10 Spiritual Successors To Great Games
It’s not uncommon for video game developers to revisit the themes and mechanics of their earlier works, innovating on established formulas.
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It’s not uncommon for video game developers to revisit the themes and mechanics of their earlier works. Incorporating what they’ve learned in the years since, they can innovate on established formulas in creative ways.
A “spiritual successor” is a game that does not directly relate to an earlier game but takes inspiration from and innovates upon its predecessor. These games may or may not involve developers who had a hand in the original game. Sometimes, creative teams will create a twist on their previous works after parting ways with the original developer and losing access to the intellectual property.
Balan Wonderworld / Nights Into Dreams
Originally released in 1996 for the often forgotten Sega Saturn, Nights Into Dreams is an action game developed by Sonic Team. With the help of Nights, a jester-like creature, two teens explore and try to save Nightopia, the magical world of dreams. Players loved the game’s dreamy atmosphere and innovative flight mechanics.
Sharing the same producer (Yuji Naka) and character designer (Naoto Ohshima) as Nights Into Dreams, Balan Wonderworld similarly follows one of two children as they are guided through a series of magical worlds by a showman-inspired creature named Balan. Unlike its predecessor, Balan Wonderworld was nearly universally panned for its controls and inconsistent frame rate.
Bayonetta / Devil May Cry
The wildly successful Devil May Cry franchise is known for its over-the-top hack-and-slash mechanics and antihero protagonists. Created by Hideki Kamiya and published by Capcom, the game was praised for its innovative combat system that emphasizes fast-paced, stylish combos.
Kamiya had another hit on his hands with Bayonetta, which is also a stylish action game in the same vein as Devil May Cry (and full of Easter eggs for Devil May Cry fans to find). With an even more over-the-top aesthetic and an iconic protagonist, the game has already spawned a sequel (with another in the works) and an anime film.
Siren / Silent Hill
The Silent Hill franchise has spawned a long list of sequels, spinoffs, crossovers and adaptations as well as inspiring many similar horror games. Known for its sinister, foggy atmosphere and nightmarish enemies, the first game of the franchise took a psychological spin on the then-young survival horror genre.
Made by former members of Team Silent (the developers responsible for the first four games in the Silent Hill franchise), Siren similarly takes place in an isolated rural town overtaken by a supernatural force. Where Silent Hill follows a solitary protagonist, Siren instead alternates points of view between 10 survivors in a nonlinear narrative structure. With stealth-focused gameplay and a unique “sight-jacking” mechanic, Siren offers players a challenging gameplay experience.
BlazBlue / Guilty Gear
With an anime-inspired roster of over-the-top, strange characters, fighting game franchise Guilty Gear maintained a cult following alongside its more popular competitors for years. Guilty Gear made a name for itself early on with a then-rare focus on air mobility. The franchise is also known for its stylish combos and move cancels.
During a long hiatus between games, Guilty Gear developer Arc System Works created BlazBlue, a fighting game remarkably similar to its predecessor on the surface. Although it also focuses on snappy combos and the existence of living humanoid weapons, BlazBlue has established its distinct identity as a franchise. The game’s “Drive” mechanic grants each character a unique special ability, making for a very diverse roster of fighters.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night / Castlevania
Partially responsible for establishing the Metroidvania genre, the Castlevania franchise remains a massive influence on the world of games to this day. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was itself inspired by Zelda: A Link to the Past’s “focus on exploration and defining the thing that unlocks the next area,” according to acclaimed producer Koji “IGA” Igarashi.
Directed by Igarashi, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was the subject of a successful Kickstarter campaign. It boasts all the trappings of a Metroidvania-style Castlevania game: a gothic castle setting, exploration and backtracking, and item collection. Classic Mode, in which players can play through the game in the style of the original Castlevania, was even added as DLC.
World’s End Club / Danganronpa
The subgenre of media that Battle Royale established and The Hunger Games helped popularize is far from dead, with new additions to the battle royale genre being released frequently. The Danganronpa franchise takes a decidedly Japanese spin on the genre as a mystery visual novel rather than an arena free-for-all. A gleefully sadistic teddy bear pits the students of a prestigious academy against each other in a game of murder. The students must try to determine the identity of the killer, with deadly consequences if they do not succeed.
After leaving Spike Chunsoft, the developer of Danganronpa, former employees released World’s End Club, a visual novel with puzzle elements. Although it originally appears to be a straightforward spiritual successor to Danganronpa, the gameplay quickly pivots to that of a puzzle platformer.
Remothered / Clock Tower
Released in 1995 for the Super Famicom, the original Clock Tower was never released outside of Japan. Despite this, the point-and-click game has amassed something of a cult following. Taking influences from slashers and giallo films, Clock Tower was an early entry to the survival horror genre, predating classics like Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
Beginning as a fan remake of Clock Tower, the Remothered trilogy is an indie project helmed by Italian artist and developer Chris Darril. Borrowing names and themes from Clock Tower, it also takes additional inspiration from other horror classics. While the first entry of the trilogy garnered widespread praise from critics and players alike, the reception of its 2020 sequel has so far been less than stellar.
One Step From Eden / Mega Man Battle Network
With at least 100 games in the series so far, the long-running Mega Man franchise can seem impenetrable to beginners. Mega Man Battle Network takes a different spin on the franchise, taking place in a universe where networking technology (rather than robotics, as in the original games) has advanced to the point of integration with nearly all electronics. Abandoning the classic Mega Man platforming formula, combat instead takes place in real-time on a 6-by-3 grid.
Most commonly pitched as “Mega Man Battle Network meets Slay the Spire,” One Step From Eden is a roguelike deck-building RPG that builds on the fast-paced tile-based battle mechanics of its predecessor. Chock-full of clever pop-culture references and memorable characters, it holds up to repeated play-throughs.
Hometown Story / Little Dragons Café / Story Of Seasons
The beloved farming RPG franchise Story of Seasons (previously known as Harvest Moon in North America and Europe) has inspired a number of games like Stardew Valley and Rune Factory. Players nurture a budding farm to success while building relationships with townspeople and optionally wooing the bachelor(ette) of their dreams. The gameplay has remained remarkably similar throughout the franchise.
The creator of Story of Seasons, Yasuhiro Wada, later created two titles in the same vein as his previous work. The main character of Hometown Story runs a shop inherited from their grandmother and befriends townspeople as the population grows. In Little Dragons Café, a pair of siblings must run their mother’s café after she falls into a deep, mysterious sleep, all while raising a dragon in order to rescue her from her slumber. In a departure from the formula, neither game has romanceable NPCs.
Tell Me Why / Life Is Strange
Known for its LGBTQ+ characters and coming-of-age narratives, Life Is Strange made waves with its original release in 2015. Although this episodic adventure game utilized an innovative, widely-praised time-travel mechanic, many players were unsatisfied with its dated portrayals of teens. The series has continued with additional installments following new characters with mysterious powers.
Also from Dontnod Entertainment, Tell Me Why is another episodic game where the player’s choices matter. Rather than the previously-implemented time-travel powers, Tell Me Why follows a pair of twins with the power of telepathy. As the first AAA game to feature a transgender man as a main character, it trailblazed much in the way that Life Is Strange did for LGBTQ+ protagonists.