Every year in recent memory has felt like a sequel to the last. Literally, of course, in that time marches ever forward, but also thematically, if the real world can be said to have a theme. New year, same topics. We’re in year three of a sustained pandemic, capitalism continues to ruin everything, and every week is a fresh deluge of news about exploitation in the gaming industry. So what better topic for this cheery occasion of turning over the calendar than sequels?

Gut-check time: favorite video game sequel?

Emily Durham: My initial gut check without thinking too hard: Dishonored 2! It took the innovative parts of the original Dishonored (mechanics, level design, sneakery) and improved so dramatically on other aspects (*cough cough*, the writing). And the Clockwork Mansion level? *chef’s kiss*

Also, obviously Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Melissa Brinks: Portal 2! A near-perfect expansion on the first.

Zainabb Hull: Okay, full transparency, I spent a lot of time in my head about this question, partly because I suddenly couldn’t remember any sequels I like enough to call my favourite, and partly because, like, what is a sequel? I feel like the correct answer is a game that continues on a story from the last one, but what about subsequent games in a series that aren’t tied to the previous title’s narrative, like Crusader Kings 3 or Dragon Quest VIII?

I think both types of “sequel” count, but it does mean that there are a lot of games to choose from, and I got a bit existential about not knowing what my favourite game is any more. At one point I would have said Mass Effect 2, and I spend a lot of time with The Sims 4, but honestly, I can’t think of a sequel that resonates enough for me to call it my favourite right now.

Cress: Ah it’s hard to pick! I’m gonna be old and say Dark Cloud 2. It improved on a lot of the mechanics of the predecessor and has more compelling protagonists. Also for a more current pick: Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. People are just mean about it but it was a lot of fun. It pushed me to put away the shield and two-hand wield a katana. My DEX build didn’t seem as bad back then, haha.

Also Mother 3. The series is so, so wholesome and beautiful and a lot of our fave indie hits are directly inspired from these games. The only way to play it is through a fan translation because it was never released outside of Japan. Shigesato Itoi blessed the fan port so just play it and pick up something from the Hobonichi store to support him.

A screenshot of Mother 3 (Brownie Brown, HAL Laboratory, Nintendo, 2006) showing a cast of characters having a meal together outside in a pixelated art style.

Michelle Caldeira: You know, I’m thinking about this and I realise that, although I do have an answer in mind, it’s not really a sequel in the traditional sense. What makes a sequel… well, a sequel? It continues the story, it advances the characters, right? And yet, the obvious answer for me is Sonic Adventure 2, a game that has very little to do with Sonic Adventure. They have vastly different stories, gameplay styles, and even basic differences in game mechanics. They share voice actors, a 3D perspective, and a focus on treasure hunting and speed gameplay, but there’s little direct connection between the two. So while Sonic Adventure 2 is one of my favorite video game sequels of all time, I wonder if it’s fair to call it a “sequel.”

I also want to throw my hat in the ring for Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, which was made by a different studio than the original and a different genre entirely. While the first game is a Zelda clone in an overhead style, Soul Reaver is in 3D and drew many comparisons to Tomb Raider. Unlike Sonic Adventure 2, though, Soul Reaver does directly continue the first game’s story. So, is a sequel that doesn’t advance the story or characters but shares gameplay and engine “more valid” than a sequel that completely revamps the gameplay but continues the narrative?

What makes a sequel good? What do you want to see carried over? What do you want to see left behind?

Melissa: I think it depends what kind of game we’re talking about. I think Portal 2 is a great mixture of both a story expansion—we have the origins of GLaDOS and Chell alongside the history of Aperture Science—and mechanical improvements. Honestly, Portal is probably my favorite game and I was fully prepared for Portal 2 to not live up to it. It didn’t, in the sense that Portal is still my favorite game, but the sequel builds on what came before without reinventing the wheel. You like to go fast through a hole? Great, now you can go fast through a hole differently. You like snarky robots? Well, now your snarky robot has an enemy. You like catchy music? Have a whole goddamn opera song. It’s really just playing on more of the same while leaving unanswered questions, which, honestly, is perfect to me.

Zainabb: I agree with Melissa that it depends on the game, but generally I think sequels should try to improve on key mechanics or systems, and further develop whatever narrative elements they’re pulling across, whether that’s a game world or plot or specific characters. Even though, like many, I wasn’t super impressed with Dragon Age II‘s gameplay, I loved how the game deepened my understanding of Thedas. Similarly, although there’s little direct narrative continuity between installments of the Elder Scrolls series, the references in the background to politics or events from the previous title help make the world more immersive.

I’m personally less interested in brand new mechanics unless they provide a functionality that felt missing from the previous game; give me improvements and upgrades instead! I also get very frustrated when sequels don’t do better on issues of representation or inclusion when the developers have been provided with that feedback (looking at you, Horizon Forbidden West).

Cress: If it’s choosing to carry on a narrative, I want to see that the lessons learned for our protagonists carry over to the next game. If some earth-shattering event happened at the end of the previous game, how is the world recovering? What are our heroes doing to mend the world? I’d pay good money for a game that lets me play through the healing after the end. Too many sequels tend to add a new random element to overcome instead of us dealing with life after the final cosmic battle.

Final Fantasy X-2 kinda does that, but it fast-forwards past Yuna’s time after the final battle in Final Fantasy X and now she’s doing musical gigs. I don’t want to begrudge her doing what she wants—Yevon knows the girl needs it. I just wasn’t as sold on the silly elements bumping into the political ones.

What game do you want to see have a sequel that doesn’t have one?

Emily: Inscryption… Stardew Valley… Machinarium

Melissa: I don’t mean to be a parody of myself but the answer to this question is also Portal 2. Two great games is simply not enough for me!

Zainabb: I would absolutely play a Folklore sequel.

Cress: Night in the Woods! Doesn’t have to be the same cast, just need more of that vibe, ya know?

Michelle: Half-Life 3. All jokes aside, I’m going to be kinda controversial and say Balan Wonderworld. At this point, it doesn’t look like it’ll ever get picked up for anything. The dev team disbanded, the big name attached to it went to jail, and the game was style over substance—in fact, it was the internet’s punching bag for an entire year but… you know what, I enjoyed it. I didn’t think it was good or even average. It felt dated in all the worst ways but that was kind of what I wanted. Just an average PlayStation 1 or Dreamcast-era type of game.

Besides, I could point to great games killed by publishers or improperly marketed, or cult classics that were amazing but we never got more of, but video games are the only medium where sequels are generally better than the original. And doesn’t a bad game with potential deserve a second chance more than a great game that did what it set out to do perfectly, and the only complaint people have is “I wish there was more”?

What sequel do you wish never happened?

Emily: I’ll say it: Monster Prom 2: Monster Camp was not fun. The intro questions pigeonholed you into wooing one character from the very beginning, unlike the first game’s more fluid dating schema, and you had very little control over how much your predetermined beloved would react to the few choices you were allowed to actually make. I do think they redeemed themselves with Monster Prom 3: Monster Roadtrip, though.

A screenshot from Monster Prom 2: Monster Camp (Beautiful Glitch, 2020). A skeletonesque monster talks to another character in a tatty bear costume. The skeleton is saying, "Oh, how cute! I'm loving the new getup, Coach. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have! <3"

Melissa: You know, I think I’ve been relatively blessed in that games I like have largely had okay to good sequels. Sure, you’ve got your Mass Effect 3s, but I thought the backlash to that one was seriously overhyped (90% of it is a pretty good game with some EA-induced bullshit; I’m not going to complain about the ending feeling rushed when I had like 60 good hours). Initially, I thought Love Island: The Game 2, which does away with everything that made the first one so surprisingly good in favor of… I don’t even know what. But then I thought about how annoying Love Island: The Game 2 was and how it’s absolute chaotic drama at every moment and you know what? I like it. It’s not good, but I liked it.

Zainabb: Easily Uncharted 2. Preferably Uncharted 1 as well, to be honest.

Cress: Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. It added random elements, had new characters that feel out of place, and you only get to partner up with the old heroes temporarily! There are the elements of sorting out the two worlds that have combined, but it feels like that part gets bogged down by an unforced error of a plot point where the main protagonist, Emil, thinks Lloyd from the first game killed his family. I really wanted to like the game but I felt like I was watching a bottle episode of Grey’s Anatomy amongst the backdrop of a much more interesting world.

Michelle: It’s not technically a video game sequel but Final Fantasy: Advent Children. This movie started a trend where Cloud is portrayed as “emo” or moody, something that’s become a meme among Final Fantasy fans. Given the trauma Cloud went through, I can’t say it isn’t a valid or even a realistic interpretation of the character, but when he’s portrayed simply as the “sad boy,” we forget about 90% of his characterization.

If I had to pick an actual video game, I think Infamous Second Son, although not for the reasons you might think. Mechanically, it might be superior to the earlier titles in the series, but it also invalidates the canon (and emotionally impactful) ending of Infamous 2. In order to provide a sequel where you can play with more cool superpowers, Second Son retcons all of your decisions, struggles, and sacrifices from the last two games. It just feels like a slap in the face.

A whole bunch of sequels were announced in 2022. Which upcoming sequel, whether recently announced or old news, are you most/least excited for?

Melissa: I have, like, zero hope that Dragon Age: Dreadwolf is going to come out this year and even less hope that it’s going to blow my mind because hi, I’m the Solas hater, but honestly? I can’t wait to be fucking insufferable again. I love Dragon Age.

Zainabb: I love Dragon Age too! And although I won’t play it myself, I’m also pretty excited to watch much braver people playing through Alan Wake 2.

Emily: I’m unabashedly a Solas lover, so Missy, when Dreadwolf does end up coming out (whenever that is), I’ll be really interested to hear how you feel about it!!

Hollow Knight: Silksong is also allegedly being released in 2023, so when that day comes, I’ll be dropping everything to get to know my beloved Hornet better.

Cress: I’m so excited for Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom! I’m over the moon any time I get floating islands to explore!