What Justifies a Sequel?

What justifies a sequel? Why do people make them? I have devised three terms (hard, soft and golden) that might explain the reasoning behind why games have a second instalment. Is it about money? Most of the time, yes, but there are plenty of reasons to get a series going!

What Justifies a Sequel

What justifies a sequel? It’s a question that’s been on my mind for a little while now. Primarily due to my recent review of Tails of Iron. I came away from that experience with a feeling I hadn’t felt in a very long time. A desperate want for another one. Normally, this would just be a feeling and I’d move past it, but the gaming industry has a funny relationship with follow ups. One sequel too many can ruin a series, the next game might invigorate it, and too many in the series transform it into a franchise. Sequels aren’t inherently bad, but here are a few reasons they might be made in the first place. 

Sequelitis - Mega Man Classic vs. Mega Man X

Hard Sequel

The classic. The OG. The usual. That’s right folks, I’m talking about hard sequels. A hard sequel, a term I’ve made for the sake of this discussion, is made because there is a story that still needs to be told. An example of this would be Assassin’s Creed 2 because while Altair’s story finishes in AC 1, Desmond’s doesn’t. You could consider Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Revelations, and AC 3 hard sequels as well, although Brotherhood and Revelations take a circuitous route.

This is the simplest reason for a new entry and by far the most justifiable. The story isn’t done yet, so of course, the next part needs to be made. It’s also one of the rarer forms of video game sequels. Surprising, I know, but think about it for a moment. How many next in the series titles have you played that are direct continuations of a game’s story? A lot end on some sort of cliffhanger but don’t earn enough to warrant a sequel. Make no mistake, games are expensive to produce, so there needs to be at least some guarantee that they’ll earn a profit. 

The final hard sequel in the Assassin's Creed series

The final hard sequel in the Assassin’s Creed series

Still, I can’t remember the last direct follow up I’ve played in recent years. It seems like the era of hard sequels is over, and I suppose it makes sense. With remakes saturating the market and games getting more expensive as technology improves, it’s tough to predict if anything will be a success. Publishers don’t like to guess, which leaves us with anthologies, spiritual successors, and unrelated stories with the same name. So, while this is the simplest, it isn’t the most common justification by a long shot.  

Soft Sequel

The more common cousin to the hard sequel, a soft sequel is a game that continues in the same world or series but doesn’t directly continue the original’s story. These are your spiritual successors, your Zeldas and Marios, pretty much the entire Final Fantasy franchise. The Fable series make a wonderful example for this, as we are still in the same Albion, just further on in the future. To expand on what I said earlier, a hard sequel may be the most justifiable to the players, but a soft sequel is far easier to justify to publishers.

Not the best Fable sequel, but still soft

Not the best Fable sequel, but still soft

Soft sequels are a perfect answer for a game’s success. While many original entries attempt to set up a direct continuation, many also attempt to end with some closure, maybe leaving a bit of room for DLC or a potential future installment if they can. However, that is a gamble, so it’s generally safer to just end a game’s story in the first iteration, then make a loosely related title if the sales figures come back positive. That isn’t to say it’s always negative, though. Soft sequels can produce some of the most interesting results.

Take the Legend of Zelda. A series with possibly one of the most established playstyle templates on the market. But consider this, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a soft sequel, and would not have been as good if the Zelda formula didn’t exist. Same for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Two of the most well-known, well-loved entries in the franchise, because they rebelled. They broke the Zelda mold, flipped the script. If Zelda, a series of mostly soft sequels, wasn’t as established, they may not have even existed. Same for the Mario RPGs, and tons of other franchises. Soft sequels can be for the better of the series.

Breath of the Wild, a soft sequel that hit the world hard!

Breath of the Wild, a soft sequel that hit the world hard!

Golden Sequel

And sometimes, they can be for the worse. These are what I like to call, golden sequels. The cash grabs, the whirring of the milking machine attached to a franchise. Fallout 76, movie tie-in games, and most of what Ubisoft is making nowadays wear this label. These are products, designed to capitalize on a popular trend, sell loot boxes, or advertise technology. Without a doubt, the most popular and worst kind of sequel, is usually found in the “AAA” market.

Now, before people start yelling at me, I’ll say this. I’m not saying that this type is easy to make or even poorly designed. Golden sequels, for the most part, aren’t bad games. On the contrary, they’re usually fine. Perfectly functional. I had some fun times in Far Cry 4. Assassin’s Creed Origins isn’t my favorite, but it has some really good moments. I wouldn’t call 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront II good, but it’ll probably hold my attention for a while. No, golden sequels aren’t bad. They’re just evil.  

Symptoms of golden sequels may include loot boxes, right Battlefront 2?

Symptoms of golden sequels may include loot boxes, right Battlefront 2?

What makes them evil isn’t anything as interesting as a failed idea, or a terrible boss fight. No, they just have a sinister air about them. There’s this constant, underlying feeling of manipulation. Like somewhere, in a dark room underground, an executive is rubbing their hands together in glee as you buy a sword with better numbers on it. Bad games are fine. Mirror’s Edge was one of my favorites for years, and its core idea was terrible! But people will remember it for far longer than Far Cry Primal. Plus, if no one tried first-person platforming, we probably wouldn’t have gotten Titanfall.  

Conclusion

So, there are a few reasons for sequels. Sometimes, a story needs to be told in parts, so you can focus better on specific moments. Sometimes, the world has loose ends, or more places to be explored and people to meet. And sometimes, the original just does so well, the developer needs to capitalize on it. Sure, money is the biggest reason why people make “the next one,” but that isn’t always a bad thing. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, there are hundreds of titles that improved on a series and wouldn’t exist if the games before weren’t popular.

Another series of soft sequels, as well as a staple of my childhood!

Another series of soft sequels, as well as a staple of my childhood!

Tails of Iron may deserve a sequel, either hard or soft. And it may end up being terrible, or worse, a golden variant. We simply won’t know unless it gets made. The important thing to remember is that a bad sequel is not the end. Like all mistakes, they’re an important learning experience. And while I’m down on franchises, like Assassin’s Creed, they do offer the unique opportunity to see a property change and grow. I wasn’t a fan of how the AC games changed in the later installments, but it will always be better than seeing the new Far Cry game being just Far Cry 3 in a different place.   

1 Comment

  1. Thought provoking, good discussion topic.

    Reply

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