The Only Thing Worse Than a Bad Game is a Neglected One
There are few worse fates for a game franchise than neglect. Even a poor conclusion seems like a kinder prospect: you at least have that sense of closure. A neglected series never truly goes away, always trapped between the possibilities of continuation or cancellation. There are countless reasons for why it might happen – financial difficulties, publishing struggles and so on – but it’s always difficult to see.
For the longest time, the Shenmue series was the poster child for neglected franchises. Although the first two games were fondly remembered by many, it would be well over a decade before production of the third game got underway. I still remember seeing the jubilation at its announcement, at the same show as its fellow missing-in-action title The Last Guardian. After so long, though, will it ever truly live up to the wistful hype surrounding it after so many years? Ideally, it would have been released soon after its predecessors.
Having never played Shenmue myself, its long stay in limbo was always a distant issue for me. More close to home was the abrupt disappearance of Capcom’s Breath of Fire series, a collection of loosely connected RPGs that began in the ’90s. Breath of Fire 4 has always been one of my favourite games, and I was unsurprisingly, a little upset when the series was quietly shelved after a fifth game on the PS2. All we’ve had since then is a mobile game that never made it out of Japan, and one member of staff at Capcom once referred to the series as a “resting IP”. Personally, I think this nap has lasted a little too long.
Neglect is a funny thing. It doesn’t always mean you’ve just left something on the shelf to collect dust. Take Silent Hill, for example. I was always more of a Resident Evil fan, but there’s no denying that Silent Hill got tense horror just right. It’s rare for every game in a series to receive stellar reviews, but Silent Hill managed it – for a while. After a few excellent games – three or four, depending on who you ask – then came the ports, the spin-offs and the prequels, few of which were well-received. The most recent attempt at revitalising the series, Silent Hills, managed to get a demo out before being abruptly cancelled.
Publishers loaning out their IPs to third-party developers is nothing new. As with successive Silent Hill games, Capcom also tried it with Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and DmC: Devil May Cry, to mixed reception. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a new team put their spin on things. Innovation benefits us all. I do, however, believe that a respectful adherence to the source material (with help from its creators, ideally) is crucial to the success of outsource projects.
Neglect can also come from excess. As much as I have fun with them, I have to point the finger at Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series. There are eight main-series games so far, and many of those each have two spin-offs in the form of Xtreme Legends and Empires editions. I love them all, and I’ve been playing them for half of my life, but I feel like it would be better for everyone if the developers prioritised quality over quantity. Thankfully, the upcoming Dynasty Warriors 9 looks like the labour of love I’ve been waiting for. Fingers crossed!
A neglected game or series isn’t always terrible. I would much rather be playing a great game with an uncertain future than a terrible one. Despite how it meandered towards mediocrity, Silent Hill’s earliest instalments are still superb experiences even now. Breath of Fire’s future may look bleak, but that won’t stop me from going back to Breath of Fire 3 and 4 every couple of years.
I just wish more care would be taken during development. I don’t doubt that spending years developing a game is hard work, but it’s never easy seeing the games we love not getting the send-off they deserve.
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