Discussing: The Reinvention Curse

I have this theory about certain video game franchises. This theory, which I’ve hastily called the reinvention curse, states that when a video game series reinvents itself with a new iteration and receives widespread acclaim, it is then cursed to attempt to recreate that one title but with worse and worse results. As most do, the clones, sort of speak, become less and less accurate and quality deteriorates. There are several franchise that could fall under this theory but the two best examples, and the ones I’ll be using to describe this theory, are The Legend of Zelda and Resident Evil.

The Legend of Zelda franchise started off fairly simple. You were given the simple premise to collect the Triforce to save Princess Zelda and were let loose in an open ended world to discover hidden items and areas and conquer dungeons and bosses. Zelda 2 changed that by making it a side scrolling action game with an overworld map and light RPG elements. This didn’t go over as well as the first game so it returned to the original’s style for Link to the Past but with many upgrades, including two worlds, a detailed map, more items to use, more secrets, better control, better balanced difficulty, and more.

However, then came Ocarina of Time. Regardless of what you think of the game, the general consensus is that it’s a landmark in game development. It’s often cited as one of the greatest games ever made, if not the greatest. Unfortunately, Nintendo is aware of this and every major entry in the Zelda series since then have been very similar to Ocarina, with only minor changes. Majora’s Mask had abilities associated with masks, a time limit, and darker subject matter, Wind Waker had boat elements and a cel-shaded graphical style, Twilight Princess had the wolf form and a dark aesthetic, and Skyward Sword had…motion controls.

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Again, regardless of what you think of these games, not much has changed since Ocarina of Time. Sure, it can be argued that Majora is noticeably different due to its focus on side quests, and time management and Wind Waker improved on several game mechanics to make it better playing compared to Ocarina. However, all these games have the same type of story beats to them and the same gameplay formula. Where Zelda essentially kept reinventing itself with its first three installments, that has effectively stopped with Ocarina of Time as it keeps trying to recreate what was done with that title and with Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, it can be agreed upon that the quality has definitely decreased.

Resident Evil is slightly different. Where Zelda reinvented itself early on in order to try new ideas, Resident Evil stayed with the formula created with its first game. Some were better than the first game (Resident Evil 2) and some were worse (Resident Evil 3: Nemesis). However, eventually quality didn’t matter anymore as it just became old. So the franchise needed to reinvent itself if it wanted to survive. Resident Evil 4 was a comeback for the series and to this day often included in best of lists. However, when it came time to release a sequel, Capcom essentially just cloned RE4.

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Resident Evil 5 plays like a knockoff of the previous game but with a buddy system that only really works well in multiplayer and nothing new to offer. However, even worse is Resident Evil 6, which is essentially a clone of a clone. Where RE4 blended action elements with horror, and RE5 tried but failed to be scary, RE6 doesn’t even try to be a horror game and instead is an uninspired third person shooter that feels closer to Gears of War than Resident Evil. This is probably a better example of this theory as while all three games play similarly, the cloning process divulged into the mess that RE6 is.

So that’s my reinvention curse theory. In my opinion, the only way to pull out of the cycle is to reinvent again and prevent copying that effort. Both Zelda and Resident Evil could pull out of this cycle and I think they might. That new Zelda title coming to Wii U (and possibly the unreleased NX) is supposed to be open world, which would be a big change for the franchise, and the recent Resident Evil Revelations games, while not perfect, show Capcom trying to get back to the series’ horror roots. What do you think? Do you think my theory fits a lot of franchises in video games? Am I completely wrong about Legend of Zelda and Resident Evil and Skyward Sword and Resident Evil 6 are two of the most innovative games ever? Leave me your thoughts in the comment section. Peace and Love, Gamers and Players! Colorwind out.

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