The Risks of Planning Games as a Trilogy

For the past week or so, I have been playing Viewtiful Joe 2. For the uninitiated, Viewtiful Joe 2 is a title developed by Capcom’s Production Studio 4 and designed by Clover Studio, the latter being the same company that was in charge of modern classics such as Okami and God Hand. The Viewtiful Joe series features elements of 2D platform side-scrolling games and it mixes those with beautiful cel-shaded graphics. But more importantly, the first game in the franchise finished in a cliffhanger that definitely leaves you wanting for more. Then, the second title in the series has the exact same approach and finishes in yet another sudden ending. It’s worth pointing out that a third part never came out so I don’t even know what may happen in Viewtiful Joe 3. I know that using the Viewtiful Joe series as an example of unfinished trilogies is kind of unfair, especially if we take into account that these games in particular, albeit praised by critics, never actually sold that well. Nevertheless, when I was playing these series I realized that most modern games are planned as trilogies and some of them may actually be hampered by this decision.

The first example that comes to mind is Too Human.  This action role-playing game developed by Silicon Knights for the Xbox 360 is a mess. The problem with this title in particular is that when it was first announced and demoed, it actually looked quite promising. Unfortunately, when the developers where asked about certain aspects of their title they basically stated that this was a meticulously planned trilogy and they were thinking about including certain requested features on the next iteration. Why would you do that? Why not including every single aspect that you think players will find appealing in the first game? Then, if your game succeeds and becomes popular, you have a few years to think about the rest of the trilogy. If not, you’re basically creating a world that definitely feels unfinished and you are left with myriad ideas for a subsequent title in the series that may never came out.

Too Human didn’t succeed, the game perished and all those promised features and subsequent mechanics that were supposed to be included on an upcoming title went to waste. It should also be noted that even though I personally believe that developing Too Human as a trilogy was a mistake there were other reasons why the game received mediocre reviews. The two that come to mind are poor controls and unskippable death sequences that were absolutely frustrating.

Another series that was slated for a trilogy was Mega Man Legends. Capcom announced the third game in the series ten years after the American release of Legends 2 and eventually cancelled it on July 18, 2011. This is also a peculiar example of a series planned as a trilogy, but an accurate example all the same. Mega Man Legends is peculiar in the sense that it had everything to succeed, but it didn’t. The first two games were quite well received by both critics and fanatics, sold well and the development team loved working on them. So what exactly happened? The official statement was that the game didn’t meet the required “criteria,” the unofficial statement was that Mega Man Legends wasn’t as popular and financially viable anymore.

And if we want to discuss troubled series, why not mentioning Team Ico? Both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are two of those must-have titles that need to be in your collection, but unfortunately even to this very day the third iteration hasn’t come out. The Last Guardian is expected to be the last masterpiece of the series, but it has been surrounded by multiple rumors, problems and delays. Fumito Ueda, the games’ designer, has reportedly left Sony. Well, at least not yet as he is expected to leave the company after finishing this project. Additionally, it has been reported that other companies are contributing to The Last Guardian as the game has been making really slow progress. In any case, I’m quite sure that we will see this game one day.

But even though creating a series as a trilogy may be absolutely detrimental to some companies it definitely works for others. Take Valve for example. Even after five years of releasing a Half-Life related product they haven’t said a thing about Half-Life 3. Fans have complained and they even formally protested (by playing Half-Life 2 on Steam,) but Valve refuses to provide more information about the upcoming title. The game is expected to be the third and final installment in the series, but at this point it’s really hard to say what it’s really going to be. One thing is for sure, those very same people who complain now will buy the game when it comes out.

Developing a series as a trilogy may be absolutely problematic. As usual, some companies can definitely benefit from expectations built around the upcoming second or third parts (read: Valve.) Other companies play with this idea, but never actually manage to deliver entire “portions” of their trilogies. As somebody who plays lots of games that eventually become trilogies, most of the times I just want to see that at least we (as players) get the closure that we deserve.