We’ve all played RPGs that we didn’t want to end. Or perhaps one that we wanted to know more about what happened before the story we were playing through. This got us thinking, not to simply make a list of games that we liked, but to talk about not only why we liked them, but why our choices were prime candidates for – yes, you guessed it – further exploration, in the form of potential sequels, prequels, reboots or side stories.
Eleven of our editors each picked a single game that they felt was ripe for discussion. The games are varied, as are the concepts, as each editor had his or her own unique vision of how why their game could evolve, and more importantly, why. Note that there are several plot elements that fall into spoiler territory, so keep that in mind as you read through!
Intro by Mike Salbato
Jump to a game:
Writeup by Dennis Rubinshteyn
There are tons of traditional RPGs with a one hit-wonder I would love to see have a sequel (Skies of Arcadia) and many franchises I wish would get revived (Lunar 3) or continue on further (Suikoden VI). Despite all of that, I chose Alundra, a Zelda-esque game that Working Designs released in the ’90s, to deserve a sequel above all else. Why? Despite it being pretty well known as just a Zelda clone, it has a couple of very strong points going for it, and the experience it ultimately delivers is one of a kind amongst action-adventure games.
You play as the titular character, Alundra, an elf with the unique power of entering people’s dreams. At the start of the game, he gets shipwrecked and washed ashore on an unknown beach. A local blacksmith from the village of Inoa rescues Alundra and allows him to reside there. The plot starts innocently enough with Alundra settling into his new home, getting to know the residents and using his power to dispel a villager’s nightmare. Shortly after, the plot becomes dark, bizarre and downright twisted, but so captivating that it left me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.
One aspect that stands out is how death plays a major theme in Alundra to the point where even the death of a minor NPC feels relevant and contributes to the central plot. It’s a theme I rarely see used in JRPGs outside of Shin Megami Tensei, and I would like to see more of them take on this type of grim storytelling. Darker stories are more common nowadays, but Alundra stood out heavily to me back then because I’d played no other game like that.
The gameplay is reminiscent of a Zelda game with some decent action elements and some cool bosses, but it is best known for its heavy usage of puzzles. The game has a huge number of them and they’re notoriously difficult. The puzzles in Alundra utilize mixtures of speed, skill, and riddle solving, and as tough as they might be, they really are well done and pushed my reflexes, skill, and brainpower above and beyond my limit. While I do get frustrated with puzzles from time to time, Alundra‘s provided a challenge that never felt cheap and left me immensely satisfied when I overcame them all with my own skills. Looking back now, I had fun with these puzzles (save for the sliding puzzles, which I hate in every game and were evil incarnate in Alundra.)
Kohei Tanaka’s music is also great, contributing a lot of atmosphere to the dark feel of the game, but with enough style and melodic substance to make it memorable. I still listen to some of the songs, and the extremely beautiful “Shrine in the Lake” is amongst of the best and most unique final dungeon themes, ever. I really wish that Tanaka would do more video game compositions.
There is actually an Alundra 2 out there, but it’s a “sequel” purely in name only. Not only does it not star the titular character, but there is zero mention nor any bit of reference to anything that happens in its predecessor at all. It’s not that bad a game, but I still question why it’s even called Alundra 2 when it has absolutely no relation to the Alundra lore set up in the first game. It’s even more disheartening because the first game takes place on just one region, AND ends on an open-ended note with Alundra setting off to another place. That makes it an easy setup for future sequels where Alundra would reside in another place and take on any trouble that occurs. Perhaps it is because of this misleading installment that the Alundra “series” came to a grinding halt, but who really knows.
The developer, Matrix Software, is active these days, developing many great games alongside Square Enix for the DS such as the Final Fantasy IV remake and, most recently, The 4 Heroes of Light. With Alundra out on the PSN store, I hope interest in it revitalizes and that Matrix Software has enough motivation to develop a true successor with more gritty tales to tell and more nerve-wrecking puzzles to solve. And, as mentioned earlier, Tanaka would have to provide the musical score for it. It’s pretty much wishful thinking on my part since Alundra was never popular in the first place, but there have been some surprise sequels and franchise revivals, so you truly never know how things might develop.
Writeup by Kyle E. Miller
New IPs are almost always better than direct sequels, indirect sequels, ports, remakes, spin-offs, or anything else Square Enix might invent. Something about sequels inspires lazy design, like recycled environments, characters, and even plot mechanics. There’s something special about a game and a world one has never experienced. Consider Bioshock versus Bioshock 2; the central failing of the latter results from its nature as a sequel.
There is one RPG sequel, however, for which I find it extremely difficult to argue against: Anachronox. This is not an original idea; a sequel — allegedly titled Anachronox Prime — was planned before Eidos cancelled the project. And it shows. Anachronox ends on a cliffhanger, leaving you cripplingly depressed to know that nothing else will come of Sly Boots’ deductive and pugilistic skills.
Even if a sequel hadn’t been planned, however, Anachronox would be more worthy for one than most RPGs. Yes, the game had atmosphere, funny moments, great characters, a good story, and interesting gameplay mechanics, but what most needs to be carried on is its unpredictable style. I truly believed that anything could happen while playing Anachronox. The imagination inherent in the game is incredibly deep, not only in aesthetics, but in the storytelling as well. Never before has an RPG story seen such wild turns and unbelievably unique deus ex machina.
I would provide examples of Anachronox-style plot progression, but these are best seen unspoiled and not described. Other than the unpredictability, Anachronox brings genuine humor to the medium in a wry style almost never seen before or after in video games. Juxtaposed with comedy, however, are tragedy and poignancy — two elements most developers seem too afraid, or unable, to mix effectively. Anachronox is a game that will have you laughing, smiling, crying, swearing, and cheering, and the best part is that you don’t know what you’ll be feeling next.
Then again, maybe Anachronox Prime would have done what so many sequels do: rob the parent game of novelty. Maybe Anachronox is all the better because it’s the only one.
Final Fantasy VI
Writeup by Mike Salbato
Final Fantasy VI is one of the most beloved SNES RPGs by critics, fans, and me. There are countless aspects that make the game remarkable, and it’s these things that many fans today wish would find their way back to the series. Don’t worry; I won’t rally against Final Fantasy XIII here, as tempting as it may be. One thing in particular I always found interesting about FFVI is that unlike most RPGs of the time, the heroes actually did not prevent the world from ending. Midway through the game, Kefka suddenly becomes the real enemy of the world and razes it to the ground. And that’s both when things really get interesting and also what inspired this piece.
Now, when I include FFVI here, it’s not to rally for a “Final Fantasy VI-2,” or the kind of direct follow-up we’ve come to expect in the Final Fantasy world. Not that there’s anything wrong with Final Fantasy X-2 (I actually like the combat more than that of FFX. Oh yeah, I went there), or Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. But what if we made a follow-up that really broke tradition? What if instead of following Terra’s child Gaga (her mom was Madonna, so obviously there’s some pop music love there), or dressing Celes up like a Barbie doll, we simply… give Sabin a herd of cows and some crops?
Wait, am I seriously suggesting a psychotic merger of Final Fantasy VI and Harvest Moon/Rune Factory? Yes I am.
Remember, the world has been destroyed. With Kefka and his big bad tower with its big bad laser gone, it’s time the survivors rebuilt the world. That means planting crops, building homes, educating the children, and of course keeping the people of the world safe while all this is going on. Maybe Terra goes back to the kids of Mobliz, and as we wait for the veggies to grow in the fields, she ventures out and forages for supplies. Or goblin meat. And hey, a Plants Vs. Zombies-esque mini-game to fend off Humbaba’s minions? Why not?
Sabin left the comforts of the royal castle to live off the land, so I can see him running his own farm somewhere. Let’s toss in an inappropriately-placed Shadow as the farmhand for comedic relief. After all, eventually he must be tired of fighting and may long for a simpler life. While the aforementioned cows may be too real-worldy, I imagine he would need some kind of animal besides chocobos to raise. Perhaps down the road the farm can be expanded by a chocobo-petting area for the kids.
Having our beloved cast spread across the world could open up some interesting gameplay possibilities: Perhaps we play the game from the point of view of just one character, or one area, and focus just on your own little slice of the world as one would do in Harvest Moon. And for those of us with more time on our hands, there would be a world map of sorts to get a birds-eye view of everything going on in the world and one could jump from scenario to scenario at will. Hell, let’s put a big tree icon in the corner of this map with a percentage showing the world’s “Revitalization” to pressure people to keep making the effort.
Since part of the rebirth process would be repopulating the world, we’ll of course have several God of War-esque quick time event mini-games to help Locke & Celes breed like bunnies and help the world in their own way.
Farming and silly pairings aside (I think pairing up Cyan and Gau somewhere in the world is just a hilarious given), I suppose we’ll have some dungeoning too and a new bad guy. But let’s be honest: The world is a wreck already, so it would need to be a bit less “supervillain” and more “not so nice dude.” So instead of the obvious “destroy the world” endgame, we’ll have say, an enterprising former member of the Empire that’s looking to control the agricultural world and make a profit in these uncertain times. I don’t want to go overly Shin-Ra here, but hey, if the corporate suit fits…
These are just a few random thoughts; with a cast the size of Final Fantasy VI, I think there’s all sorts of ways to make this work. And as a Final Fantasy game, I’m sure we’d have some big involved skill tree—a Crop Grid? But let’s not bog it down with too many stats: Hit Points, Magic Points, Farm Points, Breeding Points, Animals-Love-You Points, etc. I picture something fairly involved, but not too difficult for people to get into.
So there it is. Am I insane? Maybe so. Will the hardcore fans of Final Fantasy VI — of which I am very much part of — hate this idea and just want a direct follow-up with the same characters and identical gameplay as the original? Of course. But here’s the thing: You can most likely never recapture that magic. You could build that “perfect” direct sequel you wanted in 1995, but the odds that it could live up to 15+ years of expectations are nearly nonexistent. So what to do? Go off in a completely different direction. Yes, like Final Fantasy X-2 mostly did, or going outside of RPGs, like the recent Metroid: Other M. It’s a huge gamble, but I have to give companies some serious credit for daring to try new things, especially in established franchises. You never know how it may be received, but if the industry stops innovating, things will quickly get boring.
Does that mean Final Fantasy VI: Rebirth will save the game industry from mediocrity? Of course not. But it would be wildly different, and some people will respond well to that. Plus, I want to live to see Shadow: The Chocobo Whisperer.
Final Fantasy Tactics
Writeup by Bob Richardson
Upon its release, Final Fantasy Tactics received an unusual criticism even by today’s standards: The story was too complex. Imagine that — too many names and places. Too much lore and depth. On top of that, Tactics had little romantic intrigue; no “rabu-rabu” in a Final Fantasy game?! Whaaaaa…? However, for RPG fans who did not mind a little, you know, thinking and reading, this was a welcome change. Needless to say, rumors of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance percolated the interest of Tactics‘ many die-hard fans.
What we received was not necessarily bad, as much as it was a surprise. By comparison, Advance was a downgrade. Not only were its ties to the original Tactics loose at best, it lacked anything resembling complexity and depth. Of course, thanks to the tried-and-true job class system, some fans looked past its comparative flaws and enjoyed a good romp of strategy RPG gameplay. Others were less forgiving and still left wanting. In fact, Tactics has enjoyed an underground fanbase that created its own sequels, side-stories, and entirely different worlds using what Squaresoft gave us near the turn of the millennium.
Although I adore quality fan-made content, nothing compares to Yasumi Matsuno-made content. Some might argue that we should leave perfection alone. Others would say that Tactics tied up all of its loose ends and offered satisfying closure. I contend that a world was born and that child is waiting to be nurtured so that it can grow up good and strong. Did J.R.R. Tolkien stop after The Hobbit? And what if he did? The world he spawned thereafter would never be realized and the 20th century world of literature would be severely lacking, albeit unknowingly. To deprive the still-young gaming industry a vibrant, continuous world like Ivalice is criminal.
Still, people may not be persuaded. “But, Bob, the world of Ivalice is expanding. Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII are key examples.” To this, I say that although these games technically take place in Ivalice, their worlds seem to exist almost parallel to one another, sharing very few connections. Is it too late? Of course not. A timeline can still be constructed, technological and magical development explained, and so on. All of Matsuno’s games share a similar art style, depth of storytelling (save the Tactics Advance series), and its own races independent of the Final Fantasy series. Allow me to make some suggestions for prospective sequels, prequels, and side-stories.
First, just take a look at the map of Ivalice. Not only is that not a world map, it is not even an island. Its physical borders are relatively unknown and its neighbors across the seas are equally unknown. We know of Ordalia to the east and Romanda across the Larner Channel to the northwest, but that is the extent of our information. This alone offers multitudinous possibilities. For side-stories, we could witness an on-going war east of Ivalice with unsatisfied citizens of Zeltennia immigrating to Ordalia. And what of the plague in Romanda? Was it really a plague, or a cover-up related to the Zodiac stones? Clearly, the possibilities are endless.
What about the Fifty Years’ War? Although the information offered to us was just enough to whet our appetites, there is enough here to warrant a prequel. Just look at the cast! Balbanes, T.G. Cid, Wiegraf, Beowulf, Gafgarion, Elmdor, and so much more. Need I say more? With bare-bone details setting the stage, anything could happen during this grisly war that killed Balbanes and left Cid jaded. Also, even though the results of the war are known, what went on behind-the-scenes that stimulated Ivalice’s surrender is yet unknown. And, as we all remember, history is written by the victors.
Finally, what of sequels? Fans frothing at the mouth for a sequel have ruminated out loud about a continuation of Ramza’s story, and, while that is all well and good, I am more interested in Olan’s story and the Durai family line. What happened with the Durai Papers? Did Olan put up a fight before being captured and executed? This may be unlikely, but Tactics strongly hints to us that Alazlam is a descendent of Olan 400 years after the events of Tactics. Why did he fight so hard to uncover the truth? Did he somehow know about what was in the papers? Did he doubt his ancestor’s guilt as a heretic, or the Church’s reasons for executing Olan? Perhaps the Durai family fought for the truth over those 400 years. Nevertheless, much can be said over the span of four centuries.
Although I clearly hold a bias toward a prequel or sidestory to the original Final Fantasy Tactics, I share the thoughts and feelings of those who create their own content: Just give me something! Matsuno is 45 years old with lead design experience. Not only could he pioneer a Tolkien-esque world in the video game industry, but he is young enough to create a massive amount of content. Do not misunderstand me: I am terrified of a shoddy sequel boasting only tongue-in-cheek references and repetitious storytelling. However, Matsuno has a fantastic track record with Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII under his belt, and if these games are any indication of what Ivalice can become, the lack of a true continuation of Tactics‘ story is unfathomable.
The Legend of Dragoon
Writeup by Bryan Grosnick
In 2000, Sony’s SCEI unit released The Legend of Dragoon – a game that received mixed reviews at the start, but sold well in the US and eventually gathered a strong following as one of the more underrated RPGs of the PlayStation era.
The story followed Dart, a young man seeking out the Black Monster that slew his family and destroyed his hometown. Eventually, he finds himself caught up in a greater struggle. At the risk of spoiling some of the story, Dart eventually meets up with several companions, and they become Dragoons — powerful warriors with the ability to use elementally-charged powers drawn from dragons.
The Legend of Dragoon had a few perceived issues (as I’ll discuss later), but that didn’t stop it from being a great game. For whatever reason, Sony never produced a continuation or sequel, leaving fans of the game without any further chance to explore the characters, world, or artifacts of the continent of Endiness.
This is a game that needs a sequel for a couple of reasons, the first of which is that the world that the developers created had a rich sense of history and depth. This game tells a generational story, and this sense of legacy (combined with a beautifully detailed world with myriad races and magics) would make a great platform for future development. In terms of gameplay, there’s still something to be said for story-driven, traditional RPG play, even in today’s world of action/adventure role-playing and Westernized RPGs. While we don’t need to fall into some of the RPG patterns that are no longer necessary (such as save points and/or random encounters), there are many RPG fans who want that traditional, explorational sense of a classically-styled RPG. Not to mention, LoD had a highly regarded soundtrack that added drama to the atmosphere. A great traditional RPG can tell a compelling story from start to finish, and allows players to immerse themselves in a greater world. A sequel to The Legend of Dragoon, with the right touches, could certainly appeal to those looking for that type of game.
What should a great sequel to The Legend of Dragoon contain? Well, the best sequels raise the stakes, emotionally as well as in terms of storytelling. The easiest sequel would really be a prequel to the first story and a retelling of the lives of the previous wielders of the Dragoon Spirits. But those people who played the original game already know how that story ends, and those characters have already been explored.
And as for a direct sequel with Dart, Shana, and rest of the companions from the first game? Despite the strong story, I don’t know if anyone is really demanding a direct sequel. There’s always room for fresh new characters, and the story of Dart’s party came to a satisfying conclusion. No, what players could benefit from most is a story that takes place perhaps 200 or 500 years down the line, where we see what became of the Dragoon Spirits after this most recent threat had passed. The developer could take the great, colorful world of Endiness crafted in the original game, and involve fascinating new Dragoon characters and a vicious new threat.
When playing the role of sequel planners, what else should be modified? Firstly, it feels that in some ways, random encounters have run their course. Anything that allows the player to have more control over what and when they fight should be applauded. Plenty of recent RPGs allow players to avoid combat, keeping them from being slaves to constant battles if they become burned out on that particular aspect of the gameplay. Shifting to avoidable encounters (along with eliminating save points) can keep modern players from looking at the game as a relic, and having non-necessary issues slow the game down.
In the original game, Dragoon transformations were cool-looking, but ultimately not the game-changing moves that they were made out to be. Making the transformations something beyond visual spectacles, something that changes the pace and the texture of combat, would be a huge benefit. A two-tiered battle system, allowing for new skills and animations, could keep battles fresh and strategic. And within that battle system, the Additions combat system could be modified to keep battle engaging, but a little less draining. I fully appreciate having an active component to the battle system, but the frequency and difficulty of Additions tended to wear players down and put off newcomers.
If these few items would be taken into consideration, I’m certain that Sony would have another gem of a game on their hands. And considering the graphical and sonic leaps and bounds that come with developing on the mighty PS3 rather than the original PlayStation, the already expressive continent of Endiness could have a fantastic look and sound. Both visually and story-wise, you could have content rivaling the best parts of Final Fantasy XIII, except with gameplay people enjoy and full-world exploration.
There’s still a market for traditional RPGs with terrific story and comfortable gameplay. For whatever reason, The Legend of Dragoon‘s colorful IP has been sitting, waiting for its time to come. That time should be now, and like Dart and his companions, someone should be willing to heed the call to battle, and grasp for glory.
Writeup by Patrick Gann
Some franchises die hard. But even after they die, the fans still want more.
Such is the story of Lunar. The first two games, on Sega CD, were sleeper hits. And their overhauled remakes for Saturn/PlayStation (brought to the US via Working Designs) are beautiful games. But outside these two titles (Silver Star/Story, Eternal Blue), the franchise has failed to make anything good. The Walking School/Magic School gaiden title was a flop that never made it to the US. The Nintendo DS game Lunar Genesis (Dragon Song in the US) was, put nicely, a steaming turd. My own review of the game included me pleading for people to keep holding out hope for the series even though Dragon Song was terrible.
What’s going on? For one thing, the core talent behind Silver Star (Story) and Eternal Blue have disbanded. Anyone who has picked up the franchise has done so in a way that dishonors what makes it so great. If your Lunar game doesn’t have full production values: anime FMVs, vocal theme songs, a long-form thrilling story involving Dragons and the creation/destruction of the world, you’re missing it. If your characters are all boring one-dimensional douchebags, you’re really missing it.
But most importantly, if your next Lunar game doesn’t make OBVIOUS tie-ins to previous titles, you’ve missed the boat.
There has been talk of a Lunar 3 for well over a decade now. As far as we know, nothing has ever been put forth seriously in terms of development. The scenario writers have toyed with different ideas, but the rubber never met the road.
Should the talented creative team (art, music, game mechanics, and most importantly story) from SSS and EB ever join hands, or even just some of them alongside some other very talented game creators, there would be hope for a true Lunar 3.
What would it look like? Obvious spoilers: it would take place after Lucia and Hiro have helped recultivate (and… repopulate?) the blue star, which was the original home of humanity. That Althena has “disappeared” could be a central plot point. What does the world look like without a reigning Goddess? Essentially, Althena saw fit to move from monotheism (with her in charge) to some sort of pantheism (she has dispersed and now everything is divine). Can people handle that on the blue star? On the silver star?
I imagine a game where you visit both planets. One that takes place a century or two after Eternal Blue. One whose villains are either foreign entities (can we do some space travel or is that verboten?), or are a powerful group against the sharing of ideas/resources with the corresponding planet. Build a solid five- or six-person cast of playable characters using the same basic template as SSS and EB. Make sure Iwadare does the music, and load that mother up with high-quality anime cutscenes.
The only way this game could fail is if the development work was lazy. Good PR will help, but the core needs to be solid. The fans will do the legwork from there, and the franchise could experience a great revival. I’ve heard people say, of this and so many other franchises: “let it die.” I’m in agreement with them about many a franchise, but this one still has a spark of life. Lunar hasn’t been given a fair shake. A true Lunar 3 could be amazing. My fingers are perpetually crossed.