The topic of today’s piece is one that splits the gamer in two. A topic that no-one in the gaming community can agree on. It stands at the pinnacle of controversy. I speak, of course, of video games and whether they should be played in chronological story order.
I have no doubt disappointed many with my exaggerated opening paragraph, but for me this is a serious issue. I have to play games in chronological order of in-game events. Have to. No ifs ands or buts. Let me give you an example; I don’t play the “Metal Gear Solid” series in numerical order of “1, 2, 3” etc. Why? Because I feel the best way to appreciate to appreciate the story, is how happen chronologically, like you were reading a book, following events as they happens. Using our Metal Gear Solid example, rather than play these games as they are released, or their numerical numbering, I would play them a different way. I would play the series ; “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain, Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of Patriots and finally Metal Gear Solid: Rising”. To me playing the games as the story occurs, allows for a more fluid experience.
My obsessive nature regarding chronology mostly stems from the large amount of books and films I read and watched as a child. These franchises don’t start midway, apart from Star Wars, most famously. They begin at the beginning for a reason, to create an over-arching story and show character development over the course of an adventure. Who starts the “Harry Potter” series with “Goblet of Fire” the fourth in the series? You don’t, you start with “Philosopher’s Stone”. You would have no idea about the overarching plot of the series by starting half-way through the series. You wouldn’t start the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with the finale “Return of the King”, it doesn’t make any sense to start at the end. Not even my love of Star Wars can stop my obsession over chronology. Despite the deliberate decision to start Star Wars at “Episode IV: A New Hope” instead of Episode I, to help create an air of mystery behind the past of Darth Vader and how the Galactic Empire came to be, I can’t see the point of starting from A New Hope. The naming of Episode IV implies that a prequel was eventually going to be made, so why not start with the prequel? Surely George Lucas had an idea that of how Darth Vader became? But I suppose that without starting at Episode IV, we would not have had the famous “I am your father” scene.
Going back to video games, in my youth I didn’t really care for playing games obsessively in order, like I do now. I distinctly remember my first forays into the “Sly Cooper” and “Jak and Daxter” franchises’ being the second entries of their respective trilogies, and when I played the “Zone of the Enders”dualogy, it was with the second; “The 2nd Runner” before the first. While I enjoyed theses games immensely, it wasn’t until I replayed them last year, 2015, that I realized I had actually missed out, in some cases. I now understood references and Easter eggs in these titles that previously had gone over my head, not because I was too young to understand them, but rather because I had no knowledge of the backstory.
Did I really miss out, just because I missed a few references? Most games do a pretty good job of allowing you to play without any knowledge of the backstory, and enjoy what you are doing. Using some my prior examples; “Sly 2: Band of Thieves” did a sufficient enough job of telling me of the basic plot of “Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus” and that the antagonist from that title, “Clockwerk”, was so evil, he could not be allowed to be revived, after being destroyed in the ending of the first game. Jak 2 had so little references to the events of the first minus the characters returning from the original, that it was easy for the child me to pick up, without having to worry about the story of the first.
Recently as I have been playing through the “God of War” franchise, my obsession with chronology was put to the test. While I obviously see the chronological flow through the main God of War trilogy, I didn’t see that flow in the other standalone God of War games. “God of War: Ascension” the latest title in the series was the last to be created, yet is the first chronologically to occur in the God of War series. Because of this, no game in the series ever references the events that occur in Ascension, because those games were created long before Ascension. The title after Ascension, chronologically, “Chains of Olympus” relies on players having played the original God of War title, and thus makes no attempt in introducing characters and the effort made to tell players of the over-arching plot of the series is minimal. A prime example of the reliance of playing the original is the appearance of the character “Athena” who appears in Chains of Olympus briefly, yet is given no formal introduction. While anyone with a basic knowledge of the Hellenic Gods knows who Athena is, she is given a small portion of dialogue with “Kratos”, the protagonist of the franchise, that showed me the two had met before and have an uneasy working relationship, but I had no knowledge of why this was. It wasn’t until I played the original God of War game, which is the next chronologically after Chains of Olympus, that I learned more about the relationship between Kratos and Athena.
But some franchises’ don’t care for my love of video game chronology. That drives me crazy. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one such franchise that drives me crazy. A franchise that has received a new title in the series almost yearly since its inception in 2008. The first few titles had an over-arching story that revolved around “Desmond Miles” and his Assassin ancestors but now, the story of these games are but a shadow of their former selves. You can play the new titles of the franchise without any prior knowledge and while that’s good for getting new gamers to play your games, that does not appeal to me. I care for video game chronology because it allows me to immerse myself into a story, to want to care about “what-happens-next” but when a game receives a sequel every year, the quality just isn’t as good as a game that’s had time thought into making it. Why should I care for a character like “Altair Ibn-La’ Ahad”? Why show any concern over “Ezio Auditore da Firenze”? These characters have events that occur first chronologically, yet these events are almost never referenced? There was no point for me immersing myself when playing these events, despite the Assassin ‘s Creed series focusing particularly on the idea of “the past”.
When I was trying to get into the “Castlevania” series, I noticed the original is not surprisingly, the first to happen chronologically. Despite the rather basic plot premise of “Kill Dracula and his minions to make the world a better place” that occurs in every game, only a handful of references are made regarding the other games in the series. You would think Dracula would be rather upset that has been defeated by the Belmond family, the protagonists of the series, for 100’s of years and would make more than one or two references about his prior dealings with the family.
I know some of you might think I care way too much about video game chronology and how I have to play game series in the order of events, but I enjoy it. I like my works of fiction to follow a clear plot, that doesn’t force me to play events over random periods of time. Scattering the experience, and forcing me through needless flashbacks, or “past experiences” that were only recently though up by writers, not planned in advance. But I will admit that sometimes, following a straight, clear plot, sometimes can spoil some games. As I was researching the “Kingdom Hearts” series, to learn about the franchise in preparation for me playing the series, I learned that it would be best to play the games as they were released, rather than how events occur chronologically. Blasphemous. Yet I soon came to realize that by playing the games chronologically, I would ruin the experience by spoiling myself with plot twists prematurely. Even though a part of me hates doing it, and seriously it is killing me, I’m playing the Kingdom Hearts series as they were released, all for the sake of enjoying the experience. It better worth it.
Do you agree with me that the chronology of video game stories is important, or do I have an odd obsession with video game stories? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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