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Nothing is sacred: Sequels

12:00 PM on 10.17.2009 // Smurgesborg

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People might look at me a little strangely for implying that sequels are a sacred cow of gaming. "Everyone complains about sequels!" The thing is people complain about getting the sequels they didn't ask for, while at the same time complaining about not getting the sequels they did ask for. For example: It's oh so common to complain about Madden sequels. Admittedly even the fans of the game have an unspoken rule. "Don't buy Madden every year. Not worth it." However people harp endlessly for other games. "Because this game is dear to my heart I demand more of it!" "More Silent Hill, more Final Fantasy, more Metal Gear Solid!"

Now I won't deny that these are all good series, but if you look a little deeper you might realize that these games and the people who constantly demand them are holding their creators back.

Silent Hill's original creators were not allowed to leave the series at rest. When they decided the series had reached its creative end, Konami did not. Now an American company is taking their creation and dragging it through the mud. Silent Hill is a subtle series that had an incredible amount of creative force driving it in its earlier days. Now a group of people who don't understand that subtlety are creating cheap imitations.

Hideo Kojima is indirectly forced to continue working on Metal Gear Solid endlessly, clearly not wishing his own series to suffer the same fate as Silent Hill outside of his care. He publicly proclaims he doesn't want to keep working on the series on a constant basis, but he knows Konami will keep on pushing out sequels whether he's there or not. The best he can do is to make sure the series stays in good hands, but Metal Gear may be getting too out of hand even for him. Kojima has likewise publicly stated that he can't even follow his own storyline as much as he'd prefer; yet there are already two more down the pipeline as of this writing.

Final Fantasy
has quelled the creative power of Square Enix as a whole, facing a similar situation to Kojima on a much larger scale. Final Fantasy fans rabidly demand more of the series faster than the company can produce them, and some are even livid at how long XIII has been taking. Likewise the company cannot simply ignore their lifeblood, and in order to sate their hunger the company dedicates all its resources to development of main titles as well as an endless deluge of spinoff titles in between. Even though the main Final Fantasy titles themselves are fairly unique, the time when their older ideas like Einhander and Brave Fencer Mushashi could have flourished are long gone. Even the closest thing they have to that in Kingdom Hearts can't escape the name of Final Fantasy. Their fans are not open enough to new ideas to support attempts to branch out without a specific logo attached to it.

These are all cases of companies and series that I think have lost at least some of their creative drive, because honestly I think the fans are in more control than anyone else. Their money and demands are what's driving many of these games to continue being made, and how is it possible for anyone to really be at their best when someone else is telling them what they should be making? How can any game be at its best when the original staff isn't even present to work on THEIR creation? Obviously it's not all the fault of the fans, but I'm hoping the fans themselves can realize that they're partially responsible for these creations going on as long as they have. Even the more extreme cases like Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero, where the company itself has the mentality to exploit the series on at least an annual basis: it's the peoples' money that supports that mentality.

Shigeru Miyamoto has to be the only man I can think of that has the power to simply make what he wants to make and not suffer for it. His name is so iconic and his influence so strong within his company that it's doubtful he could be forced to do anything. Though Zelda itself has borne many sequels, it continues to advance creatively with games like Wind Waker and Four Swords. I'm not claiming that Miyamoto is the only mind behind the series, but rather I'm admiring the series itself for being able to make controversial choices. I'm not against sequels themselves so much as sequels that have lost their creative drive. Likewise Miyamoto isn't limited to just working on certain series because his company tells him so.

The man is free to create new series like Pikmin, based on his own gardening hobby; or Wii Music, based simply in his own desire to help younger people appreciate music. I'm fairly certain Wii Fit was partially his idea as well. Say what you will about Wii Music, but I will endlessly encourage that man to continue making what he wants to make even if I don't really care to play it. I love Zelda, but if he continued to come up with genuinely new ideas I could be happy with there never being another sequel in the series ever again. That sort of freedom represents something of more value to me by leaps and bounds. We have plenty of great Zelda games as is. I can always replay my copy of Link to the Past if I want to experience Zelda. I won't ever get a chance to see anyone's other creative exploits if everyone goes in with the mentality that we need more, more, more.

Tim Schafer is likewise a man who doesn't buckle down to sequels. He creates what he wants to create, and generally does not ever announce plans for sequels. I could imagine that he does everything he wants to do with each of his games. Some creative minds consider a game complete and not needing expansion upon finishing the project. I can't tell if it's fortunate or otherwise, but it seems that the reason for his creative freedom is because he doesn't preoccupy himself with money. While it's great that Double Fine isn't limited in the way so many other companies are, it's a shame that more people don't just support him. Brutal Legend may finally be the game that changes that, but honestly I don't expect that loyalty to persist. Brutal Legend is more relevant to current interests than his other works, and I don't expect Tim to keep on making games like that. Quite possibly this game will be a one-time deal, in part again because he makes what he wants to make and many people would rather have a sequel than expand into further unfamiliar territory with him.

I'm not sure how to put this, but I think gamers don't know how to really appreciate a unique experience. To clear things up, I have no intention of saying people shouldn't play sequels. I play fighting games and their updates frequently. I would be a huge hypocrite if I made that sort of claim. But still, I think what I said holds true. When people play a really good game -- something really different and interesting that compels them to become familiar with it on a really deep level -- so often they can't be satisfied with just that. I hold that even though they might appreciate the game itself, they don't appreciate the fact that it is unique because they blindly start searching for more of the same. Once a sequel comes out, people are just too ready to buy it without question. People should really question more often if a game's really run out of creative steam. If it has, there's a good chance the people making it don't actually WANT to anymore, and we should spare them.

Seriously, guys. Don't tell me there's no game out there that you don't want a sequel to when one isn't necessarily needed. Cult-classic games like Ico, Okami, Jet Set Radio, and Skies of Arcadia are all very popular choices for the "We need a sequel treatment." We don't need a sequel unless the masterminds behind those games decide themselves a sequel is needed. We want these sort of things because we love the games, yes. The desire for a sequel is fairly natural. But at the same time we do the very things we love a disservice by pushing for further works that weren't ever intended. If we don't seek to be less demanding, every one of our dearest gaming memories could some day be drug through the dirt until it no longer has any value, and then what good did our love do? If people really want to view games as art, then we can offer peoples' creative works a little more respect than that and trust those creators to do what's best.

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