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A Video Game Trilogy Too Far?
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on April 24, 2006   |   Episode 102 (Show Archive)  

   

Too Robot!
The video game industry has always been big on sequels, as soon as one game hits it big the money hungry companies do everything in their power to get a second game out as quickly as possible. It seems like every holiday season we're bombarded by nothing but sequel after sequel, from Dead or Alive 4 to Ridge Racer 6 to the fourth Resident Evil, the new installments never stop coming. But despite the cries from gamers and journalists voicing their concerns about the void of new and creative ideas, these sequels do well and end up spawning even more games with numbers next to their name.

But what if I told you there was something even more troubling than sequels, a trend that absolutely must be stopped before too many more innocent video game developers waste their time developing something that could be bad for the industry. I am talking about video game trilogies, of course. Games with one constant story that starts with the first title, continues in the second and then finishes off in a big way when the third (and final) installment is released. It's these games that you're going to need to watch out for, a brand of sequel that is more heinous than Driver 3 [sic] ever was.


If the sales of Too Human are anything like those of Eternal Darkness will Microsoft release all three games?
Recently this trend has gotten out of control, it seems like every companies is either announcing a trilogy or finishing one up. The most recent guilty party is Silicon Knight's newest Xbox 360 game, Too Human, an adventure game that promises an epic story that will be released over three years and on a number of Xbox 360 discs. So what's the problem? After all, this is Silicon Knight's dream project, a game that has been in development since the days of the original PlayStation.

The problem isn't the game (which is shaping up to be one of the biggest games at this year's E3), for all we know this is one title that will be worth the long wait. Instead the problem is the whole concept of the trilogy, a cheap way to hook gamers and continue to sell them what is essentially the same game over and over. Is there a reason not to release the game all at once? Will the game be worth nearly $200 to know what finally happens in the end?

Before we get to these questions I would like to address some of my concerns about trilogies. Perhaps

Shenmue is a good example of a trilogy that will probably never be completed!
the most immediate problem associated with these types of games is that it keeps good developers doing the same thing more than once. Most artists (no matter if they are writers, directors, or in this case, video game developers) aren't excited about doing the same thing again and again, it tends to dull that creative spark that got them into the industry in the first place.

Keita Takahashi (the mastermind behind the cult classic, Katamari Damacy) is one person who loathes the idea of making sequels. Through interviews Keita has expressed his disdain at being forced to essentially make the same game twice, he would rather be creating new characters, new worlds, and innovative game play. And can you blame him? Who would want to watch a developer (or company) release the same type of game every year? People need to flex their creative muscle and it's more than a little difficult to do that when you are spending all your time trying to top your last sequel.


The Lord of the Rings is one of the few movie trilogies to get it right!
And what if your game doesn't work quite like it should? While Too Human promises to be a huge adventure full of rich environments and lofty goals, it's still just a game. Just because the studio making it feels its worth three games doesn't mean it actually is. Just look at Advent Rising, another ambitious adventure game trilogy that had people counting down the seconds before they could start to enjoy this epic quest. Unfortunately Advent Rising didn't quite live up to expectations, receiving poor scores from the critics and a cold shoulder from the game buying public. The game's two sequels have since been scrapped, leaving the quest wide open with no hopes of getting that feeling of finality.


We would hate to see Too Human turn out like Advent Rising!
And then there's the problem of quality. When it comes right down to it most trilogies don't have enough of a story to fill up three separate features. You don't need to look any further than the three Matrix movies for proof of this. Unfortunately the video game world tends to work the same way, which might explain why UbiSoft's recent Prince of Persia trilogy couldn't quite live up to the first installment, The Sands of Time. It's not that the two sequels (The Warrior Within and The Two Thrones) were necessarily bad, but most of the good ideas the developers had clearly went into the first game, with only minor updates and additions to the sequels.

The recent Prince of Persia series is a perfect example of the downfalls of the trilogy. Had these games been spread out a little more developers would have had a chance to make each game stand out and offer unique techniques for each title. But if you spread them out too much you run the risk of alienating your audience, who may need to play the first game to understand the sequel. Will people remember the intricately devised story if it takes the company two or three years to develop the next installment?

And there's the rub. If you're going to keep the story going (and keep people coming back for more) you're going to have to turn these games over as quickly as possible (or do them all at once like the team behind Too Human). Of course, this is not always how it works out. Xenosaga, for example, was first

As the Prince of Persia games went on the artwork improved, but the games themselves didn't!
released at the beginning of 2003. The sequel, Jenseits von Gut and Bose, didn't find its way to store shelves until 2005. And while the third (and final) installment is scheduled for a fourth quarter release this year that's still more than eighteen months after the last one came out. Is that too much time to wait? Will gamers forget about these characters and their peril?

Apparently they will, because sales for the series have only declined. Of course, this may have more to do with the overall quality of the Xenosaga series, or the fact that it's top heavy with story (perhaps more story than you actually need). But whether it's the quality or the time between games, the point still remains that expecting blockbuster returns each time is both unrealistic and foolish.


This Xenosaga picture is great, but only because it doesn't require you to sit through a thirty minute long cinema scene!
One reason for Xenosaga's slumping sales may have to do with the fact that it's the middle game. Unlike the first game (whose purpose is to introduce you to the characters, their adventure and the overall theme) and the third game (whose purpose is to conclude the adventure and bring some finality to your life) the second game really doesn't have a purpose. It's just there to advance the story, but since you are aware there's going to be a third game you know there won't be a big climactic battle or happy ending. You're left wanting more and knowing that you're going to have to wait at least a year for resolution.

The final point is the most controversial; it's the type of accusation you need to be careful about. While some games may take years to develop, some trilogies feel like they could have fit into one big quest. While not a trilogy, the .hack series is a perfect example of a game that probably could have been done as one game. Although Bandai released four installments, none of them were longer than 15 hours. Had Bandai released these four titles as one game you might have had something worthwhile, but when you're spending $200 for a game that is essentially the same length as Square's average RPG it gets a little harder to justify.


Perhaps this is a stupid question, but isn't it kind of arrogant to release a trilogy like this?
The million dollar question is whether or not Too Human could have been done as one long game. We live in a world with games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game that will take you hundreds of hours to complete everything. A year and a half later people are still playing Halo 2 online every day, loving every minute of it. Will Too Human have enough game play to warrant being cut into three separate pieces, or is this just another example of a company trying to get the most money out of its product. It's not that you are deciding to buy a $60 Xbox 360 game; it's the fact that in order to get to the end you're going to have to spend close to $200.

It's still too early to judge Too Human, so for now all we can do is compare it to the trilogies of the past. Will Too Human's story and game play suffer as the years go on? Will the third installment be as technologically impressive as the first game? Will the story ultimately be worth the $200 investment? Will it suffer from the same limitations that plagued Prince of Persia, Xenosaga, and even the Jak & Daxter series? Or is it just going to be another Advent Rising, a trilogy with a lot of promise that fizzles out? These are all the variables, but regardless of how Too Human ultimately turns out one thing is for sure, there are definite problems with creating a trilogy. We wish Silicon Knights the best of luck ... but it doesn't change the fact that too many companies are investing too much money into these three-part games. Forget about the sequels, all gamers want is for you to spend enough time to get the first game right.
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