Many of our favorite franchises are going through some serious growing pains
No matter how great a series is, there comes a time when change is necessary to stay relevant in the ever-shifting gaming landscape. After decades of doing the same old tricks in our favorite franchises, there comes a time when reinvention and evolution are the steps a series can take to hold the attention of the fickle gaming masses. Some franchises, like Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda and ATLUS’ Persona series, have consistently evolved over the years, adding new features to pull new gamers in while keeping their distinct sense of identity that appeals to longtime fans. However, there are also plenty of examples of studios twisting and shaping some of our most beloved franchises in confounding ways, destroying any and all good will series stalwarts may have had. Be it through drastic shifts in design philosophy make us wish the studios behind these titles simply rested on their laurels, or sloppy implementation of once tried-and-true mechanics, here are 5 franchises we feel have changed for the worse in recent years.
The blazing blue mascot of SEGA’s onetime flagship series used to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Nintendo’s mustachioed plumber for the console gaming crown. The Sonic the Hedgehog games, once defined by masterfully crafted stages, wildly imaginative boss encounters and some of the best damn music in video games, have screeched to a grinding halt in the post-Genesis era due to a number of disastrous sequels. Ricocheting from role to role, SEGA’s speedy hedgehog found himself shoehorned awkwardly into role of a sword-wielding hero in Sonic and the Black Knight to a raging werehog (yes, a fucking werehog) in Sonic Unleashed, both with abysmal results. Add to that the hugely disappointing Sonic Boom and you’ve got a series that appears to be on life support. While we’re not quite ready to count Sonic out for good, SEGA needs to consider a true return to form, as these reinventions have done nothing but harm for the formerly legendary series.
4. Resident Evil
Capcom’s survival horror saga has always been at its best when it focuses on building tense atmosphere and a constant feeling of desperation. Never have these games felt more engaging than when they force players to scrounge for ammo, solve clever puzzles, and run for their lives against the insatiable undead. Suffice to say, in an effort to modernize the beloved horror series, Capcom has decided to largely toss all of these gripping conventions that make Resident Evil so great into the dustbin, instead creating a Frankenstein monster that feels more “Gears of Evil” than anything else. That’s not to say the series is without its bold ideas that could work well in future titles – Resident Evil 5 & 6‘s co-op, for instance, feels like a natural evolution of RE 0‘s Zap System, and adds a welcome new level of depth to the series- but by and large the guns blazing, balls-to-the-wall action of the past few numbered entries in the series have left Resident Evil a pale imitator to the horror throne.
3. Final Fantasy
It doesn’t seem like very long ago that Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series was the absolute cream of the crop when it came to grand adventure. Consistently praised for their wide open worlds, brilliant storytelling and gripping combat systems, the series is widely praised as what helped create North America’s RPG craze during the glory days of the 32-bit era. Unfortunately, the Final Fantasy titles of recent years have gone to great lengths to shake up the foundation of the franchise, delivering some odd sequels and offshoots – such as the pop-theme, costume-swapping Final Fantasy X-II and the equally action and boredom-heavy Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns – which have done little to foster much new love for the series. The worst offender of all being Final Fantasy XIII, which traded the signature sprawling worlds we adore with essentially long, uninspired hallways for the first 30 or so hours, irreparably marring the experience.
On the bright side, Square Enix looks to be taking a bounding step in the right direction with Final Fantasy XV, which throws players into a massive open world not unlike that of Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade series. Combining that with smart new combat mechanics and some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous visuals we’ve ever seen and it looks like Final Fantasy XV could well reinvent the series in a glorious fashion.
Konami’s timeless vampire hunting series has long been one of the studio’s most fondly remembered properties. Getting its start in the 8-bit era, the Belmont Clan’s exploits against the evil Count Dracula, and his titular living castle have lived on in the hearts and mines of gamers for generations. Many would argue the series peaked in 1997, when Castlevania: Symphony of the Night debuted on the PlayStation (and later on the Saturn in Japan), which brought the haunting corridors and deathly grounds of Dracula’s keep to life like never before in what would ultimately be one of the most celebrated 2D adventures of all time.
Unfortunately, after years of riding on the coattails of SOTN‘s success with a flood of handheld ‘Metroidvania’ titles, in 2010 Konami enlisted the help of developer MercurySteam and Kojima Productions to steer the series in a new, but ultimately unexciting direction. What players gained in mobility and visual splendor from the jump to a modern action series, they also lost with generic, God of War-inspired brawling that felt largely out of place for a franchise that thrived on precision whip-cracking and methodical boss encounters, rather than the Michael Bayesque chaos that Lords of Shadow provided. Lords of Shadow 2 didn’t fare much better, implementing forced stealth mechanics and awkward pacing that made it a chore to play. Maybe Konami should consider passing the vampire-staking torch to PlatinumGames for the next go round to see if they fare better.
1. Metal Gear Solid
The Metal Gear Solid series has always excelled at tossing players into a tightly-woven story of international conspiracy, shadowy government agencies and military espionage intrigue. Pretty much single-handedly responsible for the advent of modern cinematic storytelling in video games, the Metal Gear Solid series has engaged players with its moment-to-moment stealth segments, wild cast of superhuman special forces operators, and highly choreographed storytelling for nearly two decades.
With the immense popularity of sandbox titles, it’s no surprise Konami chose to widen the scope of Big Boss’s latest sneaking mission with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. And truth be told, this decision creates some fantastic gameplay possibilities as you explore the harsh terrain of a Soviet Occupied Afghanistan and perilous African landscape. Everything, from sneaking through labyrinthine desert prisons to Fultoning a sheep into the stratosphere, feels awesome in Kojima Productions’ sprawling sandbox.
Unfortunately, storytelling – the heart and soul of the Metal Gear Solid series – is largely left on the cutting room floor this time around. Without the tightly scripted installations of previous games to corral players into the series’ brilliant set piece moments, were left with a rather lazy narrative largely explored in optional cassette tapes that are scattered around the environment. This overall feeling of laziness transcends into the world itself as well, as ouposts you claim are almost immediately replaced by the same nameless goons, adding very little weight to player’s actions. Cap it off with some of the worst boss fights in MGS history and you have a title that, while endlessly ambitious in scope, never quite manages to step out of the towering shadow of its predecessors.
So, our dear readers, what are some franchises you personally feel have been taking a step in the wrong direction over the years? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.