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Prequels: Necessary Story Builders or Obvious Moneymakers?
When is a prequel necessary?
Let’s be honest, there’s nothing wrong with more games coming from a beloved franchise. Names like Metal Gear Solid, Mass Effect, and the above-pictured God of War all have established fantastic storylines through multiple iterations. It’s a process that’s been happening for years, and not just in games either: movies and books have done the same thing. However, while sequels are to be expected in any successful game’s case, prequels are far more interesting.
The reveal of God of War: Ascension as a prequel doesn’t sit very well with me. It’s not a lack of faith in the developers that worries me, my uneasiness simply falls into one question: why? What is the point of this game? What could it possibly add to the lore of God of War that will make playing through it worth my while? I’m a big fan of the first three games, and while I’m thrilled about the idea of more Kratos-style vengeance, I can’t help but wonder if it’s even necessary.
Prequels exist to establish a better story foundation; they fill in any blanks or answer any questions that the progression of the main storyline may not address. In some cases, a prequel turns out to be paramount to the storyline in ways the player doesn’t understand until the story ends. In others, the prequel is merely filler, focusing more on getting another game in a franchise out than enriching the story. With the main God of War arc being finished, I fear that Ascension will end up on the latter half of that previous statement.
Since we’re talking about prequels, the following are some notable examples and their impact on their respective franchises. I know how I feel about their importance, but I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
I remember how many people I spoke to were apprehensive about Skyward Sword. After all, it was taking one of the most popular franchises of all time back to the very beginning, where the battle for the Triforce began. However, in playing the game you realize just how revealing this game was. The foundation for the entire conflict, a fight that has been raging on our consoles for over 25 years, can be found here in Skyward Sword. Everything from the origin of the Triforce to the true, end-all-be-all villain is presented here, making the game a perfect prequel. Zelda fans need not worry anymore, Skyward Sword is well worth it.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
I didn’t understand Crisis Core. Sure, it’s the story of Cloud’s alternate personality, but I didn’t feel like it had anything to do with the previous game at all. The characters were there, the locations were there, and Shinra was certainly there, but other than that I felt detached. I didn’t much care for Zack for his backstory, I wasn’t all that interested in Angeal or Genesis or any other character that the game introduced. I didn’t think of Crisis Core as anything more than a money grab using the title “Final Fantasy VII.” I was hoping for a more substantial addition to the story, instead I got how Cloud gets the Buster Sword. Just remake FFVII already.
Devil May Cry 3
Talk about your character development. Dante was a bad dude from the beginning, but here in Devil May Cry 3 he reaches a whole different level. Brash, arrogant, and an all-around tough guy, Dante is re-invented through his younger self, and the entire series is better for it. Not only that, but the story receives a much better foundation as well, building on the dysfunctional relationship between Dante and his brother Vergil. After the turd sandwich that was Devil May Cry 2, fans needed a reason to come back and play, and Devil May Cry 3 delivered in every way possible.
I know it’s a bit blasphemous to say that a Halo game didn’t do its job, but I was completely uninterested in Halo Reach’s campaign. I attribute that lack of interest to the same line of thought I had (and still have) about the movie Titanic: I know how it ends, so why should I get invested in these people? Just as the boat inevitably sank, Reach inevitably fell. I couldn’t change it, I couldn’t do anything about it. Experiencing the fall first-hand is cool and all, but knowing it’s going to happen the entire game takes away from the whole experience in my eyes. However, while I’ve not seen Titanic to this day, I did play through Reach, so there’s that.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
It’s amazing what a prequel can do for the series it comes from. I had never owned a gaming-capable PC, so the original Deus Ex games completely passed me by. I never got to play as JC Denton or battle against Bob Page and his AI Icarus. However, I found Deus Ex: Human Revolution to be enthralling, which lit a fire under me to play the other two games as soon as I could. Considering the gap in time between Invisible War (the second Deus Ex game) and Human Revolution, it’s remarkable that one game can bring back an entire series instantaneously. I just wish Adam Jensen was in the originals. That guy’s a wrecking machine.
Resident Evil Zero
Does anyone even remember Resident Evil Zero? The RE game that launched exclusively for Gamecube and allowed you to play as Rebecca Chambers and that other guy? It literally has no bearing on any part of the overall Resident Evil story arc other than establishing the back story of a secondary character in the very first game. It does talk about the Progenitor virus and the Spencer family, but it really holds no merit in the eyes of even the most die-hard Resident Evil fanatics. Hopefully something in Resident Evil 6 makes reference to this game, perhaps the other guy coming back to the spotlight, otherwise RE0 will forever be forgotten.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Metal Gear Solid 3 is the pinnacle of gaming prequels, though at the time many thought it to be a silly decision. The story of MGS 1 and 2 was confusing enough, why the hell would Kojima go back and make it worse? As it turns out, MGS3 is the most important game in the whole franchise. It establishes Big Boss’s main inspiration for his actions, it introduces players to the groups as the Patriots without even telling them, and it completely lays the foundation for how the next game, Metal Gear Solid 4, would end the story once and for all. Without MGS3, MGS4 makes no sense. If MGS4 had been made before MGS3, no one would have cared. That’s why Metal Gear Solid 3 is the perfect prequel: it was released at the right time, contained all of the right information, and built the foundation for the entire series in one fell swoop. I’ve said before that you can’t end the story without establishing its origin. Metal Gear Solid 3 does exactly that.
As for God of War: Ascension, I don’t know what to make of it quite yet. Perhaps it will be a window into the future of the God of War story; perhaps it will be an obvious play for money that doesn’t add anything to the franchise besides more time with Kratos. Prequels can certainly be a double-edged Blade of Chaos, let’s hope Sony doesn’t get slashed.