Welcome back to AVQ&A (Gameological edition), where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s question is something of a follow-up to our last Q&A about in-game pop culture, and it comes from our own John Teti: Most of the time, when a video game is successful—artistically or commercially—we start anticipating the sequel. But once in a while, you play a game that feels truly finished, one that doesn’t cry out for a follow-up. You play it, you love it, and when you’re done, you’re content to say “one is enough.” Whether it ended up getting a sequel or not, what’s your favorite “one is enough” game?
[Note: A handful of these answers discuss specific plot details of the games at hand, including The Banner Saga, Mass Effect 3, Red Dead Redemption, The Last Of Us, and the first season of The Walking Dead. —ed.]
I’m so wary of bad endings and worse sequels that most times, I’d prefer no resolution at all. Case in point: The Banner Saga. Thematically, this game is everything I could want: fierce Vikings, horned giants, a mysterious and implacable enemy, a world-devouring serpent, dead gods. It’s like the Edda filtered through the lens of The Oregon Trail. As you probably figured, The Banner Saga is designed to be the first chapter in a saga. The ending of the first game, though, is kind of perfect in its beautifully abject hopelessness. The powers of good are routed. The game’s most courageous character—a young girl—is floating on a funeral pyre under the stars. Any victory hereafter will be pyrrhic, at best. All of the sacrifices and difficult decisions you’ve made to that point have been in vain. That I don’t want matters to go past this point shouldn’t be taken as criticism of the game’s creators, who I’m sure will do it justice in the coming sequels. Sometimes I wish endings were left more dark and ambiguous. Just think of how much better Mass Effect 3 would have been if the game just faded to black immediately after Shepard led his suicidal charge into the Reaper base.
I really, really hope that whatever sequel rumors are floating around about The Last Of Us are just that—rumors. That zombie-beating, shiv-wielding game was nearly perfect in my eyes and ended not by focusing on the world’s end times but on the two characters we’d spent so much time with, Joel and Ellie. But even though I loved that game to pieces, I want no more. Good things end. When I’m in the middle of something, I can’t appreciate how good it is. It’s only after the fact, reflecting, that I realize it’s good. Think about that guy or girl who stuck around your college town for five years going to house parties. They most likely weren’t happy. College is a fun experience because it’s fleeting, and you make the most of the time you have. In the case of Joel and Ellie, I’ve been told a succinct, moving story, and adding more would either deflate the power of the first game’s small moments or ruin the goodwill Joel has built up as one-half of the staunchly flawed protagonist team. There are plenty of ways to get folks to shoot zombies point-blank with a shotgun without jumping back into The Last Of Us. Now, if we’re talking about something where the sequel will have a different cast and story but be helmed by the same developers, that’s something I could potentially get behind—a new chance to care about new people who just so happen to like shivving.
If Fez II happened, I would be first in line to play it. But Fez II is dead, and I’m okay with that, too. When I finished the original, I had no inkling of (or pressing desire for) a sequel. Fez makes sense as a singular curio, sitting by itself on the imaginary game shelf in my head. I loved poring over the pretty little details of its floating islands and filling my notebook with guesses about the strange symbols that pop up all over the place. The whole game was an ongoing process of discovery, and although I might hope otherwise, I know that a sequel would be unlikely to match that exploratory feeling. I say this with the knowledge that Fez was inspired in part by Myst—which instills a similar thrill of discovery—and that the makers of Myst had no trouble topping themselves with their follow-up. But Fez is a simpler, more naïve beast than Myst, and I fear that it would inevitably end up being too much of a retread. Maybe that’s why Phil Fish, Fez’s developer, decided to cut the sequel project short. Or maybe it really was just a huge temper tantrum he threw after a Twitter fight.
If there’s one game on my shelf that I always wanted to stand on its own, it would be de Blob on the Wii. Everything about that game was so comforting, from its pace and tone to its scope and music. You can burn through each level quickly or dive in for hours, exploring and experimenting and generally just enjoying the landscape. I replay the entire game once or twice a year and encourage friends and family to play the early stages as often as I can. And yet, despite owning three copies of de Blob 2, I have yet to revisit the sequel since my first play-through. The sequel was more colorful and offered more levels and special powers, but the second game lacked the joie de vivre that kept me so content to stay in the original’s world. Plus, we already beat this bad guy; why are we doing it again? I suppose the same could be said for Mario’s eternal struggle against Bowser, but while Mario’s strength lies in excitedly running through dangerous environments, de Blob’s strength lies in taking those hazards and transforming them into a serene place to relax. Why would we ever want to leave?
Anthony John Agnello
As cynical as the video game business sequel machine is, I actually like the opportunities offered by sequels for serialization, anthologizing, or refinement. I want more Mega Man because I want new levels with new traps and new characters to rip the weapons out of. I want more Final Fantasy because I like that each new one merely revolves around an ethos rather than a strict template to be repeated. Nier, one of my favorite games released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, doesn’t lend itself to any of those things. You wander around this empty fantasy landscape slowly hitting what looks like walking TV static with a spear, and sometimes, you jump over stuff. But the smarmy talking book that follows you everywhere and a mentally unstable hermaphrodite are just two of the indelible characters that make the dull action worth enduring. The game creates a perfect closed loop out of their stories. Finishing the game once only reveals one aspect of the full story, and truncated replays on the same file reveal more about not just allies, but also the monsters you’ve been fighting. Plenty of games are livelier than Nier, but few are as complete.
I had a creative writing professor in college who once said something to the effect of “good endings often allow you to guess what will happen afterward without spelling it out.” For me, no video game has better illustrated this point than Red Dead Redemption. A few hours before the credits roll on Rockstar’s Western, the character you’ve been playing as up until that point—a reformed outlaw named John Marston—is double-crossed by government agents that had hired him to kill his former comrades. Red Dead Redemption then drags this twist out and jumps ahead a few years to show how Marston’s death affected his son, Jack, who has gone from a naïve young bookworm to the angst-ridden spitting image of his father. The rest of the game tasks you with murdering the men who betrayed John Marston, and it abruptly ends once they’re all dead. There’s no heroic fanfare, just melancholy. Rockstar doesn’t do too many direct sequels, but if the studio ever made a Red Dead Redemption 2 that followed Jack Marston, it would be a waste of a great ending. We know Jack is never going to become a writer now. He’s going to be an outlaw like his father, and he’s probably going to die horribly like his father. The cycle of violence will go on. Even if the creators made another Red Dead that deals with completely new characters, it’s hard to imagine they could hit on a story as tragic as this one, so I hope they leave the Marstons dead and depressed. They’re more interesting that way.
A part of me is glad that Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros’ Treasure never got a follow-up. It’s not that I think that any attempt to recapture the game’s jubilant approach to puzzle-solving would end badly. It probably would have been great. But because Zack & Wiki never cropped up again in a diminished form, the original gets to stand in my mind as its own experience. It took critical thinking instead of twitchy reflexes to play through, which made it great to play in a group. It was the perfect game for me and my ragtag band of new friends to play in our first year of college. It never felt like anyone was actually holding the controller. We were collaborating our way through the puzzles, like a finely tuned machine made of dorks. In an alternate world where enough angsty freshmen heard the good word and bought the game, I see my friends reconvening a few years later for the sequel, thinking we could recapture that joy. But it’s almost painful to imagine us losing interest halfway through a lackluster retread. It feels good knowing our shared memory never got trampled on.
I have a great deal of love and respect for Telltale’s 2012 adaptation of The Walking Dead, but I wouldn’t set foot in that world again for all of the gasoline in Georgia. It’s partly because the game did a great job of closing the book on zombie-apocalypse survivor Lee Everett, the criminal who found redemption as the protector of 8-year-old Clementine. But mostly it’s because The Walking Dead is too emotionally exhausting. The decisions it asked me to make almost never had right answers, but they did have near-term life-and-death consequences that left me literally shaken. It turns out this type of storytelling is incredibly engaging. As Lee, I wasn’t just surviving with a small group of allies, but I had accidentally hurt and even killed them. I was invested in seeing us through and somehow finding forgiveness for my wrongs. But when the story ended and I was able to take off that mantle of leadership, it was too heavy to put on again. The first few episodes of the sequel are out now. I’m sure they’re incredible, and I wish Clem all the best. But I can’t help her anymore. I’m not strong enough.