Memorable Ideas from Unforgettable Games - New Game Plus

Chrono Trigger Cover SnesMy apologies to Nate in advance for totally stealing his Memorable Ideas theme and twisting it from forgettable games into something far less interesting, but I have to write about this.

New Game Plus is probably one of the coolest, most obvious, and underused features in video games today.  There is no better way to get me to immediately replay your game than to give me every single item, weapon, magic, and point of experience that I finished the game with at the start of the my next playthrough.  Yes, it makes everything Win Button easy, but it is so very satisfying returning to the boss the gave you so much trouble the first time and one-shotting him into oblivion.  New Game Plus should be a required feature of every RPG and adventure game.

For the unaware, New Game Plus means starting the game over but loading your characters from when you last beat it.  You generally retain most non-story items and weapons, and keep your existing level and stats.  It's generally a nice reward for conquering a game, but as we'll see, can also be used for a variety of reasons.

History

Chrono Trigger Ending FairWhile many sources point back to the original Legend of Zelda as the first to use the then unamed New Game Plus, it wasn't really what someone would expect a New Game Plus option to play out. Starting a new game from a finished save unlocked the Second Quest, a more difficult version of the game with different enemy placement and dungeon layout.  For this to be the true source of the trope, Link would have needed to at least retain the weapons and tools he collected during the first playthrough.  While someone might complain, "that would totally break the game!" Well, that's the point of New Game Plus.

We really begin with Chrono Trigger, my favorite game of all time and also the best example of the New Game Plus feature.  After you beat the game and watch the regular ending, you can then select from either New Game or New Game +.  When selecting New Game Plus, you also pick a saved game to "copy" your band of characters from, and you're off to save history again.  Only this time, you have everything you had last time around and are just as strong.  Crono will have his Rainbow Sword and Luminaire spell to utterly destroy every enemy in his path.  Early bosses go down with just a few strokes of the blade and you'll laugh at how simple it is now. Difficulty will scale up just a bit as you go, but it's never any more difficult than the last time around.

Chrono Trigger new Game PlusThe real bonus to this mode is the ability to view all the game's endings.  Chrono Trigger is famous for not only being awesome, but also featuring about 15 endings, most which can only be unlocked while playing New Game Plus.  The game is silently broken up into chapters, and challenging and defeating the final boss during different chapters let's you see a different ending.  So not only can you now take on Lavos at any time, but you can begin to decimate him every round.

Chrono Trigger's endings range from silly to story enhancing, but my favorite is the developer's ending.  To unlock this, you have to beat the game as early as possible, while you still only have two characters available to you.  This is a decent challenge because you just beat the game with three characters, and now you have to beat it with just two (and one is Marle, who is kind of weak) without gaining any more experience.  Of course, you could wimp out and start another New Game Plus after beating the game a second time, but it's really fun to take Lavos on right away again.  The ending is definitely worth it too, as it's playable and every developer who made the game can be spoken to for personal messages.

Variations

Borderlands CoverSince Chrono Trigger, there have been a ton of games in a huge variety of genres that have implemented New Game Plus in some way, shape, or form.  Here are some notable ones that I've played:

The first Mass Effect was a recent example that required you to play through the game at least three times to get all the achievements, and for one in particular, you had to play a New Game Plus at least once (not that I'm complaining, I beat Mass Effect six times).  The hardest difficulty available when first playing the game was Veteran, but after beating that, you unlocked Hardcore, and after that, Insanity.  The difficulties available were shared across all characters, so you didn't have to keep playing as the same old soldier to receive the Insanity achievement, but if you wanted the Level 60 achievement, you pretty much had to play through the game three times.  I received that particular achievement about 80% of the way through my third playthrough (second New Game Plus), but it was well worth it for me and very enjoyable.

While not a true New Game Plus, I was affected by Final Fantasy X's new game bonus which let you see what Al Bheds were saying at the beginning of the game.  Essentially, there's a different language spoken in the game which is a one-to-one letter conversion from English, and throughout the game you could find Al Bhed primers that converted one letter to you, so whenever you saw the subtitles for that language, it would be partially translated.  For example, "first hour" would be "vencd ruin" in Al Bhed, but if you have collected the N -> R primer, you would see it as "veRcd ruiR".  With enough letters translated, it was easy to tell what they were saying. The thing is, you're not supposed to know what they're saying the first time you play it, but since I was playing on my friend's PS2 my first time... it was too obvious.

Dead Rising is a rather notorious example of a game that forces you to play a New Game Plus multiple times to actually beat the game.  While this doesn't make sense in the context of what we've talked about so far, Dead Rising actually let's you start the game over at any time while carrying over skills you've obtained so far.  While not impossible to beat the game without doing this, most gamers will need to (and several times at that), to actually beat it.

I recently beat playthrough 2 of Borderlands, which is almost exactly what it sounds.  After you beat the game the first time, you restart with all your money, guns, and skills from the first playthrough, but the game also scales up the enemies to match your new starting level.  This means the second time around isn't a walk in the park, but actually a more difficult romp across the wasteland.  I thorougly enjoyed playthrough 2 and it really made the Borderlands experience for me.  I'm currently working on playthrough 2.5, which is another basterdization of the New Game Plus.  You don't actually start a new game, but all the quests you didn't complete in playthrough 2 are bumped up to around the max level of 50.  So not only are the enemies and encounters very difficult, but the loot it extraordinarily awesome.

New Game Wrong

Persona 4 CoverIn my opinion, there are a lot of games that just do New Game Plus wrong, or games that are lacking it altogether that really deserve to have it.  Many developers only go halfway, and only give you some items back, or reset your level, or just do random stupid things to piss off gamers.

For example, both Suikoden IV and Suikoden V transfer over all the items in your inventory, but not what the characters had equipped.  What's the point?  I don't keep my best stuff in storage, it's strapped on my Stars of Destiny for the final battle!  At least the game lets you run faster during the replay, but that should have been available the first time around.  Same with reading text faster; if your game has the ability to let me haul through the text at a speed I'm comfortable with, make it available to me the first time around!

Plants vs. Zombies also features a New Game Plus of sorts where you get to keep all the seed types you received the first time, but the game gets to pick three of the seeds for you per battle, basically relying on the A.I. to pick something useful.  If I wanted, I could impose that restriction on myself.

Persona 4's New Game Plus resets your level, rendering all the grinding you did the first time around useless.  If that wasn't obvious already.

Conclusion

When done right, New Game Plus is an awesome addition to just about any game. When done wrong, however, it's only a setup for disappointment. Imagine beating a decently hard game that you'd like to play through again for the story, but you don't want the challenge, but when you select New Game Plus, the game resets you at level zero because it thinks it knows what is best.  Sure you do, you are the game the developers carefully crafted, and you're the game I'm immediately selling.

I'm a big fan of the feature, and think it would honestly generate a lot of replayability for relatively little amount of work.  Original buyers keep the game longer and the used price is driven down at a slower rate, thus selling more more new copies.  Seems obvious to me from this side of the fence.  Just do it right, Chrono Trigger and Borderlands are the two best examples in my book of either making the game extremely easy (but awesome), or properly scaling the difficulty up to make it feel like a brand new game.

Comments

Diablo 2

Seriously, how was this not mentioned yet?

Also Dead Space has a NG+ feature as well, keeping your weapon and suit upgrades from previous playthrough.

Role-playing games with New Game Plus

Character Export option in game like Sacred (Sacred, Sacred Underworld, and Sacred Gold) and Neverwinter Nights or "Retirement System" in Torchlight are also New Game Plus feature.

Another example

not sure if it qualifies, but the wii version of Punch Out!! had a mode named Title Defense. In it, you fight every single opponent you met with again, and in the exact same order as they were in the Contender competitions (Minor, Major and World Circuits); the big difference, however, is that you're now the champion, and those who lost to you will offer tremendously more difficult fights, as their strategies remix; your duty is to defend your title against them.

Title Defense

I'd say Title Defense is another thing entirely. A wonderful thing that made Punch-Out!! so much more awesome than I expected it to be.

Thank you

For mentioning Borderlands. It's one of the best recent implementations of New Game + I've seen. I think that's a big reason I kept playing. In fact, I think I'll go play right now. :)

How about in...

Majora's Mask is a New Game+ over and over again. You start at the beginning with the items you've collected, and you have to do it many, many time to finish the game. In fact the story even takes it into account!

New game+ in Shadow Complex

There's a new game+ in Shadow Complex, that wee Metroid homage that sold like hotcakes on Xbox Live last year. When you start a new game after watching the credits roll, you'll lose all weapons and items previously acquired, but keep all experience points and other benefits. This means, instead of starting as a low level 1, you'll be shooting down enemies as a higher level. Also, some of the benefits are really great to have early on, such as unlimited grenades.

I've now completed the game three times, working on my fourth. Without New Game+, it would not be as much fun as it most certainly is.

That said, I'm putting frickin' Chrono Trigger DS on my birthday wishlist for sure.

Cool story bro

Still have only finished Chrono Trigger once. Someday I'll run through New Game + and get all the endings. The first one might be pretty tough, considering I finished the first time with neither Crono nor Marle on my front lines.

Glad to see I've managed to turn the site into a column about neat game features in less than a month lol

Metal Gear Solid 4 had a

Metal Gear Solid 4 had a pretty good New Game Plus. It wasn't labelled as such, but your save restarts on whatever difficulty you want after you beat it, and once you get the Mk II you also get all the items and weapons you had before. Of course, the railgun makes the bosses a piece of cake.

But it keeps it interesting with various challenges and unlockables. If you aren't seen once in a playthrough, you get stealth camo that makes you completely invisible. If you beat it without killing anybody, you get a bandana that gives unlimited ammo in all weapons.

All in all, one of the better new game plusses I've seen.

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