Evolution and Devolution: The Death of Franchises

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There’s nothing more exciting than watching an E3 Press Conference or Nintendo Direct and hearing that yes, your very favorite franchise will be getting a new game. Metroid Prime 4, Shenmue 3, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Elder Scrolls VI, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess; each of these game’s reveals generated massive amounts of excitement and hype, of which flooded the internet for days, even weeks, after the fact. That joy of knowing you’ll be able to experience new adventures in your favorite universe once more, to see a beloved character begin a new journey is enough to drive you to wait, impatiently, eagerly, for that faraway release date.

But while that new reveal may bring delight and happiness, there’s always that faint voice that rings in the back of your head, questioning one important detail: “will it be good, though?”

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Because, despite all the glamour of a reveal trailer, or all the promises made by an overzealous development team, sometimes, the finished product isn’t good at all. Franchises that had released nothing but solid entries in the past wind up stumbling somewhere along the line, turning the end result into something that even the most dedicated of fans may struggle to enjoy. In some instances, the game might be so terrible that it shakes an entire fandom’s faith in the company, or even performs so terribly that it kills a series outright. We’ve all seen it happen before, and we’ll no doubt see it happen again.

Hopefully, it won’t be something we see much of in this next console generation, but sadly, it is an inevitable facet of the industry. There are cases where crunch is unavoidable, where development struggles and suffers, the pressure of it all taking a toll on workers who are just trying their best, to the point where it’s impossible to turn the game into something good prior to the fateful release date.

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The best example of such is Duke Nukem Forever, whose development was marred by lawsuits, layoffs, and the changing of hands between studios over the course of 14 years. The record-setting development time did nothing to better the game, overall. The overwhelming negative reception it garnered led to sales that barely amounted to half of what its publisher had hoped for, and there hasn’t been a new Duke Nukem game since. Perhaps Duke Nukem had been seen as a product of the 90’s--a franchise better left in the past--yet, publisher Gearbox is still re-releasing older games for new audiences on modern platforms, showing that there’s still a desire within the fans to experience the series. Regardless, Duke Nukem as a franchise hasn’t seen a new entry in nearly a decade now, and if the impossible happens and Gearbox does announce a new game, then people will directly compare it to Forever’s reception and infamy right from the start; the predecessor’s turbulent development will loom over the new one's production, from start to finish. At that point, is it even worth trying again?

“Bad” games don’t always kill a series, though. Following upon Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door was Super Paper Mario, which attempted to take the turn-based battle system from the previous game, and eschew it in favor of trying something new while still retaining certain elements to reflect the series’ RPG roots. Critically, this change was lamented, but it didn’t prevent other aspects of the game, such as its writing, from being thoroughly enjoyed. What didn’t happen to attain as much success was the next game, Paper Mario: Sticker Star.

Tanabe: Aside from wanting us to change the atmosphere a lot, there were two main things that Miyamoto-san said from the start of the project—"It's fine without a story, so do we really need one?" and "As much as possible, complete it with only characters from the Super Mario world.

Iwata: That's a difficult task. In some ways that would be the exact opposite direction from recent games in the series.

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Where The Thousand Year Door and Super had featured lengthier, more intricate narratives, Shigeru Miyamoto believed that neither it nor the established turn-based battle system were needed when it came to the Paper Mario series going forward. As such, the following game, Sticker Star, utilized no experience points, partners, or standard attacks, and had a very traditionally “Mario” story. Not only did it go against what fans were hoping for and expecting, but many also believed that it took away the exact elements that were the core of Paper Mario. The game did sell well, surpassing both the original Paper Mario and The Thousand Year Door, though it could be argued that most of those sales were a result of the success of the formula that fans had come to enjoy from past titles, rather than the drastic changes drawing in new players to the series.

Four years later, another Paper Mario was on the way, and some fans eagerly expected a return to form--a form that hadn't been seen since 12 years at that point. Others, however, felt burned by the previous title being such a departure from the established series so far, and would not trust any marketing until the game was fully released. In trying to “freshen” the series up, or attempt to make newer games stand out from older ones, Paper Mario had lost its identity, and more importantly, lost what players had loved about the series originally. Clearly, Nintendo still sees value in the franchise, but even after the release of Paper Mario: The Origami King, and though the series is still active, rampant debate rings out as the divided fanbase argues whether or not it’s worth the effort and time to pin their hopes “on the next game” being closer to the older ones, yet again.

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Another series that still sees active development, yet has completely changed from what it used to be is Fallout. Originally existing as a classic turn-based RPG, it then evolved into a first-person action RPG, and most recently, it took those elements and became a pseudo-MMORPG. Players who may have enjoyed the initial Fallout games for their story and writing first and foremost might have potentially lost interest when Bethesda took over and turned the series into something more commonly described as “Elder Scrolls, but with guns”, or even a battle royale. Even when the original developers returned to the series for Fallout: New Vegas, it was still drastically changed from what it once was. Each of the Fallout games are popular in some way, even Fallout 76, and they all have their respective fans, but with each game being somewhat of a departure from the last, you can never be sure that the next Fallout will be something that you’ll certainly enjoy. The dialogue-heavy, meticulous problem-solving days of the franchise have long since passed, and not even its IP holder seems quite sure where to take the series next.

Sometimes, it's best to simply accept the end of a franchise, too. Mass Effect was one of the most talked-about action RPGs throughout the lifespan of the Xbox 360, and later the PlayStation 3. Though the trilogy finished with Mass Effect 3, closing the book on Commander Shepard's story, developer Bioware wasn't done with Mass Effect just yet. A few short years after the release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Mass Effect: Andromeda was revealed to the public; a brand new, next-generation entry into the popular series. What could possibly go wrong? Well, going by the game's launch reception, quite a lot. The experience being rife with bugs and glitches was only a small problem, when you put everything into perspective. Bioware had zombified its own creation by reviving it, despite wrapping up everything in the previous game. Though some things had been fixed post-launch, the damage was already done, as the game had reached meme-status across the internet. Something had changed, and the magic that had been previously captured could not be re-created.

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At the end of the day, we, the gamers, are unable to do much but merely wait, and see what the industry has in store for us. Where we actively await the release of Metroid Prime 4 while trying to forget the confusing and disappointing missteps of Metroid Prime: Federation Force, or hope that each delay of Cyberpunk 2077 helped push the game towards its hyped-up greatness, or even dare begin to even think that the next Sonic the Hedgehog game might possibly be fun.
 

Silent_Gunner

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I find myself doing a lot of waiting nowadays. There's so many games I want to play, yet the time and energy simply isn't there, and nowadays, given that I experience a loss of the latter from the time spent working my ass off throughout the week, I simply can't have as much hype for new game releases like I used to.
 

Retroboy

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Nintendo had some franchises, but they have killed every single one of them to create more Mario games.
And when they started been cheap and had to sell its best studio, to then continue been cheap and recycling the same old shit.

I just wish nintendo would aod off over hyping old hardware with gimmicks and keep promising better support and what we get is crap from years ago they missed out on due to cheap old hardware.

Im confident as soon as ps5 and xbxsx comes out Nintendo will back track and say the switch is now replacing the 3ds and theyll release a home console subpar to the ps4/xbx1, but will still lack to run anything ps5/xbxsx, or a dumbed down port.

Then 3rd parties will drop support for its new big aaa titles because its not making a profit.

Im sure they do it on purpose so it leaves the market open for its recycled crap and limits competition.
 
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64bitmodels

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if youre going to lump mass effect in there you might as well lump in all of the other 360 exclusives that went to shit after a few games
Gears of War, Halo, and dead rising all come over to say hi.
 
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MohammedQ8

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I really miss shadow hearts series the third one killed it.

Paper Mario 1,2 and 3 were very good and the last one I bought was on 3ds because it got worse. I never liked mario and luigi as much.

Tales of games battle systems are getting worse in every new release in my opinion.

I finished all mass effect games but didn’t finish the 4th one because it was boring and different.

Square enix is making alot of 2d in 3d like worlds/ tiny 3d characters with far camera these days unlike ps2 days true 3d rpgs.

Final fantasy games changed alot and the last good one was Final fantasy 12 but to be honest I reached the final boss without knowing I am in the end hehe (I didn’t feel it).
 
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Coyote_Mao

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That Miyamoto quote, tell that to No Man's Sky.....
He's right though. Despite No Man's Sky massive progress, there will always be people regarding it as a failed product and it's unlikely to generate the amount of dough it could've if it originally released in its current polished state.
 

Hqnders

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On the topic of simply accepting the death of a franchise, I'm assuming Dragon Age IV will be stillborn. With everything that's been happening at Bioware during the development of Anthem, I don't have any hope left of that franchise getting another entry as good as Origins.

And although it will most likely never happen, I'd love to see Konami sell the Metal Gear license. With Metal Gear Survive as their latest work, I can't see them treating that franchise well in the future.
 

Costello

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I'm not ready to accept that the Mass Effect franchise is dead. :(
Andromeda wasn't even that bad (admittedly, I did play it a year after original release so the game was already all patched up)
I mean they could give it one more try with a better polished game and a story somewhat closer to the original. I'd gladly pay $70 on a preorder for that.

On a side note, what's going on with The Elder Scrolls.
1 (Arena): 1994
2 (Daggerfall): 1996 - two years later
3 (Morrowind): 2002 - six years later
4 (Oblivion): 2006 - four years later
5 (Skyrim): 2011 - five years later
---- Skyrim special edition: 2016
---- Skyrim VR: 2017
---- Skyrim Switch: 2017
---- Skyrim fridge: 2018
etc.

It's been 9 years since Skyrim and nothing really new on the horizon. I know they're working on it but it doesn't seem like development will start until after Starfield is released, which takes us several more years in the future.
 
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Pokemon_Tea_Sea_Jee

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I liked the original concept reveal trailer of Kingdom Hearts 3.

I havent played the real game that was released. It looks passable but not the quality I'd expect from a KH3. And the intro song is horrible. Skrillex? EeEeew.
 
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