Last time I wrote about my top 11 disappointing sequels, so today I’m going to write about games on the opposite end of the spectrum (sort of) — great games that deserve sequels but never got them.
Whether you like it or not, the modern game industry is built on sequels. They’re safe, they’re profitable, and, judging by the sales for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Gears of War 3, people want them. As I’ve said many times before, I don’t mind sequels, even annualized series’ like Assassin’s Creed, as long as the developers manage to deliver a quality final product. While it’s always nice to see one of the publishers take a big chance on a new IP, sequels keep publishers in business and gamers placated.
But while game publishers are eager to turn every game into an on-going franchise a-la Mario or Halo, with some even bothering to churn out sequels to games that don’t really deserve to go on (*cough* Homefront *cough*,) sometimes a quality game falls through the cracks and a promising series ends after just one or two entries. Whether it’s because of poor sales, internal company politics, or one of those rare cases where the developers simply just don’t want to do another one, sometimes great games don’t get the sequels they deserve.
Again, as always, this is by no means a comprehensive list, just some personal selections. There’s a lot of great, stand-alone games out there, and it was tough picking just ten to call attention to. As always, if you feel I’ve overlooked something, or if you just think I’m a giant idiot because I’ve offended your fanboy sensibilities by not liking the same things as you, feel free to let me know in the comments section.
In the mood for a quality RPG on your PC, but tired of elves and dragons? Then Planescape: Torment is the game for you. Set in D&D’s woefully under-utilized Planescape setting, P:T puts you in the well worn shoes of The Nameless One, an amnesiac immortal cursed to constantly die and be reborn with no memories of his past lives, as he tries to figure out what he did in a previous life that made him end up this way.
While Planescape makes use of your standard D&D monsters and tropes, there’s a unique, bizarre, and often grotesque twist to the high fantasy you’ve come to expect from a game carrying the D&D license. The dark city of Sigil, which serves as a sort of crossroads for multiple dimensions, is home to the expected elves and dwarves, but also houses a menagerie of far more bizarre denizens, like members of the geometrically shaped Mudron race as well as your occasional robot.
Planescape: Torment places a bigger emphasis on narrative and puzzle-solving rather than combat, making the game almost feel like more of an adventure game rather than a traditional RPG. Sure, combat plays a role, but you’ll get as many rewards for talking your way out of a situation rather than fighting your way through it. Unfortunately, Planescape: Torment didn’t sell particularly well when it was released (the hideous box-art may have something to do with that,) but Torment’s excellent writing and unique setting have made it legendary among old-school PC RPG fans, and while The Nameless One’s journey doesn’t need a direct continuation, there’s definitely room for more games set in the Planescape setting.
Skies of Arcadia
Skies of Arcadia was the last game to make me happy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed plenty of games since then, and I’ve had plenty of fun as well. But not in the same way that Skies of Arcadia inspired. While playing this game I was grinning from ear to ear, and upon completing each area, I was giddy with childlike excitement over where I would be going next. Exploring the skies with Vyse, Aika, Fina, and their crew filled me with a sort of wide-eyed excitement that I hadn’t experienced since I first watched Star Wars as a kid.
Skies of Arcadia came out at a time when J-RPG’s were inundated with stories focused on self-absorbed pretty boy protagonists who spent as much time whining about their relationship problems as they did saving the world, and SoA’s comparatively cheerful, almost Miyazaki-like adventure felt like a breath of fresh air after Cloud and Squall’s emo adventures.
While Skies of Arcadia sold well enough to merit an enhanced port to the Gamecube a few years later, Sega never produced a full sequel to the game. The team that developed the game has since moved on to the Valkyria Chronicles series, which is a fine set of games in their own right, but part of me wishes they’d go back and revisit Arcadia’s open skies at least one more time.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
If you were to look solely at their current-gen output, you might wonder what the big deal is concerning Canadian developer Silicon Knights. This generation has not been kind to the developer, as everything they’ve released, from the over hyped Xbox 360 exclusive Too Human to the recent X-Men Destiny RPG, has been met with poor critical reception and even poorer performance at retail. Anyone growing up during this generation of consoles is probably confused as to why guys like me hold Silicon Knights in such high regard, and the answer is simple: Eternal Darkness.
Coming out at a time when survival-horror games were rapidly stagnating, Eternal Darkness proved to be more than just another Resident Evil clone: with it’s unique “Sanity Effect” gimmick (the game would often play fourth wall breaking tricks on the player, such as making it appear as though bugs were crawling on top of their TV screen or that their memory card had been corrupted,) and H.P. Lovecraft inspired storyline, Eternal Darkness was one of the rare games that managed to succeed both in terms of narrative and gameplay.
Since then, Silicon Knights split with Nintendo, who published the game, and while there have been a number of rumors regarding an Eternal Darkness sequel over the years, so far nothing real has materialized. Here’s hoping that Silicon Knights can work their way out of the doldrums they’ve been stuck in for the last few years and finally deliver another game that lives up to Eternal Darkness.
Thanks to Nintendo’s monopoly on the 8-bit market, Sega’s competing Master System didn’t receive much in the way of third party support, so the number of titles on the system is comparatively anemic when compared to the NES. Usually when you ask a Master System owner what the best games for the system are, you’ll usually receive one of two answers: either they’ll say the original Phantasty Star or Zillion.
While Phantasy Star is a known quantity that has thankfully endured until the modern day, Zillion remains one of the Master System’s lost classics. Based on an anime that was a joint production between famed animation studio Tatsunoko and Sega, Zillion was a Metroid-esque non-linear platformer that is easily one of the best action titles available for Sega’s 8 bit underdog. While certain aspects of the game haven’t aged particularly well (having to manually memorize passcodes, the reversed button mapping of jump and shoot, etc.,) at the time Zillion was one of the most immersive, intense experiences you could get.
With it’s large areas, multiple playable characters, and fair but challenging difficulty level, Zillion deserved to be a hit. But the Master System market wasn’t exactly booming, and it’s a shame to that Zillion never managed to achieve the popularity that many of its NES contemporaries so easily enjoyed. Zillion did indeed receive a sequel, but the second game was so different (and so much worse) that it was basically a different game with the Zillion name slapped on it. As with most 80’s anime, the rights to the franchise are likely tied up in a mess of old contract agreements, and considering that the original games never sold particularly well, it doesn’t seem like we’ll see a Zillion revival anytime soon.
If there’s one thing this generation has too many of, it’s generic shooters. Walk down the aisles of a game store and you’ll likely see more bald marines and angry soldiers on the covers of game boxes than you would if you were at an actual military base.
Shinji Mikami’s Vanquish is a shooter, yes, but it’s anything but generic. Where as most third person shooters nowadays are content with ripping off Gears of War, Vanquish, with it’s break-neck speed and classic arcade like accessibility and challenge, feels more like a 3D Metal Slug (done properly, mind you,) than a rehash of Epic’s influential shooter. While you still shoot down wave after wave of enemies via an over-the-shoulder perspective, and while taking cover is still an important tactic, Vanquish forces you to be far more mobile. The main character Sam is equipped with a robotic suit that allows him to powerslide and boost like a Vietnamese teenager’s Supra, and the only way to survive the game’s more brutal encounters is to constantly stay on the move. Unlike most third person shooters, Vanquish is impossibly fast, and once you get good at it, you’ll be weaving in between missile volleys and blasting through enemy robots like a Macross pilot.
Despite it’s unique gameplay gimmicks and perfectly tuned challenge level, Vanquish performed under publisher Sega’s sales expectations, which is a damn shame, because it proved that shooters can be more than just dudebro machismo contests and military gun porn. Shinji Mikami has since gone on to fund a new development studio, while the developers of Platinum Games have since moved on to other projects. It hasn’t been that long since Vanquish’s release, so maybe there’s still hope. If you have any interest in shooters or action games, give Vanquish a shot.
There weren’t a lot of good games in the PS2’s first year, but Skygunner was one of the early stand-outs of the PS2 library. While it suffers from some technical issues (the game suffers from some rather extreme framerate drops, and while there is a way to smooth out the game’s stuttery nature, doing so results in a sharp drop in visual quality,) Skygunner’s unique, steampunk setting and deep dog-fighting and addictive score-based gameplay earned it more than a handful of fans upon it’s release.
Unfortunately, “more than a handful” wasn’t enough to warrant future entries in the series. The PS2 marked a shift from the colorful, cartoony games of the past towards the modern age of drab color palettes and so-called “mature” themes, and Skygunner’s whimsical and imaginative world seemingly had no place in the eyes of newer mainstream gamers. Regardless, the game can be had for less than $15 at this point, so if you’ve still got a PS2 and want to go back and experience one of gaming’s best forgotten classics, do yourself a favor and pick it up.
Nier is one of the best J-RPGs ever made, and it’s a shame that nobody gave it a proper chance.
While the game initially appears generic enough — titular character Nier is on a quest to find a cure for the disease that’s killing his daughter — it slowly becomes clear that Nier is something special. While the first few hours of the game play like a shallow Zelda/Kingdom Hearts clone, eventually the game throws caution to the wind and really shakes things up, with dungeons that change the gameplay style completely, such as a survival-horror themed dungeon set in a monster infested mansion, then switching gears completely to become a Diablo like, overheard action RPG, and the game even forgoes graphics completely for a brief period and turns into a text-based adventure game.
But it’s not just Nier’s willingness to experiment that make it worthwhile. The game has one of the best stories to have ever been written for a game, and when I reached the game’s true, final, bittersweet ending, I found myself getting a little genuinely choked up. Where as most J-RPG’s attempts at creating emotional moments just come off as forced and laughable, Nier manages to pull off an engaging and genuinely touching story without any of the awkward melodrama that has come to define the genre.
I guess that Nier didn’t have enough cosplay-able pretty boys in it to appeal to J-RPG diehards, as the game failed to meet sales goals. The developer Cavia promptly closed up shop after the game flopped at retail, but certain key members of the game’s staff have ended up at publisher Square-Enix, and the company recently held a concert featuring live performances of the game’s amazing soundtrack, so maybe there’s hope that Square still has future plans involving Nier.
You’d think with Konami’s love of rehashing and re-releasing their classic titles over and over again they would’ve revisited NES favorite Jackal by now, but for whatever reason, they haven’t. It’s a shame too, as the vehicular shooter would probably have an easier time making the transition over to the third dimension than, say, Castlevania has.
Jackal was an overhead, free roaming shooter for the NES that put players behind the wheel of machine-gun equipped humvees. While your machine gun could shoot in any direction, special weapons such as grenades could only be fired upward, lending the game a strategic element as players had to plan out the best angle of attack. As with most NES games, the ultimate goal was to get to the end of the level, but Jackal also rewarded players for taking the time to explore the levels and rescue captured P.O.W.’s.
There were rumors, and even a possible leaked screenshot, of a 3D Jackal revival earlier in this generation, but nothing ever came of it. I personally think a modern Jackal has the potential to be a hit. I mean, everybody likes driving around in a Warthog in Halo, don’t they?
Shinji Mikami just can’t get a break, because God Hand, like Vanquish, is another excellent game directed by the Resident Evil creator which nobody bought. Like Vanquish, it manages to take a tired genre — this time, the classic arcade beat-em-up — and manages to infuse it with modern style and depth while at the same time retaining all the old-school challenge that made titles like Final Fight and Streets of Rage so endearing.
Unlike most brawlers, God Hand is viewed from a behind the back, almost RE4 like perspective. While this may seem initially limiting, you eventually adjust, and once you unlock a few new moves in protagonist Gene’s crazy arsenal of Fist of the North Star inspired attacks, every other action game will seem tame by comparison. The over-the-top nature of the game is limited to just the fights either; the whole game is filled with bizarre, random humor that gives the game a much different tone than your usual dead serious action games.
God Hand wasn’t recieved particularly well by critics when it was released (like this infamously dismissive IGN review,) but it has since gone on to become a cult classic in the vein of Earthbound or Panzer Dragoon. Despite that, I doubt we can expect a God Hand sequel anytime soon, but at the very least, newer Platinum Games (comprised of developers who worked on this game,) releases like Wii, brawler Mad World and the upcoming Anarchy Reigns can be considered spiritual successors to God Hand’s wonderfully off-kilter legacy.
Adventure games have experienced a sort of rebirth lately, with the popularity of titles like Ace Attorney and TellTale’s various episodic games like Sam & Max and Back to the Future, but despite renewed interest in the genre, there have been one or two titles to slip past gamers’ radar and languish on stores shelves. Ghost Trick was unfortunately one of those games, which is a shame, because it’s easily one of the best adventure games ever made.
Made by the same development team that made the Phoenix Wright games, Ghost Trick casts players as a newly dead ghost tasked with preventing the deaths of other people in order to gain clues as to the circumstances of his own death. Played from a third-person, side view perspective, Ghost Trick offers some of the best logic and environmental puzzles to ever appear in a game, in addition to some of the slickest 2D animation since Third Strike. While the narrative isn’t as integral to the experience as Phoenix Wright, Ghost Trick still has all the cleverness and charm of its more popular predecessor and then some. Get this game now before you end up having to pay double its MSRP on eBay once it becomes a bona-fide cult classic.
And as a bonus aside, here’s a few selections of great games that actually received a sequel or two, but still deserve further iterations:
Jet Set Radio series
Dreamcast cult classic Jet Set Radio (known as Jet Grind Radio in the US due to copyright reasons,) may not have been the first use of “cel-shading,” the rendering technique used to make 3D cg objects look like hand-drawn 2D animation, but it was the first game to popularize and truly make use of it. While developer Smilebit’s action-platformer wasn’t perfect, every aspect of it just plain oozed with avante-garde style, from it’s customizable graffiti tags, to its bizarre but loveable cast of characters, and perhaps most importantly of all, its insane but strangely catchy soundtrack comprised of underground hip-hop and experimental Japanese indie-pop.
Jet Set Radio received a sequel for the original Xbox in 2002, entitled Jet Set Radio Future. While spraying graffiti was still an element of the game, JSRF more heavily emphasized platforming and action elements, resulting in a faster, leaner game. While JSRF gets a lot of flak for its changes to the original, I rather like it. Unfortunately, neither game sold particularly well, and Sega has more or less shelved the series since then. Modern games are always criticized for being too drab and too formulaic, and Jet Set Radio, with it’s colorful, innovative presentation and bizarre premise, is pretty much the antithesis of drab and formulaic, and a series filled with as much imagination and creativity as JSR definitely needs more than just two entries.
Shenmue is definitely an acquired taste. Ryo Hazuki’s quest to avenge the death of his father has many exciting moments, sure, but there’s also plenty of moments where he has to stand around for hours waiting to meet a contact, or times when he spends weeks of in-game time following up clues that ultimately lead nowhere. Still, despite that, the series has a dedicated cult following (of which I am a part of,) who, despite Yu Suzuki’s departure from Sega, as well as Sega’s own continued disinterest in continuing the franchise, continue to hold out hope that the series will finally get the conclusion it deserves.
You can’t really blame Sega for not wanting to create another Shenmue; the original was at the time of its release one of the most expensive to produce games ever made, and both Shenmue 1 and 2 managed to sell rather poorly. But while it’s molasses slow story took awhile to get going, Shenmue genuinely made you want to know about what happened next (despite the wooden voice acting,) so when Shenmue 2 ended with a cliffhanger — possibly one of the best, most intriguing cliff hangers in gaming history — fans instantly wanted more.
At this point, it’s doubtful we’ll ever see Shenmue III. Yu Suzuki has left Sega, and realistically speaking, it’d be hard to sell people on a sequel to a 10 year old game where the enjoyment is directly tied to a story that most people haven’t heard. Still, a big part of me just wishes that Sega would cast aside that pesky financial logic and give me the sequel that I and many other Shenmue fans have been waiting almost 10 years for.
Mega Man Legends series
The Legends series may not be the most popular branch of the Mega Man cannon, but it’s arguable the most beloved. While dismissed by fanboys for “not being a real Mega Man” at the time of its release, Capcom’s experiment in turning the old platform hero into an action RPG has since gone on to garner a legendary reputation and a sizable cult following.
Mega Man Legends pioneered elements like real time cutscenes and lock-on based combat long before Metal Gear Solid and Zelda: Ocarina of Time showed up to take credit for those innovations (though, admittedly, both MGS and OoT make much better use and have much better execution of said concepts,) but while MML’s legacy as an innovator has been forgotten by most gamers, the series’ excellent story and charming cast of characters have not. MML’s version of Mega Man, Rock Volnutt, and semi-antagonist Tron Bonne have both made welcome appearances in Capcom’s fighters, giving fans hope that Mega Man Legends still has fans within Capcom.
Of course, those hopes were somewhat dampened when Capcom cancelled the planned 3DS revival of the series last year, and many fans (including myself,) are still bitter and continue to hold a grudge against Capcom for pulling the plug on our favorite robot. But it’s not to late, Capcom: You guys still have time to do right by your fans, so stop with the re-releases and rehashes and give us the one sequel we’ve been waiting for.