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vanguard333

Your Opinion on Prequel Video Games

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Before we begin: for the sake of clarity, a story set in an alternate timeline, or that tries to reboot the franchise rather than precede it, does not count as a prequel, so, for example, something like the Star Trek reboot films do not count as prequels.

 

It is a common claim that prequel stories have a strong tendency to not be very good, whether it's prequel books, prequel shows or prequel films. Common reasons cited include that it's harder (though not impossible) to write a compelling story where the author knows that the expected audience knows the outcome, or that they often rely too heavily on the source material rather than tell their own story (a similar complaint often lobbied at sequels).

However, there are not many examples of prequel video games, and I cannot really find a consensus or common arguments about them specifically. So, I was wondering, what do you think of prequel video games, both as a concept and in practice? In your experience, do you think they also have the problems that many claim other prequels have, or do you think they avoid or get around them thanks to the things unique to video games (such as interactivity)?

Edited by vanguard333

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On the basis of "knowing what will happen", I'd point to historical stories.  You know the broad strokes of how things will end, but it's the observation of how things get to that point, as well as maybe some of the smaller twists they throw in, that make it compelling.  I'll also point to Fire Emblem Blazing Sword/FE7.  We know that at least two of the three protagonists survive after the end of the story and go on to have children, but we know little of the actual struggles they suffered through or exactly how they may have came to prominence (apart from noble inheritance).  They also weren't afraid of stepping outside of what was previously known, having established the entirely new faction of the Black Fangs as well as the morphs (I don't recall either being in Binding Blade, anyway).  They even made a new protagonist altogether with a somewhat substantial place in the world.

I think with movies (and some games) it's more a greater problem with the people in the positions of power that enable them to decide what to make, not with prequels themselves.  I'm inclined to believe you can make just about anything into a compelling story if you have the chops for it.  Problem is, a lot of people in charge of high budget movies or AAA games - the executives, middle management, directors, and the like - end up getting their positions not because they're actually good at their jobs, but either through founding their own studios (e.g. Jeff Bezos founding his own TV show production studio) or by getting in the good graces of higher ranking members of the industry.  This kind of environment breeds deteriorating media quality, as the top ranks of companies end up being made up of yes men and moguls inexperienced with writing instead of people who actually challenge the higher ups or people with the actual experience needed to carry their jobs.  Obviously this isn't always true.

Also, often times in high budget media the idea for creating a prequel comes from creative bankruptcy, which from the onset basically sets these prequels up for failure.  It's generally a safe assumption that the reason a prequel is bad is because they ran out of ideas.  You can point to specific things like trying to stay too faithful or knowing in advance how the story will end, but those issues result from a writer's incapability to work within the confines of firmly established lore and events and a lack of creativity.

Overall, I think a prequel's success or failure stems solely from the skill and experience of the teams involved, most notably the executives, the middle management, and the directors because management and direction often make or break a project.  It isn't a symptom of a prequel being a "bad idea", though there is a very good reason why it's so often that prequels end up bad, which is that too many in entertainment fall back on prequels when they run out of ideas.  This applies to any form of media, btw.

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The key to a prequel is adding ambiguity or justification through perspective. If, for example, the main game shows us a powerful villain who killed god (Nemesis), the prequel should humanize him and show us how he got to that point. It doesn't have to make him a hero, but it should establish why he might justify his actions. It should teach us things we do not know. 

 

What a prequel should never do is subvert the expectation by changing the story's outcome. What Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity did was not acceptable, because it effectively renders it fanfiction, rather than a prequel as advertised. That said, a story like Fire Emblem Three Houses is already established to branch in multiple ways, so a story that gives us another route becomes acceptable.

Edited by Fabulously Olivier

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Prequels I find usually lack for perfect consistency with the original story, there will almost always be inconsistencies. This holds true for sequels as well however. Unplanned prequels and sequels are more likely to produce these discrepancies in larger quantities and greater degrees than preplanned ones. Even preplanned additional stories I would think to contain at the minimum minor contradictions, as a writer is not perfect and may nail the larger picture that they initially conceived of, but fumble ever so slightly on the minute details that they add later.

While one should criticize prequels and sequels for incongruity with the original, not all differences are of equal size. The bigger they are, the more they should be criticized, but a measure of forgiveness should be given to the smaller faults, because they are inevitably bound to happen.

As for why these inconsistencies occur...

  • One may rush to the cynical reason of a blatant lack of care with the source material due to the profiteering motive. Use the famed name, ignore the substance.
  • Bending the established canon to add new intensely dramatic things might be done for the sake of avarice sometimes. But I do genuinely think that this isn't always the case, as this occurs even in games that aren't wildly popular nor ever intended to sell for that much. A creative desire for narrative flair that results in inconsistency can be a reason in itself.
  • Imperfect human nature is another, very general yet true explanation.

 

As for the prequel video games I've played:

  • Tales of Symphonia is a prequel to Tales of Phantasia, but the gulf between them is so big and ToS was obviously unplanned. I think it's better to see ToS less as a prequel, despite being one, and more as inspired by ToP. In a similar vein to Fire Emblems 6-10 being inspired by FEs 1-5. 
  • Fire Emblem 7... yeah, the inconsistencies with FE6 are sorta big, with a story that even setting aside those discrepancies is haphazard. But I still like FE7, probably more than Binding actually.
  • Baten Kaitos: Origins, I admit there are issues, but in many aspect it's an overall better game than Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean and this includes the narrative. This is helped by the fact much of the story is independent of EWatLO, despite clear connections.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna the Golden Country- The game is short, and it feels they could've done more had this game not been in a limbo between DLC and independent game, nonetheless, I derived a good deal of enjoyment from it. I did play Torna before the XC2 main game, but I could retroactively see most of the incongruities.
  • Barring obvious cases like OoT > WW > PH > ST and MC > FS > FSA, the Legend of Zelda has no timeline, therefore, no Zelda prequels have ever existed. 

I can't think of any other prequels I've played ATM. Is my gaming catalogue surprisingly so small?

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I think prequels work best when you also plan to make a sequel. That way, the prequel can plant seeds for said sequel. Say a character shows up in the prequel who didn't show up in the original work, whether because they're believed to be dead or are simply missing or whatever. Then the sequel arrives and shows us this character is very much alive. Alternatively, prequels can set up gaiden games or sidequels focusing on someone else.

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3 hours ago, Interdimensional Observer said:

As for the prequel video games I've played:

  • Tales of Symphonia is a prequel to Tales of Phantasia, but the gulf between them is so big and ToS was obviously unplanned. I think it's better to see ToS less as a prequel, despite being one, and more as inspired by ToP. In a similar vein to Fire Emblems 6-10 being inspired by FEs 1-5. 
  • Fire Emblem 7... yeah, the inconsistencies with FE6 are sorta big, with a story that even setting aside those discrepancies is haphazard. But I still like FE7, probably more than Binding actually.
  • Baten Kaitos: Origins, I admit there are issues, but in many aspect it's an overall better game than Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean and this includes the narrative. This is helped by the fact much of the story is independent of EWatLO, despite clear connections.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna the Golden Country- The game is short, and it feels they could've done more had this game not been in a limbo between DLC and independent game, nonetheless, I derived a good deal of enjoyment from it. I did play Torna before the XC2 main game, but I could retroactively see most of the incongruities.
  • Barring obvious cases like OoT > WW > PH > ST and MC > FS > FSA, the Legend of Zelda has no timeline, therefore, no Zelda prequels have ever existed. 

I can't think of any other prequels I've played ATM. Is my gaming catalogue surprisingly so small?

Your list of prequel games is larger than mine: the only one I've played is Shadow of the Colossus, which is a prequel to Ico, and I've never even played Ico; I played Shadow of the Colossus because of everyone saying it's a classic, a masterpiece and a gameplay-narrative experience unlike anything else (they turned out to be absolutely right).

Funny enough, originally, Ocarina of Time was a prequel: it was made to be a prequel to A Link to the Past that showed the player the Imprisoning War. There are a lot of discrepancies with that (Ganondorf not obtaining the full Triforce, A Link to the Past saying that Knights of Hyrule fought alongside the sages to seal Ganon away but Ocarina of Time having Link be one guy and not a knight, etc.) but a lot of them can be surprisingly-well handwaved with the Imprisoning War in A Link to the Past being a tale that's been passed down. Then Majora's Mask and Wind Waker came along and made it downright impossible (rather than possible with a ton of handwaving) for A Link to the Past to follow from Ocarina of Time.

Speaking of A Link to the Past, A Link to the Past was made to be (and canonically still is) a distant prequel to the first two Zelda games, so there is at least one Zelda prequel if you count distant prequels.

 

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What a prequel should never do is subvert the expectation by changing the story's outcome. What Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity did was not acceptable, because it effectively renders it fanfiction, rather than a prequel as advertised. That said, a story like Fire Emblem Three Houses is already established to branch in multiple ways, so a story that gives us another route becomes acceptable.

I agree. I will just point out for the sake of clarity that, as I said at the start of the thread, Age of Calamity taking place in an alternate timeline rather than actually preceding Breath of the Wild means that it is not a prequel by definition.

Edited by vanguard333

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I think those games are generally just an excuse to make a story in an established world without changing the "direction" said universe is heading. If a franchise is successful enough to get another game, then it's generally successful enough to have fans bitching and moaning about about a new conclusion they don't agree with. And if your series had a prolific director that isn't coming back for the sequel (your Kojimas, your Kamiyas, your Miyamotos, etc) then fans are predisposed to hate every single change until the new guy becomes the norm (your Aonumas, your Itsunos, etc). But most franchises don't get to that point before dying or handing it over to yet another vision. By doing a 'prequel' you don't have to alter a previous work, and only have to worry about retcons which are easier to identify than plot points that some people may disagree with.

And nobody ever seems to think of the annoyance that original director feels at having to acknowledge other peoples' work in addition to writing new material for a story they had previously concluded. In video games, like movies, there's never a guarantee of a sequel because of how much money and manpower goes into each product. Not like there is with novels or any medium produced by one guy. You have to contend with the fact that anything being saved for a sequel, prequel, or even DLC may never see the light of day if your game bombs, so it's best to put everything you can into that first game.

Some semantics though, I feel like a prequel ideally has to be related to the story and characters of a previous game to be considered as such. It's not enough to be in the same universe. To have some shared nation, religion, or name drop. I don't like when a new game is saddled with the term "prequel" just because it occurs earlier in the chronology. Because then it prompts fans to be thinking about how that game relates back to the previous until the end credits come up and they never get that answer. The game is now lesser because it's missing that perceived crucial element. You pretty much never see "prequel" or "sequel" in official promotional material for games. It's just the "next game in the _______ franchise". That's a healthier way of presenting games on their own merits. Start with what's in the game, rather than how it relates to something else.

Edited by Glennstavos

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36 minutes ago, Glennstavos said:

Some semantics though, I feel like a prequel ideally has to be related to the story and characters of a previous game to be considered as such. It's not enough to be in the same universe. To have some shared nation, religion, or name drop. I don't like when a new game is saddled with the term "prequel" just because it occurs earlier in the chronology. Because then it prompts fans to be thinking about how that game relates back to the previous until the end credits come up and they never get that answer. The game is now lesser because it's missing that perceived crucial element. You pretty much never see "prequel" or "sequel" in official promotional material for games. It's just the "next game in the _______ franchise". That's a healthier way of presenting games on their own merits. Start with what's in the game, rather than how it relates to something else.

Just want to make sure I understand what you're saying; how much does the game have to relate to the story and characters of a previous game to be considered a prequel for you? For instance, would A Link to the Past having the origin of Ganon in its backstory be enough to make it a prequel to the first two games for you, or would you consider its connections to the first two games to be too few and too tenuous? Would Minish Cap being the origin of the Four Sword, Vaati, and Link's hat (until Skyward Sword retconned that by having its Link wear the hat) make it a prequel in your eyes?

Basically, if a prequel game is, for instance, set a lot further back and revolves around entirely different characters, how much connection does it need to have to be a prequel by your definition?

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3 hours ago, vanguard333 said:

Just want to make sure I understand what you're saying; how much does the game have to relate to the story and characters of a previous game to be considered a prequel for you? For instance, would A Link to the Past having the origin of Ganon in its backstory be enough to make it a prequel to the first two games for you, or would you consider its connections to the first two games to be too few and too tenuous? Would Minish Cap being the origin of the Four Sword, Vaati, and Link's hat (until Skyward Sword retconned that by having its Link wear the hat) make it a prequel in your eyes?

There are many zelda games. Some of them are sequels, Like Majora's Mask and Phantom Hourglass. But the only one I'd consider a prequel is Age of Calamity. 

God, Minish Cap. "It's the origin of Link's hat!", as if Link is actually wearing that same creature in all subsequent games. Mid 2000s zelda timeline discourse was truly the stupidest thing. Even dumber is Nintendo's official timeline just saying "hey, all of you are correct! And the Hero is Defeated Timeline is where we're putting the rest of the games to make sure they don't intrude on any fan theories"

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Basically, if a prequel game is, for instance, set a lot further back and revolves around entirely different characters, how much connection does it need to have to be a prequel by your definition?

Already disqualified. Different Characters, different era, different conflict. If I had to put a hard and fast rule on it, two of the three things would have to match for it to be a part of the same larger story. I'd expect Any relationship between those two plots to be incidental fanservice. A surviving robot character from 400 years ago, saying one character is the great great great great grandson of somebody else. A returning character or deity that does not age, or a mortal character that was cryogenically frozen, those are cheats.

Edited by Glennstavos

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48 minutes ago, Glennstavos said:

There are many zelda games. Some of them are sequels, Like Majora's Mask and Phantom Hourglass. But the only one I'd consider a prequel is Age of Calamity. 

Rather ironic, considering that, if we go by the main definition of a prequel, something like Age of Calamity doesn't count as a prequel for the same reason that something like the Star Trek reboot films aren't prequels: alternate timeline.

 

53 minutes ago, Glennstavos said:

God, Minish Cap. "It's the origin of Link's hat!", as if Link is actually wearing that same creature in all subsequent games. Mid 2000s zelda timeline discourse was truly the stupidest thing. Even dumber is Nintendo's official timeline just saying "hey, all of you are correct! And the Hero is Defeated Timeline is where we're putting the rest of the games to make sure they don't intrude on any fan theories"

Uh, what? Yeah; it's not the same Link in all games, but that doesn't make the idea that the particular style of hat started as a tribute/nod to Ezlo a bad one.

Also, I mentioned that the game also showed the origin of the Four Sword and Vaati; would that qualify it, in your definition, as a prequel to the Four Swords games?

 

58 minutes ago, Glennstavos said:

Already disqualified. Different Characters, different era, different conflict. If I had to put a hard and fast rule on it, two of the three things would have to match for it to be a part of the same larger story. I'd expect Any relationship between those two plots to be incidental fanservice. A surviving robot character from 400 years ago, saying one character is the great great great great grandson of somebody else. A returning character or deity that does not age, or a mortal character that was cryogenically frozen, those are cheats.

Okay, but what about something like a game that showed something that was originally backstory (like the film Rogue One showed the theft of the Death Star plans)? Would that be a cheat or a prequel?

Or what about an origin story for an important plot device?

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One series that manages to do prequels right is Ace Attorney. The third game of the original trilogy, Trials & Tribulations, is mostly a sequel to the second game - but a couple of cases are set before the first game. These past cases shed new light on the characters we've met already, while also making sense of the cases happening in "the present day". Of course, that's not a "pure prequel", but a "sequel-prequel". The series has a couple distant prequels, in the "Great Ace Attorney" games - which I've not yet played, but I've heard good things about.

Anyway, I think to count as a "prequel", a story needs to "set the stage" for whatever work it's "prequel-ing". So like, FE6 has a Lycian civil war, and FE7 shows that conflict among the houses is nothing new. FE6 has big bad Zephiel and kind-hearted Guinevere, and FE7 shows us the environment that shaped them. FE6 involves road tripping to get the legendary weapons, while FE7 gives a taste of just a couple, with added lore. FE7 isn't necessary to understanding FE6, but when it's good (which is far from always), it manages to polish some of the rougher edges of Elibe.

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Considering what video games are, and what makes them so fun, I’m pretty neutral on the concept of them being prequels to others. After all, the main issues with such games (that are related to the prequelness) are usually the narratives. 

And the issues with their narratives are usually the same you’d expect from video game narratives in general. 

I think the more important question here is: what about the narrative-implementation makes prequels seen as good or bad?

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