In the past few years, fans and game critics have complained about the lack of innovation in video games. Big gaming studios have been buried because they have stuck to releasing sequels that do little save for polish the previous installment. Can you blame the studios for sticking to a formula? Numbers show that most critically acclaimed, innovative games in recent years bombed commercially (Okami: 600,000 copies as of March 2009, Psychonauts: roughly 100,000 copies upon release in 2005). Compare this to Call of Duty games since Modern Warfare 2 (22 million, 26.5 million, 18 million, 24.2 million, 19 million), and first three installments of Assassin’s Creed (8 million, 9 million, 28 million). Want a more recent number? The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite, two of the most critically acclaimed titles of 2013 sold 6 million and 4 million copies respectively. They were both outsold by Mario Party 8 (8 million copies). These sales might perhaps discourage game designers from making a groundbreaking game. In this piece, I look at titles of recent years that were sequels of past games that strayed from the series’ original formula and still sold well commercially. Even if a publisher wants to make a sequel, it can be creative and a fresh look and provide a refreshing take on an established series.
Far Cry 3
A cult classic prior to the 3rd installment, this game got a makeover after the first two installments. The first two games in the Far Cry series attempted to make a realistic first person shooter. Guns jammed, you suffered from malaria, and enemies’ line of sight was hindered during night and rain sections in attempt for Ubisoft to give a player an experience of guerilla warfare. In the 3rd installment, the game was revamped and instilled with RPG elements and a better story. Most of the realism was removed, and protagonist Jason Brody transformed from trust fund yuppie to Rambo to save his friends from a human trafficker. Critics praised it for its new features and claimed it a much needed fresh take on the series. Ubisoft’s reward? Far Cry 3 sold twice as many copies than the first two games combined (Far Cry and Far Cry 2). They even went a step further, taking the gameplay and maps and applying to a DLC pack, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. This DLC reimagines the island to a B-List 80s movie, complete with all the clichés.
It can be argued the first game in the series was more groundbreaking in regards to creativity and innovation, but this one did it right. This game combines RPG elements with a first person shooter. People have often described it as, “Diablo meets first person shooters.” From the comic book visuals, customization system, intriguing story, and humor, this game was praised for practically everything. The sequel took everything from the first game and built on it to improve it. The guns took on a personality, with each manufacturer thriving in certain stats. While the first game only had three or four classes of enemies (bandits, skags, spiderants, and crab worms), many more beasts, human, and robotic enemies awaited you in the sequel. The sequel once again outsold the original, and made everything about the first game even better. I leave you with the wonderful character that is Mr. Torgue.
Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Zelda has been harped for lack of originality since the N64 releases Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Critics claimed that despite the visuals in the GCN releases, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, Link used the same items to save Hyrule from Ganon. These were certainly not failures commercially or critically, but critics warned that Zelda games would need a change for the Wii release if it were to be a valuable game. Skyward Sword delivered a refreshing Zelda experience. New items, new environment, and a new villain in Ghirahim complemented the non-gimmicky motion controls in combat. This was certainly the face lift the franchise needed, and Nintendo made went on to make the 3DS masterpiece, A Link Between Two Worlds which was a new take of the SNES A Link to the Past Title. Although not to the extent of other games, the game was lauded as both a critical and commercial success, selling over 3.5 million copies.
Final Fantasy XIII
Ah, a game that gets flak both in the critical and commercial circle. My experience with the game has been positive, similar to other installments in the RPG stalwart. Complaints on the game point out its linear pathway along with lack of story and intriguing characters, and in some cases, the paradigm fighting system. On the contrary, some critics urge gamers to play it solely for the new combat system. It is fast paced and gives a master strategist plenty of options for subduing foes. Despite all the bad reputation it gets, the game sold 6.7 million units, and has a strong following. In my opinion, the paradigm system was a welcome change, and a game that fans of the series should check out.
These are a few of the examples of a sequel deviating from a generic formula and achieving both critical and commercial success. True, all these games examined were sequels of well-established franchises, but remember, these franchises were once unknown and eventually drudged up a strong following. Also, all these games at their births were critically acclaimed for being innovative for their times. A company should not fear to stray from the road. Take the recent release of Titanfall as a prime example. This was welcome take on a competitive shooter that was a break from the generic soldier game like Battlefield or Call of Duty. Game designers should be looking to implement new ideas to new games or upcoming sequels. Who knows? They might just have the next Mario or Zelda franchise on their hands.