So you have the first game, then the next game with a 2 after the title, and the third with a 3, and so on…right? Not always. Here are some of the most infamous examples of series that have nonsensical and convoluted ways of naming and numbering their sequels even just in their U.S. releases (although I do call out a couple of Japanese titles where they’re relevant).
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver: Blood Omen…Nosgoth?
Generally, when a title is structured as “This: That,” the first part is the name of the overall series and the second is just the subtitle of that particular installment (e.g., The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). So when the sequel to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was titled Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, what we thought was going to be the “Blood Omen” series was seemingly now the “Legacy of Kain” series. For the next installment, the “Legacy of Kain” was dropped entirely and the game was just called Soul Reaver 2, which was then followed up by Blood Omen 2. Fine, so they were doing the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare/Black Ops/Advanced Ghost World at War thing before Activision’s greedy shareholders came up with it, and just dropping the “Kain” part to make things simpler. But then the two splintered parts of the LoK universe reunited for Legacy of Kain: Defiance, which I guess is better than calling it “Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 3: Blood Omen 3” (don’t laugh…as you’ll see later, that type of thing is not unheard of).
Now, before you think all is right within the world of naming LoK games, the most recent game set in that series is the online multiplayer game simply titled Nosgoth, which is currently in open beta. And by the way, lest you think it’s a legality issue, Nosgoth publisher Square Enix currently holds full rights to all Legacy of Kain-related properties (and names). So they just did it because it’s different than a standard Legacy of Kain single-player blah blah blah. Just call the game the series i’ts in. Raise your hand if you’ve even heard of Nosgoth? Yeah, thought so. I bet you would’ve paid more attention to it if it were called “Legacy of Kain: Nosgoth.” Although from the sounds of it, you’re better off having missed out.
At least the Super Mario Advance series stopped before Mario 64…
Ever the “creative” business people, Nintendo realized that they could probably get away with breaking up Super Mario All-Stars and reselling us the games individually as Game Boy Advance games. We’d be so excited about being able to play games of that caliber on a handheld device after over a decade of sub-NES-quality purgatory on the Game Boy that we wouldn’t mind it one bit. And of course, we didn’t. Nintendo was at least smart enough to not try and sell us the original Super Mario Bros. yet again, so they skipped straight to SMB2. Strangely, the game was simply titled Super Mario Advance, without calling any special attention to which game it was within the title itself. Perhaps this would’ve been less odd if the next game in the Super Mario Advance series was also the next game in the Super Mario series itself, but instead, they skipped all the way to Super Mario World. Granted, the numberless SNES launch game didn’t sound so bad when reintegrated as Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2, but suddenly relegating the “SM Advance” part to the subtitle just made things needlessly awkward. We were already used to that when Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 rolled around, although in the U.S. the original was called Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, so that made things a little weird too.
That said, it was with the final installment in the Super Mario Advance series that the convoluted naming structure really came to a head, and we got the awkwardly titled Super Mario Bros. 3: Super Mario Advance 4. Had they just called the games what they were and put the word “Advance” at the end, the whole thing would’ve been a whole lot simpler. But then, this is the company that eventually just gave up completely and started calling games things like Super Smash. Bros for Wii U and having an entire separate series of games literally called New Super Mario Bros. I wouldn’t be surprised if the upcoming Zelda game is actually titled The New Legend of Zelda™ Game That Is Now Available for the Nintendo™ Wii U™ Console.
Boom! Madden forgot how to count!
If you saw the title “Madden NFL 25” you’d probably assume it was the name of a far-future Madden game to be released in conjunction with the 2024-25 season. And you’d be wrong: Madden NFL 25 is actually the game that was already released for the 2014 season. EA called it Madden NFL 25 to celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary, which would be fine if they hadn’t already switched to the two-digit-year format starting with Madden NFL 06 (after going by the full four-digit year for the 2000-2005 editions). So the series literally goes Madden NFL 12, Madden NFL 13, Madden NFL 25, Madden NFL 15, and Madden NFL 16. Why they didn’t at least call it “Madden 25th Anniversary” or something to that effect is beyond me. Well, they still have nine years to decide what to call the Madden game that really does release alongside the 2024-25 season, and three years to decide whether to call that year’s game Madden NFL 19 or Madden NFL 30 for the series’ 30th anniversary. Or just stop making Madden games already; that would be fine, too.
Dragon Warrior was just fine. Really, it was.
Trademark concerns are often the reason why a game gets a title change from one region to the next, and that was exactly why “Dragon Quest” became “Dragon Warrior” when it was brought to the NES in North America in 1989. Luckily, the two names aren’t extraordinarily different, with both being fairly generic medieval fantasy-style titles anyway; the game could’ve been called Dragon Anything really – Sword, Knight, Adventure, Hero, Battle, etc – and it wouldn’t have made a huge difference either way. And so it went, with the Dragon Warrior series carrying on in the U.S. for six core sequels, two installments in the Dragon Warrior Monsters spin-off series, and remakes of the first three Dragon Warrior games for Game Boy Color. The franchise had spent over 15 years being called Dragon Warrior in the U.S. with 12 games titled as such when Square Enix decided that the series should revert to its original Japanese title in the States.
So, beginning with Dragon Quest VIII for the PS2, the series we had all spent a decade and a half calling one name had changed to another (already close enough) name. We went from Dragon Warrior VII to Dragon Quest VIII and Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 to Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker. What made things even more annoying was when they started releasing remakes of the old games for the DS and calling them Dragon Quest, meaning that “Dragon Quest IV” was a remake of the game we already knew as “Dragon Warrior IV.” There should be a rule that if a series is known by a specific title in a region for 10 years or more and had at least five games released there under that name, it has to stay that title forever, even if the legalities that caused the original change have long since been cleared up. And again, is there really a huge difference between the two? Was it absolutely necessary to get Erdrick’s boxers in a bunch to switch the name back to its original, equally-unremarkable title?
There are how many Mortal Kombat games?
It isn’t unusual for a fighting game series to have multiple “versions” of a single title. By my estimation, Street Fighter II alone has about 57 different variants (I’m exaggerating, but not by much). So nobody thought anything of Mortal Kombat 3 evolving into Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, and then finally becoming Mortal Kombat Trilogy (which looks, plays, and feels like a further extension of MK3). When the next game was called Mortal Kombat 4, we assumed that the previous two aforementioned games were nothing more than the MK3 equivalents of a “Championship Edition” or “Third Strike.” After that, the Mortal Kombat series began giving its various installments subtitles rather than numbers, which personally I’m a big fan of once a series goes beyond 3 or 4 games.
Where things began to get confusing was in the 2011 MK reboot simply titled “Mortal Kombat.” This wasn’t unusual in and of itself – reboots often drop all previous naming conventions and are titled as if they are the first installment in the series – until the follow-up to that game was released with the title “Mortal Kombat X.” Big deal, you’re saying to your computer screen like a weirdo, they added an X to the title. Who hasn’t done that? Well, it turns out it isn’t supposed to be the letter X; it’s actually meant to be read as “Mortal Kombat Ten”. And when you look at the list of MK games, it’s difficult to determine how they landed on that being the 10th game. Turns out that Ultimate MK3 is considered the official 4th installment while MK Trilogy is a “side game,” so then MK4 is actually the 5th game, and so on…but if you know the MK series you might still be wondering how MKX is the 10th game. Well, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe also arbitrarily “doesn’t count” in the official core series numbering. Wow. I think that having my spine ripped out would’ve been less painful than having to parse all that out. Although I guess it still makes far more sense than the fact that we somehow still aren’t even at the 5th numbered installment of Street Fighter yet.
Final Fantasy II and/or IV? -or- When did “ten two” become a number?
Not even considering the well-worn joke about how a game called “Final Fantasy” would even have a sequel in the first place, let alone 15+, the FF series has had some titling issues beyond that. Okay, so it made sense then when the second and third game in the series didn’t come to the U.S. but the fourth was going to, they decided to call the next U.S. installment “Final Fantasy II” – rather than IV – because it was only our second FF game. And it also made sense that when we didn’t get the fifth game, they called the sixth one “Final Fantasy III” when it came here. Still, at that point the FF series was 7 games in, and Square was tired of screwing around with the series numbering – and also had high hopes that FFVII was going to be a big enough hit that the U.S. wouldn’t miss out on future FF titles – so Japan’s Final Fantasy VII became everyone’s Final Fantasy VII. And so it smoothly went for FFVIII, FFIX, and FFX.
However, that is when Square decided that they were going to do something even stranger than making a series out of a game with the word “Final” in its title: make a direct sequel to FFX and call it…Final Fantasy X-2 (pronounced “ten-two”). Sure, the FF games had always had completely different storylines and characters from one installment to the next, so actually having a canonical continuation of one of the games required a change, but calling a game “ten-two” wasn’t it. A lot of people felt that FF’s first foray into online multiplayer – FFXI – shouldn’t have been given the same numbering as the standard series, but that’s something of a nitpicky quibble. They at least had the sense to call FF13’s second sequel by a subtitle rather than going off the deep end and using “thirteen-three.”
Where things really got sticky with the FF series all over again was when the SNES games were brought to the Wii’s Virtual Console in North America, and given their original U.S. SNES titles of Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III. This, combined with a huge resurgence of 90’s nostalgia and an increase in buying and selling games from that era meant that both “Final Fantasy II” for SNES and “Final Fantasy IV” proper were coexisting in conversation, making everything confusing and complicated all over again. We had long gotten used to calling all of the games by their correct names, and this was reinforced by various remakes and all non-Wii re-releases that were brought here than changed the names back to their original, proper Japanese numbering. Although you can usually figure out which one a person is referring to via context and who the person is, it still made everything complicated and has it to where you either have to constantly say “Final Fantasy II/IV” or something like “Final Fantasy II SNES.” If, by chance, you want to chalk most of this up to being “not Square’s fault,” fine. I’ll give you something to give them hell for: Calling the second installment of the Dissidia side series “Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy.” Dissidia Twelve? No…it’s pronounced”Dissidia Duodecim” (which is still another name for a grouping of twelve things). Seriously Square: What in the actual hell?
Wonder Boy / Monster World / Adventure Island / 50 Other Names
From the very beginning, when an arcade game called Wonder Boy was brought as-is to some home platforms but had its name changed to Revenge of Drancon for its Game Gear port and being re-branded as “Hudson’s Adventure Island” when brought to the NES, the naming conventions of this series have been completely insane. Things seemed to improve with the sequel Wonder Boy in Monster Land, which only had the minor variation of Wonder Boy: Monster World on some of its platforms. However, this was actually the beginning of things really going off the rails as that game was technically both the sequel to Wonder Boy and the first game in the separate “Monster World” series all in one game. Sure, Nintendo did something similar when the third Super Mario Land game also became the first Wario Land game, but starting with Wario Land 2 Nintendo at least had the good sense to drop the “Super Mario Land” portion of the titles from then on.
So then the next game in series was Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair…and also Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, with one also being a further continuation of the Monster World series and the other just being a standalone Wonder Boy game. Those aren’t two different names for the same game, mind you, but two completely different games altogether. Huh!? Some home ports mercifully dropped the confusing elements of the titles, like the TurboGrafx-16 port that is simply titled “Monster Lair,” but when it comes to The Dragon’s Trap…oh boy. That TurboGrafx-16 port was called “Dragon’s Curse,” and the Game Gear version concentrated on the MW side of the coin by calling it Monster World II: Dragon’s Trap. Yep, MWII and not III. So next up came the simply-titled Monster World IV, and for a brief moment, we all breathed a sigh of relief that all of that craziness was over. That relief would be short lived.
What we got after that is one of the most strangely-titled video games of all time: Wonder Boy V: Monster World III. I’m cheating a little, as that’s actually what it was called in Japan; the most common U.S. title is the not-quite-as-nutso Wonder Boy in Monster World. Still, to have that title be the direct follow up to both “Monster World IV” and two separate games that were both called “Wonder Boy III” doesn’t make things that much less ridiculous…especially when I tell you that Wonder Boy in Monster World was remade for the TurboDuo and called…The Dynastic Hero. Anybody else’s head hurt yet? Maybe it will after I tell you that the “Adventure Island” series continued for several installments, being completely original games with no further connection to the WB/MW series – except for the Japanese PC Engine version of WBIII: The Dragon’s Trap, which was inexplicably renamed…Adventure Island. Yup.
And finally, a shout out to Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, and other series that go back and forth between numbered and non-numbered installments
I’d like to also make a mention of all of that other franchises that are picky about which games are and aren’t “main” entries and only numbering those, while giving the others subtitles. This results in things like there being Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in between GTA3 and GTA4. It makes sense for something like Vice City Stories or The Ballad of Gay Tony to not be numbered; those are both clearly defined side stories/continuations of one of the core games. But how Vice City and especially San Andreas are only looked at as part of the “GTA3 trilogy” and not their own separate full-fledged installments worthy of a number is beyond me. If anything, GTAIV should’ve been viewed as a non-numbered continuation of GTA3 and GTAV should’ve been considered a direct sequel to San Andreas. But what do I know?
There are also the multiple different Assassin’s Creed “side games” that come between each numbered installment – though even that gets convoluted, as the two games in between ACII and ACIII (Brotherhood and Revelations) are technically considered part of the “main series,” while the game that came between ACIII and ACIV – Liberation – is not. Although that one is called ACIII: Liberation while Brotherhood and Revelations don’t have the number II in their titles even though they are considered a continuation of ACII…ugh. Just drop the numbers entirely if you’re going to do that type of nonsense. Or maybe just don’t make nearly two dozen different installments to a single series in seven year period – but that’s an entirely different discussion.
Just pick a convention and stick with it. Nobody would’ve cared whether or not GTAV was actually called GTA12 or whatever number they are actually up to. Or abandon ALL numbering altogether and just do strictly subtitles from now on. But make up your damn minds one way or another – the inconsistency is really irritating.