Against Sequels

Attack of the Sequels

This is something that’s been on my mind and with E3 starting next week, somewhat timely.

I don’t particularly like sequels. I don’t like additions. I like completed wholes. I like stories with beginnings, middles and, most importantly, ends. One of my favorite TV shows, if not my favorite, The Wire is so because it knew when to stop. If I was asked if I would like another season of The Wire, it would be tough, but in the end I’d say no. The Wire was a complete whole with its 5 seasons. It explored everything it needed to explore and brought its character arcs to a close. Two of my favorite mangas, Bakuman and Hikaru no Go, are long running serials that ended. As long as they are they didn’t overstretch themselves. I often say to myself I wish there was more of this upon rereading the series, but what I really think I’m saying is that I want another piece this good.

Games are not built like that. They are built upon iteration. Even games that are seeped in the story end of the narrative/ludic dichotomy fall prey to this fact. Gamers are so used to iteration that they demand a sequel to a game they like, whether or not it would be any good; regardless if there is any space left to explore narratively or thematically. One thing that I don’t think gaming has enough of is self-contained entities. Every other medium has these, even film, which has become so franchise driven in recent decades has not fallen to the level of games.

I could list so many games that others lament for not getting sequels or continuations that I breath a sight of relief that they failed just enough not to be a franchise. People lament that Psychonauts didn’t sell well enough to warrant a second one. Brutal Legend was supposed to be a start of a franchise, but likewise didn’t sell enough. I question that logic. Aren’t the games better off for being complete? I liked Brutal Legend and I loved the imagination in the world, but once you’ve defeated the big bad and everyone has gone back to their lives, what else is there to do?

Even the perennial cries for sequels to Mirror’s Edge and Beyond Good & Evil on twitter of which I am a very vocal part of is more of a cry against the status quo with two high profile games than it is any desire or expectation to see one. To be fair both games ended on massive cliffhangers and were designed with the idea they would get sequels. Is that such a good idea?

On the less good end of the scale we have Too Human, a game that was designed to be the first in a trilogy. A lot of games now seem to be designed from conception as trilogies or long epic sagas. God of War was a great standalone game exploring the broken psychology of a mass murdering psychopath that becomes the mythological embodiment of war. Then it got two more games to make a trilogy and now, three prequels later, we are expecting an announcement of the next installment to the franchise.

The Gears of War series ended its war with the locust in the third game, but now they have to find little pockets of space where they can squeeze new titles. Resident Evil is the ultimate sinner in this regard with Kingdom Hearts bringing up a close second. Have you tried to follow the mythos of either franchise lately? The more fiction you have to keep adding, the larger the number at the end of the title, the more the cracks start to show and the more narrative contortions have to be performed and the more the franchise drifts away from what made it interesting in the first place. See the Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell series.

I understand franchises sell. But you can have a franchise without compromising a completed work. Whether by luck or by design the Far Cry series has somehow managed this. Each game has nothing to do with the other outside of certain design choices and the games are better for it. They don’t take place in the same universes with the same rules and they are free to do what they like. Bioshock recognized that Rapture has run out of gas and any further games set there would do nothing, but demystify the local. Even the laughingly titled Final Fantasy series had this concept nailed down back in the 80s. When the story end, you don’t try and pick it up again. Though now they’re making trilogies within number installments, so now Square has forgotten as well.

I realize that I might as well bash my head against a wall, but completed wholes, whatever they may be called will always be better than the never-ending sagas of tedium. I love Mirror’s Edge and Beyond Good and Evil and so would love sequels to both of them. But I can’t help but feel in the back of my mind that I’m somehow asking for a Faustian deal. The games are good enough on their own, why spoil that by making it no longer complete.

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