Top 10 Spiritual Successor Video Games

Bravely Default Spiritual Successor Final Fantasy

A strong premise, design philosophy, or tone of story is a valuable thing in the ever-changing world of video games, and for the most part, developers don't like moving away from a proven formula before they've fully plumbed its depths. But occasionally, the choice isn't up to them.

So more often than not, development teams turn to the notion of a "spiritual successor" - a continuation of the same themes or mechanics of their previous project, but a new name. The story can be a brand new tale, or a sequel in every regard except the game's title.

This week's Bravely Default is just the latest such title (originally a sequel to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light), but it's not alone. Here is our list of the Top 10 Spiritual Successor Video Games.

Portal (2007)

Portal Spiritual Successor Narbacular Drop

Few games have offered a more ingenious take on puzzle-solving than Valve's Portal, but it wasn't the development team's first stab at the potential of portal-making. The theory was first proven in the form of the student group project Narbacular Drop, created by the development team that would be spotted and hired by Valve to craft their project into a full-blown release.

By working the plot of Portal into the world of Half-Life - and giving the player the ability to jump - the series took on a life of its own, resulting in a bigger, more confusing, and more influential game than the creators could have imagined. Nevertheless, it stands as an example of just how successful a single fresh idea can prove.

Final Fantasy Tactics (1997)

Final Fantasy Tactics Ogre Spiritual Successor

There's no question that the Super Nintendo made some of the most inspired and beloved video game experiences in history, specifically in the realm of tactical strategy games. Quest distinguished itself as one of the top teams with the likes of Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre, so when Square Enix needed to add a new dimension to their Final Fantasy series, they hired one of the studio's top designers, Yasumi Matsuno.

The result was Final Fantasy Tactics, a game sharing a fiction with the series at large, but strongly tied to the isometric gameplay and mechanics of Tactics Ogre. Appealing to a brand new audience (and much of the existing), Tactics didn't just sell well, it kicked off a brand new series for the publisher, with characters, locations and monsters shared between Tactics and FF core titles for years to come.

Paper Mario (2000)

Paper Mario RPG Spiritual Successor

By the mid-1990s, few companies had distinguished themselves in the realm of role-playing and turn-based combat like Square (now Square Enix), so when Nintendo decided to inject their mascot into the formula, they turned to their Japanese colleagues. The result: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, a traditional RPG experience starring the heroes and locations of the Super Mario universe.

To this day some fans wonder why there was never a sequel, but there actually was: Paper Mario may have used a 2D art style, but possesses much of the turn-based, RPG gameplay (it was even originally announced as Mario RPG 2). We'd like to think that the Paper Mario series would have been just as successful if Nintendo had made it an official sequel, but then players might have noticed just how much of the original game's story they re-used - in paper form.

Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

Dragon Age Origins Spiritual Successor Baldurs Gate

Now that BioWare has turned their Dragon Age series into a cross-media franchise, it's hard for some to think that it owes its existence to a previous RPG series set within the Dungeons & Dragons universe. But it was the Baldur's Gate series upon which BioWare cut their teeth, with many of the innovations that made Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn a hit among hardcore RPG fans now considered trademarks of "a BioWare game."

However, the fact that BioWare's founders were always open about the fact that Dragon Age: Origins was a spiritual successor to their Baldur's Gate work didn't always work in their favor. The fan backlash surrounding Dragon Age II surrounded most of the ways the game didn't embody the same values of Baldur's Gate, proving that being responsible for a prior game's spirit surviving is a double-edged sword.

Dark Souls (2011)

Dark Souls Spiritual Successor Demon Souls

There's no question that Dark Souls came along at the perfect time, when the PC and console audience was primed to embrace a game that sought to kill them at every turn, not simply dismiss the game as "too difficult." If you're looking for evidence, then there's no better example than From Software's previous game, Demon's Souls. Featuring a similar hero, similar enemies, similar gameplay and similar punishing difficulty, Dark Souls might as well be a direct sequel.

Sequel or no, Dark Souls found the North American word-of-mouth that its predecessor couldn't, making it a household name and guaranteeing a sequel. What is most surprising is that Demon's Souls was, itself, a spiritual successor to From's past King's Field series. So the third time really is the charm, at least where extremely punishing action-RPGs are concerned.

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

Shadow of Colossus Spiritual Successor Ico

Fans of artistic expression in the form of video games were less than surprised to see Shadow of the Colossus, the second title from Team Ico garner critical acclaim while casting many assumptions about game design to the wind. Featuring no NPCs, no standard enemies, no towns or dungeons, the game simply tossed the player up against a gallery of hulking monsters whose weaknesses had to be deduced before being defeated.

The emotional tone and treatment of Colossus made it quite clear that lead designer Fumito Ueda had crafted the spiritual successor to the studio's first game, Ico, but the game's closing moments made the connections far more concrete. It's still difficult to determine the story being told through both games, but the two remain experiences best grouped together for the foreseeable future.

BioShock (2007)

BioShock Spiritual Successor System Shock

The groundbreaking BioShock has been hailed as one of the best games of the previous generation by many critics and outlets, with its own spiritual sequel BioShock Infinite proving that Irrational Games' creative lead Ken Levine has a knack for compelling settings and themes. But the tale of an Objectivist utopia built on the bottom of the sea actually owes its existence to System Shock.

System Shock 2, to be more precise; the game that Irrational and Levine had developed to be a standalone title until the decision was made to make it a sequel to the original System Shock (itself something of a spiritual successor to Ultima). Following its success, Levine and Irrational would go on to make BioShock following the same design and story philosophy (twice). But hey, there may still be another System Shock 2 spiritual successor on its way.

Fallout (1997)

Fallout Spiritual Successor Wasteland

The Fallout series was tossed into the headlines over the nature of sequels/successors/reboots when Bethesda revealed that they would make Fallout 3 a first-person shooter, not a classic role-playing experience. The game's success among modern RPG fans killed much of that debate, but is especially interesting given the fact that Fallout was itself a spiritual successor to Interplay's previous post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland.

The original Fallout was developed as a sequel to Wasteland, but - as is often the case these days - changes had to be made when Interplay lost the rights to the franchise name. Regardless, a good post-apocalyptic story can't be ignored, and the series lived on to be re-imagined yet again in 2008. Now Fallout remains one of Bethesda's top franchises, while Wasteland 2 is currently being developed to give an official continuation to the original game.

Assassin's Creed (2007)

Assassins Creed Spiritual Successor Prince of Persia

The Assassin's Creed series has spent so many years as Ubisoft's flagship series, it may be difficult to recall when the Prince of Persia series held the same title, wowing audiences and critics alike every few years. But few likely realize that the similarities between the two go far deeper than acrobatic traversal and spry heroes; Assassin's Creed was originally conceived as a spin-off of the Prince of Persia franchise.

Originally developed as Prince of Persia: Assassins, the game put the player in control of the royal bodyguards meant to protect the titular Prince's life. Ultimately, the company felt that the concept was strong enough to stand on its own, while the concept art apparently found its way into Sands of Time. Let's hope the Prince can find his way back to the top of the heap through similar means.

Call of Duty (2003)

Call of Duty Spiritual Successor Medal Honor

That's right, the most profitable mainstream video game series of all time, Call of Duty, began its existence as a spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. After the game marked a high point for the Steven Spielberg-led franchise, 22 members of the development team left to found Infinity Ward, entering into a relationship with publisher Activision to create a brand new WWII series of their own - Call of Duty.

Keeping intact their multiplayer philosophy, the team would give the players the chance to experience the war not only as Americans, but other Allied troops, and surround the main characters with a supporting squad - completing the framework for future CoD entries. The same developers would later convince Activision to bankroll Modern Warfare, giving rise to the modern military shooter - before being fired, and returning to publisher EA for their next venture, Titanfall.


Best Spiritual Successor Video Games

It's a sad truth that plenty of video game ideas are cut short far too early, while less imaginative or promising franchises are turned to due to their profitability. But as this list of spiritual successors and sequels shows, developers often have the last laugh, and prove their prior publishers wrong.

Which of the games on our list most surprised you? Are there other spiritual sequels or successors that you think deserve extra attention for beating the odds? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

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