high scores were the only real "reward" for playing, games tended to loop over and over until players got tired of playing, ran out of lives, or scored so high the game crashed.
As video games began their journey from the arcade to the home, games with actual narratives and defined endings started to pop up. However, due to hardware limitations, many of these games were extremely short by today's standards: many could be completed in less than two hours, were it not for the high level of difficulty and/or unfair play mechanics common to games of that era.
Free of the limitations of the past, however, video game length is a major concern in game development today. Many publishers crow about how their game has "hundreds of hours of gameplay," and it's common practice to make sequels even larger and more involved than the original game. When this happens, you get a Prolonged Sequel.
Prolonging sequels is done for a number of reasons, such as:
- It's a good marketing hook: If you liked the first game, wouldn't you love a game that gives you even more of what you liked?
- The creative team had an excess of ideas. Sometimes developers have so many new ideas that they want to add to the game, they have to make the game longer just to give you the opportunity to fully experience them.
- Developers and players alike tend to feel that a sequel should be longer, more content-rich, and more ambitious than the prior entry of the series — otherwise, what's the point of a sequel if it's just going to feel like an Expansion Pack of the previous game?
While a longer game is typically considered a positive by most people (if only for the perception that they're getting their money's worth), not all Prolonged Sequels come by their newfound length through an abundance of new content. Rather than come up with innovative ways to keep players engaged, it's become common for certain genres (most notably mobile phone games, MMORPGs, Sandbox Games, and "Games as Service" titles) to load up their games with excessive and endless grinding, busywork, Fake Difficulty (with or without Microtransactions), lootboxes and/or gambling mechanics, and other ways of artificially increasing completion time without actually providing new content or interesting objectives.
Sister Trope of Sequel Escalation. Can result in an Even Better Sequel, or at least a Surprisingly Improved Sequel. Depending on the original game, may or may not involve a Sequel Difficulty Spike or a Sequel Difficulty Drop.
- The Ace Combat series did this so often, it should be called "Sequel Longevity Sinusoid". Most games in the series have between 15 and 20 levels, with the exceptions of Ace Combat: Joint Assault (26 levels), Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception (29), Ace Combat 2 (30), Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (32), and finally, Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere with a whopping 52 (Japanese) or a still massive 36 (NTSC/PAL) levels, the most of any series title so far. Note, however, that these "prolonged" sequels feature some degree of non-linearity, while the games of default length are mostly linear. In fact, despite having the most levels by far, Japanese Electrosphere doesn't even have more maps than a normal AC game per route.
- The Assassin's Creed games. Especially the second one compared to the first. It added Sidequests, dungeons, equipment, factions and had a longer story. The world was also bigger.
- Grand Theft Auto has increased in size with each game:
- Grand Theft Auto III had three islands, various mission threads in addition to the main story, and collectible packages.
- GTA: Vice City was a little bigger geographically, with some added video/audio capability and more nuanced gameplay.
- San Andreas made the sandbox factor HUGE and increased the length even more, and topped off what the game engine could handle.
- Grand Theft Auto IV brought in a new engine, a much larger Liberty City, and a darker, more realistic storyline (insofar as one man surviving multiple gunfights against multiple opponents all by himself is at all realistic).
- Some The Legend of Zelda games were designed with this trope in mind:
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has a longer main quest than the first two games, which is reflected in the presence of two overworlds, between which Link can explore up to 12 dungeons, tied with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for having the highest number of any Zelda game. It also features more sidequests (which, to be fair, were barely present at all in the previous titles), as well as more overworld activity.
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has the same amount of dungeons as Ocarina of Time (nine), but the main quest is overall longer due to the exploration of the Twilight segments, the horse track battles, bigger landscapes, the dungeons themselves being longer and more maze-like, and other factors. In fact, prior to the game's release, Nintendo had advertised it by highlighting the longer campaign as one of the two major selling points, along with the Darker and Edgier story.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is larger than all the other previous Zelda titles combined. While it only has five dungeons, the world is enormous to the point that the starting area is as large as the Twilight Princess map, and there are tons of sidequests, over a hundred mini-dungeons and an endless list of collectibles. The following DLCs added even more content.
- MDK: You play as Kurt, a janitor wearing an untested Coil Suit, in a game spanning 5 levels. The sequel to this game has you playing as Kurt, Dr. Fluke Hawkins and Max/Bones, and this one spans at least 10 levels (not counting the fact that the game lets you choose which of the three to play, allowing you to finish the final level in a different and get a different ending)!
- Portal 2 is about three times the length of Portal, largely because it features a lot more game mechanics (gels, faith plates, excursion funnels, hard light bridges) than the original, as well as a lot more character interactions, and therefore features a lot more levels to give them room to breathe.
- Entries in the Punch-Out!! series have become progressively longer over the decades.
- The three arcade games, Punch-Out!!, Super Punch-Out!!, and the spin-off Arm Wrestling had only 5-6 opponents apiece.
- The NES game, however, feature a whopping 10 opponents (plus 3 rematches, for a total of 13 fights) faced in three circuits, with a 14th challenger added for the Western versions serving as the final boss; depending on the version, it's either Mike Tyson or Mr. Dream. There's also a fourth circuit, accessible only by code, with the rather uninspired name "Another World Circuit." It doesn't contain any unique fights, but the fight order is different from the original World Circut, and losing to any opponent once triggers a Game Over.
- In the SNES sequel, there are 16 challengers across four circuits — the most unique fighters of any Punch-Out!! game.
- The 2009 Wii version has only 13 regular opponents, but each is fought a second time in completely remixed (and much harder) fights in the newer Title Defense mode. Additionally, a secret 14th challenger can be found in the Last Stand Mode, making for a grand total of seven circuits in story mode. Then, of course, there's Exhibition mode, which allows players to fight any previously defeated fighter individually to complete special challenges and unlock extra content. Finally, there's a super-secret mode within Exhibition for further challenge (though it requires players to endure through Last Stand long enough before three defeats to be unlocked, and it's subject to being potentially a Permanently Missable Content).
- The Super Smash Bros. games started from humble beginnings, but the series' character roster has expanded wildly with each new entry:
- Super Smash Bros. 64: 12
- Super Smash Bros. Melee: 26
- Super Smash Bros. Brawl: 39
- Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U: 58 (51 in the base game, 7 as DLC)
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: 82note and counting as of November 2019 (76 in the base game, 5 as DLC)
- Furthermore, the single-player "Adventure" modes of the games have likewise grown. Melee has a 12-stage Adventure mode that can be played with each character. Brawl has "The Subspace Emissary," a huge, sprawling single-player mode with 31 stages that involves all of the playable characters and features different kinds of gameplay. Finally, Ultimate has "World of Light," an utterly massive Smash/board game hybrid that can take hours to complete, but it allows you to unlock characters and Spirits along the way.
- Ultimate is also noteworthy in that, while the base game has 69 characters, only a paltry eight are available upon first play. While a handful of characters are available immediately as paid DLC, the other 61 can only be unlocked through play, which isn't a speedy process. While this delighted some fans, others were chagrined that their favorite characters required quite a bit of grinding to unlock, even in the best-case scenario.
- Despite having one level less than Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie is notoriously longer (and more difficult) due to the levels being much bigger (often approaching the gargantuan size of the Donkey Kong 64 levels), a higher number of minigames, bosses and puzzles, and the necessity of traveling between levels (literally, without going through the Hub Level). For a direct comparison, only the first game's ninth level (Click Clock Wood) can rival the complexity and diversity of the first four levels of the second game, and still lose to the likes of Terrydactyland and Grunty Industries. Nuts and Bolts is even larger as, despite having only five regular worlds, there a ton of content in them as well as in the Hub Level (there's now a total of 131 Jiggies instead to collect, for example); it's also be expected considering that it's a vehicle-focused game.
- Castlevania II: Simon's Quest introduces a much larger world than the previous game, Castlevania. There are different paths, and different objectives, which contrasts with the previous game's "defeat a boss, then move on".
- The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has a few examples:
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is longer than its predecessor, having eight full zones compared to the original's six. Sonic 3 & Knuckles takes this Up to Eleven, with 11 main zones, all of which are MUCH bigger in size and scope than the previous games.
- As Sonic Mania is meant to be a true sequel to the Genesis-era Sonic games, it features twelve worlds, eight of which were from previous games in the series, and four of which were new at the time. The Plus expansion pack takes this one step further by adding an extra level in Encore Mode, Angel Island Zone, where Sonic rescues Mighty and Ray.
- Super Mario Bros.:
- Super Mario Bros. 3 repesents a massive length upgrade compared to its three predecessors (Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels and Super Mario Bros. 2), featuring 90 levels. None of the other games in the platform series has that many (the closest is New Super Mario Bros. U with 82).
- Super Mario Maker 2 has 120 levels in Story Mode, whereas the original's 10 Mario challenge only has 56note (though the 3DS version rose the amount to 88note ).
- Mario Kart: Super Circuit has ten racing cups (five based on new tracks, and five featuring rearranged tracks from Super Mario Kart), whereas Super itself, 64 and the later Double Dash!! have only 5, 4 and 5 respectively. Mario Kart DS brought back the idea of Nostalgia Level cups, this time including retro tracks from all of its predecessors, ramping the amount to eight cups. This has been a steady amount for the following games until Mario Kart 8 (first by way of Downloadable Content and then with its Deluxe port on the Nintendo Switch) provided another major bump for a total of twelve cups plus a fifth difficulty level (200cc).
- Need for Speed:
- Early games mostly focused on arcade-like gameplay and the fantasy of racing super cars. But with subsequent entries like Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Need for Speed Heat, this trope comes into play.
- The first Underground introduced the concept of street racing and tuner car culture into the city, but the sequel Underground 2 expanded them with more gameplay options such as free-roaming and extensive customization beyond the bodykits and performance parts.
- The original Pikmin had players collect 30 ship parts on a 30-day timer. Even inexperienced players can get multiple parts in one day, and the days are short enough that you can generally beat the whole game in one day if you put some effort into it. However, Pikmin 2 is significantly longer than the first game as there are 201 collectible treasures, new underground cavern levels, new game modes, new Pikmin types, and a new captain, Louie.
- The two campaigns for each race in the original Starcraft and its expansion Brood War had ten missions each, witht he exception of the second Protoss and Terran campaigns, that had 8. The campaign of Starcraft II Wings Of Liberty is 29 missions long, eleven more missions than both Terran campaigns from vanilla and Brood War combined, while Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void have 20 missions each.
- The first Arc the Lad's main story takes about 10 hours to complete on average; Arc the Lad II, however, can take up to five times as long at about 50 hours for the main story alone.
- Endless Frontier: The first game lasts about under 40 hours. The second lasts around 60, and it has sidequests, unlike the first game.
- The first five mainline Etrian Odyssey games have each six strata, while the Untold remakes of the first two games add one more for a total of seven. Nexus? Fourteen, as it not only has its own strata but also brings back many familiar ones.
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy XII is notoriously longer than previous games in the series, having longer dungeons, and a ton more side-quests.
- Of the Final Fantasy games for the SNES/Super Famicom, Final Fantasy IV had roughly 12 hours of gameplay, and Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI were significantly longer.
- The Mario & Luigi series. On average, the first two installments could be completed in about twelve hours of gameplay each, not counting sidequests, while the third was only slightly longer by about four hours or so. Meanwhile, the next two could take up to thirty hours to be completed (again, without sidequests) on average.
- Persona 2: In both the original versions and the PSP remakes, the second part of the duology Eternal Punishment is much longer than its predecessor, Innocent Sin. Eternal Punishment has two alternative storylines halfway through the game (meaning that you must play both in different playthroughs to get the full picture), three extra optional dungeons, a Bonus Dungeon that is only available in New Game+, and in the PSP remake, a huge segment that runs parallel to the normal game. The whole thing means that you can pour over 100 hours into Eternal Punishment, while Innocent Sin takes around 50 to finish.
- Pokémon Gold and Silver (and by extension Crystal) is slightly more than twice the length of Pokémon Red and Blue, since it features the entire region that Red and Blue was set in, as well as a brand new one for Gold and Silver. Although later games tend to be longer than Red and Blue, they're likely less extensive than Gold and Silver.
- Danganronpa has this as a tendency among the main games, with each game being considerably bigger and longer than the ones prior. This reaches its peak in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, in which the first trial alone can last up to three hours, not counting the rest of the chapter.
- Paradise Lost, the first novel in the Shinza Bansho Series clocks in at about 30 hours to read through all the way to the end. This is in stark contrast to it's followup, Dies Irae, which is an 80+ hour behemoth start to finish. And that's before getting into the side stories that are included as well.
- LEGO Island was basically a very simple Wide Open Sandbox game, set on a very small island, hosting 5 missions for each of 5 characters. LEGO Island 2 reduced the number of playable characters to one, and increased the linearity, but the payoff was that the game could be much larger and more structured, featuring several different islands that could be visited and explored to varying extents.