Something that is always tough, regardless of what form of media you’re talking about, is jumping into a long running series. When something is on it’s 5th or 6th entry, it’s always hard to get motivated to get into it even if you’ve heard nothing but good things about it. Video games especially. You either have to put in the time to play through all the past games to enjoy the newest entry that everyone is currently talking about or you have to accept you’re going to be somewhat lost when you jump into the newest one without going back to play the previous games. Granted, not every long running series is like this though. For example, the Final Fantasy games are currently on their 16th entry, but despite that each game in the series is very rarely connected so anyone can jump in at any entry and be completely fine. And while that is probably better in the long run for a series, as it’s a lot easier to market a game that anyone can get into and gives a bit more freedom to the story of each game as they don’t have to connect to one another, there is a certain enjoyment to following a long running series. And that enjoyment I feel can make the effort truly worth it!
Getting into a long running series can be hard though, there’s no denying that. More so with video games than other media. This is mainly due to the time commitment involved. It can be a lot easier to sit down and marathon a series of movies or TV show seasons to get caught up, but video games? Not so much. Not only can games be longer than a series of movies, rushing through a game just to get done with it normally hurts the experience way more. Even more so when you’re playing the game just to know the story and not be lost when you play the newest entry in the series. Trying to go as quickly as you can through a game like that can very easily lead to you missing small or big details. And at that point you might as well just read a wiki summary on the game’s plot instead…
This isn’t even mentioning the cost involved with getting caught up on a whole game series. A great example of how this can play a major factor is Kingdom Hearts. Before they had their massive collections of each game in the series for just about every console, it was a nightmare trying to play every game. If you wanted to be up to date on everything for Kingdom Hearts 3 you would not only need to have a PS2 to play the first and second game, you’d also need a DS to play 358/2 Days, one of the series many spin offs that are still super important to the story. You’d also need a PSP to play Birth by Sleep, and a 3DS to play Dream Drop Distance. That’s not even mentioning Re:Coded also on the DS or Chain of Memories which was originally on the GameBoy Advance before getting a remake of sorts on the PS2. And trust me, as someone who has followed the franchise from the start, you can’t just play Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. All of the spin offs are needed if you want to know what’s going on in Kingdom Hearts 3. And while the Kingdom Hearts series is kind of the worst case scenario for this sort of thing, this still is a problem for just about every long running series. They tend to go on for so long that they jump to new consoles. Luckily, this problem has gotten better in recent years. If a series is popular enough then it’s almost guaranteed to get a port or remaster of it’s oldest games on the newest hardware. But even then, with all these bundles, it still does cost money and most people don’t want to pay another $60 just to understand the other $60 game they really want to play.
So! With that all in mind, why exactly do I think people should still get into long running franchises? Especially when you can simply look up plot summaries if you’re just trying to understand a story for a new game. Well there’s a bit more to it than that. And to help explain, let’s talk about one of my favorite game series. The Yakuza series!
The Yakuza series has been going on for quite awhile spanning eight mainline games if you include the prequel Yakuza 0. Which everyone does as it’s often considered the best in the series. The series is a great example of why it’s important to start from the beginning and follow each game from there even with a plot summary of all past events available. I can speak from experience actually as, despite being a massive fan of the games now, my first attempt to get into the series did not go well.
Ever since getting into the Persona games when they were still something of a niche series back on the PS Vita with Persona 4 Golden, I would try to keep an eye out for any other niche series that were popular in Japan but not so popular elsewhere. As you can imagine, I eventually found my way to the Yakuza series. This was back in the PS3 era, long before Yakuza 0 was localized. As such, I decided to get started with Yakuza 4 mainly because it was pretty cheap to download on my PS3 and, after doing some research on it, I found out it starred a new main character, Shun Akiyama, over series regular Kiryu. Not only that, it also included a recap of all the past games to get players like me up to speed. Sadly it didn’t really help much, I still couldn’t get into the game at all. I didn’t feel any real connection to the setting or characters despite most of them being new. Even with the story recap I didn’t care much about what was going on or even really understood everything. As you probably assumed, I put down the game before really getting that far in. Luckily, I decided to give the series a second chance with Yakuza 0 years later on the PS4. And this is where I was really able to fall in love with it! Starting from, well, zero, I was able to build up my own connection with characters like Kiryu and Majima as well as the setting in general. So even when Kiryu wasn’t around, I was still heavily invested in all the was going on. I knew the setting well enough and actually cared about it enough that simply seeing what what was going on really meant a lot. Yakuza 4 kind of assumes you already feel this way when you play it despite the new lead and story recap it provides.
Now you could argue that the main reason I was able to get into the game and enjoy the experience was that I was starting with a better designed game, Yakuza 0 did come out after Yakuza 4 with many improvements added to it. But despite that, when I eventually did go back to playing Yakuza 4, I enjoyed it so much more! Having that connection to the prior games really improved a lot. Not only was I able to get excited at each returning character, I also was able to appreciate the changes to the world that had happened as I was getting to experience them from game to game.
As you can see, there is a very big difference from just knowing a story and experiencing a story. Both times I started Yakuza 4 I had all the information on the story I needed, but having actually played through that story, I had way more investment in it. Call backs and references carried way more weight as not only did I understand what they meant to the story but I also had my own personal connection to them. It’s more than just understanding what a character means to a story and more about what your personal connection to that character is. That is one of the best parts about being there for every step of the way for a long running franchise.
But that’s not the only benefit to going through a long running series game by game. There’s also another big one I want to talk about. And to do that, let’s shift gears and talk about another long running franchise I love to bits. Metal Gear Solid!
While just about everything I said about following the Yakuza series applies to Metal Gear Solid, there is something else that you get to enjoy by following each entry of MGS that you don’t really get with Yakuza. Each of the Yakuza games only really have minor changes between each other, nothing too major is thrown in to change things up in terms of game play or mechanics. Normally each game just adds new side content, areas, or characters to play as. The biggest change came with Yakuza 7, or Yakuza: Like a Dragon, where the series shifted from a beat ’em up to a turn based RPG. Beyond that though, if you look at Yakuza 6 and compare it to the original you can still easily tell they are from the same series. I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing at all when it comes to the Yakuza series at least. In fact the minor changes between each game are kind of welcome with it as the familiarity is always nice to come back to. That being said, when it comes to MGS series, if you compare MGS5 to MGS1 they look vastly different in more than just graphics. Besides both being stealth games, they play completely differently! It might be hard to even recognize they are from the same series. And yet, if you had played each game from MGS1 up to MGS5, it wouldn’t seem like a big change at all. And this is one of the other fun things about playing each entry in a series, you get to watch it grow!
While comparing Metal Gear Solid 5 to the original shows off how much the series changed, if you look at each entry you can see how these changes came to be. I believe this mostly stems for Hideo Kojima, the creator and mind behind the MGS series, wanting to try something new with each game. And he managed to do so without making each new sequel feel like too much of a departure from the series as a whole. Each change was slowly introduced and refined over each entry until you get to the kind of game you see with MGS5! Changes like the camouflage in MGS3, followed up by the Octo Camo in MGS4 as well as the ability to simply crouch and move instead of needing to crawl to sneak around. A design change that would stick around through the rest of the series from then on. You get to experience the growth in real time and see how a game like MGS1 can evolve into MGS5 without making any massive changes and still very much feeling like they belong in the same series. It can give you that sense of being on a journey, like you’re watching someone grow up and change. This is also something you can get not only from a series where all the games are connected via story but also a series where each entry is separate like I was saying with Final Fantasy. Games like Persona, Resident Evil, Pokemon, or even Grand Thief Auto and Call of Duty. You can watch these series evolve with each entry, and have a much greater appreciation for their humble begins and where they are now. There’s an odd sense of pride that comes with watching a series grow like this and being there from beginning to end. Even if you didn’t really play a big part in it besides just playing the games.
While there are plenty of reasons not get into a long running series after it’s gone through so many entries, like the time it can take to play through each game or the money involved in simply getting each game. I still think the reasons I went over very much justify the effort of it all. There really is something magical about getting so invested in a series. Even more so when there is a community around said series, big or small! Following a franchise through each game makes it feel like you’re more than just someone who buys and plays the games, it gives you this real sense that you are a part of the process that goes into each entry. It’s really hard to compare the feeling to anything else. And that’s why I believe that, despite all the struggles that come with it, there can be so much joy in following a long running series.
But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Are there any long running series you love and have played through? Thinking about try to get into one of the series I discussed? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!
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