Game Philosophy: Sequels

Hello everyone, put on your nerd glasses and nerd pants on again.

You know what? Add a bowtie to the costume as well just to perfect the look.


It’s time for… *drums*


Today’s topic, very much related to last topic:

Now, like reboots, sequels have reasons for being made. But the fact that it continues from the original makes it of course much more common than reboots. And it should. I mean, if there were more reboots than sequels, you can just imagine how the world would be.

It would mean everybody would have to try harder to think of a simple concept and effective story with it’s own twists and…

… Wait, why aren’t we living in that world? That sounds awesome…

But yeah, sequels.

By definition, sequels are *grabs dictionary* *puts on nerd glasses*
a novel, play, etc., that continues a previously related story… *puts off nerd glasses* *scratch bridge of his nose since the tape is itchy*

Sequels by their definition should by nature be better than their original prequel, right? I mean they get to dive deeper into the story and explore the existing world even more! Surely there can’t be sequels that are worse than their original!

The worst thing is how the reboot is actually takes inspiration from this...

Except they are, most of the time.

Most of the time the sequels aren’t even bad, they just aren’t as successful as their original counter part.

Now why is that? The sequels are made in a later time, surely people would have the better technology and insight by then to make it, right?

Is it because other creators are making the sequels?
God I love Aliens
Nope, that can’t be the case. James Cameron made Aliens instead of Ridley Scott, the creator of Alien, and it’s seen as the best sequel Alien could have had.

Is it because the tone has changed from the original?
Funny how this introduced me to Anime...
Nope, Dragon Ball Z was action oriented while Dragon Ball was comedy and adventure oriented, yet Dragon Ball Z introduced millions of kids into Anime in the first place.

Oh I know! It’s because it’s too much of the same rather than because it’s differe-…
GODDAMMIT! That can’t be it either. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is seen as much better than the first…
Some Sonic fans consider this the second coming of Jesus... as a hedgehog...
Sonic 3 is seen as the best Sonic game ever! (I don’t agree, but I’m talking about the general public here)

Point is, you can’t specifically point to one certain thing that ruins a sequel.

However, there are certain common traps that sequels fall into.

First trap is:
Being TOO in love with the main character!
As an example I put in the upcoming game Ninja Gaiden 3. Ninja Gaiden is a game series about a ninja called Ryu Hayabusa killing people in stylish ways. That’s easy to understand, right? What’s Ninja Gaiden 3 about? We search into his human side and his personality.

Ninja Gaiden II Camera

Oh yeah, because I’m sure there’s a functioning human being behind all that…
Point is, Ninja Gaiden isn’t as much about the NINJA as it is about the FIGHTING. The gameplay is awesome and in my opinion one of the best combat systems there is, next to Devil May Cry.
Never mind. Ninja Gaiden just came on top.
Either way, Ninja Gaiden 3 instead focuses on Ryu’s character. And it shows in the gameplay. When the enemies are there, they are beaten up a bit TOO easily by Ryu, just so the next few fights can make the viewers “awe” and “ooh” at how powerful Ryu is. It’s good in theory, but they focus it on the wrong way.
Ninja Gaiden was great because the enemies are there to KILL you. Ryu is badass by beating just 5 of the enemies at the same time. He’s not badass because he kills 10 weak people at the same time. He’s badass because he kills just 3 of the STRONGEST people at the same time!
Look, Ryu is a very cool character, but personality, no, he doesn’t have that. And THAT’s why people love him! They can accept him doing anything the player does, and is the perfect character for it.
I mean I can totally imagine him playing soccer with the victim’s corpse. (Which I actually do quite a lot on Ninja Gaiden II)

A very good example of a game that avoids this is:
Metal Gear Solid 2, unlike what it shows on it’s cover, is actually about a new character called Raiden instead of Snake from the original Metal Gear Solid.
And while a lot of fans suddenly started breaking everything in their rooms because of it, they really are blinding themselves if they don’t see how much BETTER the story became because of it!
Raiden as a character is a great deconstruction of fans who love their main character way too much. Raiden idolizes Snake and wants to be like him. So what is the game about? Him realizing he’s put in a big giant simulation of everything Snake did during the first game! And he DOESN’T like it. The story made people realize what kind of suffering Snake had during the original game by showing them from Raiden’s perspective that a life as Snake is practically a living nightmare.
I’m not saying that every sequel should be about another character, but they just need to not be too attached to the main characters, and show them the darker parts of that bright world people see.

Second trap is:
Putting away the subtlety
Sequels by nature tend to be there to explain stuff that weren’t explained in the original.
That’s good, I mean some people actually wonder about that.
Well, Portal 2 decided to explain how the Portal Gun was made, how GlaDOS was made, what the company did, that the labs pretty much reconstruct themselves, etc.
Well… okay I guess… but the only question I had after the first game was “What happened next?”…
See, some things are meant to be explained, like who the murderer is in a murder mystery.
Others however are meant to not be known. It’s what keeps their mysterious nature.
I mean the Portal Gun is a gun that shoots portals. That’s simple and I was fascinated by it.
Telling me it was supposed to be a shower head is funny… I guess… but it doesn’t really add that much is there? It kills half of the reason I was fascinated by it in the first place, as in it fascinated me how such an interesting thing could be made. Instead I now know it’s supposed to be a shower head and the technology came from the moon… whoop dee doo?

A good example of a story that avoids this is:
V for Vendetta
Now this is a curious case, since this isn’t a sequel. But the fact they don’t explain V’s identity just fits great as an explanation.
The movie builds up who the guy behind the mask is. Who is he? What was his life like? etc etc.
The answer… we don’t know.
They never tell us.
Because that’s NOT the point!
They’re showing that anybody could have been behind the mask, as demonstrated when a whole mass of people in those masks were in the city.
The whole point of the movie (and comic btw) is that V, is everyone who joins. They all agree to a common cause, and thus, they all are V.
And the story becomes much better because of it.

Last trap sequels fall into is:
Trying to TOP the original
Yes, a bit of an opposite to the first trap. The example is Force Unleashed 2, but actually it counts for the whole Force Unleashed series in general.
Like I said earlier, sequels by nature thrive to be better than the prequel. Problem is, when you try to top the original by doing everything the original does but “MUCH MORE AWESOME!!!” then you got yourself a little problem. That means whatever the original considers “Awesome”, the sequel would consider as “Oh that’s just the regular thing”.
But see that’s the thing.

Imagine Superman vs Batman.
Who is the stronger of the two? Superman.
Who is the fastest of the two? Superman.
Who has fought the strongest enemies? Superman.
Who is the more interesting of the two? Batman.
See what I did there?

And that’s the problem with Force Unleashed 2.
The protagonist is Starkiller, a dark Jedi that has force powers so powerful he can beat Darth Vader to an inch of his life without breaking a sweat.
He has force powers, able to grab any giant thing he wants and smash them into enemies, etc etc etc.
Now with all that, why is the original Star Wars Trilogy still seen as a much better story?
Luke Skywalker beat Darth Vader, but with a lot more trouble.
Luke Skywalker took until the second movie for him to even learn how to pull something to his hand with the force.
The thing is that a story is based on struggles. People watch a romance movie because they want to see the characters struggling to get to a relationship. People watch a war movie to see the characters struggle through the war and win. People see sport movies to see the characters struggling to become champions. And people read this blog to see how I struggle to think of other examples.

Again, a good example of a game that avoids this is:
Sonic again!
This counts as a double example, because its prequel actually tried to avoid the same thing in comparison to ITs prequel.
To clear things up, Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 was a game for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It has 9 different characters to play as, and each have their own movesets and versions of different levels.

The NEXT game, called Sonic Unleashed, instead went for just 2 characters, and both are just different versions of the same character, Sonic and his Night form.  And people consider it a great direction for the game.
That means instead of 9 characters where only 3 of them are designed well, we get 2 characters and BOTH are GREATLY designed.
And then they went exclusively Sonic with Sonic Colors. And guess what? It’s seen by a lot of people as the best 3D Sonic game.
Okay, besides that one which includes 6 different characters, but I’m trying to make a point here!
The point is that the game got better the more they focused on balancing one character rather than having to balance 9 of them. And for a game that’s about speeding through the levels and obstacles, it’s much better to have levels which are perfectly balanced to the 1 character than have levels which aren’t compatible for 5 out of 9 of them.

So yes. There are good sequels and there are bad sequels.
But a sequel tends to shine all the more brighter when they try to be their own identity rather than try to be everything the previous was.

In terms of story writing, but MUCH more in games, a sequel shouldn’t worship the original so much as just acknowledge it’s there and then try to tell it’s own story.

It’s like when you have 3 siblings.

The first is the oldest, and the middle admires the oldest, but the youngest tends to be the one that becomes successful because it just acknowledges it’s oldest sibling’s successes and failures and learns from both of them.

Try to be the youngest, not the middle.

Published by Huy Minh Le

Huy Minh Le is a Video Game Enthusiast, Movie Lover, Writer, Content Marketeer and regular TvTropes reader! His studies in Game Design, Art, and Writing has led to a very creative, yet analytical mind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s