In-world sequels and myth building

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In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Sonic# » Fri Jul 07, 2017 5:47 pm

A stray thought today led me to think about game series that rely on a recurring pattern of threat, and how the games and their sequels explain that threat. In other words, how do characters in a serial RPG world understand all the bad things that keep happening? How would the players understand it?

In the Genesis Phantasy Star games, the mythology builds up over time. Broad spoilers follow. In Phantasy Star 1, Alis and company fight to restore peace against the tyrannical King Lassic. His villainy doesn't quite add up, since he used to be a great king. It's only after defeating Lassic that the true puppetmaster is revealed - Dark Falz (Force). Phantasy Star 2 starts a thousand years later with an unknown environmental malady that turns out to be caused by Mother Brain. Again, she's a puppet to Dark Force. By Phantasy Star 4, anyone who has played the series knows that the subtitle "End of the Millennium" refers to some return of Dark Force. Zio's not the true enemy; Dark Force is. The characters endure the consequences of environmental degradation caused by the "Great Collapse," or the events of Phantasy Star 2. Characters recur: Noah appears in all three mentioned games, a kind of prophet or wise man who can explain the cause of current events. Allusions like this sustain a sense of continuity between the three games. Meanwhile, other patterns (like the existence of an "Alys" in PS4 resembling the "Alis" in PS1) appeal to players familiar with the series. The cumulative effect is to create a world that feels heavier and more substantial with each iteration.

Lunar has its own millennial pattern to it. One of the big appeals of Lunar 2 is playing through a world where I see the changes wrought after the action in Lunar 1 - fallen Vane, rusted Grindery, how Meribia has expanded, the shifting locations of the dragons. Another is the familiar patterns set in the first game, but now with added history and import: Hiro eventually seeking to become a Dragonmaster not because he always wanted to be one but because they need to challenge the power of the false Althena with the true powers of the world. Ghaleon again thwarts and frustrates players, but with some vital differences that become clear over the course of the story. Nall appears, weary after having lost dear friends again and again. Lunar 2's world is again deeper and heavier than its predecessor, with traditions and patterns that both stand on their own and build off of the previous game.

I find this really interesting to think about because it touches on one reason why I tend to like the world of game sequels more. Beyond any advances in graphics or battle systems, the sequels that build directly on the world of their predecessors feel multitonal. They frequently deal with inevitable consequences of actions like Luna deciding to rejoin humanity rather than remaining as Althena. They add more detail to my understanding of that world. It's why I like Chrono Cross at least as much as Chrono Trigger, for instance.

Thoughts? Games you also like because of how it handles the consequences of previous games?
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"Than seyde Merlion, "Whethir lyke ye bettir the swerde othir the scawberde?" "I lyke bettir the swerde," seyde Arthure. "Ye ar the more unwyse, for the scawberde ys worth ten of the swerde; for whyles ye have the scawberde uppon you, ye shall lose no blood, be ye never so sore wounded. Therefore kepe well the scawberde allweyes with you." --- Le Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory

"Just as you touch the energy of every life form you meet, so, too, will will their energy strengthen you. Fail to live up to your potential, and you will never win. " --- The Old Man at the End of Time

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Imperial Knight » Fri Jul 07, 2017 9:11 pm

A nice, albeit somewhat obscure, example would be the Langrisser series in its original iteration. The series consists of five games (not counting remakes and the like) spanning 1000 years, with a clear beginning and end (that is, Langrisser V was very intentionally set up to end the series) made during the 16 and 32-bit generations. Only the first game got an official North American release (under the title Warsong), while Langrisser II (along with its remake Der Langrisser) and Langrisser IV got complete fan translations. Langrisser III and Langrisser V have fan translated scripts, but not to my knowledge translation patches (aside from a partial Langrisser III patch). To make matters more complicated, although Career Soft (the developer) intended for the series to end with Langrisser V, they did not own the IP, so a number of "Langrisser" games have been made since then, including Langrisser Re:Incarnation Tensei for the 3DS, which actually got a North American release for no good reason (38.12% on Gamerrankings). As the scare quotes might suggest, I consider all of the post-Career Soft releases to be Langrisser in name only.

Anyway, with all that out of the way, I'll try to talk about how the series builds a mythology without getting too spoileriffic. The timeline is as follows

Langrisser III -- 600 years --> Langrisser/Warsong -- 200 years --> Langrisser II/Der Langrisser -- 200 years --> Langrisser IV and Langrisser V

Langrisser V takes place during the later stages and immediate aftermath of Langrisser IV (an idea Career Soft would later revisit with Growlanser II relating to the original Growlanser in a similar fashion). Certain elements recur throughout the series, mainly an ongoing war between Lushiris, the goddess of light, and Chaos, the god of darkness along with two swords "belonging" to each faction, Langrisser and Alhazard. Certain characters appear in every game, while much of the cast of Langrisser IV makes an appearance in Langrisser V.

There are a lot of neat touches in how the games remind you that they're all taking place on a world that's evolving and changing in between games and in building its mythology over time. One of the characters from the original Langrisser founds a kingdom that appears in Langrisser II and Langrisser V, while other kingdoms fall over time. For example, one of the battles in Langrisser II takes place in the ruins of a castle from the original Langrisser. The story of Langrisser IV is set in motion with the theft of a magical item created at the end of Langrisser II. Legends referred to in Langrisser and Langrisser II form the basis of Langrisser III's story, while Langrisser V ties everything together and explains just why crises seem to erupt every 200 years. Objects or events of seemingly minor importance in one game are revealed to have greater significance in later games, which can make it fun to revisit the old games with the knowledge of where it's all leading.

One issue Career Soft had to grapple with is how to tell a continuing story when the games have multiple endings. Both Der Langrisser and Langrisser IV have branching stories, and most games in the series have multiple character endings (the course of a character's life changes based on how much they accomplished in battle, a character who falls in battle too many times will usually be revealed to have died young, and from Langrisser III on the game incorporated a romance/relationship system). For plot branches they just chose a single branch as canon, effectively demoting the others to "what-ifs." Interestingly enough, the canon branch in Langrisser IV is actually pretty hard to unlock, as it requires the player to fulfill a large number of conditions. With the relationship system, the story in later games is set up not to address who, if anyone, the main characters from previous games ended up with.

All in all, it's a very good example of a series with a story spanning several games and a world that feels more fleshed out each time you revisit it.

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Kizyr » Sat Jul 08, 2017 4:51 am

To be honest the only game where I get this feeling is with Lunar. I've only played a bit of Phantasy Star (PS1 and half of PS2), and never Langrisser (though Alunissage if I recall is a major Langrisser fan -- would love to hear her thoughts to expand on this too).

...come to think of it, I'm not sure if there are very many game series I've even played that could fall into this category... I mean of the games I've played at least two of and that are part of a series (not counting nonsequential stuff like Legend of Zelda or Mario, or non-storyline stuff like Civilization):
- Final Fantasy: the games are intentionally unconnected to each other
- Mass Effect: the games occur directly after one another, so there's world-building but not in this sense
- Shining Force: oh... this might fit the bill

Ok so Shining Force... The jump from SF1 and SF2 is pretty small, and the storyline is kind of bare-bones such that it doesn't really feel like it's doing much to build the world. The jump from SF2 to SF3 is like it's not even the same game. ...really the best expansion seemed to be with the three scenarios for SF3: instead of fleshing out the world through the events of one game becoming the ancient history of the next, though, it was three sides of a global conflict that you got to experience. It definitely made the world feel richer, but since it didn't have that temporal dimension, it didn't give me the same feeling of the history of a world that Lunar TSS -> Lunar EB did. KF
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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Alunissage » Tue Jul 11, 2017 1:20 am

Sorry, I've never actually played a Langrisser game (though we have III). You might be thinking of Growlanser II, which at one point I knew extremely well. As IK notes, it's a direct sequel to Growlanser (I), which makes it all the more frustrating that the latter was never localized. Growlanser II does have its own plot independent of the first game, but the first half and most of the playable characters are callbacks to the first game. (I still haven't played more than the beginning of the first game, which was originally released on PlayStation. For some reason it kept crashing on our Japanese PS2 and I eventually gave up trying. I did pick up the PSP game and need to give that a shot someday.) Growlanser III is a prequel to II and might give some of that epic history feel (II takes place very shortly after I, like, a year), but I only played a little of it because you can import save data from II for a fairly minor use and I wanted to get back to II and get all eight endings first.

Man, I was just talking last week about picking up Grow II again. And I just got word from spouse that FF XII has already been delivered so that probably won't be happening any time soon. Oh well.

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Imperial Knight » Tue Jul 11, 2017 3:48 am

Yeah, Growlanser II takes place a year after Growlanser, aside from a short introduction section that takes place during the events of the original. One neat thing the game does is have the main character be from a different country as the main character from the original. You get to see a different perspective. In Growlanser (and in general among Career Soft games) counties aren't depicted as the "good" country vs. the "evil" country. There are sometimes outside forces (which are more clear cut as evil) manipulating events in various ways, but the countries generally pursue their own interests as they see them, which may at times put them at odds with each other. Growlanser III concerns a very significant event from the past (from the perspective of I&II) but the nature of the story is such that most of game depicts events that no one in I or II would have any knowledge of. For whatever reason, after that Career Soft abandoned the idea of telling a connected story. Growlanser IV tells a completely stand-alone story, while the stories of V&VI are connected (but not to any of the earlier games).

Lufia is an interesting example. If you've ever played the original, then you pretty much know how Lufia II is going to end because it's the prologue to the original. Lufia II depicts the events leading up to it (and elaborates a bit on what happened). I've never played any of the other Lufia games so I can't really say anything about how they connect to I&II.

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Alunissage » Tue Jul 11, 2017 11:16 pm

Right, I had totally forgotten that Carmaine is from Rolandia (and now I'm blanking on the name of Wein's country). Growlanser II hints at a lot more political intrigue between countries than actually happens in the game, which I'm guessing is part of the callbacks to the first game.

We started Grow V but got a bit bogged down in the beginning part, which I understand is the generation before the main characters' story? Did not know VI was connected.

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Imperial Knight » Wed Jul 12, 2017 1:59 am

Wein (and most of II's playable cast) is from Burnstein, although both I&II have playable characters from both Rolandia and Burnstein. There's a third country on the continent, Ranzack, although it doesn't have as large a role in I's story as the other two counties and barely has a role at all in II. And in general international relations get very messy in Career Soft games. Countries can go from peaceful relations to war to an alliance in the span of a single game, or a civil war in one county might lead to other countries aligning with one faction or the other, and as I alluded to outside forces may be at work manipulating behind the scenes. One of my favorite examples from the series, though minor, is a case where there's a character who shows up at various points to either help or hinder your party seemingly at random. His motivation? He's an arms dealer looking to prolong a war by assisting whichever side appears to be losing at any given time. Other forces, of course, have larger goals than profiteering and play a more major role in the story of any given game.

Yeah, the beginning of V takes place a generation before the main story and has you do a couple of chapters from the perspective of different characters (actually now I don't remember 100% if the time jump occurs after all of those chapters are done or just a few). It's a neat idea because it, in theory, gives the player a deeper understanding of the perspectives of various characters. That having been said, it does end up dragging on a bit too long before you get to the main story. Good ideas with less than stellar execution is, unfortunately, a bit of a recurring problem with V.

The spotty localization record of the Growlanser series is kind of a problem, in that both of the unlocalized games (I&VI) connect to games that were localized. I would not at all be surprised to see a fan translation of I down the road, but I'm not aware of any active projects on that front. It does have that script translation though.

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Sonic# » Thu Jul 13, 2017 8:22 pm

Thanks for the responses.
Kizyr wrote:...come to think of it, I'm not sure if there are very many game series I've even played that could fall into this category...


That's one reason why I asked. It seemed like something video games can do very well design-wise, though there might be market limitations against creating a sequel that may not stand-alone for new players in a series. I think Shining Force could get away with it partly because it didn't draw too much attention to the fact that it was a sequel in the same world - as you say, the world may feel richer for people having played the other games, but the insight spans a continent, not necessarily a span of time.

Imperial Knight and Alunissage, I appreciate the Langrisser/Growlanser discussion. With Growlanser II and III, the connections between them felt fairly tenuous. IIRC the act that connects to Growlanser II is related to the main story but doesn't resolve it, and there's a whole other half of the game to play after that point. As a prequel, the connection between the worlds feels more like a convenient coincidence (oh, that's where it comes from) rather than something that makes the world of Growlanser I and II more significant.

A couple of other series that come to mind:
The Legend of Heroes series. I've only played Trails in the Sky and Trails in the Sky SC, which each take place in close relation to one another. SC expands on the story of the first game and fleshes out more of the behind-the-scenes machinations of the first game. They do this with reference to stories of an ancient civilization and its extremely powerful artifacts. I haven't played Trails of Cold Steel or Trails in the Sky 3rd, but if they continued to deepen the stories of that world and invoked any kind of myth cycle, they might resemble what I'm thinking about.

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn tries to do this with some degree of success. It shows the conflicts begun in Path of Radiance from a new perspective, only later incorporating Ike and the heroes from the previous games. Like Shining Force, it better defines the world but doesn't build up a repetitive mythology experienced generationally.
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"Than seyde Merlion, "Whethir lyke ye bettir the swerde othir the scawberde?" "I lyke bettir the swerde," seyde Arthure. "Ye ar the more unwyse, for the scawberde ys worth ten of the swerde; for whyles ye have the scawberde uppon you, ye shall lose no blood, be ye never so sore wounded. Therefore kepe well the scawberde allweyes with you." --- Le Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory

"Just as you touch the energy of every life form you meet, so, too, will will their energy strengthen you. Fail to live up to your potential, and you will never win. " --- The Old Man at the End of Time

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Imperial Knight » Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:20 pm

Sonic# wrote:Thanks for the responses.

Imperial Knight and Alunissage, I appreciate the Langrisser/Growlanser discussion. With Growlanser II and III, the connections between them felt fairly tenuous. IIRC the act that connects to Growlanser II is related to the main story but doesn't resolve it, and there's a whole other half of the game to play after that point. As a prequel, the connection between the worlds feels more like a convenient coincidence (oh, that's where it comes from) rather than something that makes the world of Growlanser I and II more significant.


I think this is largely correct. I will say that missing the localization for I really hurts here, because the backstory that relates to III is explored in much more depth in I than in II. Still, after the Space-Time Control Tower sequence the story in III doesn't really enhance one's understanding of I&II since the histories of the worlds diverge. Langrisser I think is a much stronger example of myth building for a variety of reasons, including having characters who appear in all five games and how you're constantly learning more about the history of the world and the titular sword and revisiting elements from previous games. You might even learn that something all the characters from previous games assumed to be true turned out to incorrect. Of the series I've played it's probably the best example I can think of what you're looking for.

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Kizyr » Fri Aug 11, 2017 2:47 am

Alunissage wrote:Sorry, I've never actually played a Langrisser game (though we have III). You might be thinking of Growlanser II, which at one point I knew extremely well.

Oh nerts, that's right. I never played either so I have no idea what either one is about.

Now that I think of it, would the Arc the Lad series fit this bill? I never played any of it, even though an unopened copy of the Arc the Lad collection is sitting right over on my bookshelf. KF
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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Imperial Knight » Wed Apr 17, 2019 4:48 am

My recent forays into the Dragon Quest series have made me think of this topic again, and in particular the connections between the first few Dragon Quest games (after which the series moves on to other settings). The way the series builds its myths tends to be with a light touch, working largely by implication and letting the player fill in the blanks for themselves. This is an approach I find myself appreciating more and more as I experience the series.

*** SPOILERS FOR DRAGON QUEST I, II & III FOLLOW ***

There's not a whole lot to DQ1's story. You play as a descendent of the legendary hero Erdrick (or Loto, depending on which localization you're playing) on a mission from the King of Alefgard to defeat the evil Dragonlord and restore peace to the land and that's about it. On your travels you learn a bit more about Erdrick from talking to NPCs but not in a ton of detail. One could fairly just say there's not much there but there's just enough there to some weight to the idea of Erdrick as a legendary figure.

DQ2 picks up about 100 years after DQ1, following three descendants of the hero from DQ1 (and therefore of Erdrick) who band together to fight a new threat. The game is full of little callbacks to DQ1, my personal favorite being immediately upon your party obtaining a ship and sailing to Alefgard. The first location you're likely to come across is Tantagel Castle, the starting point of your journey in DQ1. After exploring that, the next thing I did (and I suspect most players do) is head across the river to Charlock Castle, the final dungeon from DQ1. In that game, despite being visible from Tantagel, it was inaccessible until you could gather up the magical items necessary to create a bridge to reach it, a process which takes most of the game. Having a ship that can just sail across it's hard to resist seeing what you'll find in there. After making your way through the castle (whose layout is essentially unchanged) you make it to the end where there's a familiar looking NPC standing in a very familiar spot. At which point I think the typical player first makes sure their party is healed up and then talks to the NPC who indeed turns out to be a descendant of the Dragonlord who... offers some helpful advice on what you need to do to complete your quest. That's exactly the sort of little thing that DQ tends to do with its storytelling that I find just delightful.

It's not immediately obvious that DQ3 is connected at all to the first two games as it at first appears to be an unrelated story taking place on an unrelated world, but after the fake final dungeon plot twist (the sort of thing that annoys me 90% of the time but is actually done pretty well here) you find yourself in Alefgard and pretty quickly figure out that this is indeed a prequel to DQ1, and from there it's not much of a leap to figure out well before the true ending makes it explicit that the main character actually is the legendary hero Erdrick and you're going to witness the journey you've only heard about in the previous games. One especially neat aspect of this is that, since you're allowed to choose the sex of the main character, you have the option (without realizing you're doing so at the time of choosing) of recontextualizing the whole series up to this point with the realization that the legendary hero Erdrick was a woman (implicit biases being what they are, I must admit that while playing DQ1&2 I had assumed Erdrick was a man). I honestly wish the game hadn't made it optional but instead had just made the main character a woman since I think that version of the story is the more interesting one.

*** END SPOILERS ***

It's kind of funny since I'd always had the impression that the Dragon Quest series didn't have much going for it in the way of story, but I've actually found now that I've gotten into it that I find its storytelling style to actually be a pretty refreshing approach to myth-building.

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby Alunissage » Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:14 pm

Huh. I've always meant to try Dragon Quest, in that mythical time when I have time to pick up a new-to-me RPG series. Right now, I think I'll be playing Lunar 1 for the rest of my life. :P I have Dragon Warrior for NES, DQ V-VI for Super Famicom, and I hink DQ8 for whatever it came out on, but I've never played any of them. That recap of 1-3 sounds pretty cool.

And I guess I missed Kizyr's question re Arc a couple years ago. Yeah, there's a bit of this. Arc 1 and 2 are directly connected (they were originally going to be the same game, but the developers decided to split off 1) with very little time passing between them, although the viewpoint character changes, with Arc and other characters from the first game only joining the party some way through. So you get to see things that are related to the first game like how Arc is now seen, such as Elc seeing a Wanted poster with Arc on it. Right now for the life of me I can't remember how Arc 1 ends, but it doesn't resolve all of the questions the game raises and you definitely need Arc 2 for the full story.

Arc 3 is set several years later and is not as well connected to the first two, but you can definitely see how the events of 1 and 2 led to the world of 3. None of the Arc 2 characters are playable except for short sections in which they join the party, which is kind of a shame. So you could play 3 without playing the others, and in fact Vic told me that the reason they were able to license 3 even though other publishers were going for it is that they wanted to do the whole collection and the others were only asking for 3.

Arc 4 also has some callbacks to the trilogy, but I can't say how much because I only played at most a third of it, in Japanese. I think there's not much.

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Re: In-world sequels and myth building

Postby AkagisWhiteComet » Thu Apr 18, 2019 6:26 pm

I was reading over your post and the responses, and from my personal experience I believe Trails of Cold Steel does a fairly good job as a modern series for building up threat and characters reacting to it in the way you are describing.

All of the Cold Steel titles are effectively direct sequels to one another, taking place in roughly two years span of time between four titles. The second game is so direct of a sequel that if you were to jump into the second game without playing the first you'd probably be incredibly confused as to what is going on. A lot gets resolved in the second title, but for the third and (what I've read) fourth the series continues with the characters and story lines it has introduced while bringing in more characters and story lines. Just reading the synopsis of the fourth title makes me think that playing it has so much character driven plot and story divergences in it that you simply could not play it, nor the third entry, as stand-alone or having not played prior titles.

That is something that indeed at first glace would be risky marketability-wise for a publisher, as you'd have to assume that everyone playing the later titles would have played previous iterations. Nihon Falcom seems to have put a lot of time and money into this series, and with them having created modern HD remakes of the original two titles it's obvious they anticipate that players will eventually play all four games in some capacity. I feel another good thing they have going for them is the 1st and 2nd game effectively use the same gaming engine and world and the same for the 3rd and 4th; it's just changing dialogue, scenes, and some characters designs between titles.

I do enjoy the Cold Steel series but I have a few gripes about it;

1) It's incredibly trope laden, and not in any real good way. Like all the plot twists and points are near anticipated, and there's no real sense of gloom or danger because after some hours of gameplay in the back of your head you realize "I'm just gonna wait for the hero character of this scene to deliver a big speech and all will be well." And ultimately that's how all the major scenes in the games play out.

2) The first game ends on one of the biggest cliff-hangers I've seen in gaming and not only makes it where you have to play the second game but introduces an entirely different gaming mechanic, on the VERY last battle mind you, that's not only an awesome introduction but also would lure in anyone that craves a mecha -RPG battle game. When I completed the first game my first thought was "where in the hell was THIS sort of battle the whole time I was playing this game?" then you play the second game and you realize "ohhhh... that's where it is."


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