So in case you've been living under a rock for the past year or so, one of the biggest surprise recent video game hits has been the indie horror series, Five Nights at Freddy's. And in case you were hiding inside of a cardboard box while infiltrating Shadow Moses Island, the rest of the internet has become increasingly hostile towards this series and its fanbase. But why? Where did things go wrong?
It'd be easy to chalk up this hate to consistent sequelization and leave it at that. After all, video game series that have switched to an annual release pattern have evoked similar negative responses (Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed), and FNAF has quadrupled their output in a single year. And indeed, this may have had a large effect; but I'd argue there's something even more substantial going on here. Something far more than just putting out a lot of games.
See, the most common complaint direct at consistent sexualization is that it's the same thing, year in and year out. And that complaint doesn't really work for FNAF; all four games, while having the same general objective (don't get eaten by the spooky monsters), the core gameplay mechanics are drastically different. FNAF1 focused on power conservation, FNAF2 leaned more towards multitasking, FNAF3 required you to distract a single animatronic as well as make quick decisions about which systems were most important, and FNAF4 leans towards listening comprehension of all things. Honestly, if all video games innovated from one title to the next as much as Five Nights at Freddy's does, the industry would be in much better shape. The amount of sequels doesn't really strike me as the problem.
The issue perhaps doesn't lie so much in the gameplay, then, as it does the story. I'd argue that Five Nights' story has gotten consistently worse since the first installment, which is to say, as the game tried to put into place a real narrative, it got more and more tiring. And its been the story that's worn people out; well, that and all the creepy pasta Chica pics.
So just where did the story go wrong? Let's take a look.
FNAF1 kicked things off with a rather minimalistic story with a few hidden easter eggs around to think about. Looking back on it, I actually quite liked what FNAF1 did. It blurred the line between whether the evil robots trying to kill you were just following faulty programming or whether there was actually something supernatural taking place. It's admittedly not complex, but it doesn't really need to be. There's a mystery in place, and the speculation about things is enjoyable. FNAF1 goes out of its way to make things unclear, which is good. Everything could be explained away by completely "realistic" causes, but there's always this nagging doubt that there's something more sinister at work. That sort of mystery is engaging, and I honestly wish more video games took that attitude towards storytelling. It's not complex, but it doesn't need to be; the point here is to draw the player into the game, and FNAF1's narrative does that quite well.
FNAF2 is where the series tries to take on a much more focused narrative, and not so coincidentally, it's also where problems start to arise. The same explanation for why the animatronics want to kill you is dusted off and brought back for this game, but starts to misstep in two key ways. One, the mini games in-between levels, and two, the existence of the Puppet. While suspension of disbelief can excuse one set of faulty programming, doing two different animatronics (if the puppet even qualifies) makes things start to fall apart. The mini games where various creepy phrases are shouted out at steady intervals only add to this. The ability to excuse all of the creepiness as realistic causes has taken a major hit, and the first game's mystery begins to crack, replaced by a very odd and convoluted tale of murdered children.
FNAF3 tramples on whatever was left of the original mystery by introducing even more supernatural elements. I don't want to spend too much time elaborating, but the various mini games and game endings all demonstrate pretty clearly that the animatronics are/were possessed by the souls of various murdered kids. The game timeline now spans several decades (and restaurants) as well, which means that the game has to figure out how to explain all of the events that we know take place and tie them all together. Unsurprisingly, it's unable to do so, and we're left with a very muddy picture of some "purple guy" who killed some kids, stuffed their bodies into suits for...some reason...and then was later killed while trying to avoid the spirits of those kids. Ignoring how nonsensical and ultimately unsatisfactory this is, there's still a boatload of unexplained plot elements, including at least three different restaurants, a mysterious bite in 1987, and the various swapping out of animatronics over the years.
One would perhaps expect FNAF4 to try and tie together all of these very, very disconnected events...but instead it makes the most mind boggling decision yet and decides to introduce yet ANOTHER event to the timeline. I won't spoil the specifics, but it's not the bite of 87 and it does nothing to really make sense of the absolute mess of a timeline the series has by now. It provides a starting point for everything now that we've gone into full blown supernatural spirits possessing everything mode, but it clears nothing up and doesn't actually...you know...explain anything else that we knew about.
And that's where I'd argue much of the frustration for FNAF comes from. It certainly does for me. What was once a fun little game with a sense of mystery with no real answer on whether something was possessed or just programmed extremely poorly has morphed into a gigantic mass of disconnected events across a convoluted timeline with little more than speculation and theory to connect things. One could argue that this is merely a mystery of its own, but the problem is that the game is trying to tell a cohesive narrative while not actually resolving any of its mysteries. It's one thing to have a mystery, and then leave it for the player to think about, because the mystery will be much more satisfying than any explanation the game could give. It's another thing to try and resolve one mystery with a whole ton of mysteries, and that's where FNAF really has fallen apart. It's little more than mysteries, with no real solid foundation for anything. The absurd amount of theories on the internet attest to this.
Perhaps, if nothing else, this is all a lesson pointing towards the common saying "Less is More." FNAF never needed a complex, drawn out backstory. It was more compelling when there was a simple, single mystery behind things and that was it. Instead, it's moved from being a simple tale of some questionable robots to whatever the story equivalent of a Rube Goldberg Machine is; so horribly buried beneath all of the plot points its tried to make into a timeline that it's not even compelling anymore. FNAF has made itself unenjoyable with its own complexity; and its drawn out, silly narrative has shown itself to be far less compelling than the single, simple mystery that started the whole thing.
TL;DR: FNAF has become obnoxious because its story has become obnoxious. The mystery which made the game compelling has morphed into a gigantic blob of various supernatural prattle and unrelated events with no real connection to each other. Instead of "are these animatronics possessed or not?" we've moved to spirits of dead kids have been haunting people, multiple casualties over numerous diners spanning decades, and a tangled web of plot points that, quite honestly, I'm not sure a hypothetical FNAF5 could even explain at this point.
So that's my opinion. How about yours? Feel free to let me know, or alternatively, let me know where I screwed up. I look forward to hearing it...just as long as there's no kids possessing your posts.