Having recently downloaded the beta for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, I was startled to realize that I had forgotten all about it for a few days. Then I thought about it for a moment and came to the conclusion that the newest entry in Ubisoft’s historical/sci-fi series is suffering from a distinct lack of buzz, especially compared to the frenetic levels of hype that Assassin’s Creed 2 received, all of which were deserved in my opinion. So I started to wonder why people were taking such a lackadaisical approach to this game and it didn’t take long for the answer to sneak up on my and stab my brain: It’s a side story and not a sequel.
These are nothing new to gaming, but with the rise of importance in stories, it’s easy to see how many gamers, myself included, sometimes become frustrated by what seems to be a developer running down the clock until they are ready to finally release a sequel. Doing so can sometimes be dangerous and set a franchise back in terms of popularity, as we will examine now. Even a series without an epic story can suffer a backlash.
Take a look at Street Fighter II, one of the most popular games of all time and one that story doesn’t even matter in. Capcom followed SF II up with Champion Edition, then Hyper Fighting, then Super Street Fighter II and finally Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Then, when they had exhausted themselves and gamers, they made a prequel: Street Fighter Alpha. All anyone wanted was Street Fighter III and by the time it came out, only the hardcore fighting fans gave it a moment’s thought. Myself and millions of others had moved on. It wasn’t until Street Fighter IV that Capcom redeemed themselves. Of course, then they made Super Street Fighter IV, so we know that someone over there is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Street Fighter II is kind of anomaly, as those aren’t side stories, just fine-tuned reiterations of what had come before, which is likely why people grew so fed up with it. I think we can all agree that biggest culprit of too many side stories is Square Enix. Even discounting games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which is a different series entirely, they still mess about with side stores when all anyone wants is a sequel. Sometimes it can be mind-boggling, in addition to frustrating.
One need look no further than Kingdom Hearts to see a shining example of how to alienate your fanbase. The first game was a landmark, with great graphics and a surprisingly mature story combining Final Fantasy motifs with Disney worlds and characters. Then. a bridge game for the GBA was released, KH: Chain of Memories. Okay, fine, no issue here, as the next game was the proper sequel KH II, which added tons more characters and complexity to the whole thing, so much so that 4 years later, we are still being bombarded with side stories that are trying to tie up all the loose ends.
First, there was the DS game with the moronic name 358/2 Days. Side note (haha): it’s pronounced, “Three Five Eight Over Two Days.” Commence eye rolls. Okay, everybody back? Then, there is the recent PSP entry, Birth By Sleep, not to mention the full 3-D remake of Chain of Memories for the PS2. That’s right, they remade a side story before they made the sequel. And then we have the mobile phone games, like Kingdom Hearts: Coded, which is actually being REMADE for the Nintendo DS and takes place after KH 2…but it isn’t KH 3.
The thing that Square Enix is missing is that these games can feel like placeholders, instead of the next bold step forward. Most gamers likely don’t care about the story for Kingdom Hearts anymore, especially after all this filling in the gaps that Tetsuya Nomura has been busy doing, but I know we all want KH 3. Square Enix is losing more and more of their audience with every iteration that isn’t KH 3 and they don’t seem to care. Perhaps they are just intent on crafting their art, but if they don’t release KH 3 soon, when they finally decide to, no one may notice.
In a sea of developers that are doing everything they can to destroy their franchises, one stands alone, an isle of hope, if you will: Bungie. What they did with the Halo franchise is worthy of recognition and I am not talking about the quality of the games. It’s such a simple, obvious strategy that it boggles my mind that more developers don’t use it: they finished the trilogy before releasing any side stories. Imagine if they had released Halo 3: ODST before Halo 3. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…MASS HYSTERIA.
But they resisted and gave the fans what they wanted: closure. Then and only then did they set about filling in the holes, with ODST and Halo: Reach and although they didn’t develop it, Halo Wars, as well. This is how it should be done. Give us the main story and after we are fully invested and have a sense of closure, then the side stories will have more meaning to us and more emotional resonance. The fans win and the developers win.
Do side stories annoy you? Do you pay less attention to them, such as Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood or any of the Kingdom Hearts games? Can you think of anyone else besides Bungie who did it right?