Currently I am playing Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD which is just a fancy way of saying it is the re-release of three parts of the Kingdom Hearts franchise. I love these games because they combine Disney and Final Fantasy, which are some of my favorite things. Playing through the re-release got me thinking about what makes a game replay-able.
There are some video games that I really could care less about going through the story again and others that make me excited to go through again. There are some elements that make going through the story again interesting, including time and decision power. Sometimes if the game is released again they will add elements to make the story interesting or challenging again, such as new monsters and offsetting the experience in some way. At the same time most of the game tends to be the same. So what opens up the possibility for replay with a game?
Probably one of the biggest factors is simply time. Both the time it took to play the game as well as how much time has passed since you last played. If the story of the game did not take much time to play through and it felt like everything was accomplished in that short time then the thought of going through that quick experience may not cross your mind. That is in contrast to a complex story that took you through months of story that you want to experience again. This usually only happens after you have been separated from the story for a while because you do not just want to pick it up again, but you know you could go through the story again. I have actually replayed a couple of different games and most of them I have replayed years later. Although there are a select few that can be replayed right away.
Alternative Story Path
The games that can be replayed the most are the ones with alternative story paths. These are the games where the player has the most control over how the story turns out. This can be played out like in Fable where the player basically goes down a path of good or evil. Do you help the people of the village for nothing or extort money from them? Do you save or do you kill? Throughout the game there are a variety of choices that you make that change the nature of how the story gets played out, partially through character interactions. Then there are other games where the very ending of the story itself changes based on your choices such as in Mass Effect and Dragon Age. In Mass Effect 2 the final mission has legitimate consequences and depending on how you choose you can lose some, all, or none of the crew that you decide to bring on the mission. In Dragon Age at varying points you have to choose sides in a conflict, often ending up killing one side or the other. This creates a very different story experience of who is in the final battle with you and actually changes the ending story wrap up. Having these choices means that you can play through the game multiple times and end up with different combinations each time.
Alternative Play Style
The other way to change the story is through alternative play style. Some games offering multiple solutions to the same mission allowing players to attempt different tactics for playing the game. In Deus Ex and Dishonored it is possible to choose between stealth and all out attack play throughs or a combination of both. This creates a varying difficulty and a different experience of the same story. One of the ways that the creators make the experience interesting is by changing the dynamic of the game based on these choices. If you do all out attack mode then people are aware of your actions and react accordingly by increasing security measures, for example. If you are stealthy then you can sneak around and no one quite realizes what is happening until it is too late. Dishonored even goes a step further and allows you to play the whole game without killing a single enemy (although this makes the game incredibly difficult). This change in dynamic makes your choices and experiences different as you play.
I am not big on replaying games often because there are other ones waiting in the wings so why go through a story again? At the same time if the story is compelling enough I will want to revisit that world. I have to say there is also the element for the Super Mario games that there is something hypnotizing about doing the run throughs of the same levels that you know and love over and over again. As well as the often quick satisfaction as you finish a level versus the sometimes grind of longer games. At the same time there is a certain point where you step away for a while.
The games that I am least likely to replay are ones where I felt that I accomplished everything the first time. Many of the Lego games I love, but David and I often spend so much time reaching that 100% goal that once it is accomplished the game feels done. I have a similar experience with Batman Arkham Asylum where I had completed the story and found all the extras. Making the replay value of the game non-existant for me. This also happened with the recent Tomb Raider game. I loved both of those games while I was playing them, but don’t know if I really care to go back to those worlds because what else is there for me to do in them?