Follow TV Tropes


Episodic Game

Go To

"With the exception of Telltale Games and very few others, a guarantee that the game you just bought will never be finished and you should not get too attached to anyone."
PC Gamer describes a typical episodic game note 

Live-Action TV is kind of like live action Film. Kinda. You have actors on a set, with specific characters, telling a story. You film it, you send it to post-production, and you jazz it up with special effects. When you're done, you have what appears to be real people in real situations acting unusual stories for your entertainment. And since it's recorded, you can watch it over and over again and it'll be the same every time, unlike Theater. But TV is different—the stories go on longer and are cheaper than movies (unless you buy massive TV box sets), but you only get to see a little of them every week.

Eventually, someone in the Video Game industry looked at this model and said: "Huh. Well, if TV can do it... why can't we?"

Episodic Games (or Episodic Gaming) is a relatively new take on a fairly old model in game production and distribution, pushed forward by digital download services. Episodic games are actually more like miniseries than TV shows, but the idea is similar. (PC shareware games during the late 80s and early 90s were all about episodic content, just not quite in the same way as modern episodic games.) Episodic games are short, cheap games (usually in the $5-$10 range), each of which tells part of the story. They take less time to develop due to their short length, so they can come out more frequently. They only tell part of a game story. However, due to their cost, if a player buys all the episodes, they still end up getting a full retail-priced game over a period of time. The idea behind releasing games episodically is fairly simple: By releasing more content over several months, gamers don't have to wait years for more new games. And by pricing them moderately, gamers can buy them and enjoy them steadily without having to put one massive-sized dent in their wallet.

It doesn't always work out perfectly, of course. Companies can have financial troubles, developers can get carried away with designing the next installment, bugs happen, and all the usual stuff that stops games from being released on time.

Because of the way it works, episodic gaming lends itself well to story-based games, such as Adventure Games. In particular, Telltale Games has historically made significant profit on episodic adventure games.

Games in this format include:

  • .hack is probably one of the modern day Trope Codifiers for this in terms of RPGs. Notable is that each sub series of games carried over all your stats, equipment, etc, to the next game.
  • 3 out of 10 is a comedic, episodic game series about the world's worst video game studio and their newest animator.
  • Albert And Otto is a Limbo-like Puzzle Platformer. The first episode, The Adventure Begins, was released in 2015, and the game appears to have stalled out since then.
  • Albino Lullaby, a 3D first-person Psychological Horror game with VR support. Its first episode was released in 2015, and the other two are still TBD.
  • Alternate Reality was an ambitious mid-1980s sandbox RPG project. The first part — The City — was to serve as the hub and the rest 6 — The Dungeon, The Palace, The Wilderness, etc. — would expand it, but remain playable as standalones. Together they would form an unprecedently huge game world. Only 2 games were released: The City and The Dungeon. Due to buggy Copy Protection merging them resulted in player's death.
  • Angels of Death is an RPG Maker Adventure Game with dark themes, and which consists of four episodes.
  • Visiware's Arabian Nights was one of the first games to take advantage of digital distribution for this, with seven installments released one by one online in 2000-01 and then bundled together for a physical release.
  • Arcaea's main story was told over the course of five years in chapters that come with DLC song packs, with six chapters split across six DLC packs in total. In addition, there are side stories that each are standalone stories within the same universe, each one focusing on a specific side character, again distributed in DLC packs that are released over time.
  • Aveyond 3, a shareware RPG that comes in three installments.
  • Ball Revamped 3 consists of the two episodes Andromeda and Gemini. They're free Flash games, and were split because the complete game exceeded the 5 MB limit on many game websites.
  • Bendy and the Dark Revival
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine
  • Broken Age famously split the game into two sections in order to get more money to finish it. As a high profile Kickstarter project this caused some controversy.
  • BS Super Mario USA is a pseudo-sequel to Super Mario Bros. 2 that split the game up into four different chapters released individually.
  • Byteria Saga: Heroine Iysayana, a freeware RPG. The three parts are now exclusively available as a bundle, but still distinct.
  • Ciel nosurge is a simulation game, but vital backstory is told through downloadable episodes.
  • Citizen Sleeper was followed up by a trilogy of free episodic DLC (FLUX, REFUGE, and PURGE), which follows a Story Arc about a refugee flotilla arriving at Erlin’s Eye.
  • Code 7 is a Science Fiction Adventure Game split into 5 episodes: "Episode 0: Allocation" (2016), "Episode 1: Threading" (2017), "Episode 2: Memory" (2019), "Episode 3: Backdoor" (2019) and "Episode 4: Permutation" (release expected in Q1 2020).
  • The Council
  • Deltarune is weird about this. The first chapter was released in 2018 as a surprise, under the guise of a "survey program". People assumed this is what would be a demo for the full game, but in 2021, Chapter 2 was released for free. Toby Fox stated Chapter 2 was made free as a voluntary decision, and Chapters 3-5 will be part of the full game, which will have a price tag.
  • Dysfunctional Systems has a rather rough release history. Episode 1: Learning to Manage Chaos was the first to be released in 2013, before the developers decided to halt development two years later. In 2017, the series resumed with the release of Episode 0: Orientation. As of June 2020, Episode 2 is still in development.
  • Farnham Fables is episodic in the same way that a Saturday Morning Cartoon is. The episodes are mostly stand-alone, but have the occasional minor Call-Back or Foreshadowing linking it to other episodes.
  • Final Fantasy Dimensions has a Prologue episode followed by a series of chapters, most of which focus on the holder of the next job class the party will receive. When the game was ported to mobile systems, the iOS version retained the pay-by-chapter model, but the Android version has players purchase the whole game as one unit.
  • The original version of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years was set up as this, owing to its origins as a game on Japanese feature phones as well as WiiWare. It focuses on the individual stories of particular characters as they are trying to solve the mystery behind the second moon.
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake is an odd example: for all intents and purposes, it is an episodic game by way of being a video game remake broken into separate games. But due to Adaptation Expansion, each entry is as long as the original game on their own, and are full-priced rather than budget titles like most instances of this trope.
  • Forum Warz, a Web Game whose story was released in three episodes from 2007 to 2010.
  • Half-Life 2 was an early attempt, just as famous for the quality of its first two "episodes" as it is infamous for the gaming community's slow realization that Episode Three is never going to happen. The game's head writer would eventually release a plot summary for the game on his blog a decade after Episode Two's release, which put an end to years of "Half-Life 3 confirmed" jokes. Jokes about Valve not knowing how to count to 3note  continue, however.
  • Hitman (2016) was released with two tutorial missions and the first story mission, with each story mission released monthly, plus a bonus campaign. After switching publishers, the episodic release was canned and Hitman 2 and Hitman 3 were released as separate games, although you can play the previous games' missions within the sequels.
  • Hiveswap and Hauntswitch, a pair of adventure games in the Homestuck universe.
  • Hydrophobia was originally one but the first episode sold so poorly episode two never appeared. Instead it had an Updated Re-release to the PS3 and PC...then the company went bust so still no episode two.
  • I Am Still Alive: A freeware RPG Maker game consisting of seven acts, all of which have been released by now.
  • I Miss the Sunrise: Another completed RPG Maker game. (You can read the developer's musings on the format here.)
  • The Impossible Quiz Book is split across three episodes of 50 questions each.
  • Joe Dever's Lone Wolf, The game is separated in four acts.
  • Kentucky Route Zero is a point-and-click adventure released in five acts from 2013 to 2020.
  • Kings Quest (2015) was originally released in this format, with the five chapters and bonus epilogue published and made available for purchase individually. Once the entire game had been published, it was made available on a single-purchase disc for consoles.
  • Knee Deep was a low-budget TellTale-like adventure game, released over 2015. Its development was unusual in three ways: 1) It only had three episodes instead of the standard five; 2) The player didn't buy them separately but instead had to pay for the season pass at the start; 3) The first episode lacked voice acting, but it was patched in after the release of the subsequent episodes.
  • The Journey Down
  • The Last Door, is a micro-budget Point-and-Click adventure game with heavy use of pixel art. Currently finished its second season, with plans for a third.
  • Learning with the Pooyoos, targeted at very young children.
  • Lie of Caelum: The game is being released in episodes on Steam, with the Episode 1 being released as a free game in 2022. However, later episodes might not be free.
  • Life Is Strange
  • Light Fairytale: The developer plans to release the game in separate episodes with the ability to carry over resources from the previous episodes' save files. The first episode was release in 2019 and the second episode was released in 2021.
  • The Lion's Song has four episodes, each being released separately from 2016 to 2017.
  • MARDEK, though Development Hell problems (rewriting the entire engine twice, among other things) caused chapter 3 to be over two years late, and the experience has exhausted the developer so much that he doesn't want to continue working on it for a while.
  • Moon Chronicles. Notable in that an originally self-complete game was re-released as a supposed first season of a larger story, but then no second season had ultimately followed.
  • National Park Girls, a Visual Novel that is divided in 5 "episodes", with each episode being released yearly.
  • Neverending Light, a Survival Horror Flash game that had one episode released in 2009, and nothing was heard of the continuation since then.
  • Ninjala is primarily a free-to-play action brawler game, but offers a purchasable story campaign that is broken up into chapters, with a new one released each "season".
  • Orwell, a Simulation Game about being part of a surveillance state. The first season was released in 2016, and the second followed in 2018.
  • Penny Arcade Adventures has had five episodes released. Notable in that a switch in both the studio and the genre had occurred midway through. Whereas the first two episodes had greater production values and were more real-time in nature, the financial considerations led to another studio using RPG Maker-style combat and aesthetics for the concluding three.
  • Penumbra is a debut work of horror by the Frictional Games. The first episode, Overture, was generally praised as a promising start. The following one, Black Plague, is considered to build further build on Overture's strengths, and it also started some of Frictional's signature traditions, like not including combat (present in Overture). The final one, Requiem, is much shorter, had undergone a severe Genre Shift towards being a Puzzle Game and is generally considered skippable at best.
  • Quest Fantasy, while not initially intended this way, fits with the shortness of each game.
  • Rain Of Reflections
  • République
  • Sally Face is a five-episode point-and-click horror adventure game. The first episode released August 2016, and the final episode was released December 2019.
  • Saturday Morning RPG has five episodes, all presented in the style of the Saturday Morning Cartoon that it mainly draws inspiration from.
  • Scarlet Hollow is an Horror Adventure Game/Visual Novel hybrid with some light RPG Elements. It is planned to be released over seven episodes, with the first two having been released in June 2021.
  • The Secret Monster Society is a child-oriented point-and-click adventure game in a bright cartoony setting. It was intended to consist of four episodes, yet only two were made; at the time of writing, nearly three years have passed with no word as to the status of the remaining two.
  • A Second Mario Bros. X Thingnote  is split into multiple episodes, the first being called "Analog Funk". Future episodes are currently in development.
  • Shiness was intended to be one, with The Lightning Kingdom as its first chapter, but when it failed to make a profit and killed its studio, no other episodes were made.
  • Siege of Avalon pioneered the format in the Western RPG genre back in 2000, with a deliberately novel-like plot subdivided into six chapters. The first chapter was downloadable for free, the remaining five had to be purchased and downloaded individually — despite the fact that all were released at roughly the same time. A year later, the whole story has been compiled and published on a single CD, however.
  • Sierra Ops is split into four episodes. The first episode was released in January 2020, the second came out in June 2021, and the remaining two are in development.
  • King's Quest: The Silver Lining is a freeware 3D fan letter to the series that got through many legal troubles to exist in its current state.
  • Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller was developed by the same studio as The Silver Lining, but also involved Jane Jensen of Gabriel Knight. Its initial episode, The Hangman, released in 2012, and was originally planned to have five episodes, each named after the new killer introduced by said episode. Lackluster sales forced them to reduce it to 4, though, and also to give up on the second season after finishing the first in 2013.
  • Shadow Realms is intended to be episodic, with developers comparing episodes to sessions of the pen-and-paper RPGs from which the game takes inspiration.
  • Shining Force III has the dubious distinction of being an incomplete episodic game outside of its native Japan; only the first episode of the three-part story was officially localized into English.
  • SiN Episodes is an example of a failed attempt: only the first episode, SiN Episodes: Emergence, ever got released.
  • Siren: Blood Curse was sold in three bundles of four chapters each on the PlayStation Network.
  • Zig-Zagged with Spider-Man (PS4): the base game has a full story campaign, but the DLC, collectively referred to as "The City That Never Sleeps", is a three-part episodic story.
  • Song of Horror, which released its first two episodes on October 31st, 2019, with the third following Friday the 13th in December 2019. The last two episodes are expected to be out by March 2020.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is one of the earliest examples of this trope. Sonic 3 by itself has the first six Zones and Sonic & Knuckles has the last eight Zones. You can "Lock-On" both cartridges together and play one big combined game, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This was originally not the plan with the game; the entire S3&K package was supposed to be released as simply one game, but time constraints forced Sega to split the game in half so they could get half of it onto store shelves and the other half done later.
    • A version of Sonic 3D Blast for the Sega Channel split the game into two "parts", since there was not enough space in the Sega Channel adapter to fit the entire game. The first part featured the first four zones (Green Grove through Diamond Dust), and the second part featured the remaining levels (Volcano Valley through Panic Puppet, plus the final boss).
    • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, Episode II, and Episode Metal. An Episode III was planned, but cancelled after the lukewarm reception of the first two.
  • StarCraft II was not an episodic game when it was released, but rather Wings of Liberty as the base game and Heart of the Swarm as an expansion (Although if you had bought Heart of the Swarm, you'd also get Wings of Liberty), but when Legacy of the Void was released, the game was turned episodic, and each part of the trilogy can be bought and played standalone.
  • Super Adventure Rockman is divided into three episodes on discs.
  • Super Robot Wars occasionally does this. With the exception of Operation Extend, each episode is a separate physical product.
    • Super Robot Wars F and F Final, a duology that serves as a very loose reimagining of Super Robot Wars 4. Unlike most other Super Robot Wars examples, the F duology is treated as one continuous game mechanics-wise.
    • Super Robot Wars Compact 2, a trilogy (Earth Crisis, Cosmoquake, and Galaxy Showdown) of games that are mostly self-contained gameplay-wise but tell one continuous story, with the first two episodes occurring simultaneously In-Universe while the third contains the climax. This was subverted when the trilogy was compiled and remade into Super Robot Wars Impact, which is one continuous game.
    • Super Robot Wars Z2, the two-part sequel (Hakai-hen and Saisei-hen) to the first Super Robot Wars Z.
    • Super Robot Wars Z3, the two-part sequel (Jigoku-hen and Tengoku-hen) to the aforementioned Super Robot Wars Z2 duology.
    • Super Robot Wars OE, an eight-chapter game that, when it was available, required players to purchase and download each chapter separately.
  • Telltale Games: Most Telltale Games are released in episodes, and some games receive new "seasons" that are themselves broken into episodes. Their episode-based games include:
  • Tell Me Why is divided into three episodes; unlike DONTNOD Entertainment's past record with the Life Is Strange games, the episodes were released on a week-apart schedule from August-September 2020.
  • Trails Series is one long continuous story, filled with plot twists and turns. It's also infamous for even just one game to take up at least 60-70 hours long only to either end in a personal victory at best for the heroes, a Bittersweet Ending, or a Wham Episode which then sets up the next game.
  • Warner Bros. did Flash Point and Click Adventure serials called Steppenwolf, which had six chapters with four episodes, as well as Arcane, which had two seasons, one with four episodes and the other with eight episodes.
  • The Way (RPG Maker) has six consecutive episodes.
  • The Well Speaks To Me and subsequent games are essentially one big story split up into smaller, 1-hour games, each one exploring a different mysterious incident in the Forest.
  • Wing Commander Secret Ops, based on the VISION engine used in Prophecy. It's probably the Ur-Example, having come out in 1998.
  • Winter Voices has seven episodes: the prologue, Avalanche - which also serves as Episode 1 - and six more episodes. With each "episode", the player travels closer to the capital of the kingdom, at first by foot, later barge, and finally by train.
  • Your Turn to Die is divided up into half-chapters, with a new part being released in roughly six-month intervals since 2017.