Why video games need spiritual successors instead of sequels

While long-running franchises routinely risk getting old, titles like Stardew Valley and God of War show a way to keep things fresh.

The modern gaming landscape is dominated by long-running franchises. Whether it is Duty release new games every year or an early leak Grand Theft Auto 6 With gameplay completely dominating the conversation, the branding of such revolutionary series has made them one of the most financially successful media properties in existence. But when it comes to innovation, the sequel format has several shortcomings — problems overcome with spiritual successors.

A spiritual successor is a game designed to recapture and grow the elements that make a game popular. These games are mostly designed by fans of the original series, and the new elements that are introduced can sometimes elevate the originals into something better. harvest moon‘s spiritual successor, Stardew Valleyhas become such a phenomenon that it is beginning to see its own spiritual successors in titles like Lightyear Frontier, which continue to evolve and grow the cozy farming simulator to new heights. This rapid evolution of concepts is one of the greatest benefits of spiritual successors, and it’s also where sequels suffer the most.

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As franchises get older and release more games, it seems almost guaranteed that fan reception will cool down. Halo Infinite‘s the initial high praise has waned after just a year, and while expectations are high for the next installment, Assassin’s Creed has been a series with many flaws and controversial development choices. While this isn’t the only series to suffer from declining reception, both show the obvious pitfalls of long-running franchises: meeting fans’ expectations while trying something new.

Developers have long had to walk the fine line to keep the next parts of their games feeling fresh, while not pushing the gameplay too far to alienate longtime fans. If the balance isn’t right, sequels can become interchangeable. This is part of why a decade old FIFA game is better than the 13 that came after. Without the chance to really innovate and change, series can grow old and eventually leave behind the fresh feeling that made them popular in the first place.

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Where spiritual successors succeed is their ability to take the concepts of fan favorite games and run in any direction they wish. There is perhaps no better example of this than undertale, a spiritual successor to the Mother series that managed to overshadow the original to such an extent that a parody of the Mona Lisa featuring a character from Delta rune was sold for over $20,000. undertale‘s success is due to creator Toby Fox’s freedom to come up with completely new stories, mechanics and ideas while using it earthbound as inspiration. if undertale had been instead mother 4, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t have seen the success – nor the innovative, unique design it’s known for – it has today.

Though difficult, developers can manage a perfect blend of spiritual successor and sequel. 2018’s god of war was seen as a major twist in the series and became a smashing success, so much so that some are concerned whether God of War: Ragnarok can make it happen. The game managed to completely reframe the hack-and-slash franchise and transform it into a deeper and more complex story, while preserving the brutal nature of Kratos’ divine past. god of war is the rare event that developers seize the opportunity to do something new and succeed with near-universal support.

Developers can’t be expected to risk their big run by undergoing drastic changes every game — god of war‘s After all, success is an exception that proves the rule. But while sequels can see gradual growth with minor improvements and changes, spiritual successors can give developers the freedom to create something completely new, while still capturing everything that makes the original games so much fun.

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