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. The term is frequently used within the video game industry but is also applied to other forms of publicized works and designed objects.
Reasons for creation
Due to the current nature of the publisher/developer system inherent in almost all video games, as well as the continual purchase and takeovers (which sell the entire developer including its intellectual property (IP) including 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. In most cases, a creation can be called as a "spiritual successor" when the original series is barely possible to be continued. To get around legal and IP restrictions, creative teams will make a product that resembles the original game in some way, without copying or mentioning copyrighted material from the original, such as the title, story, and character names.
One example of a spiritual sequel resulting from legal issues is Dark Souls by From Software, inspired by Demon's Souls by the same studio. The rights for Demon's Souls, an exclusive title for the PlayStation 3, was held by Sony Computer Entertainment, preventing From Software from making a successor on other platforms, leading them to create a new property with similar gameplay mechanics for the Xbox 360 and other platforms. Another example is Perfect Dark, developed by Rare as a spiritual sequel to their licensed title GoldenEye 007. Rare had planned to develop a sequel to GoldenEye but lost the license as they were outbid by Electronic Arts. The developers still wanted to complete another spy-based title and developed Perfect Dark with a new story but with similar mechanics to GoldenEye.
Other times, a spiritual successor is created when the original products were either poor commercial sellers, forgotten by customers, or on a different platform with little overlap. By abandoning the original content's name and implied requirement to be familiar with the previous games, the spiritual sequel can be appreciated by fresh eyes. BioShock is one such example as a spiritual successor to System Shock 2. System Shock 2 was the first title developed by Irrational Games, a studio founded by Ken Levine, and while the game was met with critical acclaim, it was considered a commercial failure. Levine attempted to pitch a sequel to System Shock 2 but their publisher Electronic Arts declined due to poor sales of System Shock 2. After several years and other projects at Irrational, as well as being acquired by a new publisher 2K Games, Levine wanted to develop a game with the free-form narrative of System Shock 2, which ultimately became the game BioShock.
Another approach for a spiritual successor is to connect titles that share a theme but without necessarily connecting them narratively as one would with a sequel or prequel. Shadow of the Colossus was considered a spiritual successor to Ico by the lead director of both games Fumito Ueda; Ueda did not want to necessarily make the connection between the games one of a canonical narrative, but that both had similar narrative themes and elements that he wanted players to interpret on their own. The film 10 Cloverfield Lane was not originally scripted with any connection to Cloverfield. When the film was acquired by Bad Robot Productions, producer J. J. Abrams recognized a common element of a giant monster attack between the two films, and chose to market 10 Cloverfield Lane as a spiritual successor to Cloverfield to help bring interest to the newer film, and allowing him to establish a franchise he could build upon in future.
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 6-30 record against the Steelers since returning to the league in 1999.
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