I have observed and am therefore of the opinion that video game sequels typically follow the reverse rule of movie sequels–meaning they tend to be better than the original title. Therefore, making a list of video game sequels that were better than their predecessors would be too easy. Instead, let’s look at some that really didn’t turn out quite as good as the first.
Kingdom Hearts 2 This one is first on my list because it was by far the biggest disappointment to me. Once a week for almost three months I would swing by the GameStop in Carbondale to drop $5 more on the copy I had on hold. I got the game, and it had the most interesting beginning–focusing on an unknown character named Roxas, and slowly starting to tie him into the story from the first game, and then putting you back into control of the main protagonist, Sora. Some people complained that the intro dragged for too long, but I enjoyed it. Then the game ventured into familiar territory, taking Sora and his companions, Donald Duck and Goofy, on an adventure through Disney movie-themed worlds on a quest of a larger narrative. It started dragging pretty quick at that point, not much taking place, and then you end up in the Atlantis world, based off of The Little Mermaid movie. And it’s a sing-along. Yeah, you read that right. A full-on, cheesy musical, complete with dancing and smiling and quick-time events reminiscent of Parapa The Rapper, except not charming. It continued to slug along until the final chapter, at which point I had already forgot about the Roxas story arc, but it turned out it didn’t matter because I had no idea what any of it meant when they started to reveal what was going on. Something about hearts and darkness and Nothings and Heartless. I finished the game, but the only reason for that was to be absolutely sure that it didn’t really pick up at any last point. Well guess what–I’m absolutely sure.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Let’s get something straight. I like The Adventure of Link a great deal. It’s just not nearly as good as the first Zelda. I would say that all subsequent titles in this series topped the first game, with the possible exception of Link’s Awakening, but the second one really felt like a completely different game. There was a leveling system, requiring you to collect experience from killing enemies to increase your life, attack, or magic power. The primary action was side-scroll platforming. The items found in temples weren’t nearly as useful, and would only be used in a single place in some cases. Exploration on the world map felt different, more limited, and not nearly as interesting. Lastly, gone were key items like bombs and the boomerang. Honestly, Nintendo could have pulled a reverse-Super Mario Bros. 2 on us with this one and called it Eric the Elf and it possibly could have been more celebrated than it was. As I said, I actually do like this game a lot, it’s just that if you say I can have this or the first one for the rest of my life, I’m going with Zelda 1.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels In case you’re not in the know, the American Super Mario Bros. 2 was not originally a Mario game. Not long after the first Super Mario Bros. was released, Nintendo made Super Mario Bros. 2 and released it in Japan. Its look and feel was identical to that of the first game, and it was ridiculously hard. Fearing that the Americans wouldn’t like a game so punishingly difficult, they gave a major face-lift to an entirely different game, called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic, slapped the Mario 2 title on it, and the majority of us here in the States were none-the-wiser for at least a decade when Nintendo released Super Mario All-Stars and it included the real #2, renamed The Lost Levels. But as I’ve said before, we got the better end of the deal. The Lost Levels just isn’t that great of a game. Its difficulty overtakes the fun factor very quickly, and the identical graphics just made it boring. There were some new enemies, new hazards, those kinds of things, but that just added to the frustration. I’ll float the Princess to Mouser over dodging poison mushrooms any day of the week.
Final Fantasy VIII Including this one kind of made me feel like I was cheating a little, but it actually makes sense in multiple ways. Let’s first focus on the things that were good about this one, though: realistic characters. At that point I thought I’d never see it happen, but when I did, I loved it. I’m among the fans that want VII redone with better graphics, including more human-like proportions on the characters, so the fact that it is done on VIII is to its credit. The graphics and CG cut scenes are spectacular, and the story (from what I’ve experienced of it) is very engaging. So what’s wrong with it? The Final Fantasy series followed a trend of ever-increasing greatness with each subsequent release, especially to us Americans, who only really knew of four of them before this, and the first signs that this franchise wasn’t flawless came with a demo I attempted to play back in 1998. To start, the buttons were reversed with no real logical reason as to why. Since the NES, the “confirm” button had always been the farthest-right button, and the cancel button had always been to the left of that (making it the bottom button of the “diamond” on the SNES and PS1 controllers). FFVIII swapped them. It’s remained reasonably consistent in games since then, but changing it in the first place never made sense to me. The next problem was the act of drawing magic. It was so tedious. Wh0 made the call that MP wasn’t a good idea? Well, I got the game anyway, and I made it through maybe one disk of the four. The leveling system was mind-bogglingly confusing with the junctioning, and then the fact that your characters’ level increased the level of the monsters you were fighting, and the majority of your strength lied in your weapons, which you needed to synthesize, which was also annoying. The story kept me interested for a while, but it wasn’t long before I became so frustrated with how to operate the game that I gave up. I’m older and smarter, now, but I still can’t get the hang of that junctioning thing, so I don’t get very far when I jump back in try again. A few years ago, I would have said a lot similar with Final Fantasy IX, but I played through that again within the last four months, and I’ve concluded that it’s better than VII. Yeah, I said it. Deal with it.
Are there any I’m forgetting? My wife mentioned Skate or Die 2, but I didn’t play it that much. I know Metroid 2 was a bit of a step backwards, but again, I haven’t played it. I think this is an interesting list, and I hope it can be expanded . . .