The Sliding Scale of Continuity is as follows:
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Level 0: Non-Linear Installments
The different installments of the series are only nominally the same work; every new installment concerns different characters, or possibly the 'same' characters but in an Alternate Universe, such that the stories are explicitly disconnected and obviously not meant to be part of a continuity of any sort. Within any given installment, it can be assumed that every other installment either never happened or is at least completely irrelevant to the current one. What they share to make them a series is usually thematic, world or (for video games) gameplay elements, with possible minor recurring creatures, objects, etc. Non-Linear Sequel is the specific trope for this. If done to an entire series you've got a Thematic Series. In some cases, the rights-holders use the already-popular name that they own for marketing reasons, regardless of whether or not an installment fits in with previous ones in the series.
Examples:Anime and Manga
- Ghost in the Shell is split up into multiple alternate and equally separate continuities. The original manga, by which all the animated versions are based around; the Mamoru Oshii movies, which are condensed retellings of the manga with a bit of artistic license thrown in; Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the TV series that only loosely recreates and references scenes from the manga while telling a story all it's own; and finally Ghost in the Shell: Arise, which serves as a prequel of sorts to the whole franchise- even to the original manga- but still remains as a completely disconnected continuity in itself. Each version all contain the same characters and their own interpretations of them there-in.
- Each episode of Space Dandy has the core crew of Dandy, Meow, and QT in common and little else. While they behave the same from episode to episode, the stories tend to end with one or more of them getting killed and/or horrible, irreparable damage to their universe. This goes beyond a Snap Back in that the art style, genre, soundtrack, and writing style also change from episode to episode, especially in Season 2, to where they would look like different series if not for the main characters' presence. However, the show shifts to a Level 4 in episodes 23 through 26 while keeping the wildly divergent art styles and episodic format: 23 to 25 gradually explain the nature of why there's no continuity at all with 26 displaying the end result when someone tries to exploit it.
- The Leijiverse—the collective body of works by Leiji Matsumoto—is one of the biggest offenders against continuity in all of Japanese media. While technically united by common art style, themes, and overlapping characters, each installment, from Space Battleship Yamato to Space Pirate Captain Harlock (2013), had so far gleefully defied any attempt to bring them into any sort of cohesive order among each other. Even series that seem to conform with previous installments, like Maetel Legend and Space Symphony Maetel, end up spawning even more alternate continuities incompatible with the rest.
- The early installments in the Marvel Comics movies fall here. Until Iron Man, each IP was licensed to a different studio, so although some of them got sequels each series is unconnected to the others. The films in this category are the Spider-Man Trilogy and The Amazing Spider-Man Series, X-Men Film Series, Daredevil/Elektra, and Ghost Rider. Hulk is the odd man out, with The Incredible Hulk written as a Broad Strokes sequel rather than a straight reboot (although it is not canonical to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which the latter is a part of).
- The seasons of Blackadder in relation to each other are this, the only similarities being the basic premise of "Blackadder surrounded by idiots" (and not even that considering the first season). However, the episodes within a season can be from levels 1-2.
- Genre Anthology shows:
- The Final Fantasy series. A couple of games had sequels or spin-offs; the others are each their own reality with their own characters, their own plot, their own setting... However, they share various nods to one another such as similar monsters, summons, chocobos, and characters named Cid.
- The second game takes place in an Alternate Universe from the first and Victory involves the protagonist and her sister from the second game Trapped In Another Alternate Universe. Despite having the same characters, the games taking place in AU versions of the same world and with AU versions of the cast make this a level 0.
- The continuity progresses with VII, which features mk2s cast dealing with a new crisis and new characters in their home world, as well as Neptune and Nepgear ending up in another Alternate Universe that isn't actually one. Victory's Ultradimension is not mentioned for the most part outside of a quick recap at the very beginning, although a couple of elements from there do have considerable plot relevance. Namely Croire, the power of Tari's CPU, and Ultradimension Neptune. This in turn brings it up to somewhere between a level 2 and 3.
- Each entry in the Escape Velocity series takes place in a completely different continuity from the others. EV Classic and EV Nova are tangentially connected because a Negative Space Wedgie kicked two Atinoda Kestrels from the Classic universe into Nova, but it's more of an Easter Egg than anything else and doesn't affect the plot.
- The Pokemon games are generally set in different regions, and each of the installments are usually set several years apart form each other. Characters from previous games make a few appearances here and there, but each game's plot is generally self-contained and you always start off with a new protagonist. The main exceptions to this are the Gen 2 games (which share continuity with the Gen 1 games) with and Pokémon Black and White, which have direct sequels, Black 2 and White 2.
- Spin-off titles have even less continuity with the main series games. Only related by involving the titular monsters: For example, Pokémon Colosseum takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting, Pokémon Conquest takes place in a region based on feudal Japan and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon takes place in a world where there are no human beings and Pokemon are more civilized.
Level 1: Negative Continuity
Continuity? What's that? Sure, the episodes are clearly related, sharing characters and a basic setup... but ultimately, watching it out of order makes more sense than in order if anything. The show may cheerfully contradict itself and if something seems to have changed by the end of the episode, you can bet the next one pretended it never happened anyway, so it's hardly a loss if that's not the next one you watch. Usually done in comedy. When there actually is continuity of some sort, that very fact is probably a gag in itself. See the Negative Continuity page.
Examples:Anime and Manga
- While the Pokémon anime is 100% Status Quo Is God, it has sometimes dipped into Negative Continuity, as some events from earlier seasons or films are ignored later on. Pokémon: Genesect and the Legend Awakened is a very infamous example for ignoring Pokémon: The First Movie.
- While Dragon Ball has a great amount of continuity about it, in a larger sense the various entries into the franchise almost always invoke Negative Continuity in relation to each other, especially if they aren't written by Akira Toriyama. The manga forms the base from which all others are related by, but almost no works that expand the plot can ever be compatible with the others.note Movies get this the worst, slotting themselves into a hypothetical status quo that is similar to but not exactly the same as a point in time in the show.note Trying to sort this out causes more harm than good for many fans, and the creators are none too bothered by it and prefer to instead focus on writing interesting and cool stories than be bothered about how every single entry fits with the rest.
- The Disney Duck comics by Carl Barks and many other writers. Don Rosa's stories, however, are level 2.
- Flight of the Conchords' second season had several episodes end with the guys having, say, lost all their furniture, or fallen below zero on Murray's friendship graph, with the next merrily restoring the status quo without so much as a mention. The first season, however, is level 2-3, making it an example of inverted Continuity Creep.
- Saturday Night Live alternates between level 0 and level 1, with some recurring sketches and characters.
- Happy Tree Friends. Every single episode has at least one character either die or get horribly injured, yet by their next appearance they're invariably totally fine.
- Drawn Together, as exemplified by the fact it is the subject of the page quote for Negative Continuity.
- Dexter's Laboratory often ends episodes with the destruction of the laboratory and the like. All you need to know for each episode is that he's Dexter and has a laboratory.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force often ends with characters being maimed or killed, the main characters' house being destroyed, etc.
- The Simpsons: The reset button is often applied offscreen (such as one episode ending with the entire family except Lisa in jail) and characters fail to recognize each other despite all the adventures they've had together. However, there are also occasional Continuity Nods and permanent changes such as Lisa permanently becoming a vegetarian or Maude Flanders's death
- Many cartoons from The Golden Age of Animation have the Reset Button being pressed after and even during almost every episode. Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry being the most famous examples.
Level 2: Status Quo
Here Status Quo Is God. While there is an established canon and different episodes or installments will usually try not to contradict one another, there will be no, or next to no, changes in the setting that aren't reset before the end of the episode. There may be Continuity Nods, but if you haven't seen what is being referenced, they might as well just be Noodle Incidents. The basic situation at the beginning of an episode in season seven will probably be exactly (or almost exactly) the same as the situation at the beginning of an episode in season two, so that it makes little difference in what order you watch them.
Examples:Anime and Manga
- While the games have a vague level from 0 to 4, the Pokémon anime is completely set in the status quo, with the only real cast being Ash, Pikachu and Team Rocket. New companions join, and new Pokémon are caught, but Ash will always lose the league at the end of a series, and the Reset Button is pushed so that the whole series might as well have never happened. Rinse and repeat. This has resulted in Ash being no closer to his goal of becoming a Pokémon Master than he was in 1997, and he probably never will.
- A great many superheroes of The Golden Age of Comic Books tended towards this trope, especially the B-list characters who often had little in the way of supporting characters or recurring villains. An Aquaman or Green Arrow story of the early '40s might be almost identical to one published nearly two decades later.
- The Sherlock Holmes stories can be read in any order (with a very few notable exceptions like The Final Problem and The Empty House). And after the first few stories, they aren't all set in the order they were written in, anyway. Conan Doyle deliberately wrote them like this so that readers would not quit following the series just because they had missed a story or two.
- As it says on that page, Saved by the Bell was the king of the Status Quo Is God trope.
- Most KidComs, in general, are at this level. While they might occasionally have a brief story arc (and by "brief" I mean "the occasional two-parter"), they usually depict the exact same characters in the exact same situations from season to season. TGIF sitcoms are at the high end of this level, since they at least chronicle their main characters growing up and make whatever adjustments are necessary to the status quo to reflect this.
- Seinfeld is a good example of a grown-up sitcom that's at this level.
- Star Trek: The Original Series adhered to this level of continuity well enough that with a scant few exceptions you can watch the series in any order and it generally makes perfect sense.
- A rare mixed example can be seen with the main series Pokémon games. They mix this with level 0. There is continuity in the world, with references to events from previous games and some recurring characters, but every new game starts with you being a new rookie trainer in a new region fighting a new evil team, and knowing where the recurring characters came from is more a bonus than anything else.
- Most animated series from The '80s fell here, even if it meant Failure Is the Only Option for the heroes.
- Samurai Jack fits comfortably in this category. Although there were a few developments over the course of the series (Jack befriending the Scotsman, learning to jump good) they are only rarely shown. (The Scotsman only appears in three episodes after his introduction, there are plenty of times when jumping good could have solved the episode's dilemma but went unused.) Jack was never going to get to that time portal. Season 5 bumps it up to Level 4, however.
Level 3: Subtle Continuity
There may be developing minor subplots or Character Arcs, the status quo may gradually change over time, and prior events may be casually referenced, but major changes generally don't happen. If you watch a season two episode and then a season five one, you may think, "Wait, when did they get together?" or "Whoa, Alice and Bob moved?", but chances are if you then watch a later season five episode you'd never know you skipped seven episodes in between, and the plots of the individual episodes you watch will always be resolved by the end.
Examples:Anime and Manga
- The second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex diverges from the Type 4 setting that the first season fell into. Episodes are split up into "Individual", "Dividual", and "Dual" episodes. While the first two may seem like completely stand-alone episodes that have nothing to do with anything in particular, each episode focuses on at least some minor detail that will build up to a more important role later on as the story unfolds. Individual episodes focus on the rising tensions with the Asian refugees in Japan practically being treated as 2nd class citizens. Dual episodes focus on the Government's involvement with the refugee situation (and the Big Bad's manipulation of everything behind the scenes), and Dividual episodes focus on the members of Section 9 and how they get involved in all of it.
- Superman is a Level 3 in at least The Silver Age of Comic Books — while Mort Weisinger was the editor, his supporting cast, Rogues Gallery, and mythology were slowly built upon, without readers requiring to have read any previous stories most of the time. Supergirl (also edited by Weisinger) followed this model but often moved into Level 4 as she was more likely to be involved in two or three part stories.
- The first three Harry Potter books' storylines don't directly depend on the stories of the previous books; they each explain basic premises like the wizarding world, Voldemort, Harry's backstory, etc., Harry continues to live at the Dursleys', go to Hogwarts every year, have friends named Ron and Hermione, etc., and the actual events of the first book almost doesn't matter by the third, but they ARE brought up a few times in the other books. Also, for the fans that say that the second book doesn't matter either, Ron and Hermione wouldn't have been able to destroy horcruxes without the Basilik teeth, wich is something they could've only known to do if Harry told them about what he did in the chamber of secrets, wich happened in the second book. As for the rest of the series, well...
- A Series of Unfortunate Events is much the same as Harry Potter, with the first four books or so being mostly independent, starting off with the Baudelaires being adopted by a new guardian and carefully explaining who the characters are to potential new readers, but later on the continuity creeps and the reader starts to need to have read the previous books to make sense of all this stuff about VFD and Beatrice and so on.
- The Land of Oz hovers between 2 and 3 on the scale, mostly because Baum was burned out on the series, and grinding them out ahead of the bill collectors by demand of his publisher. There are some elements that carry over (like Ozma taking the throne in the second book, Dorothy moving to Oz by the 6th book, the magic belt), but most books are standalone and many elements can contradict one another, especially after Baum started phoning it in.
- David Drake's RCN novels make Call Backs to earlier books but mostly stand on their own. In only one case so far has a novel had an actual Sequel Hook, which turned out to be mostly a Red Herring: What Distant Deeps has Adele discover intelligence that sends Daniel and the crew to the location of The Road of Danger, but once he gets there the information is handed off to a Hero of Another Story and the heroes go off and do something else.
- Sitcoms that aren't level 2 tend to be this, e.g. How I Met Your Mother and Friends.
- Forensic Dramas, Monster of the Week shows and other basically episodic, plot-based genres with no Myth Arcs also usually fall here.
- Firefly's episodes can pretty much stand on their own in a mostly arbitrary order, though this may largely be because it never got the chance to go anywhere with the hinted Myth Arc.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation generally operated at this level. Most episodes focused on the Enterprise and its crew discovering new planets and alien species, and solving the problem presented in each episode. However, a few of the episodes build up Foreshadowing elements that culminate in a bigger story arc later on and some characters received promotions.
- Criminal Minds falls here. Although story arcs are present from time to time and it has seen main characters get replaced, any differences between the episodes tend to be mostly cosmetic- the vast majority of episodes are simply the Case Of The Week where the storyline is introduced and wrapped up in the same episode, with arcs operating mostly in the background.
- From season 3 on, Blue Bloods drops the Myth Arc format for Jamie Reagan's plots and becomes much more episodic. There's still consistent Character Development going on but there's no longer a formal story arc.
- The overwhelming majority of the Classic era of Doctor Who is like this, with the exception of a couple of season-long Arc plots here and there. The basic premise of the show remains the same, but actors switch out.
- Unforgettable spent season 1 at level 4 but was switched to here after being Un-Canceled and retooled as a summer series. The Myth Arc of Carrie Wells investigating the cold case of her sister's murder is dropped completely, though it gets a Continuity Nod every once in a while.
- The Ace Attorney games have a stronger (level 4) continuity between cases within each game, but are this with respect to one another, featuring the same characters (bar Apollo Justice) and explaining things like spirit mediums at the beginning of each game but otherwise having independent stories and not depending on the player knowing the previous games.
- Left 4 Dead is level 0 without DLC. Each level is completely stand alone as far as the game leads you to believe. With the release of the DLC, it jumps to level 3 as we find out that the survivors ended up transitioning from one area to the next. Left 4 Dead 2 is pretty firmly level 3, with the start of the next area being a direct result of what happened at the end of the last. For example: fueling up a race car to escape from a zombie infested mall only results in them abandoning the car when they reach blocked traffic, thus having to travel through a dilapidated carnival on foot.
- The Legend of Zelda. The games tend to be standalone but there are three timelines that diverge at Ocarina of Time. Yet the games only get a Continuity Nod or Mythology Gag at best and can be played with any knowledge of the other games.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a level 3, there are Continuity Nods and Call Backs to previous episodes but with the exception of certain two-part episodes All the episodes are stand-alone.
- Moved up to a level 4 in season 4, having an arc related to opening the box from the season beginning two parter..
- South Park is normally level 3 but occasionally goes into level 4, especially when a major event happens or characters go through major Character Development, as well as in season 18.
- Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers was one of the earliest American animated series to experiment with a Myth Arc. Most episodes could stand alone, but the war against The Crown Empire, the renegade Supertroopers, thrying to establish diplomatic relations with Tarkon, and the unfortunate Fate Worse Than Death of Zach's wife would creep up from time to time, along with other minor elements like the Mind Net device and a substantial Rogues Gallery that learned from and discussed their previous mistakes.
- Gravity Falls, with the season one finale bumping the show up to Level 4.
- Futurama tends towards Status Quo Is God, but there were a few major lasting changes in the later seasons.
- Hey Arnold!: Nearly every episode is standalone, but several episodes introduce characters that become regulars, such as "New Teacher" and "Ms. Perfect".
- Rick and Morty, although episodic, does have Character Development, Call Backs, and status quo changes. Outside of Season Premieres, it's easy to understand what's going on even if you had never seen a single episode.
Level 4: Arc-Based Episodic
These works do divide into episodes or installments with each (usually) introducing and resolving its own mini-plot, but there is a continuous ongoing storyline going on in the background. While most episodes may be enjoyed individually, any watching out of order will probably leave you wondering where characters who died three seasons ago are, or why they're suddenly having dinner with the guy they had sworn to defeat in the last episode you watched, or who the hell this new villain they're talking about is, even if you can follow the actual plot of the episode. Shows often try to combat the resulting Continuity Lockout — with varying degrees of success — with Previously On recap openings. See also Story Arc.
Examples:Anime and Manga
- One interesting example is Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which explicitly identifies each episode as either "Stand Alone" (episodic) or "Complex" (part of the series arc). The episodic ones rarely contain any reference to other episodes.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe that started with Iron Man is in this category, courtesy of Marvel deciding to create its own movie label after they were bought by Disney.
- The individual films (the Iron Man series, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger) are pretty self-contained but each contributes to an ongoing Myth Arc that hit a climax with The Avengers, which in turn used The Stinger to set up the next major villain, Thanos, who would take part in Guardians of the Galaxy. Meanwhile Phase 2 of the MCU deals directly with some of the fallout from the climax of The Avengers (i.e. Iron Man 3 Tony Stark has PTSD after nearly dying at the climax, Thor: The Dark World Loki is chastised for causing the alien invasion, Captain America: The Winter Soldier SHIELD is gung-ho about stopping threats before they become threats).
- The Winter Soldier itself has its own ramifications for the MCU with the revelation that HYDRA rebuilt itself from within SHIELD. While the only effect it has in later films is that the Avengers now work independently, in the TV series Agents Of Shield, the revelation of HYDRA's continued existence loses some impact if you haven't seen The Winter Soldier before watching the final third of Season 1.
- The Netflix shows are also mostly self contained much like Phase 1 of the MCU though it too has its own ongoing Myth Arc as well as plenty of Continuity Nods, namely Hell's Kitchen being what it is because of the damage caused in The Avengers.
- The Infinity Stones/Gems and their build-up to Avengers: Infinity War will be lost on anyone who hasn't seen the key films where five of the six have respectively appeared so far.
- The Dresden Files slides quickly from level 3 to here as the books become less "investigating a case" and more "investigating something deeply connected to just about everything else while dozens of old characters reappear and stuff that happened five books ago suddenly turns out to be vitally important," though there is still a plot with its own resolution in each book.
- Most of the Discworld books are level 4.
- The Ciaphas Cain novels are a fusion of this and Anachronic Order, numbered thematically rather than chronologically. The first trilogy tells the story of how Cain became attached to the Valhallan 597th Regiment and their early campaigns. The second covers much more ground time-wise but is tangentially related to the shadowlight, a mysterious pre-humanity artifact discovered on Perlia. "Echoes of the Tomb" and The Emperor's Finest cover his time as Imperial Guard liaison to the Reclaimers chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, and shed light on a Noodle Incident repeatedly alluded to in previous books and why Cain is so terrified of necrons. The last two novels, The Last Ditch and The Greater Good, deal with tyranid incursions.
- Most of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though it started to edge towards level 5 as the series went on.
- The X-Files would have about a fifty-fifty shot between standalone "monster of the week" episodes and heavy-duty Myth Arc. The Myth Arc eps sometimes cranked the scale all the way up to five, while monster of the week episodes were a 2.
- Blake's 7 always had the ongoing struggle against the totalitarian Federation, but whether it was the foreground concern or subordinate to the current crisis depends on the episode.
- Supernatural tends to do this in later seasons, as compared to the level 3 of the earlier ones. As it recaps all plot points relevant to the episode right before the episode, it's in no real danger of becoming level 5.
- Doctor Who post-2005. Pre-2005 DW is more a hybrid of level 4 and level 3, with 4-6 episode story arcs that have a strict continuity in themselves but overall have virtually no connection to each other. The only difference a casual viewer would notice between a season 10 story and a season 20 story is the new lead actor.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the series that followed it, Voyager and Enterprise, wavered between this and level 3, but their use of longer-running arcs (compared to previous series) bumps them up the scale.
- Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis follow this model. Each show has multi-season Myth Arcs but the individual episodes are pretty self-contained, and they usually have a Previously On segment in the continuity-heavy episodes.
- USA Network's summer series are noted for this:
- Burn Notice: With the arc being the titular burn notice and Michel Westen's attempts to get back into proper intelligence work. It gets much more arc-heavy starting in Season 5.
- Royal Pains: With the arc being Hank working out his family issues and growing his business.
- Suits: With the arcs being Mike Ross' dubious past in the legal profession coming back to bite him, and the constant intrigue among partners (and Louis Litt) at Pearson Hardman.
- 'Allo 'Allo! is a rare sitcom to reach this level; each episode began with the lead character summarising the ongoing events of the miniarc so far and the background arc of the painting(s) and British airmen ran through the whole series.
- The West Wing has two or three major arcs per season, but segments of the arc are usually wrapped up within episodes with some exceptions. Being as it's a show about politics, things from the past often affect the present. Each episode starts with a Previously On.
- The first two seasons of Blue Bloods fall here, with season-long arcs starring Jamie Reagan independent of the Body of the Week format of each episode's A-plot with his older brother Danny.
- The Walking Dead and its companion series, Fear the Walking Dead, generally fall on this side of the scale. Each season is self-contained enough that you'll immediately understand what's going on, who the major players are and the general threat, but there are enough continuity nods and references to prior events that establish a strong sense of the overall arc (a group of people struggling to survive, and losing allies along the way).
- Andi Mack is this and teeters on Level 5, very impressive for a Disney Kid Com
- Destroy the Godmodder is this. You can jump in as you like, but certain events are oftentimes confusing if you don't really know exactly what's going on. There were many complaints about this during the Homestuck Invasion, as many players had issues with having no idea what was going on because of how many references there were to Homestuck at the time.
- The Dragon Age series is notably more lax about its continuity than its sister series Mass Effect: while there are definitely several enduring Myth Arcs, each installment so far (including supplemental novels and comic mini-series) is a largely self-contained story that happens to push one or more overarching plots along. This is helped by the fact that individual installments usually focus on different (albeit often overlapping) main characters and are set in different parts of the world at different times; also, an occasional retcon by the writers prevents the established canon from being too reliable.
- Pokémon Gold and Silver carries on with the major events from 'Pokémon Red and Blue''. The Johto Pokedex is considered as an extention of the Kanto Pokedex, you have to stop Team Rocket from returning to its former glory, and the Pokemon League is the same Indigo Plateau. Most, if not all, characters from Kanto returns, including the previous game's protagonist, who is now the true Pokemon Champion. And many of them have moved on with their lives. The only reason this isn't Level 5 is due to having to start with a new protagonist.
- Pokémon Black and White have direct sequels and are the only main series games to do so. Black 2 and White 2 can be played with no problems to their story, but it it is appreciated more if you've played Black and White first. There's even a feature where you can connect a Black 2 or White 2 game to a Black or White game and transfer the latter's data (such as the player's name and what team they had) to enhance the story further.
- Post-Continuity Reboot, Super Robot Wars Original Generation. The fact each major installment (including the Gaiden Game sequel) have a dedicated, episodic name ("Divine Wars", "The Inspector", "Unified Wisdom" and "Gaia Saviour") proves it's better to play them in successive order than to skip one. The Spin-Off Endless Frontier duology and Another Century's Episode: R, although occurring in Alternate Universes, take elements directly from main continuity, though are not necessary to fully enjoy Original Generation. However, they provide details as to why some characters are temporarily missing in main installments and extend the Mythology Gag prevalent in the continuity.
- King's Quest lands here, with the games themselves being standalone, but characters frequently reference past adventures, and the plotlines sometimes lead into one another, like the events of King's Quest V being set into motion over events in King's Quest III (the Big Bad of that game takes revenge for his brother being turned into a cat), and the events of King's Quest VI built on events in King's Quest V with many references to King's Quest III in dialogue and flavor text. There's also an incriminating letter in King's Quest VI that hints that at least three of the previous villains may have been working together. It can get up to a 5 if you get your hands on a Fan Remake or Fan Sequel like AGD Interactive's remakes of KQII and KQIII or The Silver Lining.
- Space Quest, like its "brother" King's Quest has games that stand alone mostly, but later entries reference the hell out of previous ones. Even if Roger is always busted back down to mopping floors, there's always some hint of his previous adventures that comes up when playing. In Space Quest 6, this is referenced by showing Roger with a collection of inventory items from previous games. Space Quest 4 spoofs this with Time Travel by having Roger go to his future (The Latex Babes of Estros), where he gets in trouble for something he technically hasn't done yet, and the first game where the bar owner complains about the slot machine Roger broke. Space Quest 4's plot was kicked off by a Virtual Ghost Vohaul wanting revenge over Roger killing him off in Space Quest II, and much of the subplot in Space Quest 5 (in addition to why Beatrice getting killed means Non-Standard Game Over for Roger) has to do with events in Space Quest 4.
- Quest for Glory is one of the most serialized franchises Sierra ever made, and unlike other games released around this time (like the aforementioned King's Quest), the QFG series allowed the player to carry their character over from one game to the next. However, this series wasn't quite as restrictive from a continuity standpoint. Each game (despite following a single hero) dwelt with a separate problem in a separate location. Although it worked in characters and continuity nods from previous installments, the games were self-contained enough that you could immediately understand what was happening without playing prior titles.
- El Goonish Shive is divided into storylines, which, while not necessarily self-contained, are by themselves more a bit more accessible than the comic-spanning larger story, which requires a full understanding of most things that have happened before to follow. And the EGS:NP B Side Comic is mostly level 1 with a few storylines having level 3 continuity with the main comic and one (the Playing With Dolls storyline) having level 5 continuity.
- Most of Red vs. Blue belongs here starting with the Recollection Trilogy. There's a lot of space to goof around and tell jokes that aren't usually important to the plot, but with the way episodes follow one-after-the-other to the point where the DVD releases compile them into long movies, the plot is crucial whenever it does. And speaking of said jokes, they themselves half the time can be far-reaching callbacks to the beginning of the series that make little to no sense without the context. The The Project Freelancer Saga The Chorus Trilogy in particular are borderline Level 5, barring season 11 which dips into Level 3.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender is mostly like this — while the Gaang is always traveling the world to find bending masters to teach Aang and there are plenty of Fillers that belong on level 3, there are pretty steady continuous developments on the villainous side that would be very jarring to anyone who just watched individual episodes here and there.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic became this in season 4, having an arc related to opening the box from the season beginning two parter., and having details of season 2 episodes come up in the season finale. Season 5 seems to be setting a similar trend.
- Gravity Falls as of Season 2 has the overall story of the main characters attempting to uncover the secrets of the titular town and discover the identity of the individual who documented these abnormalities. Though there are can plot-relevant clues hidden in the background or credits of every episode, only a handful have the characters actively advancing the plot.
- The eighteenth season of South Park has each episode picking up from where the previous episode left off or takes a minor plot point from an earlier episode and goes into greater detail with it. This is lampshaded in episode 2, in which the unexpected increase in continuity plays a role in the plot.
- Tabaluga animated adaptation season 3. Earlier seasons had only some changes, mostly near the beginning and end of series.
- Steven Universe jumped from what appeared to be Level 3 to 4 after the events of the two-parter "Mirror/Ocean Gem". With the introduction of alien Gem Lapis Lazuli, it became apparent the Crystal Gems were on Earth for a reason and appear to be fearing contact with others off-planet. After the events of "The Message", Peridot and Jasper shook up the status quo in a major way. Although many episodes feature self-contained stories, the show has a tendency to sneak in bits of characterization and seemingly innocuous dialogue that can pop up in later episodes to be revealed as critical to the plot without warning. The most important details will be briefly summarized, but most of the significant Character Development and hints of it's Myth Arc will not, and rewards careful examination of background details. After a few episodes in season 2, the show's jumped to level 5.
Level 5: Full Lockout
If you haven't seen the whole series so far, or at least the entirety of the current season, you're screwed. Each installment expects you to have seen every previous installment; though it may make some effort to try to clue you in if you haven't, you will probably be thoroughly confused, and there is no guarantee there will be any sort of resolution to anything by the episode's end; in fact, it's quite likely to end with a Cliffhanger. Often Better on DVD. The specific trope here is Continuity Lockout.
Examples:Anime and Manga
- In general, Full Lockout is extremely common in anime. Especially in 13 or 26 episode series as they are devoid of filler and even more so when they are short anime series based on pre-existing material (usually manga).
- On an internal scale, the Dragon Ball manga fits here, and to a lesser extent the two anime based off of it. If you skip twenty or thirty Chapters you'll generally be quite out of place as to where the story is. On a larger, franchise-wise scale, however, it's more a Level 1.
- Attack on Titan has lots of Wham Episode worth of character deaths, revelations, and plotwists. You miss one chapter or episode, and the next one has you lost.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, especially as it goes on (though the Parallel Works are level 0).
- Many Crisis Crossovers assume that not only have you read all the previous and tie in issues of the event but also that you are familiar with events published much further in the past. Fallout from the original Crisis on Infinite Earths affected the DCU from 1986 until the new-52 reboot in 2011.
- Albedo: Erma Felna EDF is a rather extreme case of this, since you need to read each and every single piece of information from not only the comics, but also every single piece of extra information Word of God has published outside the comics like the tabletop RPG games, fanzines, info from almost every single piece of published media like interviews, websites, Usenet posts, etc., some of them were published from the 80s.
- ReGenesis, through all its interwoven multiple-episode story and character arcs, is probably impossible to understand episodically despite the lengthy Previously On recaps.
- Each season of 24 is a continuous real-time story arc.
- Lost is a frequently cited example of Continuity Lockout because of this.
- Babylon 5 later on, though the first season or so was more level 4.
- Damages is level 5, due to the Anachronic Order and following the case instead of a Monster of the Week format.
- Stargate Universe was heavily arc-based, which had the misfortune to occur at the same time Syfy changed its scheduling strategy to where it would air part of a season, then replace it with another show, then bring the first show back, and so on. The SGU showrunners partly blame the series' cancellation on the resulting confusion driving away viewers.
- Most of the various AMC dramas:
- HBO does this too.
- Game of Thrones: What do you expect from an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire?
- The Wire: Most episodes push multiple arcs forward, along with continuity nods that don't just stretch across multiple episodes, but multiple seasons. Even missing a single episode can leave a viewer lost as to what's happened in the interim.
- Raumschiff GameStar: The series swung between level 5 (Full Lockout) in seasons 1, 2, and 4 and level 4 (Arc-based Episodic) in seasons 3 and 5, occasionally tapping into level 3 (Subtle Continuity) at some points in the third and fourth seasons.
- Once Upon a Time: Same writers as Lost, and same twisted plotlines that can cram several Wham Episodes inside Wham Episodes. Sure, they're all fairy tale and literary characters, but that means very little with their love of Composite Characters and Decomposite Characters and at least five Magnificent Bastards scheming against one another.
- Under the Dome features extremely tight continuity such that even the inclusion of a Previously On segment at the start of each episode isn't much help.
- Person of Interest fits here to a similar degree as Babylon 5, with the first season and a half being pretty episodic but featuring continuous story arcs in the background. After about the middle of season 2, the importance of knowing the continuity rapidly ramps up because the show starts to verge on Loads and Loads of Characters and the various arcs begin to interconnect frequently.
- The King of Fighters currently has four arcs: The Rugal Saga (the first title, '94), The Orochi Saga ('95-'98), The NESTS Chronicles ('99-2002), and The Tales of Ash (the present-day saga, having started in 2003). While it's not too bad with The NESTS Chronicles (as the protagonist of those titles, K', distances himself from previous hero Kyo despite being genetically-engineered with his DNA), The Tales of Ash almost requires that you played the first four games. This is made worse if you look past the main plot and focus on the supporting cast, as you then have to deal with allusions and plot points carried over from Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Ikari Warriors, Athena/Psycho Soldier, The Last Blade, Savage Reign/Kizuna Encounter, Buriki One, etc. While it's Continuity Porn and Fanservice for those who have followed SNK Playmore since its heyday, it's borderline-Continuity Lockout for anyone else. Remember that this series originally existed as a storyless gathering of fighters.
- Kingdom Hearts. From the second game onward the games head straight into Kudzu Plot with any detail potentially Foreshadowing future games (Xigbar's cryptic lines in II being an example). Dream Drop Distance has "memoirs" thought that record the plots of the preceeding games and unlocks them when a Continuity Nod/Call-Back to the respective game first occurs. Making the games a Level 4 at least. (though without that game it still remains at 5)
- Both Higurashi and Umineko: When They Cry count. Ye gads, get out of order or miss a segment or two in either, and you can end up so lost. And, this is the same, whichever medium you're playing/ watching/ reading them in.
- The original Mass Effect trilogy is probably the most continuity-restrictive series BioWare has ever produced. Thanks to the ability to carry over the main character (and thus most of the plot) across all three installments, Mass Effect 2 and particularly Mass Effect 3 depend on the previous installments to such degree that it is literally impossible to get some of the best outcomes in the third game (such as the peace between quarians and the geth) without having completed the previous ones.
- When it comes to the Metal Gear franchise, if you aren't starting from square one (or the other square one, or the other other one), you'll be able to make more sense of a story by vomiting up alphabet soup, since the series has an extremely complex, continuity-driven plot that is still almost impossible to decipher even if you play the games in order.
- The Most Popular Girls in School takes continuity very seriously.
- Sluggy Freelance creator Pete Abrams recently acknowledged the phenomenon at this stage of the comic's lifespan and narrative density. He still tries to link back to details in previous strips, but now that it's become necessary even in filler arcs, it's extremely daunting to new readers.
- The Legend of Korra may perhaps be the most continuity-heavy cartoon to date. Barring the first season, each season directly leads into the next, with the resulting fallout shaping the events of each. Although the villains and arcs they generate were separate, the characters and global politics constantly changed. By season 3, it'd more or less become an adult drama that just so happened to be in animated form.
- Though covered on the earlier point, Steven Universe received a further jump midway through season 2 and hasn't looked back. The show's gone beyond the occasional two-part episode and heavy background plot to long stretches of continuous storytelling. The Peridot arc featured 4 episodes, took a brief respite to detail Garnet's backstory and a one-off episode, followed by 3 episodes in a row to resolve it, then 6 episodes in a row dealing with the Cluster and its aftermath. The season 3 finale featured a four-parter, and the fourth season arc to retrieve Greg from Blue Diamond was a five-parter that leaves off seconds after the last episode stops, hinging on the aforementioned Garnet backstory. If you missed that one, you're going to be very confused.
- Final Space is becoming this.