I’ve had this debate with a number of gamers over the years, but very few of them agree with my position so I wanted to ask a larger part of the gaming community what their views are on the subject. There are a number of franchises in gaming that have and will continue to stand the test of time. These include names like The Legend of Zelda, Metal Gear, Devil May Cry, Tomb Raider, and the list goes on. What’s important to note is that all of the franchises I listed have games that were originally released on consoles from older generations and, with the recent exception of Metal Gear, I haven’t played every title in any of them. The difference is that not all of these franchises have standalone games. You can play pretty much any game in the Mario collection without having played any of the other games and you will be just fine as far as plot goes. At no point will you really feel like you are missing something having not played the other titles. The same can be said for Zelda games and most of the Nintendo collection. But that’s not always the case for many of the long standing and well respected franchises on PlayStation or XBOX (all generations).
When you play something like Kingdom Hearts for instance, you really do need to play at the very least all the console titles in order. If not the console titles only, you need to play the entire collection of like seven or eight games spanning multiple platforms including handhelds. Now they’ve made those decimal compendium titles to try to fix this, but that’s not a full experience because all the games haven’t been fully ported so you’re only getting fragments of the story and overall experience. The same is true for franchises like Assassin’s Creed, God of War, and Mass Effect. Let the records show that plot is one of the most if not the most important aspect of a video game to me after gameplay, but at the same time I put a lot more focus into plot than gameplay. I’ll play an okay game with a good story before I’ll play a great game with a bad story.
The big issue here is that because I care so much about plot I almost always refuse to play a game that’s part of a franchise that has already been well established and has a connected or what I perceive to be a connected plot based on advertisements, reviews, and word of mouth. The only times this changes is when they port all the games to modern consoles for an affordable price, assuming I actually want to commit to playing an entire franchise worth of titles, dealing with old graphics and out of date gameplay mechanics. To date, I have only done this with the Metal Gear series. For example: I was given a free copy of Uncharted 3, but I never touched it because I hadn’t played the first 2 games. It wasn’t until a friend of mine loaned me the other 2 titles that I finally played the third installment of the franchise. This is because the plot connects through all the games in the franchise. Yet I would happily play the latest Donkey Kong game for the Wii U even though I haven’t played every DK game in the franchise, because the plots are not connected or even relevant to each other, save for the fact that there are reoccurring characters.
I will also often refuse to play games that are later installments of a franchise if I feel that the experience deemed from playing it from the start is potentially valuable even if the plots aren’t connected. For example: I acquired a copy of Dark Souls I but waited several months to play it because I had yet to get a copy of Demon’s Souls. Even though the plots aren’t connected, it was important to me to play them in order because I felt and still feel that the gameplay evolves from game to game and that playing them out of order detracts from the overall experience. That’s the same reason I won’t play Dark Souls III until I find the time to finish Bloodborne even though they aren’t technically the same franchise. Even though they aren’t directly connected, I believe they should be played in order based on my perception of the franchise and my experience with the other three games I’ve already played.
The problem with this policy of gaming is that standalones are becoming more and more rare. Essentially most AAA games that have been released or will be released in the near past and future are part of an already existing franchise. This is not true across the board, but just look at some fairly recent popular titles.
- Gear of War 4 (2016) – 5th game in franchise not counting the Ultimate Edition
- Mafia 3 (2016) – 3rd game in the franchise not counting the two mobile titles
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016) – 5th game in the franchise not counting the mobile title
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) – 3rd game in the franchise
- Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015) – 9th game in the franchise not counting side titles, handhelds, and mobile games
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (2014) – technically 35th game in the franchise
The issue with this lack of standalones and new IPs is that if you are like me and do refuse to play games with connected plots without starting from the beginning then you are left with 1 of 2 choices. A) You can go back and play a list of old games and catch up to the current installment, but that will require a lot of time, money, and trouble just to find some of these older titles and possibly older consoles if you don’t own them currently. The nice thing is that in recent times a number of franchises have been doing HD remakes which does help with this problem slightly, but it’s not an across the board practice. You can get all the older Ratchet & Clanks or 3 of the five Devil May Cry games on 1 disc currently, but that’s only for PS3 so you’d still have to go back a generation. There are some other options now like emulators and PS Now, but neither of those are particularly convenient options. Emulators require a PC that can run games, even if they are older titles and you have to go through the trouble of finding, downloading, and setting up working emulators of the games you want.
PS Now isn’t an across the board solution because it doesn’t have every game and the pricing is terrible. And what about something much bigger like Tomb Raider or Metal Gear? You’ll still have to do some digging and retro gaming to play all the games in either of those franchises. Nothing wrong with that if you have the time and the resources which many gamers don’t. Or you can choose the other option. B) Miss out on the franchise. Sadly this is what I have been forced to do with a number of supposedly great franchises. I say supposedly because I haven’t played them to be able to give an actual judgement.
It was only this year that I finally finished the Metal Gear franchise. As in, having not played any of the titles prior to this year, except for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013). I sat and played through Metal Gear (1987), Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990), Metal Gear Solid (1998), Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004), Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008), Metal Solid: Peace Walker (2010), Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (2014), and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (2015). Even after all that, there’s still technically 12 other games in the franchise on various platforms with different levels of importance to the overall story. Some of which are also retellings of titles in the franchise. But I still had to sit and play through nine different games across two platforms which was only possible because of the Metal Gear Solid Legacy Collection (2013) on PS3. Otherwise I would have had to somehow play games going all the way back to the MSX. And yes they are all important to the story. I’ll be honest. This was a horrible experience and by the end of it I was just happy that I would never have to hear the name Snake again. I can’t see myself putting this much effort into any other well established franchise. Which sadly means I have to lose out on a number of respected franchises because of when they were started and my access or lack thereof to the earlier titles. The first Metal Gear game on the MSX was literally released before I was even born.
Now if you don’t play games for the story then obviously none of these concerns are relevant to you, but I believe that plot is an important issue to a large percentage of the gaming community. It the reason that Mass Effect 3 (2012) was given so much hate on release and was basically forced to provide us with a free extended ending via DLC. It’s why Ubisoft is bad mouthed so much for the Assassin’s Creed installments and why God of War: Ascension (2013) is currently considered the weakest title in the series. But I’m fairly confident that God of War 4 may yet take up that mantle. Plot matters! Especially when it’s a continuous plot that spans over the course of several titles in multiple platforms over multiple generations of consoles. It’s only in recent times that reboots have really even become a common thing. I wasn’t even going to play DmC (2013) or Tomb Raider (2013) for the same reasons even if they are reboots. It’s only because I got both of them for free through PS Plus and had some free time at one point that I ended up playing either of them. I will happily say that those two titles were probably two of the best games I played in 2014. But it only adds to my sadness because it leads me to believe that I have missed out on a host of great games having not played any of the other games in either franchise. You’ll let me know if my sadness is unfounded or legitimate in the comments section I’m sure.
So this brings me to my overall point/question. Is this the best practice for game developers? Should they continue to put out games that are connected to a larger franchise with a continuous story, some of which have been running for literally 3 decades (Metal Gear Survive, though not directly connected to the Solid series will mark the 30th anniversary of the first Metal Gear game originally released in 1987)? Or should IPs be closing or at the very least disconnecting their plots within a certain amount of time? Say 1 storyline per console generation as an example. Now I don’t know to what level all gamers have and keep to their integrity about choosing which games to play and more importantly which games not to play. Take note that I am not talking about money here. This is not a discussion on whether or not we do or should buy games in continuous franchises that we haven’t seen from start to finish. It’s a discussion on whether or not we should participate without being able to get the full story, but clearly money is a factor. For the purposes of argument I’m assuming all games are acquired and played legally i.e. no ROMS or other pirated forms of gaming whenever possible. Now I may very well be alone in this practice and it’s quite possible that these franchises aren’t losing that many consumers because no one or just a small population of the gaming community actually cares enough about plot to forego playing a game that appears to be good. But that’s exactly why I’m asking the question. I’m curious as to how other gamers see this issue and I’d like to know if it’s something that people are thinking about or if I’m just being fanatical about plot in my gaming experiences. I would appreciate any and all comments on how you view the issue(s) mentioned above and whether or not having not played previous titles factors into your choice to play a game even if it looks really good.