The Silent Majority: Sequels 06.18.03

A common phrase found in every motivational quote book ever written is “If you live life the right way, once is enough”. In other words, do things right and there’s no need to take another stab at them.

Now, apply this line of thinking to the arts, and you’ll see that nobody thinks this way. We see sequels everywhere. Every movie that’s coming out this summer that’s not a superhero movie is a sequel. We’ve lived through “My Big Fat Greek Life”, eighty different “Survivors”, and “Gin and Juice II”. Why must this be so? Do we really NEED all of these rehashes?

The world of video games is no exception to the sequel craze. Countless numbers of games have been put through the sequel ringer, and quite a few have come out looking nothing like the original that stirred our senses. Meanwhile, others have had sequels that add to the legacy of the franchise and have become essential gaming experiences.

When a sequel to a movie or TV show is released, we know it’s because the first one made money and the company wants to make more money. When an artist puts out a sequel to a song, we know it’s because they’ve hit the twilight of their career and they need to latch on to the past. Games are a little different. In games, there are a few different reasons why sequels are made.

Improve Upon the Original
Street Fighter 2 – The World Warrior hit arcades in 1991 and was an instant smash, the likes of which were unprecedented for an arcade game. Gamers everywhere loved SF2 and showed their love by pumping in quarters at a record pace. The more people played it, though, the more people realized what could be done to make the game even better.

Capcom, makers of SF2, listened to these suggestions and released Street Fighter 2 – Champion Edition in 1992. Champion Edition wasn’t Street Fighter 3 and never pretended to be. Instead, it just tweaked the original, fixed the bugs, added some new features, and enhanced gameplay. With the new ability to play as the bosses and character vs. character, along with updates for each original character, Champion Edition was an even bigger hit than the original.

Tell a New Story
The Final Fantasy series has been around for 15 or so years, and is still putting out top-notch games today. Why? Because of story. Instead out putting out a game with the same characters in a relatively similar situation, Square adopted the process of scrapping characters after each FF game and creating new ones, and a new story, for the next game. In this way, no one is forced to play the same basic game twice (Grand Theft Auto, for example). Sure, Chocobos are in every game, but in a Hitchcock-cameo-type spot that doesn’t detract from the game in any way.

This is the reason why such debate will always ensue when the topic of the best Final Fantasy game is brought up. Each one is so distinctly different from the others that there is no clear-cut favorite. Instead, each person will have their favorite, which is the ideal situation for a multi-part game franchise.

Make Money
Let’s be honest here. Would we really be seeing Mario games today if they weren’t Nintendo’s cash cow? Yeah, they’re great; in fact, they’re never bad. Yeah, they do a fine job of introducing you to whatever new system Nintendo has just released. But the reason why the Mario game comes out at launch is because Nintendo knows you’ll buy the Mario game AND the new system. And it’s all because of Mario.

Do you really think Nintendo said, “Gee, we didn’t say all we had to say about Mario in Super Mario Bros., so let’s make a sequel!”? Of course not! They said “Dang, that Mario sold a lot. Let’s make another one and get ourselves some new cars.” We all owe Mario a huge debt of gratitude for his contributions to gaming; however, he is also the ultimate marketing tool, and he’s bled us all dry a number of times just so Nintendo can get paid.

It’s a Sports Game
We’re so accustomed to seeing new editions of sports games every year that we don’t even question it anymore. Sports games are a unique hybrid of all of the reasons to make a sequel. They improve the original game via roster updates and game tweaks that give gamers a more realistic feel for the game. They don’t really tell a new story, but they offer new options, such as Franchise modes, that provide infinite replay value based on that year’s rosters. Lastly, they are guaranteed money-makers for the companies that are successful in making them (EA).

Again, we don’t raise a red flag even though this year’s Madden will be EA’s 15th Madden game in 14 years. Unlike other genres, sports games NEED to be updated every year due to changing rosters, rules, and the tastes of gamers. If people didn’t buy them every year, perhaps it wouldn’t be as justifiable to release them annually. Of course, this is far from the case – sports games are consistently among the top sellers in the video game community, even if everyone already has ten different versions of NHL Hockey.

Why Sequels Work
In the case of Final Fantasy, Square has stuck to its roots and delivered what gamers want, time in and time out – compelling storyline, believable characters, awesome score, and realistic graphics. In Final Fantasy 75, we will be seeing these same elements at work, and it will sell better than the previous 74. Gamers are satisfied, Square makes money, and everybody is happy.

Although sports games have become more about out-doing competitors as opposed to putting out a quality product, the annual editions still work. We all love to play these games and see how different they are than their predecessors, not to mention playing through seasons as our favorite teams and seeing how they compare to the real-life results. These things will never change, and there won’t be a time when there isn’t a demand for new sports games.

Why Sequels Don’t Work
Street Fighter 2 is the perfect example of a company getting greedy and ruining a classic. After Champion Edition, Capcom refused to release Street Fighter 3, the game the people wanted. Instead, they put out Street Fighter 2 Hyperfighting, Super Street Fighter 2, Super Street Fighter Turbo, Street Fighter – The Movie, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter EX, and THEN Street Fighter 3 in 1997, by which point nobody even cared and all original characters except for Ryu and Ken were gone. The Street Fighter series changed too much and too often for people to keep up with it, and that became their undoing.

Sometimes, it’s obvious that a sequel has been released just because the company is after a profit. Pokemon Pinball and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine aren’t sequels per se, but are obvious attempts to exploit a successful group of characters and make money off of them. The same could be said for all the Mario games we see all over the place, including the various sequels to Mario Party, a game that has no business having a sequel if there ever was one. You don’t see “Pop-O-Matic Trouble 2” anywhere, do you?

Sports games aren’t exempt from criticism here, either. Last year, EA had the brilliant idea of creating two separate soccer games to be released in the same year. FIFA 2002 had all the club teams, and World Cup 2002 had all the international teams as well as the World Cup tournament. It would have been incredibly easy to combine the two into one cartridge; however, had this been done, we might not have been able to witness an orchestra play the “War of the Worlds”-type music in the introduction. And that would have been a REAL travesty. Fortunately, consumers caught on to EA’s dubious methods, resulting in less-than-stellar sales figures for World Cup 2002.

Do we really need sequels? Of course not. Are they useful? Sometimes. It’s nice to play a game like Street Fighter 2 – Champion Edition and marvel at the changes made to improve the original SF2. It’s great to play the sequel to Final Fantasy VII with full knowledge that you’ll be entering an entirely new story. And there’s nothing better than ripping into a new season of Madden with current rosters and refined gameplay.

It’s not fun, though, to pop in Street Fighter 3 only to realize that the game has been changed beyond recognition. It’s insulting to see trash like Sonic Spinball being made instead of a better sequel. And it sure as hell isn’t cool to be forced to buy two versions of the same game just to be able to play as all the teams. At times like these, we feel that we’ve gotten jipped.

They’re making “Rocky VI”, and Rocky fans are dying to see it. “American Idol 3” is in the works, and it’ll be a huge hit. Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell 2” was #1 on the Billboard charts. So why is it so iffy when it comes to video games?

Because if you do it right, once is enough.