Are Videogame Prequels Necessary?
Everyone loves a good franchise. Whether it is a movie series, tv series, book series, or game series, if it’s awesome enough, we the consumer want more. And why not? When a series is created that features not only a great story and great characters, but also a fantastic world, we want to be lost in that world. So it makes sense to make more entries into the franchise in order to give us more of what we love.
Videogames are notorious for having sequels. Not a year goes by when we don’t get a sequel to a hit game. We are at the point where a high volume of AAA games coming out are sequels. And if you don’t think the industry is being overrun by sequels then take a good look at your game library and tell me I’m still wrong. And it is understandable why so many sequels are made. With budgets for games growing and growing, developers and companies want to make sure they are going to make money, so they create something that already has an established fan base that is going to sell millions of copies.
And it is a scary time in the industry now. It seems like every other day I’m reading about companies being hit with layoffs. So sequels are also a safe bet that a developers will be able to keep their doors open another year. Sequels have become a safety zone for some developers and I get that. But now that sequels are known to become a huge hit, another trend in the gaming industry seems to be growing, and that is the development of prequels.
Prequels are nothing new to the gaming industry. Odds are you’ve played quite a few of them. Now however, it seems that prequel development is starting to grow and I can’t help but wonder, are they really necessary? For many franchises, the story is over, the protagonist has finished his quest, the villains are beaten and everything is wrapped up. So why go back? Why take the player so far back, even though we already know how the story ends?
This year has quite a few prequels coming out. A couple have already made their way into stores: Gears of War: Judgement and God of War Ascension. These two games come from very popular and beloved franchises. And the stories of these two franchises have come to a conclusion (though there could easily be further stories to tell in these worlds). So from a story standpoint, what purpose does it serve to tell a story that takes place well before the events of a series, when we know how it ends?
“But God of War had another prequel, so what’s wrong with this one?” you may be asking yourself. First of all when God of War Chains of Olympus came out, God of War 3 had not been released. We didn’t know exactly how Kratos’ journey would end. So while we awaited the final chapter, Ready at Dawn gave us a great story and gameplay experience that explored some of the challenges Kratos went through while serving the gods of Olympus. The story gave clarity to some aspect that had been mentioned in the first two games. It served a purpose other than to milk a franchise.
Now I’m not letting Ghost of Sparta slide, but the story doesn’t go so far back as Ascension does. Do we really need to see exactly how Kratos escaped Ares servitude? No, we don’t. It’s enough to know that Ares tricked Kratos into killing his family and Kratos gave Ares the big middle finger. And seeing as how we know how Kratos’ journey of revenge ends, it just makes telling the story all the more pointless. Now I have not played the game yet, and I’m sure overall it is still a very well made and fun game, and I can dig it. But from a story standpoint, it feels like a complete waste of time.
Gears of War Judgement just feels like a cash cow. The war is over, so why do we need to see events that pre-date the main story, following characters that weren’t all that compelling to begin with? I’m sure the gameplay, like its predecessors, is fun and crazy. But if you’re going to bother telling us a story, how about telling one that matters?
Later this year there are another handful of prequels being released. Metal Gear Solid V is set to tell us yet another entry into Big Boss’ tale. Now those of us who have played Metal Gear Solid IV know that Kojima wrapped up the whole series with a nice little bow. Every question we may have had about the Metal Gear universe was answered in ridiculously long cutscenes. So why do we still care about what Big Boss was doing pre-Solid Snake?
Yes I know Metal Gear Solid 3 was a prequel. And again it was made well before the final installment and it was a story that needed to be told. We did need to know what it was that shaped Big Boss and what lead to the chaos of the rest of the games. And Snake Eater did that very nicely. So what more is there to tell us about Big Boss that we should care about? Especially since we know the grand finale of the whole series. I’ve seen the trailer for MGSV and while it looks cool, it also looks like another convoluted plot that we don’t need to experience.
We also have Batman: Arkham Origins. Now WB Montreal is fairly tight lipped about detail of the story other than it predates the previous two games and gives us another tale of a young Bruce Wayne. Now I won’t even go into how many time this happens in comics, but did this need to happen in the Arkhamverse as well? With the way Arkham City ended, fans really wanted the next entry in the series to see what more the Dark Knight would have to suffer. Instead we go back to his rookie days and deal with some of the lesser known villains. I’m all for exploring Batman’s rogues gallery since it is extensive and awesome, but we didn’t have to go back in time to do so. And while I’m sure the game will still be awesome, I’m still unsure of how I’ll feel about the story. And who knows maybe Rocksteady is working on a direct follow-up to Arkham City or maybe something else entirely which is cool too.
I know I sound like I’m complaining about these games. I don’t disagree that as far as games go they are very good and very well made. But since telling a narrative is such a big part of games now, I feel it is important to not waste the players time in telling a story in a franchise when we already know how the story ends. Especially if we are going to spend $60 on it, which many gamers are still uncomfortable paying. And if you are going to make a prequel, have it serve a purpose to the main narrative other than trying to make big bucks. Look to games such as Deus Ex Human Revolution or Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, where these games not only added to the story, but also explored these worlds further, rather than telling more of the same thing.