Spiritual successor

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A spiritual successor (sometimes called a spiritual sequel) is a product or fictional work which is similar to, or directly inspired by, another previous work, but (unlike a traditional prequel or sequel) does not explicitly continue the product line or media franchise of its predecessor, and is thus only a successor "in spirit".[1][2] Spiritual successors often have similar themes and styles to their source material, but are generally a distinct intellectual property.[3]

In fiction, the term generally refers to a work by a creator which shares similarities to one of their earlier works, but is set in a different continuity, and features distinct characters and settings. Such works may arise when licensing issues prevent a creator from releasing a direct sequel using the same copyrighted characters and names as the original.

The term is also used more broadly to describe a pastiche work, which intentionally evokes similarities to pay homage to other influential works, but is also distinct enough to avoid copyright infringement.[4]

In literature[edit]

Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, published between 1887 and 1927, drew a large number of pastiches from other authors as early as the 1900s to capture the same mystery and spirit as Doyle's writings. However, Doyle and his publishers, and since then Doyle's estate, had aggressive enforced copyright on the Holmes character, often requiring authors that were publishing stories to change any use of Holmes' name to something else. The name "Herlock Sholmes" became one of the more common variations on this, notably in Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes, with the Scholmes character having a personality similar, but not quite exactly like Holmes to further distance potential copyright issues.[5] These copyright issues have continued into contempous times: in the case Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. (2014), it was determined that due to copyright laws, the characters of Holmes and Watson remained under copyright until 2023, making spiritual successors using these characters by name violations of the Doyle estate's copyright.[6]

In films and television[edit]

In films and television shows, spiritual successor often describes similar works by the same creator, or starring the same cast. For example, the show Parks and Recreation is a spiritual successor to The Office. Both are workplace mockumentaries developed by Greg Daniels, featuring satirical humor, and characters being filmed by an in-universe documentary film crew.

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, which allowed him to establish a franchise he could build upon in future.[7]

Spiritual successors are common in Indian film industries, particularly Bollywood, where films marketed as sequels do not share continuity with their predecessors.[8]

In video games[edit]

Games by the same studio[edit]

Spiritual successor games are sometimes made by the same studio as the original, but with a new title due to licensing issues.[9] Some examples of these include:

  • Dark Souls by From Software was inspired by the studio's earlier game, Demon's Souls, an exclusive title for the PlayStation 3. Because Sony Interactive Entertainment held the rights to Demon's Souls, the studio would be unable to produce a direct sequel on other platforms, leading them to create a new property with similar gameplay mechanics for the Xbox 360 and other platforms.[2][10]
  • Irrational Games' BioShock is a spiritual successor to their earlier System Shock 2. While System Shock 2 was met with critical acclaim, it was considered a commercial failure, and publisher Electronic Arts would not allow a third title in the series. After several years and other projects at Irrational, as well as being acquired by a new publisher 2K Games, the studio developed BioShock, with a similar free-form narrative structure.[11][12]
  • Shadow of the Colossus was considered a spiritual successor to Ico by Fumito Ueda, who directed both games as leader of Team Ico. Ueda expressed that he did not necessarily want a direct canonical connection between the games, but that both had similar narrative themes and elements that he wanted players to interpret on their own.[13]

Games by the same staff[edit]

Alternatively, a successor may be developed by some of the staff who worked on the preceding game, under a new studio name. Examples of these include:

  • Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor evoking the style and gameplay of Rare's Banjo-Kazooie. It was developed by Playtonic Games, which consisted of many former Rare staff members, including composer Grant Kirkhope. Yooka and Laylee, the game's animal protagonists, serve as direct stand-ins for the original game's Banjo and Kazooie.[14]

Common themes only[edit]

The term is also more broadly applied to video games developed by a different studio with no connection to the first, and is simply inspired by the gameplay, aesthetics or other elements of the preceding work. Examples of such games include:

  • War for the Overworld (succeeding Dungeon Keeper) crossed through several of these categories over the course of the development. Originating as a fan-made direct sequel to Dungeon Keeper 2, the game then became a spiritual successor with only thematic connection after moving away from the Dungeon Keeper IP. Finally, the hiring of returning voice actor Richard Ridings presented a direct staff connection to the original.[24][25]

In sports[edit]

In sports, the Ravens–Steelers rivalry is considered the spiritual successor to the older Browns–Steelers rivalry due to the original Cleveland Browns relocation to Baltimore, as well as the reactivated Browns having a 6–30 record against the Steelers since returning to the league in 1999.[26]

In other industries[edit]

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.[27][28] The Toyota Fortuner SUV is a spiritual successor to the Toyota 4Runner SUV mainly because they both share the same platform as the Hilux pickup truck. The Canon Cat computer was Jef Raskin's spiritual successor to the Apple Macintosh.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carreker, Dan (2012). The Game Developer's Dictionary:: A Multidisciplinary Lexicon for Professionals and Students. Cengage Learning. p. 206. ISBN 978-1435460829.
  2. ^ a b Jin Ha Lee; Clarke, Rachel Ivy; Sacchi, Simone; Jett, Jacob (2014). "Relationships among video games: Existing standards and new definitions". Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 51 (1): 1–11. doi:10.1002/meet.2014.14505101035.
  3. ^ "10 Games You Didn't Realize Were Spiritual Successors To Other Games". CBR. June 25, 2021.
  4. ^ Stephens, Rachel Ann (2019-01-30). "When does a spiritual successor become copyright infringement?". Odin Law and Media. Retrieved 2020-12-13.
  5. ^ Dessem, Matthew (June 11, 2021). "The Curious Case of "Herlock Sholmès"". Slate. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  6. ^ Jessica L. Malekos Smith, Sherlock Holmes & the Case of the Contested Copyright, 15 Chi.-Kent J. Intell. Prop. 537 (2016). Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/ckjip/vol15/iss2/9
  7. ^ McClintock, Pamela; Kit, Borys (March 17, 2016). "Hot New Movie Catchphrase: Call It a "Spiritual Successor," Not a Sequel". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  8. ^ Mehrotra, Suchin (11 April 2017). "Dear Bollywood, It's Time You Learn The Difference Between Sequel, Prequel, Reboot, Remake And Spin-Off". Outlook. Retrieved 2021-04-20.
  9. ^ "Spiritual Successor Games". Giant Bomb.
  10. ^ Reilly, Jim (February 10, 2012). "Sony Talks The Last Guardian, Demon's Souls, And The Vita Launch". Game Informer. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  11. ^ Parkin, Simon (April 17, 2014). "Rapture leaked: The true story behind the making of BioShock". Eurogamer. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
  12. ^ "The Making Of: BioShock". Edge. July 23, 2012. Archived from the original on May 31, 2013. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
  13. ^ McNamara, Andy & Berghammer, Billy (2006). "Colossal Creation: The Kenji Kaido and Fumito Ueda Interview". Game Informer. Archived from the original on September 3, 2006. Retrieved July 9, 2006.
  14. ^ Macy, Seth (10 February 2015). "Former Rare Developers Working on Banjo Kazooie Spiritual Successor". IGN. Archived from the original on 31 July 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  15. ^ Byford, Sam (October 2013). "'Mega Man' spiritual successor coming to PS4 and Xbox One after smashing Kickstarter goal". The Verge. Archived from the original on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  16. ^ Alexander, Leigh (19 March 2014). "After leaving Konami, 'IGA' takes a leap and trusts his fans". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on 13 May 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  17. ^ "Peter Molyneux's Godus Game Can Make You a Mobile Deity on iOS Right Now".
  18. ^ "Satellite Reign: Syndicate Wars returns at last". Red Bull.
  19. ^ Wales, Matt (July 23, 2019). "Superb Theme Hospital spiritual successor Two Point Hospital heading to consoles "late 2019"". Eurogamer.
  20. ^ "Cities: Skylines surprise launches on Nintendo Switch today". September 13, 2018.
  21. ^ "Awesome Spiritual Successors to the Greatest Games of All Time". MUO. October 3, 2016.
  22. ^ Wilhelm, Daley (January 3, 2020). "Earthbound Has An Odd New Spiritual Successor". SVG. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  23. ^ "Citizens of Earth: Earthbound-Inspired, Atlus-Approved". June 15, 2014.
  24. ^ "War for the Overworld to be narrated by Richard Ridings, the voice of the mentor from Dungeon Keeper". PCGamesN.
  25. ^ "Dungeon Keeper, War for the Overworld and a helpful developer from EA". Eurogamer. 24 October 2014.
  26. ^ "Garber: Want nasty? Get a load of Ravens-Steelers". ESPN.com. 15 January 2009.
  27. ^ "2007 Tokyo Auto Show Preview: Honda CR-Z". Inside Line. edmunds. 2007-10-09. Retrieved 2008-02-22. Honda says the name of its sporty two-passenger concept for Tokyo — CR-Z — stands for "Compact Renaissance Zero." But it's no accident that the car and its name evoke fond memories of the old Honda CRX from the late '80s and early '90s.
  28. ^ Squatriglia, Chuck (2008-02-20). "Europe Gets Honda's CR-Z Hybrid Before The Rest of Us". Autopia. Wired. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
  29. ^ Shapiro, Ezra (October 1987). "A Spiritual Heir to the Macintosh". BYTE. p. 121. Retrieved 4 August 2014.