Lore in Gaming: The Good, The Bad, The BurdenSep 16, 2019 | 1 Votes by Mikhail 10 rate Games, much like books, films, and other media, have the potential to tell fantastic stories. Although the tales they tell can reel anyone in, some stories and circumstances can make these a burden.
Video games tell a lot of stories. From the old NES and Atari era to the current-gen PCs and consoles, themes have revolved around good vs evil, a coming of age story, and political intrigue. As technology involved in creating games evolved, developers and writers have become able to craft deeper and more complicated tales, at times with multiple endings that are determined by player choices. Meanwhile, others are content in dropping players into a world and letting them craft their own story, as seen in games like Minecraft and Mount and Blade: Warband.
Thing is, putting too much emphasis on lore presents countless problems. Games are effective and enjoyable storytelling platforms, but in a way, their lores and plot can weigh things down and at worst, be a burden.
“But Mik, aren’t their stories a selling point and a way to draw people in, invest more certain franchises, and create some sort of a cult following?”
Yes but still, there are a lot of challenges to face and considerations to take note of. Planning a franchise’s story, especially if it involves prequels and sequels, requires a lot of brainstorming and work. It’s not as simple as writing a script. You’ll need to include the lore in the gameplay and even include an in-game compendium for players to read as a reference.
With that said, let’s take a look at several examples and delve deeper.
Note: since we’re talking about lore, there are minor spoilers in several games below.
Lore in sequels, prequels, and numbered games
Recently, I dove into The Continent in the world of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. Playing as Geralt of Rivia, I’m about 20 hours into the game and I’m more than hooked. There are countless side quests dished out by well-written characters and interesting lore scattered across the game’s many locales and books.
Unfortunately for me, I’ve never played any of the previous Witcher games nor read the books. Yes, you can dive into the masterpiece that is the Witcher III, but seeing the old characters make an appearance, as well as getting references in the dialogue referring to past events fall flat. Half the time, I didn’t know what was going on, requiring me to look into Wiki entries and the game’s glossary. With this in mind, not a lot of people have the time nor the motivation to look into a game’s lore and they may even finish the game without knowing what it was about.
This is the problem with sequels and prequels. Developers make them in a way that they can dive in without knowing the past entries, but in return, players’ experiences will be subpar.
In the case of the Witcher III, I didn’t squeal in excitement when I encountered Letho of Gulet and Triss Merigold, two characters who played a crucial role in the previous games. The same can be said about other games: players need to play their prequels and sequels to have the best experience possible.
The good part about sequels is they nurture a franchise and help it grow. Think of numbered games as TV series with multiple arcs and stories of their own. However, this poses a problem. Gaming technology and consoles constantly evolve, while people who may be interested in playing the third installment of a game may not be able to play the first two.
With that considered, let’s take a look at the Legend of Heroes: Trails franchise. Next month, the localized version of the third game of the Erebonia arc, Trails of Cold Steel 3, will be released on the PlayStation 4. The first two games of the arc are introduced dozens of characters (the protagonists’ friends, classmates, allies, enemies etc) who will also make an appearance.
There are a few things that make this scenario a little tricky: the first two games of the arc were released on the PS Vita, although they were later ported to Steam and the PS4. Not everyone has the money nor the motivation to play two 60-hour JRPGs and invest in the third installment without knowing anything about the first two. Worse, this isn’t even the first game in the franchise, considering that there were two earlier story arcs (Liberl arc and Crossbell arc, which were released in the previous generations), whose characters will also be making an appearance. Plus, there will be references to earlier events which will only have a major impact on rabid fans of the franchise.
This is a scenario where lore becomes a weight on a game’s shoulders. Although you can play Trails of Cold Steel III without knowing any of the past events, it isn’t something you’d want to do.
Another example includes God of War (2018). Although it is a totally rebooted experience which you can dive into without knowing past events, you have to read or watch videos about what Kratos did prior to his foray into the Norse pantheon to understand everything. This is simply because the earlier games (except God of War III) are trapped in the previous generations and you may not have the means to play them. Plus, factor in that a lot of old games really don’t age well.
Other developers may have recognized that creating direct sequels to previous games isn’t the best way to provide a stellar experience. Instead, they’ve provided prequels and indirect sequels.
For example, each entry in the Final Fantasy franchise stands alone, each with a different world, characters, and backstory. Meanwhile, the Persona games (3, 4, and 5) take place in the same world, though in different time frames with a new cast of characters. The same can be said about GTA: you don’t need prior knowledge of San Andreas and GTA III to understand the events of GTA V. Meanwhile, although The Legend of Zelda has a convoluted timeline, every game dishes out an experience akin to a standalone title.
In terms of prequels, the best recent example is Red Redemption 2, a prequel to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption. Although you’ll never hear John Marston say Arthur Morgan’s name in the 2010 game, the 2nd game is a fitting prequel that gives context to how and why the events of the first game occurred.
Another example is Ace Combat which did this back in the PS2 era. Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War revolved around a war in 2010 between two major powers, Osea and Yuktobania, orchestrated by the vengeful Belkans. Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, a prequel, was released two years later and its events happened 15 years before Ace Combat 5. The prequel answered all the questions of the Unsung War and why it led certain Belkans to do what they did.
How can developers help?
Overall, a game or a franchise’s lore can be a big burden. Although we love stories that are far-reaching and extend through timelines and happen simultaneously in a single world, they could end up confusing people. Add the fact that gaming is continuously evolving, and prequels to newer games may get stuck in the previous generations their hardware.
Developers can help by porting, remaking, or remastering older titles. Thing is, this endeavor is quite a challenge and will obviously require a lot of money. If no such plans are in the pipeline, the best they can do is provide players with references where they can read the lore and catch up with the events.