This week’s Wednesday Rant examines what happens when video game sequels screw things up that were previously right (or easily fixed, rather than completely scrapped.)

Sequels are “the thing” nowadays, be it movies, books, video games, or even music.  This is understandable, especially with the acceleration and more widespread release of creative ideas that has occurred in the past 15 years or so.  I have no problem with sequels, so long as they actually improve upon the first or second entry in a series…something that doesn’t always happen.  They generally are better in SOME ways, but all too often a sequel screws things up that were once perfectly fine.  While this can be applied to most forms of media, I’ve found that video games suffer from this phenomenon the most.

Fable II and Fable III

Fable II improved upon Fable in almost every conceivable way, yet Fable III destroyed a lot of things that the second entry did right.  Fable II put some emphasis on earning money and doing the whole real estate thing, but Fable III makes it a requirement (to the detriment of the action/RPG portions of the game.)  Fable III includes a dog, but unlike Fable II, doesn’t give you a reason why. One might say “why does it matter?  It’s a dog.”  Well, it matters very much!  As mentioned in our initial impressions article, the dog played an integral role in the plot of Fable II, and successfully pulled at our heartstrings.  Meanwhile, the dog in Fable III tells you when treasure is nearby, rolls in the dirt, and otherwise is just sorta “there”.  This applies to NPCs as well: they used to feel like engaging, emotional individuals, whereas in Fable III they are nothing more than Guild Seal and quest vending machines.  Fable III improved many aspects of the Fable series, but it feels like it ruined a lot of the charm and balance that its predecessors maintained.

As Brittnie so succinctly put it, “Playing Fable III just makes me want to play Fable II…”

Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2

Another great example is Mass Effect 2.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely ADORED Mass Effect 2 (as evidenced by our review), but there were a lot of great things from Mass Effect that were dropped.  [Side note: that review is horribly painful to read now, from a quality standpoint.  I may rewrite it in the future.]  Bioware had a choice between maintaining the RPG presentation with action elements, or to switch the series over to an action presentation with RPG elements.  This isn’t surprising, given the shift in the gaming landscape…but no one expected such a dramatic shift.  Mass Effect was no Baldur’s Gate, but it still had enough influence from the genre to be considered an actual RPG.  Streamlining the loot, weapon, armor, inventory, and quest systems may have made the game more accessible to more people, but the series lost a lot of the foundation it had built.

Take the inventory system: Mass Effect had a huge number of lootable items, and your inventory quickly become horrible to navigate.  The problem wasn’t too many items, however…the problem was a poorly designed inventory system.  Bioware decided to just scrap the whole deal, and make your inventory extremely limited in Mass Effect 2.  Instead of doing that, why not just tweak the inventory interface?  The problems were major, but could have been almost completely rectified with nothing more than a solid filter system.  Actually, now that I think about it, a well-designed filter for the inventory could have solved most of the problems that players were having…not all, but most!  I really liked the simplified way that Mass Effect 2 handled things like guns and armor, but I think it was streamlined a little TOO much.  Completely eradicating the traditional inventory system that was alluded to in Mass Effect was a mistake, in my opinion; I would have much rather seen a hybrid between a full-blown inventory system like in Mass Effect, and the stream-lined system used in Mass Effect 2.  Had Bioware attempted this succesfully, I honestly believe it could have revolutionized the way inventories are implemented in RPGs…a missed opportunity indeed.

Still,  Mass Effect 2 proved that you can create something amazing while simultaneously ignoring a lot of what was already there, but I maintain it could have been even greater had they not dropped the RPG side as much.

Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II  (Xbox and 360 third person fighters, not the NES side-scrollers)

Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox is one of the hardest, most satisfying games out there.  The skill obtained by trying to beat it on every difficulty level is staggering, thanks in part to the robust combat system and genuine not-cheap challenge.  You won’t lose because enemies keep juggling you, or because you get swarmed by more enemies than you can physically handle…no, you’ll lose because it’s a truly difficult game that will test every facet of your gaming abilities.

The same can’t be said of Ninja Gaiden II.  Here, you’ll be assaulted from afar by machine gun-wielding enemies that prevent you from blocking once a single round hits you.  Ground-pounding bosses in a way reminiscent of the Kodo-stomp bug from the WoW beta appear throughout, and enemies swarm you so completely the only way you can survive is to sit there and hold the block button.  The challenge of the Xbox title was completely eradicated, replaced with a cheap “difficulty” that made the game hard by breaking it.

Conclusion

The three games mentioned above are hardly the only sequels “one step forward, two steps back” applies to.  Many sequels suffer from this in one form or another, although the three examples given above are (in my opinion) the most blatant offenders.  What sequels do you think have ruined previous mechanics and details?