It’s always the same feeling, and it always comes out the same way. Most recently, I came home from an ordinary day at work, a little exhausted from the commute, but excited by the limitless possibilities of what I could do for the rest of my evening. So of course I immediately plopped my stomach on the couch with a controller and started playing some video games. Having owned many PlayStations in my life, somehow I still get distracted by the store, as if a member of Sony’s marketing team knew the best place to put it on the home screen to persuade me to read more buy video games.
Right at this moment, my roommate walks in and fuels my online shopping addiction by pointing out some good games he’s heard of. “Bro, Like A Dragon: Ishin! looks so good, are you going to get it? I think for a second, that’s part of the Yakuza franchise, right? I’ve never played any of those games, but I’ve always heard incredible things about how much fun they are. “Yes, you could, but I think I’d like to play the others first so I play them in order.” This sentence leads me on a crazy train of thought exploring how best to play a 100+ hour series of action-adventure games. As with most video game series, this can be found so easily with the simplest Google search.
Rock Paper Shotgun came up with the best results, but many outlets had the exact same item. Screen Rant, Digital Trends, Dual Shockers, Gaming Dope, Play PC, Dot Esports and many more provide answers on how to play a series, where the correct order to play them is simply by choosing the number in the title of each series game to read. It’s always the same feeling, wanting to jump into a franchise but feeling like I have to start from scratch. I wonder why I felt that going back was necessary. As I shrugged off the idea of playing over 1000 hours of Yakuza games, I took stock of all these articles on the subject. A lot of people must be searching for this information if it generates enough traffic to warrant every gaming outlet pumping out these articles. But does playing games in order matter? Why do I feel the need to start from scratch? I don’t have any studies to prove that loads of people face the same fears I do, but here’s my experience and hopefully it’s helpful to people who get stressed out when faced with the desire to start from scratch.
There is a large community around content creators who frame their entire content model around the completion of a video game. There are many easily identifiable reasons why someone in that position would binge a whole bunch of games just to write a twenty minute video about them if it were worth it. As a writer, I want to believe that the main reason other creators do this is because of the credibility it gives them. It may make them feel more of a specialist in this field and justify the existence of the video or article. “Mortismal Gaming” is a good example, a creator who writes reviews only after completing a game all the way to 100%. He admits at the beginning of most videos that he does this because it makes him more credible than other channels and makes his opinion more unique, and he’s right. My main motivation in watching his videos along with other creators who put in many hours of research is that I don’t have the stamina to do it myself.
Pathologic Classic is a miserable slog that mixes horrendous combat with boring travel and punishing choices and consequences. Pathologic Classic also features a brilliant story wrapped in Russian prose that feels ancient and mystical. In Hbomberguy’s brilliant summary of the Pathological experience, “Pathologic is Genius, And Here’s Why,” he says he’s playing this so we don’t have to. I think that mindset is why I and others look at analysis of difficult or long gaming sessions. Heck, it’s how I’d frame my own writing if I ever had the stamina to ever play an entire series of anything.
So it’s become clear why creators would binge an entire series, but what about the average gamer like you and me? What good is it to dump our well-earned free time into an activity that would probably take months? I believe there are a few things that trigger the desire to do this, even if we find ourselves unable to complete that task.
Most of us have a series or two of games that we follow religiously, something we’ve become experts at or played over and over just for the fun of revisiting. For me, that series is Kingdom Hearts. When I really like a new game, I always think that maybe I can get just as excited about something new as I did growing up with Kingdom Hearts. I can only get back to that level of fan if I start from the beginning and play everything this world has to offer. That is the first thought process, but it is not factual.
My favorite RPG of recent years is Dragon Quest XI. For a long time I thought I had to work my way through the first ten Dragon Quest games to call myself a full fan. I’ve never come close to completing this goal, but nonetheless I’d call myself a Dragon Quest fan eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series. I’m chasing the thrill of being fully immersed in every inch of a world while also battling the impostor syndrome that comes with wanting merit as a fan, much like a content creator wants to add merit to their videos. The only difference is that the average gamer does not have to prove to anyone that he is a fan of something, he can just like what he likes.
I have more superficial concerns about skipping items in a series. Players want to experience the events of the story in chronological order. This makes sense: beginning to end is one way most people prefer to see a story. I struggle with the idea of hopping all the time, but I was able to break away from that mindset by thinking of a series of games as a series of snapshots that can be viewed in any order. The existence of prequels and non-linear stories makes this easier to wrap my head around. I started the Uncharted series with the third game. It’s brilliant in its own right and the ending made me itch to go back and see all these characters meet. This basically turned the first two games of the series into prequels in my head, taking the mind off of having to experience this story from front to back.
The opposite happened to me while playing Arkham Knight. Rocksteady’s last Batman game was jam-packed with characters and stories that I just got into without context, and in other games this may have bothered me. But the fact that they were part of a world I already knew from movies and that the written conclusions of all these stories were so amazing made the experience much more tangible than I had imagined. I don’t feel like going back and playing Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, and that’s okay too.
Another superficial concern: will I get used to better game mechanics and not want to return to the older parts in the series? Assassin’s Creed is the center of this argument for me, and I bet many others too. The third game was my gateway to the series, and while I’d heard great things about the Ezio trilogy, I found their outdated climbing mechanics and UI kept me from finishing them. I used to blame it on just being spoiled by the polished mechanics introduced in the newer games. It bothered me for a long time that I couldn’t get a good sense of that huge Templar storyline and Ezio’s life, which many fans have told me is their favorite chapter in the series. Ultimately, though, it’s never stopped Assassin’s Creed III from being one of my favorite open-world games on the PlayStation 3.
The advancing time and technology can also be a visual hindrance. Ratchet & Clank is one of my all-time favorite series, but I didn’t have a PlayStation 3 when Tools of Destruction came out. When I finally got around to filling that gap, I noticed that the art style and some of the physics lacked the charm of the originals and didn’t capture the technological marvels of the games released after that. I might have finished the game if I had kept up with the series when it was released, but I missed my chance.
I may be the only person who thinks about these things as I look for new games today. I always wonder if it’s too late to enjoy the latest game, even if I hadn’t watched the rest of the series. But as I went through all these thoughts, I realized that the order in which we consume content doesn’t matter, or at least it shouldn’t. Like a dragon: Ishin! doesn’t even have Yakuza in the name of the game anymore.
Due to the time commitment involved in a gambling hobby, the time you spend on certain games is precious. Whether you want to use it to play every Metal Gear game or watch a guy quickly explain who Revolver Ocelot is so you can jump into Metal Gear Solid V, it’s up to you. The most important thing is that you should spend that time doing what you like most, because our time is not endless. You may find your Kingdom Hearts enveloping you in its world that makes you want to experience each chapter in order. Or you may find that Devil May Cry V might just be really good and everyone should play it regardless of experience with the PlayStation 2 assets.
As long as you’re having fun, don’t worry about the details.
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