A spiritual successor, sometimes called a spiritual sequel, is a successor to a work of fiction which does not build upon the storyline established by a previous work as do most traditional prequels or sequels, yet features many of the same elements, themes, and styles as its source material, thereby resulting in it being related or similar "in spirit" to its predecessor.
Reasons for creating a spiritual successor
Due to the current nature of the publisher/developer system inherent in almost all computer games, as well as the continual purchase and takeovers (which sell the entire developer including its copyrights and trademarks) by conglomerate corporations, creative teams often fail to retain the copyright and trademark rights of their creations. This often makes attempts to create sequels for a product impossible for various reasons, such as the "core" of the studio being fired or replaced after completing a project while the parent company retains control of the copyrights and trademarks. A good example of this strategy is Electronic Arts, which has closed many studios while keeping their copyrights and trademarks, such as Bullfrog Productions, Origin Systems, and Westwood Studios.
To get around this, creative teams will make a product that resembles the original game in some way, without copying or mentioning the original directly, notably omitting the title, story, and character names. For instance, the video games TimeSplitters and, more often, Perfect Dark are often considered to be the spiritual successors to the hit video game GoldenEye 007.
Other times, a spiritual successor is created when the original products were either poor commercial sellers and/or forgotten by the people that would purchase the product. By abandoning the original content's name (and perhaps its baggage as a forgotten product), the spiritual sequel can be appreciated by fresh eyes. An example of this would be BioShock, which has been referred to by its developers as the spiritual successor to System Shock 2. Despite positive critical acclaim, System Shock and System Shock 2 both failed to achieve the expected commercial success unlike BioShock which was both a critical and commercial success.
The concept of a "spiritual successor" extends beyond fictional works. The Honda CR-Z is regarded as the spiritual successor to the second generation Honda CR-X in both name and exterior design, despite a nearly two decade time difference in production. The Canon Cat computer was Jef Raskin's spiritual successor to the Apple Macintosh. In sports, the Ravens–Steelers rivalry is considered the spiritual successor to the older Browns–Steelers rivalry due to the Cleveland Browns relocation controversy as well as the "reactivated" Cleveland Browns having a 4-20 record against the Steelers since returning to the league in 1999.
Further examples of spiritual successors
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- Assassin's Creed is the spiritual successor to the Prince of Persia series. In fact, the original Assassin's Creed was originally going to be a sequel in the Prince of Persia series.
- Ikaruga is the spiritual successor to Treasure's Radiant Silvergun.
- Fallout was originally designed as a sequel to Wasteland, but it became a stand-alone game after the developers failed to acquire the Wasteland copyright and trademarks from Electronic Arts. Fallout itself nearly received a spiritual successor in the form of an untitled game by Troika, dubbed "Mystary!" by fans.
- Supreme Commander is considered the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation.
- Shadow of the Colossus was mentioned by Executive Producer Fumito Ueda as a spiritual successor to his company's sleeper hit Ico and later explained also as a prequel, taking place in the same world at an unspecified time before Ico.
- Hellgate: London has been referred to by its developer Flagship Studios as the spiritual successor to Diablo II. Key Flagship employees had previously worked on Diablo II as part of Blizzard North.
- The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is considered an spiritual successor of namco's Ace Combat series.
- Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins is referred to as the spiritual successor of the Baldur's Gate series
- Valve's Portal was developed by the creators of the DigiPen project Narbacular Drop and has been officially stated as its spiritual successor.
- The Monolith videogame series Xenosaga is the spiritual successor to the Square game Xenogears; each is the product of the same creative minds. Xenogears is the fifth episode of a six-part series, but this ended prematurely when Monolith Soft was established. The Xenosaga series was originally meant to be six-parts as well, but plans for this were effectively cut short when the series ended prematurely with its third episode. There is no direct relation between Xenogears and the Xenosaga series, despite the claims of many.
- Bayonetta is a spiritual successor to the Devil May Cry franchise.
- Demon's Souls has been described as a spiritual successor to From Software's King's Field series.
- Dark Souls has, in turn, been referred to as a spiritual successor to Demon's Souls.
- Odin Sphere is considered to be a spiritual successor to Princess Crown.
- Paper Mario is a spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars. In fact, Paper Mario was originally going to be called Super Mario RPG 2.
- Wrecked: Revenge Revisited is a spiritual successor to Mashed as they were both developed by Supersonic Software and with the majority of weapons and some of the tracks in Wrecked are already present in Mashed.
- Developed by key members behind the Mega Man franchise, Mighty No. 9 is considered by many as its spiritual successor, as they share many similarities in both gameplay and design. The project gained notoriety after raising over $4,000,000 via crowdfunding.
- Shroud of the Avatar is defined by its creator Richard Garriott as a spiritual successor to the Ultima series and developed by Portalarium thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
- Firaxis' Civilization: Beyond Earth is a spiritual sequel to Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.
- The Soul Edge/Calibur games are considered a successor to the earlier Namco production Weaponlord.
- The FPS pioneer game Wolfenstein 3D is a developmental precursor to the Doom series.
- Konami's early 2D-shooter Scramble is considered a predecessor to the Gradius series.
- Wreckfest (also known as by its working title Next Car Game and Wreckfest: Next Car Game) is spiritual successor to FlatOut series. Its development was made by the same developers, Bugbear Entertainment and it is in Early Access state in Steam. 
- The Evil Within is the spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4. Both share the same director, Shinji Mikami. 
- Thimbleweed Park (2016) is intended to be a spiritual successor to Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick's previous seminal LucasArts adventure games Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island.
- The film MirrorMask (2005) was conceived by the Jim Henson Company and director Dave McKean as a spiritual successor to the company's previous fantasy films The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986).
- Fierce Creatures (1997) is a follow-up to the comedy film A Fish Called Wanda (1988) featuring the same cast and creative team, but entirely different characters.
- Zathura is considered a spiritual sequel to Jumanji. Both movies are based on books by Chris Van Allsburg that have similar themes and concepts.
- The Vengeance Trilogy consists of three films, directed by Park Chan-wook, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005), which had the same theme "revenge, violence and salvation".
- The Wicker Tree (2011) is a "spiritual sequel" to The Wicker Man (1973), and was identified as such in a Fantasia 2011 press release. Both are horror films directed by British filmmaker Robin Hardy, and both centre on the conflict between Christianity and paganism in a modern Scottish setting. Hardy has described The Wicker Tree as "a sort of spiritual brother" to The Wicker Man.
- Guy Ritchie's Snatch (2000) is considered by many movie critics to be a spiritual sequel to Ritchie's previous work Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), including Roger Ebert who said "What am I to say of 'Snatch', Ritchie's new film, which follows the 'Lock, Stock' formula so slavishly it could be like a new arrangement of the same song?"
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