Gaming Journal: Should I Start a Series From the Beginning?
Where to begin is a question many gamers ask themselves
It’s always the same feeling, and it always comes up the same way. Most recently, I was coming home after a perfectly ordinary work day, drained a little from the commute but excited at the limitless possibilities of what I could do with the rest of my evening. So naturally, I immediately flopped belly up on the couch with a controller and settled on playing some video games. Having owned many PlayStations in my lifetime I somehow still get distracted by the store as if some Sony marketing team member knew the best place to put it on the home screen to coax me into buying more video games.
My roommate struts in at this exact moment 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 gonna get it?” I think for a second, that’s a part of the Yakuza franchise right? I’ve never played any of those games but I’ve always heard incredible things about how fun they are. “Yea I might, but I think I want to play the other ones first so that I play them in order.” This phrase spirals me down an insane thought path where I am researching how to best play a series of 100+ hour action-adventure games. As with most video game series, this could be so easily found with the simplest Google search.
Rock Paper Shotgun came up with the top results, but many outlets had the exact same article. Screen Rant, Digital Trends, Dual Shockers, Gaming Dope, Play PC, Dot Esports, and so many more give answers as to how to play a series in which the correct order to play them is to just read the number in the title of each game. It’s always the same feeling, wanting to jump into a franchise but feeling like I need to start from the beginning. I wonder why I felt like going back was necessary. As I shook the idea of playing 1000+ hours of Yakuza games, I took inventory of all these articles on the subject. There must be tons of people looking 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 at the very beginning? I don’t have studies to prove that a great many people face the same anxieties as me, but here is my experience and hopefully it proves helpful to people that get stressed when faced with the desire to start from the beginning.
There is a large community around content creators who frame their whole content model based on the completion of a video game. There are many easily identifiable reasons why somebody in that position would binge entire series of games to write a twenty-minute video on if it was worth it. As a writer, I want to believe that the main reason other creators do this is for the credibility that it gives them. It can make them feel like more of a specialist on the matter and warrant the video or article's existence. “Mortismal Gaming” is a good example, a creator who writes reviews only after finishing a game all the way to 100%. He admits at the beginning of most videos that he does this because it gives him some credibility over other channels and makes his opinion more unique, and he's correct. My main motivator in watching his videos along with other creators that put long hours into research is that I don’t have the stamina to do it myself.
Pathologic Classic is a miserable slog that combines terrible combat with boring travel and punishing choices and consequences. Pathologic Classic also features a brilliant story encased in Russian prose that feels ancient and mystical. In Hbomberguy’s brilliant recap of the Pathologic experience, “Pathologic is Genius, And Here’s Why” he says that he is playing this so that we don’t have to. I think that mentality is why I and others watch analyses on difficult or long gaming sessions. Heck, it’s how I would frame my own writing if I ever had the endurance to ever play an entire series of anything.
So, it has become clear why creators would binge an entire series, but what about the average gamer like you and I? What do we stand to gain from dumping our well-earned free time into an activity that would likely take months? I believe that there are a few things that trigger the want 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 that we have either become experts on or have played over and over just for the fun of revisiting it. For me, that series is Kingdom Hearts. When I really like a new game I always think that maybe I can become as excited about something new as I did growing up with Kingdom Hearts. I can only become that level of fan again if I start from the beginning and play everything that this world has to offer. That’s the initial thought process, but it’s not factual.
My favorite RPG of recent years is Dragon Quest XI. I thought for a long time that I needed to force my way through the first ten Dragon Quest games in order to fully call myself a fan. I never got close to completing this goal but nevertheless, I would call myself a Dragon Quest fan that eagerly awaits the next entry in the series. I chase the excitement of being completely immersed in every inch of a world while also fighting the impostor syndrome that comes with wanting to have merit as a fan, the same way a content creator might want to add merit to their videos. The only difference is that the average gamer does not have to prove to anyone that they are a fan of anything, they can just like what they like.
I have more surface-level concerns with skipping entries in a series. Players want to experience the events of the story in chronological order. This makes sense: beginning to end is a way that most people prefer to view a story. I struggle with the idea of skipping around all the time, but I was able to move away from that mentality by seeing a series of games as a series of snapshots viewable in any order. The existence of prequels and nonlinear stories makes this easier to wrap my head around. I started the Uncharted series with the third game. It is brilliant by itself and the ending had me itching to go back and see how all these characters met. This effectively turned the first two games of the series into prequels in my head, releasing me from the mindset of having to experience this story front to back.
The opposite happened to me while playing Arkham Knight. The final Batman game by Rocksteady was brimming with characters and stories that I was just now coming into without context, and in other games, this may have bothered me. But the fact that they were part of a world that I was familiar with already from movies and that the written conclusions to all these stories were so amazing made the experience much more palpable than I had thought it would be. I have no desire to go back and play Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, and that’s okay too.
Another surface-level concern: will I get used to better game mechanics and not want to return to the older entries in the series? Assassin’s Creed is the center of this argument for me, and, I would wager, many others as well. The third game was my entry point to the series, and while I had heard great things about the Ezio trilogy, I found their dated climbing mechanics and user interface stopped me from wanting to finish them. I always blamed it on the fact that I was just spoiled by the polished mechanics introduced in the newer games. It bugged me for a long time that I was unable to get a big picture of that huge Templar storyline and the life of Ezio which many fans have expressed to me is their favorite chapter in the series. But at the end of the day, it never stopped Assassin’s Creed III from being one of my favorite open-world games on the PlayStation 3.
The progression of time and technology can be a hindrance visually as well. Ratchet & Clank is one of my favorite series of all time, but I didn’t own a PlayStation 3 at the time Tools of Destruction was released. When I finally got around to filling in that gap, I found the art style and some of the physics lacked the charm of the originals and failed to capture the technological marvels of the games that were released after it. I might have finished the game had I been keeping up with the series when it was released, but I missed my opportunity.
I may be the only person to think about these things as I search for new games today. I always wonder if it’s too late to enjoy the newest game even if I hadn’t looked at the rest of the series. But working through all of these thoughts helped me realize that the order in which we consume content doesn’t, or at least shouldn't, matter. Like A Dragon: Ishin! doesn’t even have Yakuza in the name of the game anymore.
Due to the time commitment involved with a gaming hobby, the time you choose to dedicate to certain games is precious. Whether you want to use it playing every Metal Gear game or watching a guy quickly explain to you who Revolver Ocelot is so that you can jump into Metal Gear Solid V is up to you. Most importantly, you should spend that time doing whatever is the most fun for you because our time is not endless. Maybe you find your Kingdom Hearts, that envelopes you into its world, making you want to experience every chapter in order. Or maybe you find that maybe Devil May Cry V is really good and everyone should play it regardless of having experience with the PlayStation 2 entries.
As long as you’re having fun there’s no need to stress over the details.
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