Sequels, Prequels and Remakes
In this modern games landscape, we may clamour for new IP every other week, but the franchises and sequels make the dollar. Games companies want your money, and franchises are how they achieve this goal. You only need to look at the numbers to see we're suckers for a sequel. Whether the game continues the story, improves the gameplay or is nothing more than a graphical overhaul, people buy them.
As great as some sequels can be, they're a double edged sword. Maybe you take a gamble with a new combat system, and maybe it pays off. Fail this gamble, and you'll piss off a whole bunch of people. Resident Evils 4 and 5 are perfect examples of how differently received a sequel can be. RE4 was hailed as the saviour of the franchise, RE5 was jeered as its ruin.
I'll be having a look at what makes a good sequel, why prequels can be a tough proposition, and the pitfalls of remakes. Please join me in discussion at the end, I'd like to hear your thoughts, or examples.
For the majority of this piece, I'll be using the Metal Gear Solid series, as it has decent examples in every category, plus I'm a huge MGS fan :D Also, plenty of sweeping generalisations, as this topic is way bigger than one forum post.
Let's start with the bread and butter of a franchise, the sequel. You've made your first game, it's got some good press, maybe even a decent online following. You want to expand on that success and grow your IP, and expand your fanbase to new gamers, without alienating old ones. You're friend here is the straight up sequel. Same characters, same setup, same basic premise but in a new setting, or with a new set of goals.
But wait! Surely just reusing the same gameplay systems and characters won't be enough? Don't gamers want more these days?
Not necessarily. What you want from a good sequel should build upon the original game, refine ideas and trim the fat. If you alter up the gameplay too much, your game could be perceived as deviating too far from the original, but don't change enough and your franchise is considered stale. Lets use Metal Gear Solid 2 as an example here.
What MGS2 did right was taking the loose threads from MGS1, and building a whole storyline around those loose ends. Snake was back, looking older and wiser, and fighting for himself, not just for the government. The core sneaking gameplay mechanics were kept, but also expanded upon, without losing focus. New moves like popping out from corners, first person aiming and edge hanging gave Snake more tools to work with, and provided a richer gameplay experience. The promo footage we all saw was awesome, with Snake popping around a tanker, generally being a total badass. It looked perfect.
And then Raiden happened.
Raiden was introduced as a way of following Snakes story without direct involvement, seeing a different side to the character than if we had been controlling him. We get to see Snakes sneaking prowess, his tactical know-how and even his devious side, when he uses Raiden to get aboard Arsenal.
The problem here was that Raiden was, well, awful. He was a baby faced pretty boy, when we were all expecting the grizzled war hero. Gamers didn't want him. He may have controlled identically to Snake, and had access to much more kit, but he wasn't the hero we cared about. His girlfriend phones him every five minutes to talk about theire feelings, in the middle of a sneaking mission! Don't forget the Emma Emmerich section, which was pretty much Advanced Babysitting 101. Add this to the slightly bloated plot, which, lets be entirely fair here, did drag on towards the end, and MGS2 went from the perfect sequel to "the one they messed up".
I think MGS2 is unique in sequels, as it provides both a good one and a bad one in the same package. The Snake sections are awesome. They're well paced, give you characters you care about, and cut down on all the extraneous stuff, to deliver a tight, and more importantly, appropriate sequel. The Raiden sections miss the mark on so many levels, but you have to give Konami credit for trying something new.
There's more I could go into here but this is going to go on forever if I do, so here's some snippets to talk about. Discuss these in the comments!
- Final Fantasy: King of the total overhaul
- God Of War: Flatlining, but still damn good fun
- Resident Evil 4 and 5: The saviour and the harbinger
- Mario: The constant shakeup, which seems to work every time.
Prequels: The story no-one wanted to know about. Prequels are a tough cookie to get right. On the one hand, we get to learn more about the background of the game, and get better views on their later motivations. On the other hard, we get cobbled together plots, following "untold stories" that no-one ever asked for. The other glaring problem is having a hero improve their skills over the prequel, and then lose them again at the start of the next game chronologically. MGS3s CQC is a perfect example of this. Snake can use it in MGS4, but seems to conveniently not use it in MGS1 and 2. There was some plot point explaining this, but really, its patching a hole.
Prequels can be also used to further a franchise when it has come to a logical stopping point. Take Star Wars for example, the perfect argument against prequels. Episodes 1,2 and 3 added in a whole bunch of godawful characters, a plot that went all over the place, and Midichlorians, ruining the Force forever. It seems to me like prequels can sometimes explain too much, ruining the impact of the original IP.
Not all prequels are terrible, and I'm sure you can tell where I'm going with this. MGS3 was a masterclass in how to get a prequel right. We all knew Snake was a clone of Big Boss, a mythical soldier who was the antagonist of the original retro titles. We hear his name mentioned throughout the franchise, but we never see proof of his incredible talents. Snake Eater was the perfect way to tell this story, and sets up parts of MGS4 as well.
You see, Snake Eater worked because it used a situation and story that actually mattered to the fans. We didn't want "the untold story of Solid Snakes first mission", we wanted rich, and without wanting to overuse this word, appropriate story. It paints Big Boss as a badass, a hero, but a troubled man, and sets up his turn away from the system wonderfully. The plot bloat from MGS2 was toned down too, with cutscenes and story being tighter, and much more focused.
Of course, there are a couple more notable prequels we could mention. Once more, here's some talking points!
- Resident Evil 0: Rebecca Chambers, who conveniently forgets zombies exist in RE1.
- God Of War Ascension: An up and comer, but do we need to know about this particular part of Kratos' life?
- Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core: Zack attack!
The games of the past, updated to a new age! (I'm going to be frank with you here, I'm opposed to remakes in general, but I'm going to try and be open handed with this one.) When a franchise has been absent from a particular console, it's common to see ports or remakes. I'll be ignoring ports here, as they're a whole separate discussion. For this section, we'll call a remake anything which has been built from the ground up, and contains new gameplay systems where appropriate.
Remakes are a great way to cash in on nostalgia for an older game, or bring in an entirely new audience at the start. The king of remakes is Resident Evil, with its Gamecube version now considered the definitive one. It took ideas from the later games, and worked them in without forcing them. Defensive items were useful, the godawful voice acting was fixed, and the game is a joy to play.
Taking MGS once more as an example, it's entirely likely that if you were a Nintendo gamer, you would have missed the original MGS. A direct port of the PS1 original would have been a touch disappointing on a console like the Gamecube, so a new version was envisioned, totally overhauling the graphics, and adding in systems from MGS2.
The problem I have with MGS: Twin Snakes was that the changes were not for the better. Sure everything looks nicer, I won't disagree, but things like first person aiming ruin the flow of the game. The skill of MGS1 was being able to navigate around enemy patrols silently, taking your time and planning your moves. In the remake, you can stand still with your tranq gun, and clear a path to the exit. Ledge hanging made no sense either, the original MGS wasn't designed with this functionality in mind, and it felt redundant.
The cardinal sin for me were the cutscene changes. The voice cast redid their lines, and every action scene was recut. The problem here is that certain scenes were turned into John Woo style, slo-mo ninja fights. The part where the Ninja gives Ocelot a hand (ho ho) was simply too flashy. I couldn't bring myself to finish the game, whereas I still play the original from time to time.
Now these reasons above seem like "me" problems. I'll throw my hands up to it, I'm petty and pedantic when it comes to MGS. However, I think my reaction speaks volumes about remakes in general. When you fundamentally change the methods you use to get through a game, the challenges must be changed to reflect them. This is what Resident Evil got right. It improved the original without annoying the fanbase, which seems to be the prime problem.
Gunflames excellent series on Final Fantasy VII brought up the old FF VII remake conversation again. My aversion to Twin Snakes highlights the problems with remaking this classic game. It simply won't please anyone. (Sweeping generalisation time) The diehard fans who hold it up as one of the greatest games ever don't want to see it changed. They'd like a graphical upgrade maybe, and that would be it. The general gamer would prefer to see some of the aging mechanics updated, perhaps a real time battle system, which would serve to annoy the diehard fans. The problem is that whatever Squeenix choose, they'll choose wrong.
We've all seen FF arguments get out of hand, because we all care about these games. We like them how they were, because they were ours. Many of us played the early FFs as some of our first games, and they hold a special place in our memories. Why ruin the nostalgia for the sake of a quick buck? Heres some more ideas to get the juices flowing
- Half Life Black Mesa: Do iron sights matter?
- Tomb Raider Anniversary: New school gameplay with the old school story
- Street Fighter HD: Netcode maketh the man.
I think it's time to draw this to a close, I'm nearing 2000 words on what started as a little chat about MGS3. Keeping a franchise alive is tough, and keeping your fans happy seems to be even tougher. Take too big a gamble, and you can alienate your entire fanbase in one fell swoop. Get it right though, and you'll have created something truly special, a lasting franchise, a loyal fanbase, and gamers who actually care about your creation.
What do you think Polynauts? Do you like your sequels to stick to the original material, or branch out in a new direction. Should prequels only be attempted if the seeds of a plot are already there? Are remakes too risky? Should they remake FF VII?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on my sweeping generalisations!