The 10 biggest gaming franchises
Lists, lists, lists. They can be, and frequently are, a cheap and cynical shot of content - but none the less they can also make for surprisingly compelling reading. So, after a booze-fueled debate reached no natural conclusion, we thought we'd let the Play.tm team lay-down the evidence for their favourite gaming 'IPs', and let you, our beloved reader, decide. What do you think is the most important gaming franchise? Have we missed out anything? Bring out the witnesses!
Martin Gaston: Gran Turismo
As I write, Gran Turismo 5: Prologue has shipped 2.23 million units worldwide. You’ve got to tip your hat to Polyphony Digital for creating a franchise so beloved that people are prepared to spend money on what amounts to little more than a beta. Gran Turismo is revered, with good reason, for sucking you inside its world of statistics, numbers and times and weaving the illusion of reality with an ineffable alacrity.
There’s not much wrong you can say about the series, to be honest. It was, without a doubt, the first racing game I took seriously. For me, it opened the door to an entire genre in ways that Ridge Racer and Virtua Racing never could. You can question its status as a ‘real driving simulator’ all you like, but if you’ve never felt oddly euphoric as you scramble around High-Speed Ring, desperately trying to beat your best time, then you’d be lying.
Its real power, however, comes from the attachment that festers towards you and your garage. Starting the game with a measly amount of credits, you end up meticulously tweaking and modifying some of the world’s most incredible cars to reach dazzling speeds. There’s a definite sensation of bliss in doing this, and to this day I have never quite worked out why. Gran Turismo’s success, however, is undeniable.
Richard Nolan: Mario
Ever heard of this guy in red and blue overalls with a moustache? Just in-case you’re a freshly arriving time-traveller from the 1970s, I think they call him Mario, and he’s cheated at this whole “best franchise” thing. He’s cheated because not only does Mario have his somewhat massively popular niche in the platform genre, he’s also been known to drive karts, play tennis, invent his own board-game, host golf-tournaments, rip-off Tetris, gain experience and level-up; and he’s done most of these various activities on numerous systems in numerous different releases.
Mario is the bestselling video game series of all time. He has transcended his meagre primitive roots as “Jumpman” from the 1981 arcade and NES title Donkey Kong, and now flies around brilliant 3D environments in a next-gen universe; unlike his somewhat fondly remembered but obviously lesser rival - a blue spiky weasel who was really good at doing forward rolls or something...
Consensus states the Super Mario Bros., the original, must be loved, but based mainly on nostalgia value. You can still play it, you can still love it, and you still appreciate the frustrating physics and jumping challenges, but it’s not magical aside from the nostalgia. SMB 2 is magical, but Nintendo pulled a real fast one with this title – they bought an almost unknown title called "Doki Doki Panic" and then replaced some of the graphics with Mario paraphernalia, and then sold the game as SMB2. SMB3, for me, is where the real magic of the Mario series took off. Carrying shells, flying about gun-ships, the Koopa kids, awesome themed lands, item shops and mini-bosses? That is truly awesome. Super Mario World is just another step in that brilliance – a huge boost to the number of enemies and even more creatively themed environments, with an impressively large quantity of secret worlds and levels to discover.
The question is, how long can Mario really go on for? If the market-storming success of the Wii is any indication of the future of Nintendo’s celebrity mascot then I’d guess that he’s got some way to go. So not only has the Mario franchise dominated the last 25 years of video gaming, even conservative estimates would have to agree that Mario is going to live on for a long long time to come.
Stevie Smith: Resident Evil
A videogame audience growing numb to blood and gore may means that Resident Evil (a.k.a. Biohazard) is no longer able to loosen bowels or shock critics the way it once did, but there’s little argument that Capcom’s white-knuckle series remains the first-choice purchase for those gamers looking to secure genuine high-quality videogame thrills and chills.
The roots of success attributed to Resident Evil are furrowed deeply within Capcom’s ability to constantly evolve the surrounding survival horror experience, create new and eerie narrative environments, and provide the assurance of recognisable character anchors that remain faithful to the series’ lore.
More often than not, Resident Evil has whisked these contributing elements into a symbiotic videogame relationship ensuring a sense of in-game familiarity that weaves seamlessly with the often cloying claustrophobia and visceral panic felt by the player as they creep forward through the oppressive dark.
While the odd series spin-off has failed to convincingly project the Resident Evil effect into a separate gaming genre (i.e. Resident Evil: Survivor), the most recent ‘‘true’ Resident Evil episode, Resident Evil 4, marked a critically acclaimed step forward for the series and has subsequently provided Capcom with the perfect platform to launch its hotly anticipated Resident Evil 5.
Expected in early 2009 on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Resident Evil 5 will arrive as only the second series offering that takes the zombie-killing action outside of the United States, thrusting original series protagonist Chris Redfield into the blazing hot climes of Africa, the very source of the horrific outbreak.
Based on existing trailer and gameplay clips, the effects of which are hugely magnified by the pure power of the host consoles, Capcom’s Resident Evil 5 might well arrive as the first series entrant since the original game warranting the purchase of industrial-grade rubber underwear, the presence of a family member while playing, and enough accompanying house lights to guide in a fog-bound airliner.
Jennifer Allen: Final Fantasy
The Final Fantasy series, owned by Square Enix, has been around for over 20 years now and encompasses an increasingly large variety of game genres. Initially and most famously, the Final Fantasy series has been known for its console based RPGs. Each RPG is entirely independent from its predecessors (excluding Final Fantasy X-2) but with many of its gameplay elements used throughout the series such as the turn-based battle system persist, and this has been used in many other RPGs games too. They aren't for everyone, some people can still find the battle system in particular a turn off, but no one can doubt the influence of these games on the industry nor the strength of the stories that they tell. Europe unfortunately missed out originally on many of these epics until the release of the seminal Final Fantasy VII, and its huge success, encouraged the future release of the first six games onto the PlayStation and subsequently the GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS.
Final Fantasy 6 and 7 were arguably the best of the series so far (Final Fantasy 13 is currently in development for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) both with gripping stories and the ability to make even the hardened gamer shed a tear at certain moments within the games’ unfolding stories. Both games offered memorable characters (who could forget Kefka and Sephiroth?) as well as unsurpassed battle systems and minigames ensuring that the titles were not just interactive stories, but truly epic games. Personally I still don't think either of these games have been surpassed by any other Japanese RPG, but I dearly hope one day Square will reach this high point again.
Besides the core games there have also been a range of spin off games such as the Crystal Chronicles series, Final Fantasy Tactics and Kingdom Hearts which features a number of the Final Fantasy characters. Throw in the various anime such as Final Fantasy Unlimited, and the films The Spirits Within and Advent Children; and this franchise is frankly phenomenally successful. Even the soundtracks of the games have managed to sell well thanks to the impressive talent of composer Nobuo Uematsu and his distinctive style. In summary, Final Fantasy is a truly pivotal franchise which alongside the Dragon Quest series (which never quite broke the US and European market as well as Final Fantasy) has changed the RPG market hugely in its time and will hopefully continue to do so.