Meaningless Numbers and Superfluous Subtitles: A Gaming Trend That Needs To End

I don’t typically write editorials like this, but after today’s confirmation of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I felt compelled to express a feeling that’s been burning inside me for years. I think that game companies should stop numbering the games in their franchises.

In theory, it should make sense. Make a new game in a fresh franchise, make the sequel #2, make the sequel to that #3. But then around that time, things tend to get hairy. Developers start to release “spin-off” games with relevant subtitles like “Brotherhood” or “San Andreas” or “Code: Veronica” or “Infinite” or “Encore: Rocks the 80’s.” Not that these are bad games. Some of these games are more well-received than the game preceding it. I remember many lost nights in high school playing “Grand Theft Auto Encore: Rocks the 80’s.” Err… right.

But the point is that when these generally well-received sequels get their own well-received follow-ups that are subtitled, does it continue to make sense to number later games in the franchise? Because then you start to see games like “Grand Theft Auto 4″ which in all actuality should be Grand Theft Auto 10,” following the massive list of titles that followed “Grand Theft Auto 3” including Vice City, Vice City Stories, Liberty City Stories, San Andreas, and GTA (GBA).

Or “Sonic The Hedgehog 4,” which follows an even larger list of titles that’s too sprawling to list here. Some of which were even 2D platforming games that should have easily counted as direct sequels, even if the 3D games were not, so that argument is null.

My argument isn’t that those games shouldn’t exist. It’s that the numbers of the numbered sequels suddenly become meaningless in the face of 3, 4, or 5 other full-fledged titles that were developed and released between numbered games. Some franchises have gotten this right. The Legend of Zelda comes to mind.

See, after releasing The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: Adventures of Link, they went for a subtitled SNES title, “A Link to the Past.” And then every Zelda game since has been released with a subtitle instead of a number, because the developers understand that once they introduced a subtitle, there is no place for a Legend of Zelda III. (NOTE: Link to the Past is occasionally informally referenced to as “Zelda III,” but never officially, and no future Zelda games were numbered.)

It’s confusing to the customer, too. The unknowing mom at a retail store would probably not know that in order to get the story of Ezio Auditore, one needs to buy Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood & Revelation. You would have to forgive her for wondering why Assassin’s Creed III isn’t a direct sequel to II. It would be easier to explain to others, non-gamers or casual gamers looking to get into the franchise if the series continued to have subtitles instead of numbers after II.

Which brings me back to Black Flag. I read that the developers said that Assassin’s Creed III would be a good “jumping on” point for new players to the franchise. Having played the game all the way through, I would have to disagree. You’re steeped in so much lore that, while you pick it up along the way, the impact of the game’s final moments is not the same for you in the way it would be for someone who has played through Desmond’s story from Assassin’s Creed through all the sequel and spinoff titles.

There’s no reason why ACIII couldn’t have been titled: “Assassin’s Creed: Revolution” or why GTA IV couldn’t have simply been “Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City.” It tells as much as it needs to about the story without being bewildering. And there’s no reason that AC IV: Black Flag needed both a number and a subtitle. Just the subtitle would have done.

What does everyone else think?

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