What Happened to Game Sequel Titles?

This question came to me earlier today as one of those random thoughts you get while trying to go to sleep.  But I think it’s a valid question.  What’s the deal with video game sequel titles these days?  I can’t have been the only one to notice it.  It used to be that sequels were simply numbered.  Look at the titles of some early games.  The first few Super Mario games were numbered (Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2 & Super Mario Bros 3) as where the Doom series (Doom, Doom 2 & Doom 3).  We could all probably list off a bunch of other titles that simply ended with numbers.  It’s a simple, effective way to keep the order of a series.

Some developers get a little fancy & add a subtitle.  The first Castlevania games did this, with Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest & Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.  A more recent example is the Metroid Prime Trilogy, with Echoes & Corruption subtitling the second & third installments respectively.  Or to use an example I actually played (no offense intended to Metroid, I just didn’t own a GameCube), Star Wars Knight of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.  Again, it’s a simple system.  The addition of a subtitle lets developers get a little more creative & actually tell customers what the game is about, rather than just, “Hey it’s another sequel.”  It’s still easy to tell the order.  (Unless you’re like my mother & bought your child KotOR 2 before KotOR.  I had to play them in reverse order, which pretty much spoiled the big twist in the first game.  Now I write everything out for her.)

But recently, developers seem to scoff at a numbering system.  Most sequels now don’t contain any numbers, just subtitles.  And it’s usually the same grab-bag of words that don’t even tell you anything about the game itself.  Everything has to have a “Re-” something.  Revolution, Redemption, Resurrection… It just goes on & on.

Let’s look at a few examples.

The Silent Hill series.  This was actually the series that first made me realize this.  The first four games simply had numbers to distinguish them, even if SH4 had “The Room” subtitle.  But for some reason it stopped there.  Origins, Homecoming, Shattered Memories & now Downpour.  I can overlook Shattered Memories, because it was a revamp of the first game.  But it’s weird; even though we still call the later games “Silent Hill 5” or whatnot, it’s not actually in the title.  Of course this change in naming scheme probably has a lot to do with the fact that from SHH on, the games weren’t being developed by Team Silent anymore.  Some fans may also argue that this was the start of the series downfall.

The Tomb Raider series.  Again, another series that started out with numbered sequels, but after three stuck with the subtitles.  After Tomb Raider III, you have The Last Revelation, Chronicles & The Angel of Darkness.  When Crystal Dynamics picked the franchise up, they continued this trend with Legend & Underworld.  To make matters even more confusing, the reboot of the series set for next year, which is set before all the other games, is simply called Tomb Raider.  So after it comes out, we’ll have to clarify if we’re talking about the very first game or the new one.

The Zelda series.  Likely the most notorious offender, I’m not even going to begin to tease out a timeline.  Die hard fans can debate for hours about this.  All I know for certain is that Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda.

I really wish they’d stop doing this.  There’s nothing wrong with just numbering games.  Unless you’re up to date on the series as each game is released, it’s confusing to play the games in order.  Years from now, someone wanting to play Silent Hill will have to do research just to see what the order is after SH4.  And I know game developers aren’t the only ones guilty of this.  Books & movies do the same thing.  My three favorite book series are just as guilty: the Necroscope series by Brian Lumley (loses track after book Necroscope V: Deadspawn), the Phedre Trilogy by Jacqueline Carey (none are numbered, but at least they were released in order) & the Anita Blake: The Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton (I had to research before I even bought the first book because none are numbered).

So if things get so confusing, why do people do this?  Well, I thought about it, & I came up with a few possible reasons:

  1. Series grow so large that numbering just looks silly.  If you simply numbered every Metroid game that came after the original, Metroid: Other M would’ve been called “Metroid XII.”  It does make the series sound a bit stale.  Then again, Final Fantasy has no trouble doing this, & no one gives them much flack about it.
  2. Developers might not expect a game to do well enough for sequels.  In this case, success may prompt developers to go back in time & great new games set before the original.  I don’t know of any series this was the case with, but I know this is what happened in the book series Dragonriders of Pern, where the author later wrote books set before the original trilogy.
  3. Series don’t always follow a linear path.  I think this is the main reason developers don’t always number games.  Popular games spawn multiple timelines.  Just look at the Mario timeline.  You’ve got so many different spin-off series & crossovers that trying to stick with a straight numbering system would be impossible.  This is probably also the case with Silent Hill.  Origins was before the first game, Homecoming was just a movie tie-in & I haven’t seen enough to know where Downpour is set.

Thankfully, numbered sequels haven’t completely vanished.  Ongoing series like The Elder Scrolls, Saints Row, Mass Effect & Gears of War all stick with a simple numbering system.  Personally, I don’t foresee either method disappearing anytime soon.  But at least we have the internet now, where (hopefully) knowledgable people can tell us the order of the more confusing series.

– GamerDame

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