I have this tendency to start new series on the Retronaissance blog seemingly at random, only to let them die. I think my main problem is that I come up with a topic that I would absolutely love to revisit on multiple occasions, I come up with one topic to serve as a pilot article for the prospective series and then when it comes right down to it, I’m either unable to think of a good follow-up or a severely limited number of viable subjects for future pieces. Here’s hoping this one ends up surviving.
Welcome to the first article in a new series, “Of Axioms and Idioms”. These articles will essentially act as a soapbox for various “rules of thumb” I appear to have. Odd quirky choices that have affected my personal taste in video games and specific trends I’ve pinpointed. These aren’t going to be simple revelations – so don’t expect articles on why I love arcade-style games over their simulation counterparts, why I love fighting games or why I detest most turn-based RPGS – more along the lines of specific aspects that transcend genres, companies and generations.
The topic of this first article is simple, yet more than likely incoherent: a certain phenomenon I generally refer to as the “Bayonetta May Cry” syndrome. Essentially, playing later games in a franchise/genre, has a certain tendency to paint earlier iterations in such a negative light, that I’m completely unable to enjoy them. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is a prejudice I wholeheartedly acknowledge. Of course, on the surface it probably seems obvious: I’ve never heard of a case of a video game sequel not attempting to surpass its original.
“Bayonetta May Cry” seems like an odd way to phrase it, but I mainly identify it as such due to the events that led me to fully realize and articulate exactly what was going on. I was playing the original Devil May Cry on the PS2 for the first time. Unfortunately, by that point, I had already played through the original Bayonetta on Xbox 360 and it had painted a very vivid picture of what to expect of “character action games”, a sub-genre which DMC trailblazed. Unfortunately, DMC1 did not live up to the hype and as such, I never ended up finishing the game. I may want to do so at some point, but only on my terms – perhaps if Capcom decides to port that shiny HD collection to PC?
There are some other examples that come to mind. Obviously, I played Street Fighter II long before the original (or at least, a real version of the original) – but that’s so common, it’s not worth mentioning. Tekken 1 and 2, on the other hand, seems a lot more interesting. While I did encounter Tekken 1 first (in an arcade on vacation), Tekken 2 was the first game in the series I played. The evolution that went on between these two games is amazing – the graphics, the gameplay, everything but the roster had changed immensely. Likewise, you’ve got the Capcom vs. SNK duology: the first game was alright, but playing the second game first: with its extended roster, the expanded number of fighting styles and the complete overhaul of the ratio system, CvS2 surpassed the original in every way.
Aside from Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, perhaps the best example of this feeling happened with Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series. While I did technically start The Sacred Stones first, playing Awakening on the 3DS pretty much confirmed that I would never be looking back on it. The best part about this one is that I can even track my opinions of it. At first, I thought Sacred Stones was alright, a bit slow compared to other strategy-RPGs I had played at that point, but not bad. After playing Awakening, however, I decided there was no looking back: too much had improved and I was completely looking forward. The ability to pair up units alone confirmed that I would never go back to the GBA title and made me glad that I hadn’t paid a single cent for it – after all, I had received it as a 3DS Ambassador bonus.
Of course, it’s all contextual: I’m a lot more forgiving when it comes to retro games – or at least, what I consider to be retro games. Anything before the 5th generation (Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation) are generally safe, as well as the Dreamcast due to its short lifespan. The rest of the 6th generation – the PlayStation 2, the GameCube and the original Xbox – are more of a blind spot for me. I understand that they’ve been gone for roughly a decade now, but it feels like they were the beginning of what the current generations of consoles built themselves upon, a clear break from the earlier generations. It doesn’t help that that was the generation where I essentially felt out of mainline video games, preferring to stick to portables and classic retro for the time being.
I’m certain this bias has pretty much always existed in the back of my head. It’s part of the reason I’ve always liked playing series “in release order” as opposed to doing what most people suggest and start with the latest game in the series before working backwards. I’m completely convinced that playing later games earlier will ruin the earlier games in a franchise for me, though there have been some cases where this has not come to pass. For example, I played the TurboGrafx-16 version of Ys Books I & II after Ys I & II Chronicles+ on Steam. I enjoyed the TG-16 version a lot, despite Chronicles+ being a longer game, with more responsive controls and superior graphics. There were some things I’d argue that Books I & II did better than the later release – best example would be the fact that the leveling system was balanced to account for both games.
Still, I worry that game mechanics and features that I grow to rely on and expect in later entries in a long-running series may end up spoiling me. More importantly, I’m worried that it may color my outlook on the earlier games, because I’ll be unable to realize whether I hate it because it lacks features I’ve come to expect or if the game is legitimately bad. Of course, that’s something that anyone who focuses on retro games would have to worry about, whether there is nostalgia for the subject matter or if it’s an unfamiliar release. It’s important to keep this kind of thing in mind.
Of course, the truth is it’s for the best that I’ve realized this bias of mine. It helps me to compensate when playing older games. This came into play this past year, when I finally decided to livestream Final Fantasy 7 – one of the three games I’d consider the most beloved (if not overrated) of its generation, alongside the original Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time. When playing the game, I promised not to compare it to more modern turn-based RPGs I liked: games like Undertale, Evolution Worlds and the first two Paper Mario games. I decided to compare it to its predecessors – Earthbound, Super Mario RPG – as well as a contemporary game: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, originally released a few months before FF7 was in Japan. It didn’t help matters (I still ended up hating FF7), but at least I avoided the pitfall of judging the game against modern games that should have surpassed it.
Of the odd preferences and quirky opinions I could possibly discuss in this series, this one would have to be one of the more negative ones. Comparing older games to later iterations in their series or genre is clearly unfair, but the problem would have to be that it’s common. When you consider that there are younger gamers enjoying the medium, some that weren’t even alive during the 5th and 6th generations, it’s completely understandable: few people my age like watching films from before they were born, so why should kids today be forced to appreciate games that are clunkier and less refined than those that are available to them on a wider and more regular basis? The one upshot to that is that by acknowledging it, I can avoid unfairly judging older games by forcing them to live up to unfair standards and hopefully this will allow me to judge them more fairly, even in retrospect. Maybe one day, I’ll even go back to playing the original Devil May Cry.