Games that “don’t count” in a series

In almost any game system, series, or genre, there’s a game that people say “doesn’t count.”  It’s either a major outlier from the rest of the set, or it’s remarkably better or worse than other examples.  It may be a game that changes so much from the previous examples that it’s almost a new game. Of course, hyperbola is really easy in this kind of discussion, since hatred rarely appears mildly.  Some people claim that the NES Dragon Quest games show more of a “true” connection to the series, despite the dated nature of the games.  Some people claim that a lack of an explorable map makes Final Fantasy X not a RPG.  Now, of course, some of these arguments are simply fannish whining.  However, perhaps looking at two contested series might be interesting.

While this is a small screenshot of Chrono Trigger, you can see Akira Toriyama's distinctive style in the sprites.

Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross are set of games that tend to get powerful reactions.  Chrono Trigger was a once in a lifetime combination of a trendy artist (Akira Toriyama) and other top Square designers.  It was graphically gorgeous for the time, with some innovative features and a decent replay value.  However, the game had a fairly typical plot.  The sequel, Chrono Cross, was also amazingly attractive.  However, the game was almost completely different from the first game.  A small cast ballooned into a massive and poorly characterized cast. The plot went from simple to fairly complex.

Xenogears characters talking around a fire.

Xenogears and Xenosaga are another example of games that changed.  Xenogears had 2D graphics, and a long rambling unfinished story.  Xenosaga was 3D and had – some issues.  First of all, the game was not an explicit sequel to Xenogears, and it traded an angsty tortured hero for a bubbly young lady.  This meant that the plot, in every single scene had a different feeling than the first game.  Xenosaga had a simplified battle system and less focus on giant robots compared to the first game.  Without a great deal of music playing during the game, it was a very different game to explore.

The woman on the left is the heroine of Xenosaga. Her miniskirt uniform is typical on her ship, but it definitely is odd for a scientist working on robots for the military.

Now, you can argue that most of these games were “close” enough to their ancestors to be a continuation.  However, that ignores the primary reason why some people declare that the game isn’t part of the series.  In the case of Chrono Cross, you start with a plot that doesn’t quickly interconnect with the first game.  When you finally do find the connections to the first game, it comes accompanied with the realization that all the heroes are dead.  Of course, all fans of Chrono Trigger don’t necessarily love the plot, but killing the prequel’s heroes with a comedic villian of the first game is a rather cruel move.  In fact, Chrono Cross declares that all actions in the first game resulted in terrible suffering and despair.  Add in a vauge ending, and an awkward translation, and you have a plot that feels less polished than the first game. How is the translation awkward?  Due to space reasons, there is one set of dialouge for most scenes, and it’s simply pushed through a dialect filter for the characters.

So, ignore the plot and talk about the mechanics.  Where does the game break the connections for fans?  Chrono Cross kept the mostly non-random battle system like the first game, but it removed any benefits from grinding.  Yes, grinding is rarely fun, but Chrono Cross kept the amount of battles fairly typical, and your rewards from them almost minimal.  The masses of characters have very little distinguishing characteristics between them mechanically.  For the most part, you pick people based on elemental affinity rather than any specific abilities.  The first game had a cavewoman, a tomboy princess, an inventor, your hero, a cursed knight, a robot from the future, and one secret character.  For the most part, the most goofy characters were probably the cursed knight (since he looked like a frog,) a few attack animations, and some of the enemies.  Mostly this fit in with Akira Toryiama’s Dragon Ball like art style.  In the sequel, the art was super saturated water colors, and of the 45 playable characters, you can easily say that 18 of them are goofy in some manner.

Funguy in Chrono Cross, for example, may not add a somber tone to plot scenes.

So, how do you talk about a series with a contested example in it?  I suppose the best solution would be to explain what the game does well, and to also explain how the game falls apart in some fans’ eyes. In the case of Xenosaga and Chrono Cross, there was significant behind the scenes issues going on during production.  This probably changed the final game that people played.  For example, Chrono Cross originally had 64 playable characters.  With 45 in the actual game, you can see how things changed.   By paying attention to these changes in the game, you’re also narrowing what about the game that is important to you. If the quirky cast of 45 in Chrono Cross is much more important to you, then it’d probably be good to examine their charm.  If that same cast is repellent, then you might want to compare it to a game with a large cast that you do like.  And so on.

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