Telltale Games is a studio known for episodic gaming. Unlike the more common method of releasing one game with a long narrative every once in a long while, Telltale specializes in releasing shorter offerings every other month. This strategy has worked spectacularly for the company; over the past few years, its The Walking Dead series has proved to be immensely popular, and its other episodic games like Minecraft: Story Mode or The Wolf Among Us are successes as well.
However, Square Enix (fairly) recently announced that the remake of the ever-popular Final Fantasy VII would be be provided to fans in an episodic fashion. More recently than that, the same company revealed plans that the new Hitman game would also be using the episodic format.
This news got me wondering whether or not this was a good call. Sure, the episodic formula is pretty popular right now, with the success of Telltale Games and other titles like Life Is Strange no doubt on a lot of developers’ minds, but I think Square Enix may have rushed into the decision to have some of their titles follow this trend.
What makes episodic gaming work, in my opinion, is the way it is presented. The Telltale games, for example, are made to work as “seasons”; each episode is its own little contained story, but it still fits into the narrative arc of the season as a whole. At the end of each episode, players are left wondering what happens next, but at the end of a season, it all gets wrapped up in a big finale, much like a television show.
The problem with Square Enix’s decision then, is that Final Fantasy and Hitman don’t really fit this structure. Or at least, it would be a challenge to make them fit this structure. Final Fantasy VII is a game that was already released as one complete package, so it seems strange to break it up into episodes and sell each episode separately when the original could be bought and played as one product. In addition, an episode must have its own rising action and climax, but the season when put together and viewed as a whole must also have these elements. FFVII as a standalone product didn’t have to worry about making a episodic-style plotline, but now its remake suddenly does.
Hitman, being a completely new entry in the series, has a better chance of being made to fit this structure. The question here though is: should it? This newest entry was first reported by Edge Magazine to only have 3 levels at launch, but recently it was revealed that the game will go fully episodic and only offer a prologue and one level. In a time where games are being criticised for a lack of content, this move seems very risky. The developers claim that the level count is so low because of their size and the complexity of the NPC AI, but is this enough? Paying 60$ for a game is a bit of an investment, and then paying for future levels as they come out down the road feels dangerously like a large company trying to squeeze as much money as possible; this feeling is only exacerbated when the initial 60$ only gives people three levels to play in. Making Hitman episodic is a very risky venture indeed.
What do you think about the rising popularity of the episodic format? It certainly has put out a few successes, but will companies take it too far? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.