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Kicking and Screaming - The Evolution of our Games

A conversation I had the other day with James Krummel got me thinking about the evolution of our beloved franchises. James and I (firstname basis because he played both PSO and Crystal Chronicles) had a bit of a nostalgia trip with a brief exchange regarding Phantasy Star Online, a game that is near and dear to my heart. Like a lot of games we have a burning passion for, its far from perfect, but they always have some sort of spark to them that allows us to love them despite their problems.

I will be the first to admit that Phantasy Star Online had its faults. The game itself was plodding and grindtastic. Your characters moved with the elegant grace of a jacknifed semi-truck. The targeting system was wonky. inventory management was a menu filled nightmare, and some of the missions were just broken. The story was equal parts enthralling and WTF, leaving you lots of room to fill in the blanks for yourself (I love you Red Ring Rico). Don't get me started on the level designs and sometimes-broken singleplayer missions.

But even as I list these glaring issues, I find this incredible itch to go boot up the game and warp back down to the surface of Ragol all over again. The rich and colorful world oozes polygonal character. Its upbeat and fun, with a great character creator and wonderfully interesting character designs. The weaponry was always exciting, and I still feel the thrum of adrenaline at the sight of a Red Box. I can see why they're going to do a symphony for the game's soundtrack, because it was truly wonderful... to the point where it is on every digital device I own.

Be still my heart.

But this got me thinking... PSO is not the be-all-end-all of the Phantasy Star Universe. Oh right, that's a game too. And then we have Phantasy Star Portable 1 and 2 that have come out for the PSP. And let us not forget Phantasy Star Zero on the DS! That was a thing.

And soon we're going to have PSO2! I am certainly excited. But despite the excitement there is something I have to understand...

This is going to be different.

Its not going to be the same game that I fell in love with so many years ago. But that's okay! Things change, they adapt, stuff happens. When Phantasy Star Universe came out, they addressed some of the issues of the PSO series, with characters being more responsive and such. The level designs, while still randomized, had a rather beautiful update. They also got a more 'focused' Single Player campaign, which was... well it happened. Ethan I still don't like you. No hard feelings.

Things changed! And when Phantasy Star Portable came out, they changed even more. Characters were faster, and weapons got unique and powerful abilities you could assign to them. The story dove deeper into anime levels of weird, and even more things changed.

These were all evolutions of the series, and like it or not, the problems of old were addressed. Sometimes new quirks and issues showed up to take their place, and sometimes you discovered something new you didn't realize you wanted. Despite all the shakeups, adjustments, and evolutions, I'm still a devout Phantasy Star fan... a rabid fan even. But I try not to let the fanboy in me take control and start making demands or expecting all the things that I loved should never be cut or changed. I for one, was a huge fan of the Hunter ID's, and I was sad to see them go as the series progressed and I lament their loss. But I hear they may be making a comeback...

Okay, so I used PSO as a really longwinded example, but it was this whole thought process that got me thinking about how we, as gamers, look at certain series and franchises and get incredibly critical of their evolution. Jet Set Radio morphing into Jet Set Radio Future was one that springs to mind. More mainstream, the changes and evolution of Tomb Raider are very obvious ones. HALO has slowly built up and adjusted itself from game to game, in terms of graphics and the changes to gameplay. Grand Theft Auto and Sainst Row have evolved in two wildly different directions for the same 'concept'.

What is interesting to me is how some gamers get left behind to hold onto their classics, hating the new because its not the old. Sometimes its because of the franchise changing horses in midstream, where an entirely different company is tasked with building the sequel/prequel/threequel whatever. Or maybe the publisher gets snapped up by a bigger fish and what made the game great gets gobbled up by a money-monster. Then there's always The Reboot, where someone feels they've taken the game as far as it can evolve and they need to push the reset button. Or when some new, fresh company decides to bring back some obscure title from our youth and doing... something with it.

We have the most recent fiasco with SimCity, where an old and loved franchise has been twisted into something most of us don't want to touch. I for one thought the game looked beautiful, but was kept away due to the Always Online stuff. It was like that really hot girl you used to know shows back up and she's like, "Oh but herpes."


The thing is, somewhere I feel that someone in the halls of Maxis might have really felt that the 'online' features of SimCity could have been good. Even now, I find myself playing multiplayer games far more than singleplayer campaigns. I've been playing League of Legends, delving into Mechwarrior Online, and fragging in Blacklight. Even when I boot up Mass Effect 3, it's go go play the multiplayer mode with my friends. So that's another way that popular series are changing, the addition of Multiplayer. Dead Space, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Assassin's Creed... all games that started off solo and that slowly added multiplayer additions. I'll let ya'll be the judge on how they did in the end.

But so it goes. Our games evolve, and series that we have loved change and grow. Even my favorite racing game Forza, got twisted into the Dudebro Forza Horizon. Resident Evil fans, well... chin up guys.

So what do you guys think? What needs a reboot or an upgrade? What do you think should be Hands-Off for all eternity and why? Is there a game that is so perfect to you that you don't think anything could be better?
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About The Steamdrivenone of us since 12:09 PM on 10.27.2011

Steam is a sometimes sober mechanic who enjoys no walks on the beach, writing, racecars, and most importantly video games. Sometimes when he's really lucky, he gets to mix all those things up! He also feels weird writing this in the third person.