I can’t remember the last time I went a day without consuming some sort of media advertisement for a sequel. The entertainment industry is now littered with sagas–or the ever popular trilogy (Only to be revived a year later with a fourth)–of movies, books, or video games. I get it. If you produce a fuck-ton of money from the first installment, why not milk it until you switch from numbers to catchy subtitles like ‘redemption’, ‘rebirth’, ‘reckoning’, or any variation of shitty buzz words that sound like a metal core word generator? It’s difficult to create something inspiring or purely original without appearing as though the writers threw the most popular tropes into a hat, jumbled it around, and could only pick three. That being said, sequels are by no means unoriginal. They add further context, more time to spend in a world we have already fallen in love with, as well as a chance to flesh out possible story points that were not entirely fulfilling in the preceding installment. I guess in that respect they are unoriginal, as they are expounding on an existing idea, but that does not make them any less valuable, excluding that the original is, well, the original. It is what captures fans’ attention and leads to years of cosplays and discussion forums, which then inevitably compels us to both yearn for a sequel and dread the very thought. What if our number one nightmare comes true, what if our hope is squashed within the opening credits, cutscene, chapter — what if they ruin it?
And yet, we receive annual installations of tired franchises, sequels associated by name alone, and we complain up until the release date, only to catch ourselves picking it up the next day. Unfortunately, annualized games are becoming more popular, too. I say unfortunately because I personally am not a fan of this new trend of pumping out big action games every year, namely the obvious Call of Duty, Battlefield, Assassins Creed, and I am beginning to fear Far Cry is heading in the same direction. While I no longer play annualized games, let it be explicitly clear that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the developers who are responsible for making those games. Their schedules are grueling and the deadlines are unruly. There is a reason why, from game to game, only a handful of new features are introduced. They make some of the larger sacrifices when it comes to game development. Tangent point made, moving on.
For the most part, when a game is released it is almost impossible to not think about the eventual sequel. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and it is the exceptions that are fascinating. Some games will never receive new breath. Some will remain asleep in the hearts of those who cherished them when they were new, pulsing every so often as sequel conspiracy theories spread throughout the internet chatrooms (Are chatrooms still used?) and blogs. What makes these different from the Resident Evils and Metal Gear Solids? Games that, at this point, fans expect there is another coming. Is it the lack of attention they garner? Is it the story line – too obscure, or too complex? Is the developer too overwhelmed by other projects that others have to fall by the wayside? Or is it that the game’s ending provided enough resolution that the writers and devs simply don’t want to continue the story?
From a development standpoint, each reason is cause to leave the game alone. The wonderful nature of video games, though, is that they have one hell of an after-life. A game that initially fails may gather the loving attention of a few, which over time becomes many, eventually transforming the game into a cult classic. The affection and admiration fans have can become so intense that developers begin to consider revisiting a game to which they thought the doors were closed forever. In the present gaming community there is a greater probability that a long forgotten franchise will see new imagination. If your favorite game still has not seen a sequel, you have the likelihood of an HD remastered collection to hopefully look forward to. But the question still remains — what is it about some games that denies them a sequel?
As a writer, it makes the most sense to put a pin in a story if there is no room for progression. There is a dual satisfaction in the player’s happiness with the story and character progression and the writer’s feeling that there is nothing left to add. However, a game with a solid beginning, middle, and end and no sequel belongs in a perfect world that does not exist. There is plenty that can prevent a sequel from being made that the notion of an ideal world to a gaming developer or publisher is laughable. The publisher’s plan for a sequel could be derailed by disappointing sale numbers. Unforeseen lay-offs or closures could leave games in development and gaming licenses stranded. The development could have too many setbacks and be cancelled after years of work (Prey 2 could have been so fucking cool). The cause behind the lack of a sequel is often much simpler and less satisfying than we are happy where the story ended. Honestly, more often than not it boils down to the hazards that occur during the lifespan of development.
So what about games like the long lost Black? Sure, it’s not the obvious choice for a sequel, but that game, if you’ll allow me to get elementary with my vocabulary, was so good. It has what CoD fans love: guns, explosions, you can shoot through things, and, if it was given a sequel, could have thrilling multiplayer. What about Heavy Rain? I have talked about Heavy Rain before , specifically how it deserves a sequel, and I stand by that. It was a widespread success, PS3 classic, paved the way for narrative driven, decision based games, and the newfound episodic story telling trend in games. Heavy Rain could easily see a sequel expounding on the Origami Killer’s past exploits, following a new cast of interesting characters. And for that matter, what about Indigo Prophecy? These are clear cut choices, but I doubt they will ever have new chapters (Though Indigo Prophecy will be getting a remastered edition, surprise, surprise).
A solid game without a sequel can be a good and bad thing. It’s good because at least we have the comfort in knowing the story will never be ruined, nor will it devolve into a convoluted series that carries no semblance of the original. Not to mention if a developer feels comfortable with where they left the story, then they have every right not to work on a sequel in spite of the fan pressure to do so. On the other hand, a sequel has the chance of making a great game even better, gives the player more content, and has a chance to answer the unwavering questions in your head that keep you up at night. Sequels will never go away and will keep establishing a more prevalent hold on entertainment. I only hope with gaming becoming more popular, and more indie studios popping up, that my favorite games are given a chance for rebirth. Or reckoning. Or redemption. You get it.
FYI: If any readers are interested in knowing what happened to particular projects that got cancelled, sequels you thought were eventually coming but didn’t, or just curious as to what early prototypes of your favorite games were like, I implore you to check out Unseen64. A website devoted to cataloging every game that was ever cancelled, what games were like before the final product, and more. It has whatever was available before the game ceased to exist: screenshots, artwork, prototype footage, gameplay, etc. Please check it out. Did you know the first stage of Resident Evil 4 was tossed out and used to make Devil May Cry? I didn’t.