Sequels are a very common phenomena among all media, especially in movies and games. Sure, books and music albums can also be “sequelized” but not to the extent as the earlier mentioned art forms. The new iterations can either plunge the experience to awfulness if the producers are just looking to squeeze extra money out of a good concept; but a sequel can also move an idea closer to perfection. When talking about games, sequels can be a very sharp double edged sword.
Movie sequels, similar but different to games
Movie sequels have been along us almost as long as the movie media has existed. Usually movie sequels are quickly produced and without too much thought on new plots, extended story line or addition to a movie setting/world. If an original movie went well at the box office, the chance for a sequel is very high, but if the story does not allow any extension in a natural way then the new movie will have a un-natural feeling to it, making it “not compatible” with the first movie. Remember that I am talking about more or less unplanned sequels here; I am not talking about series or episodical movies such as the three Lord of the Rings movies. In my humble opinion movie sequels get it right at maximum 10% of the times, most likely much less often. A good sequel, which improved the original movie’s feeling, atmosphere and plot, is Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It included most of the things from the original movie, even extended the story line, but also managed to add extra suspense and feeling into the movie. The same cannot be said about the following sequels in the Terminator series though, unfortunately… Going beyond the first sequel, and making a third or more movies based on the same plot, world or character(s) usually end up very bad; I guess there are some nice exceptions, even though I cannot think of any right now. If anyone have an example where the second (or higher) sequel is better than preceding movies, please let me know in the comments 🙂 Now, onto the games!
So, in what way are game sequels the same as movie sequels? Of course, simply say, they mostly get done due the same reason: If an original and new story, world or character(s) engage the players a lot, attracting a big audience, then the chance for a sequel is massive. On a different end though, if maximum 10 % of the movie sequels are good it is the other way for games; in my humble opinion 90 % of the game sequels are usually better than the original game. But, since many game sequels do well, it is always a risk of squeezing the the game concept or story too far (with too many sequels), hence the double edged sword.
The blessing of the sequel
A (game) sequel gives the developers and producers another chance to work on the same piece of concept, world, characters and story, but hopefully with improvements. Since games now a days are a very costly business to produce, game sequels present a chance to re-use a successful concept, but anyway add new technology, characters, new parts of the game world and other additions, without having to work too much on thinking up the basic stuff of the concept, since that has already been “approved” by the big audience from the first game. When developers are given the chance to work on a sequel (I guess) they can dig deeper into ideas that they had for the earlier iteration but didn’t have time to include. Since many games are quite technology dependent, a sequel can also offer a chance to improve features that were too hard to pull off with the old technology; due to the technological advances that has happened since the previous game, these features are easier to create or make in a nice-looking-way in the sequel.
Coming up with fresh and original ideas for a new game is very hard, at least if you want an idea that sounds good, is not too hard to implement and can sell many copies. I guess good game designers and story tellers have amazing ideas, but many times quite much of the original idea has to stay in the manuscript or drawing board since it is too time (or money) consuming to add to the game. When the same game do very well and the team is presented with the idea to make a sequel, then many concepts that weren’t included in the original one probably is used, since it was already noted down; but also new ideas and spin-offs from the original concept is added, making larger worlds, deeper stories or better experiences possible. This is, to my understanding, the main reason that sequels to games usually are better than the original game.
For games, it seldom stops with one sequel, but again in contrast to movies, a second or third sequel does not have to mean a worse or even watered down game! On the contrary, a few sequels seem to be the ideal medicine in order to create the perfect version of a game. Some examples where a first sequel is better than the original game are Half-life 2, Quake 2, Warcraft 2, Baldur’s Gate 2 and Dark Souls (although no real sequel, but quite close to Demon’s Souls in many ways). But when we go higher in the sequel number count, it is even easier to find game series that have improved over quite many iterations; some speaking examples are The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (third game in the series), Super Mario World (fourth game in the series), Resident Evil 4, Final Fantasy 7 and Ultima 7. So in one way, if you really like a game, you should always hope for a sequel to get an even better and closer-to-how-it-was-meant-to-be version.
The curse of the sequel
So, if each sequel gives us a game closer and closer to perfection and how it is really meant to be, why shouldn’t we hope for everlasting game series? Even if each sequel improves a game series, there comes a time when the concept, game world, character or story is perfected. There is also the chance where the profit becomes too a big hindrance for improvement, i.e. if the producers or developers are presented with the chance to make another sequel they can be tempted to not put too much effort into the next iteration, based on the assumption “since the consumers liked the last version then they surely will like this new one also without too high demand on new content”.
Improving the perfected game and don’t-want-to-put-any-effort are the two main traps when creating sequels. Of course, in a money hungry world and with the huge risks that a new game concept presents, it is easy to understand why companies want to make another sequel, as long as the previous game at least sells quite well. I would anyway urge game developers to try to aim for something new while their series are doing quite well; it is a bit sad to have to leave a series when it has been too watered down, squeezed of anything new and duplicated too many times. A few examples of game series that have gone a bit too far; they don’t have to be bad games, but they have not added anything so much compared to the “perfected versions” of the games: Final Fantasy (I think the latest iteration is 14, but there a few more in total I think, taking in consideration the pair-sequel numbering such as XIII-2), Ultima (8 was an ok game, but 9 was really bad), Mega Man (in my opinion Mega Man 2 and 3 were the perfect versions of these games!), Zelda (sure, no Zelda game is bad, and I am happily playing the 15 iteration or so, but as stated above, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the third game, was the perfect Zelda game in my eyes. Some people hold Ocarina of Time higher, but anyway, both these games are almost 15-20 years old now and I don’t feel so much has been added to the games in the latest iterations. I would vote for a total reboot of the series, with fresh thinking and a completely new story), Resident Evil (4 was perfect, 5 was ok. The side-release of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City with its too action-oriented swing made feel bad for the series and now with more and more evidence coming that also points Resident Evil 6 in the same direction I have low hopes for the series, unfortunately…), Call of Duty (I haven’t played these games so much, but I think the highlight was Modern Warfare). The list can go on for quite a while…
Sequel or no sequel?
What is best in the end, a sequel or a new concept / story? I would say, for movies I hope they stick to make original ones, unless they have planned to make a series split up in more than one movie. Regarding games, it is harder to give a general conclusion. If a game fares fairly well and the developers feel they could have done more with the concept, then one or two sequels are justified, but if the sequels just keep popping out for the sake of profit, then I would disagree. Creating sequels as long as people buy them is a short-cut to making money, but it is also a fast-way to water down your flagships and IPs. Look at id Software, their earlier games were great, but they stuck too much to the same formula and now not too many people long for their new games. I feel the same has happened to the Final Fantasy franchise and will surely happen soon to Call of Duty. When you have earned so much money, please dare to come up with new ideas; the video game world is in desperate need of new ideas!