Last year was a great year for episodic games, with Life is Strange, Minecraft: Story Mode, and Tales from the Borderlands all racking up critical plaudits and strong sales. But how many times have you picked up an episodic series only to put it down midway through?
That was the topic of conversation that sprung up among the USgamer staff yesterday, which made us wonder, "What specifically does an episode game need to spur you to the finish? Particularly strong writing? A good hook? The right setting?" This doesn't even necessarily apply to episodic adventure games. A couple years ago, Bob managed to plow through the entirety of .hack, which is an impressive accomplishment given that just one game in that series can take up to 25 hours to complete.
In any case, here are our thoughts on the subject. Please feel free to share your thoughts and join the discussion in the comments below.
I've tried. No, really. When I travel, I usually have every intention of playing The Walking Dead on the plane. I've started and stopped Game of Thrones what seems like a dozen times. Even Life is Strange couldn't really get its hooks in me despite addressing my biggest complaint regarding Telltale's adventures; namely, that Telltale's engine is old as dirt. Ultimately, interactive television doesn't really do it for me, which is what a lot of episodic adventures boil down to. What's more, I tend to lose the thread with episodic games and just never get around to finishing them.
So what would it take for me to power through an episodic game series? Well, all of the episodes would have to be out, which isn't a problem for games like The Walking Dead. More importantly, though, I think I would have to really, genuinely engaged with the subject matter. If Telltale were to make a Star Trek adventure game, for example, I would almost certainly play it to conclusion out of a rabid desire for new Trek media.
The real test, though, will be whether I have the patience to play through the Final Fantasy VII Remake, which Yoshinori Kitase confirmed will be episodic. Depending on how coherent and tightly knit it winds up being, I should have no problem engaging with it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't dismayed when I heard the news. I guess I like being full immersed when I play a game, which runs counter to the choppy and story-heavy nature of episodic games.
But hey, as the Final Fantasy VII Remake may end up showing, there's a first time for everything.
To be honest, it's been some time since I've actually finished the final installment of an episodic game. The real issue with these kinds of releases comes in maintaining interest—something that's hard to do when you have a month or more separating chapters. And Telltale definitely picked up on this problem: In the past, you could abandon one of their games after the first episode, but their new model basically forces you to invest in the entire season before knowing if you'll actually care about the conclusion. Because of this, I've been kind of reluctant to start any new episodic game I'm not writing about for USgamer—then again, when it comes to adventure games, I could just be bored with the whole Telltale formula at this point.
Ultimately, episodic games need something huge to happen in those final moments to keep players on board with the next chapter. That's something the very first season of The Walking Dead did I'm not seeing copied as often as I should. And while video games should definitely do their own thing, I think moving towards the serialized TV model remains an incredibly smart idea. Look at the devices used to keep viewers coming back every week, then ask yourself, "How could this translate to a game?"
My opinion echoes Bob’s in many ways. If a chapter of an episodic game doesn’t punch out on a compelling cliffhanger, I’m probably not coming back in a rush.The Wolf Among Us was pretty good about giving me an itch to return over and over again.
But the best cliffhangers aren’t much good if the characters aren’t worth hanging around with. Though the first episode of Minecraft: Story Mode finishes up with an exclamation mark, the characters feel like they come from that big mysterious machine that doles out safe characters for young adult stories (that machine’s been putting in a lot of overtime lately).
Obviously, Minecraft: Story Mode is for young adults first and foremost, and the writing behind the game’s characters certainly isn’t bad. But I wasn’t interested enough to keep tagging along, so I didn’t.
More and more often, I find myself waiting for an episodic game to finish up before I pour my time and money into it. By then, there’s usually a consensus about whether or not the game is worth the monstrous effort necessary to finish it. Hey! Reading words and occasionally clicking on a mouse button eats up energy, and that’s time I could spend on taking a nap!