Back in the day, there was a running joke about how Capcom had shown with Street Fighter that the company could not count higher than two. We had a few dozen different iterations of Street Fighter 2, and then when the developers finally decided to make a new game, it was a prequel, so it still didn’t have to get past two. And then it had a sequel! Like, it was a whole thing. It was pretty funny at the time; maybe you had to be there.
However, in MMORPG franchises this is not necessarily unusual. We have a bizarre number of franchises that have stopped as soon as they got to two, sometimes even when we really should have had a “three” in there. No, I’m not just counting stuff like how someone really needs to move on from whatever psychic damage has kept Diablo II on the brain for the past two decades; I’m talking about literally reaching two and then stopping. We should at least be able to count to four.
Back in the day when I heard about this as some weird South Korean franchise, I was fascinated. I am still kind of fascinated by South Korea’s specific RPG tradition; there’s clear influence from Japan, of course, but there’s also non-Japanese influence, and one of the thing that always kind of sticks in my craw is describing Korean franchises as “anime” when they really aren’t. These are distinct traditions with different culture going on! Lamentably, when I actually got to play Lineage II, I found it both utterly impenetrable and not nearly as interesting in terms of actual story and lore as I had been hoping for. But it’s worth noting that at one point its third installment existed and then got turned into Throne & Liberty, so that’s… uh… probably not great for anyone!
Just the other day Bree and I were talking about how the early EverQuest box art probably turned me off from starting on MMOs for at least another two or three years and how she personally disliked the game in spite of playing it for years. We can laugh about this now. I admit that I may be the contrarian by saying that I think the days of this even pretending to be a franchise are long past, though, no matter what Daybreak teases. I’m not getting excited about a new title in this series any longer.
3. Guild Wars
That’s right, I wrote a whole Daily Grind just to get you thinking about this! I told you that story to tell you this one! Ha ha!
4. Asheron’s Call
Writing about this always hurts. Not because I personally loved Asheron’s Call and miss it every day, although that is valid for the people who do feel that way; rather, because it’s an original of the species that is just gone for no good reason. I understand who owns the IP here and why, but what baffles me is that the companies aren’t pumping out terrible mobile games because they own the IP or something. They’re just sitting on it, Smaug-like, doing nothing with these games that would probably cost a minimal amount to get up and running on cloud serves. And they’re not selling it to developers that have legitimately tried to buy it, either. That might be optimistic of me, but I don’t know, this year has me thinking a lot about preserving lost games. It’s either thinking about that or thinking about driving into the ocean, people, pick one.
5. Phantasy Star Online
You can argue this one is a bit of a cheat because there is a much larger and much larger franchise here beyond the online games. This is true. However, I find it endlessly amusing that a major update to Phantasy Star Online 2 still kept the fundamental numbering intact because dang it, we didn’t get that over here for ages, and we’ll be damned if we’re giving it up now. On the plus side, if the franchise keeps running long enough, we could potentially get Phantasy Star Online 4: The End of the Millennium released at the funniest possible time. On the down side, I don’t think I’ll be around in 976 years to appreciate it.
I’ve never played a moment of any of these games, and I really have no idea what the games are like beyond the fact that they seem to include literally zero percent of the stuff I actually find engaging in MMORPGs, so that is a number that is unlikely to change at any point in the near future. It felt like the first one was a really ambitious idea that spoke to the zeitgeist of online gaming that was just a tiny bit too late in coming out to really capitalize on it, and the second one was… trying to conjure a franchise from that? The less said about that arena spinoff, the better.
As far back as I can remember, there has been the original MapleStory, which was a free-to-play game back in the time when free-to-play games were inherently low-rent ventures across the board. A lot has changed since then, but it doesn’t seem to me that MapleStory ever has. If anything, it felt to me like somehow the original game managed to survive by being just the right cocktail of kid-friendly and stupidly grindy, with barely enough substance and elitism available that you could convince yourself it was worth your time. Then a sequel came out and didn’t immediately catch fire, and it got shuttered abruptly. The sequel at least looked neat, but I never had the time to play it before it was gone. But I can’t see a third PC game happening now. (Mobile, of course, is another story.)
8. Wild Terra
Wait. Oh no. Wait, when was the last time we checked in on Wild Terra 2? Oh no. Oh gosh. Someone else do it. Someone else check on this game. My heart can’t take this. Please let the designers be having an all right existence. Please. Please.
Remember when the big controversy around this game was how the first title didn’t release on PC for basically no good reason whatsoever? Yeah. Of course, I also have opined frequently in recent memory that it feels like this game is now just kind of spinning its wheels and doesn’t really have a next stage of its development, like it has lasted to the end of its natural lifespan and then a little bit beyond. To be fair, maybe some of this is just part of me really wishing that we could get another proper Marathon game, or more accurately that we could go back to the time when Marathon felt fresh and novel. I’m old.
All right, we have fun here, I know. We did actually get a Torchlight III after all. But when you look at what actually happened with that game, I think we would all rather pretend that this stayed in the realm of “that series that kept promising its next game would be an MMORPG and it never came” rather than anything that actually happened with Torchlight Frontiers.
The grinding sound you hear right now? That’s Bree being mad at me for reminding her about that. I regret lots of things.