhangers I ever saw.

    You fight the big bad, after your troupe left you, meaning all the items you gave them etc are gone for good. Then you team up with a wizard and fight against some still very hard foes. Hard for level 20, which is the maximum level, and then especially if you went the magic way too, making you weak. Yay, you got no tanks, meaning you get clobbed to death by the foes.
    If you are a tank, well, it still takes a lot of time since there is not a great damage output.
    Then you fight the endboss and get robbed of all your powers afterwards.
    The end. To be continued in the sequeal, where you can import your character ( Why you would do that is another question if they are just level 1 again, only if you retain all your equipment which is ungodly strong for a level 1 character though)
    That there is no sequel is even more problematic.

  9. Wil K. says:

    I won’t fall for your cliffhanger, Shamus! I will never read another Experienced Points because of this experience.

    Maybe. Not really. Actually a pretty sweet article.

    Also in the vein of Final Fantasy sequel method: the “Tales of” series – but that gets away from the sequel-like convention of numerals by adding descriptors at the end instead. Not that I’ve got any clue *where* they get those names from. Symphonia? Cool game, weird name. At least it’s not Tales VII or whatever. (Upon further research (i.e. Wikipedia), it would actually be the 5th in the series, and only the 3rd in the U.S., and the 1st in Europe. So, uh, it’s a really good thing they stayed away from numerals!)

  10. Volatar says:

    Awesome article!

    Also, why are there HTML tags in the last paragraph on page 1?

  11. Julian says:

    I was also very frustrated at the ending of Dreamfall, but unlike you, I am so enamored with the story that I’ll forgive them. Especially when the designer hinted that… a certain event during the end of the game might not have happened exactly the way the game portrayed it. Oh, and you simply cannot say that Zoë’s last line didn’t hook you! I dropped my jaw when she said… that. I won’t spoil it here.
    Frankly, I believe the

  12. Namfoodle says:

    I thought the cliffhanger was a spoiler and I tried to highlight the empty blank space to see what was written there.

    Silly me.

  13. Zel says:

    When I read the end of the article, I stopped for a few seconds thinking “it’s not like … what ?”, “did the last paragraph get cut ?”. Then I finally realized you were still going on about these cliffhanger endings, you got me!

    Three whole paragraphs and a dirty trick at the end, I had no idea cliffhanger endings were so widespread… Of all the games I played, Dreamfall was really the only one with the obvious cliffhanger and lack of resolution, even games planned as several episodes (Xenosaga 1-3) resolve at least the current crisis and finish on a “it’s over … or is it ?!” touch. Either I’m lucky (or have good tastes) or the practice is not so common and writers are not so stupid after all.

    On another note, having a series of games have the same characters/setting does not necessarily make it boring or uninteresting for everyone. Even if their current issues are resolved, time can change a lot of things for the characters you cared about and give them new (personal) problems to deal with. If TV shows can go on for ten years (with the same characters) before finally getting boring, there’s enough room for a few games worth of adventures with the same guy. Would Half-Life 2 have the same appeal if you played as an unknown resistant fighting robots instead of Gordon Freeman against the Combine ?

    Finally, I disagree that games live by the strength of their gameplay alone and that good story is just an added bonus. Any game (anything really) with FF7’s characters can sell pretty well despite its low gameplay value. FF7: Dirge of Cerberus actually sold more than a million copies worldwide. I can find a combat system horribly wrong and still keep playing for the story alone (Silent Hill 5, even if I had to cheat). In this case, I was thinking “I wonder what will happen to Alex now?” and not “Great! More monster bashing and stupid riddle solving!”.

  14. Ham08 says:

    Ha! Great sense of humor, Shamus! :)

    I haven’t been commenting here for very long, but I have been reading your writings for a couple of months, now. I feel compelled to tell you that I respect your opinions, agree with most of them, and I even like the same kind of games that earned your approval (I love Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy X, and Mass Effect, despite their defects, and a good story with fleshed out characters is very important to me. I also hated that one game’s ending that you wrote about. “Rocks fall, everyone dies.” Shameful!). Simply put, I found your writings to be both very interesting and extremely entertaining.

    The reason I felt compelled to tell you this information, is because I wonder if you would be interested in writing an article dealing with the recent (within a year or two) “most under-appreciated RPGs”? I am sure there are a lot of folks that would love to comment on this sort of article and it might give those games some past due recognition that they deserve. I just hate to see great games fail to profit, because that tells the developers and publishers to keep making sequels and clones, since they sell so much better. I think 9 million first person shooter games a year is quite enough, don’t you?

    Here are some games that deserve more recognition, in my opinion:

    Valkyria Chronicles — (Amazing story, characters, voice acting, and gameplay) It only sold 33 thousand copies in the United States last year. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valkyria_Chronicles

    Lost Odyssey — (Great story, characters, and voice acting; old school turn based combat like Final Fantasy X)

    King’s Bounty: The Legend — (Story is lacking, but it’s a great strategy game)

  15. ima420r says:

    I can’t access Escapist Mag from work so i can’t read it, ack! I can read everything here at Twenty Sided just fine though. Guess I’ll have to wait until I get home to read it. Same goes for Stolen pixels. And I have so much free time at work… stupid intrawebs blocker.

  16. A fan says:

    HAHAHA
    That was a smart twist ending to your article :)
    I have an idea: what if game designers made 2 endings?One is the good one, that wraps things up, the other the bad one, that lives you in suspense.The sequel would continue from the bad ending, and would dismiss the good one as being a possible scenario which was being played in the character’s imagination.How about that?

  17. wererogue says:

    Nice :V

    I agree with you about the “Final” Fantasy formula: it’s the same way that most of the Nintendo games (especially Legend of Zelda) remain compelling, and it’s something that Japanese developers do very well. I’m struggling to think of a western developer who has tried the same strategy.

    Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was the first game that pulled a “To Be Continued” on me, and I’m still bitter. Full disclosure: I *did* buy the rest of the series, though.

  18. Zaxares says:

    Hmm… I actually thought that Max Payne 2 did a good job on the storyline and ending. I actually liked it a lot better than MP1. And while the credits does say a sequel is coming, one could put down MP2 with a distinct sense of closure, knowing that one way or another, Max Payne’s journey is at an end.

    But the NWN2 ending, yeah, that was just pure garbage. :P They made up for it a LITTLE in the Mask of the Betrayer expansion, but the ending is still one of the top ten worst endings I’ve ever seen for a game.

    • Shamus says:

      Zaxares: I agree the plots of both Max Payne games were nice and self-contained. I brought it up not because I thought the game had been done poorly, but because I want to see another Max Payne game. :)

  19. Daimbert says:

    JRPGs seem to be better at sequels on average:

    You’ve already talked about Final Fantasy, which I don’t play much.

    Persona 3 and Persona 4: All new characters and situations in both. The enemies were the same but manifested differently, and since none of the characters knew anything about the previous characters’ work they all had to find out even the common things again, but the manifestation made for interesting differences. Both had shout-outs to the previous games for those who had played it, that wouldn’t stand out or seem odd to those who hadn’t.

    Suikoden series: Almost always a new area, with new main characters. A different True Rune is the focus of each game. The villains generally are always different. But there are always links to previous games, as some characters carry forward into all games.

    .hack: Pulls the “To Be Continued” on you, but if you’re going to do that it works out so much better when you guarantee the 4 games are going to come out (and in reasonable time) and tie it to anime and manga as well. It does induce some bitterness of paying 4 times for one game …

    Shadow Hearts -> Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Took the bad ending — Alice (was that her name? I always renamed her) died — to introduce more angst, kept the main character, ditched all the other characters, came up with a reasonable — and plot-based — way to take away the MC’s powers, introduced new villains, and tied it in with the original game’s plot. The re-explanations didn’t grate on this re-player because it had to be explained to new party members, so it made sense. Shadow Hearts: To the New World ditched all of the old characters, and was also one of the least liked games in the series (I don’t want to say “hated”, but I didn’t make it all that far into it).

    This leads to one thing to watch out for: if you DON’T tie a sequel into previous games, you may run into the case where old players playing the new game feel no emotional attachment to the game and the world, and so have to judge it from scratch. And dislike it, missing the old characters. That’s what happened in some sense with To the New World; we didn’t have Yuri and the replacement just didn’t compare.

    KoTOR had a good sequel idea: some characters came forward, and the old MC was the focus in some sense of the new MC’s mission.

    Additionally, sometimes cliffhanger endings exist for expansions, not sequels. And sometimes in JRPGs the cliffhanger endings are to allow for bonus dungeons.

  20. hewhosaysfish says:

    @wererogue
    I actually played SR2 before SR so the “To Be Continued….” didn’t actually bother me that much but it does raise an interesting question: From what I understand, SR was cut short not to deliberstely leave the player hanging (as Shamus discusses) but because of constraints on the development (though, I can’t remember if it was budget or deadlines). (This expains why Raziel doesn’t fight Turel until Defiance and why there’s this huge, mostly empty human city that isn’t used for anything very much. See http://www.thelostrealms.net)
    So, if you *can’t* finish the game you want to make, is it better to slap a a thrown-together ending or to go for the to-be-continued and hope to get to conclude it in a sequel?
    Which is better from the POV of the player?

    @Shamus
    Your idea of sequels reusing the hero’s name and personality and the important themes and iconic elements of the previous title… but starting afresh with the continuity?
    Isn’t that what Legend of Zelda does?

  21. Magnus says:

    Great article, really does get you thinking.

    On the NWN2 point, I agree it was poor, but the whole end boss-fight I felt was horrendous, and part of me was more bothered by the illusion of choice in MoB, when it was really quite binary (but at least it tried!), although that had another irritating boss fight.

    On another note, I recently finished watching Lost s.4 on DVD, and I have no way of knowing if or when I’ll be able to see s.5, since I have no access to it on TV (UK w/o sky), and it may be months before its available on DVD. This huge gap which occurs in a lot of TV shows annoys me more now than it ever did, since I’m more used to being able to access things quickly and conveniently.

    In game terms, the sequel game is even more bizarre, as you say it can take years in between titles. Any connection you had with a group of characters can be lost or superceded by another game in that time.

    The games that do this better are those that keep a constant setting or world, and just tell different tales with different characters in this world each time. E.g. The Elder Scrolls, Phantasy Star, Ultima, etc. (I notice these are RPGs of various types, significant?).

    On your latter point of keeping Max Payne and the noir setting for otherwise unrelated sequels, I would like to point out this is done with Alone in the Dark (original trilogy, a new nightmare then the reboot) and Prince of Persia (orignial two, newer trilogy, reboot). On a personal level, I view those as failures. Not because the gameplay wasn’t good, I have had little experience in the latter-day examples, but just because it was unnecessary. The new purchasers are those that won’t know the history, and therefore the connection is wasted. You may as well create something new, even if it is noticibly based upon those earlier games.

  22. GuiguiBob says:

    I wanted to add Star Ocean and Front Mission to those series of game that had a nice closure and sequels that tells different stories elsewhere in the timelines. With references to previous games hidden in there.

    For a bad cliffhanger ending everyone seems to have forgottern Assassin’s Creed wich was one of the most cynical ending I can remember.

  23. Yar Kramer says:

    You know, I think I’ve, um, had my fill of “articles which end by satirically engaging in precisely what they’re mocking for the rest of the article.”

    That said, I think the Sam and Max episodic games do things well, too: rather than trying to have some sort of Big Overarching World-Scale Storyline, they just have the duo solving individual, unconnected cases. Yes, they have “sequel bait”, but (a) Telltale Games mostly actually knows what they’re going to do in the next episode, and (b) the current story was, in fact, wrapped up.

  24. wererogue says:

    @hewhosaysfish:
    You’re absolutely correct about the reasons for why Soul Reaver was cut short – in fact, I read at the time that the code and assets for the unfinished parts of the game were still on the game disk! That actually made it worse for me: the game builds you up that you’re going to fight x (I think 6?) other guys, plus Kain, then throws you into a fight with Kain after x-1, and then hits you with “To Be Continued”. The whole game *feels* like you’re just getting close to the end, all the most fun/challenging bits, and then tears it away from you.

    It also didn’t help that the ending of Blood Omen is really quite satisfying. I’d enjoyed every *moment* of Soul Reaver until the ending.

    I sympathise with what they did, and I would have been disappointed with a rushed ending too, but that doesn’t stop the fact that when that game ended, it felt like a slap in the face. I think they made the right choice, but the publisher who wouldn’t let them finish the game got it really, really wrong.

  25. Joshua says:

    Hmm, two thoughts:

    1. You like the Half-Life 2 series, but the last game had a pretty bad cliffhanger.

    2. You didn’t mention the problem a lot of sequels have in trying to justify why the character that you played last game is suddenly so weak again. Most RPGs just up the level ante, but games based around item acquisition have you stripped down to the basics again.

    In Metroid: Fusion, you started with all of your previous equipment but shortly into the plot, there were legitimate reasons why you lost everything. Most other games, on the other hand, just strip you down to your loincloth again and make you earn all of your items back.

    Speaking of Half-Life, I’m wondering how Episode 3 will handle things, since there’s no plot reason you shouldn’t be fully equipped when you start the game.

  26. ehlijen says:

    How will HL2 E3 handle the player keeping equiment? Well, they could just include a nice big armoury near the start where you can fully fill up regardless of what you have…

    Also, some of my favourite games are sequels: Panzer General 2, Freespace 2, Jagged alliance 2, Master of Orion 2…though granted most of them are more ‘let’s do the game again, but better’ rather than ‘let’s continue the story’ sequels.

    Should those types of sequels be seperated? Sequels and Remakes?

    As for games that have succeeded without cliffhangers: the mechwarrior series has each game telling a different story with different characters.

  27. Adeon says:

    An example of an indie game that does sequels well is the Exile/Avernum series. The subsequent games have a completely different plot but the world and the base mechanics remain the same (along with sufficient NPCs to provide continuity for people who play them all without confusing new comers). The fact that I bought both the Exile and the Avernum series (the Avernum series is actually a remake of the Exile series with a shiny new interface) speaks for how much I enjoyed them.

    Unfortunately with Avernum 4 and 5 they decided to make some major changes to the interface and along the way changed it so that those two don’t click for me the way that the earlier ones did. I’m sure that they have good plots but the interface changes mean that I just can’t get into them.

    -Adeon

  28. Sheer_FALACY says:

    Avernum 4/5 have pluses and minuses compared to the earlier 3. The art is better, but is copy-pasted from Geneforge, which is meh, but I haven’t really played those so not such a big deal. There’s no outdoor-indoor divide, so it’s more consistent, but it does feel a bit ridiculous to have a bandit lair a stone’s throw from the walls of a fort. Also 4’s story was way, way, way too obvious.

    Anyway, the basic idea of a series of games where each one focuses on new characters and you can actually see the results of your actions in the previous game is pretty cool. It’s a pity you can’t meet the previous yourselves in the later games, but that’s the price of totally customizable characters.

  29. A fan says:

    I liked the Geneforge series a lot, despite the fact that I was able to finish only 2 of them.Too bad that the first and I think second have huge path-finding problems.The fifth has a very sweet upgrade, the creatures can attack at 1 AP.
    I can barely wait for Jaged Alliance 3.What do you think about Call of Cthulhu’s ending?I liked it a lot, for people that finished the game, you know what I mean (how do I write spoiler text)?

  30. Joshua says:

    “How will HL2 E3 handle the player keeping equiment? Well, they could just include a nice big armoury near the start where you can fully fill up regardless of what you have…”

    Hmm, I think you’re interpreting this the opposite way. At the end of Episode 2, odds are that you already had a nearly full inventory. Since they like to start you off with nothing or almost nothing in every new game, I’m curious what justification they will use to strip you once again.

    HL1, HL2 and Episode One had perfectly valid reasons why you weren’t armed to the teeth, but Episode 2 stretched things a bit with the train wreck somehow throwing all of your belongings elsewhere. I’m curious if they’ll do something similar in Episode 3.

  31. Sauron says:

    @Joshua:

    “1. You like the Half-Life 2 series, but the last game had a pretty bad cliffhanger.”

    I can’t speak for Shamus, but episodic games (ignore for the moment that Valve, while acing the “shorter” and “cheaper” parts, is missing the “more often” part) get a free pass on the sequel hook thing in my game. I mean, really, the idea of episodic games is that you’re supposed to be paying for the next chapter or two of an ongoing story. That’s why they’re called “Half-Life 2: Episode N” instead of “Half-Life 2+N”.

  32. ehlijen says:

    I know that’s probably not what they’re going to do, just saying that it’d be the easiest way.

    What if your arms collection is just too heavy for the chopper?
    What if you tried to cheer alyx up by juggling them, then dropped and broke them all?
    What if the warranty expired?
    What if I was actually funny?

    I’ll stop now.

  33. Magnus says:

    Perhaps after a hard day, he then puts all his weapons away in a shed, then goes into his house, has a nice cup of tea and puts his feet up.

    Next thing you know, the shed has been blown up by dark and mysterious forces, and all Gordon has is the conveniently placed crowbar on the coffee table.

    (Oh and Ehlijen, I found you funny!)

  34. RTBones says:

    Ahh, Jagged Alliance 2! That brings back some memories! Liked the first one, liked the sequel better. I did NOT like the expansion to the second one though. More of the same, just more difficult (like Perseus Mandate for the FEAR series)

    Cliffhangers dont bother me too much if they add a little to the story. I liked the Max Payne series (I would love to see MP3), and I agree the second was better. Each of the games is essentially stand-alone. Game play was fine. Story was good. I am all about story – I can put up with a few minor gameplay issues (note: doesnt mean I wont complain about them) if the story is engaging. If I have a nit to pick, it had to be the AI.

    Aside: for any game developers that read this — everybody these days can make games that look good. Eye candy is nice and all but if the enemies act in a way that is just, well, silly, it is a HUGE distraction. Could we _please_ start to invest money in making the bad guys a little smarter?

    HL2 gets credit for a good story, good game play, and decent AI. Might also say that, to Valve’s credit, the game was relatively bug-free. Just wish their “Episodes” could be released a little more frequently….

    Another series I liked the sequel to — XCOM / XCOM2.

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