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Weekly Grind: What is Wrong with Sequels

Hello, and welcome once again to the Weekly Grind. So what's on the agenda this week? Well, it's something that I think most of us are all too familiar with: mediocre sequels. Yes, it's true, there are more than a few companies that have been releasing the same thing over and over again expecting gamers to shell out fifty bucks on a sequel with only minor changes from the first game.

First of all, I ask you all to consider that making a good sequel is not as easy as it may appear to be. This is true in almost any medium, just look at the film industry for example. The first films are always better than the sequels that follow them, at least the majority of the time. Need an example? OK, look at the original Star Wars Trilogy... now look at Episode I. Even though Episode I was made in an era of better technology and special effects, I think we would all agree that it just isn't as good as the originals. Why? Well it may have had something to do with that babbling idiot JarJar Binks, or perhaps we just didn't like to see Vader as a child, but more than that, I think the creators just tried to hard. Of course in the game industry, it seems developers aren't trying hard enough, but it just goes to show you that sequels don't come easy.

To pick solely on the proverbial whipping boy (Capcom) of this topic would be an unfair assessment of the situation. There are several other companies that continue to make sequels with no real improvements. No, this doesn't mean that Resident Evil and Street Fighter are off the hook, but it does mean that Capcom is not the only guilty party. Take a look at Square, for instance. How much has gameplay changed in the Final Fantasy series over the years? Not a whole lot. This doesn't mean the series isn't good, it just means that there have been few enhancements to the gameplay. True, graphics and sound have come a long way, but that doesn't change the way the game is played. With the exception of the horrid combat system in FF VIII, we have seen Square take very little risk with the series, and why should they? They have found a formula that works very well and continues to bring them a hefty profit. This is something that is often overlooked by gamers complaining about the lack of innovation in sequels, perhaps the company has the formula down just right and it is literally almost impossible to find a way to make things better. Let's face it, FF X is going to play very similarly to the other installments in the series, but you're going to buy it, aren't you? Well, you'd better because it's going to be GREAT! They don't need to improve the game, at least not yet. As long as we're willing to shell out cash for the games then they'll keep making them just as they always have.

If you want something different from Square, then just try a different series. The Chrono series, for example, is fairly different from Final Fantasy in several ways (and in my opinion, it's better). For one, there is no random combat, you can almost always see an enemy on screen before it attacks. This means that you can choose whether you want to fight the enemy or not. Also, this series has varied in itself. The combat system in Chrono Cross is different from that of Chrono Trigger. Attacks must be equipped and there was the addition of the field gauge that determined which magic would have the biggest effects. So far, we have not seen any of these features in a Final Fantasy title. What makes FF games so great is the combination of science fiction and fantasy, and of course the classic RPG action that we've all come to know and love.

Another company guilty of remake after remake? Nintendo. Oh come on, like it or not, Nintendo milks its franchises for everything they're worth. How long have Mario and Zelda been around? One may justly argue that Nintendo's sequels have always featured significant changes and indeed, for the most part they have. If you can't see a difference between Super Mario World and Super Mario 64, then you obviously need a lobotomy, anyone can see that SM 64 was radically different from its predecessors. All across the board, Mario games have always come off with a slew of changes justifying the existence of each. However, not all Nintendo properties are as unique as Mario; yep, I'm talking about those damn Pokemon. Pokemon may be the worst offender of sequel rip-offs this side of Army Men games. Or at least they're darn close. First of all they expected you to buy both Red and Blue to get all the original Pokemon; of course you could trade for them too, but just the fact that two versions of nearly identical games exist is ridiculous.

What followed was even worse; Pokemon Yellow should go down in history as the biggest ripoff in gaming. A carbon copy of the Red and Blue versions, but this time you had a yellow, bastard rat following you around for the duration of your quest, oh yeah, that's definitely a major improvement. Next came the Silver and Gold versions which added 100 more Pokemon and now comes the Crystal version which is basically the same thing as the Gold and Silver games. Oh, but the Crystal version lets you play as either a male or female trainer and features pre-battle "animations". Well, yee-haw! Somebody break out the "most innovative game of the century" award, we have a winner! Give me a break, this is ALMOST as bad as the Pokemon Yellow catastrophe.

Needless to say, I could easily rip on Capcom and 3DO for their endless ports and updates of the same games, but I think you get the point. Do we really need to see "Street Fighter II E-XXX-4.785 Super Turbo Hyper-Galactic Revival"? Umm... something tells me no, but hey, if Capcom can continue to make stellar Street Fighter games, then why not? Now 3DO's situation is a little different; the Army Men games suck, have sucked, and will always suck yet they continue to appear faster than babies in India.

OK, so I had to rip on them at least a little bit, but the point is some sequels appear because we the gamers demand them, and others appear because the developer is hoping to make a quick buck off of a franchise name or box art. The trick is discovering which titles are worth your money and which ones are not. In the cases of Final Fantasy and Resident Evil, the gameplay has been honed to near perfection and the sequels are generally excellent purchases for fans of the genre or anyone interested in it. Ultimately you must decide for yourself; just remember: choose wisely.

By Ryan Schaefer - 01/09/02

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