Tonal shift is a change in a story’s overall feeling that takes place as the story unfolds.
This is a difficult story element to accomplish. If not done well, dramatic changes to a beloved character can alienate fans of the story. When executed properly, tonal shifts can intrigue people to continue the story. It creates curiosity; people wonder what will happen as the story progresses and what prompted the change. An example of a tonal shift can be observed in the popular PlayStation 2 game franchise Jak and Daxter. First released in 2001, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy started as a bright, colorful, cartoony, fantasy platformer game featuring fifteen-year-old Jak and his friend Daxter traveling to find a way to change Daxter back after transforming into an ottsel (half otter/ half weasel). The second game, released two years later, transformed into an action-adventure game with a darker, more complex storyline. To communicate the drastic difference right away, developer Naughty Dog simply called the second game Jak II instead of Jak and Daxter II.
At the end of the first game, after Jak and Daxter defeat Gol and Maya, they discover a mysterious precursor artifact. After activating it, the artifact opens a rift where a hoard of monsters called Metal Heads escape. Jak, Daxter, Samos the Sage, and his daughter, Keira, are sucked in. They get separated and land in the authoritative, futuristic Haven City, ruled by Baron Praxis. Haven City is in the middle of a war against the Metal Heads. Jak is immediately captured by the Baron’s guards, where he is subjected to torture and experiments with a dangerous substance called Dark Eco for two years. The goal of the experiments is to transform Jak into a powerful warrior that will help Praxis fight off the Metal Heads. Jak is deemed a failure and escapes prison with Daxter’s help. They join forces with the Underground, the resistance group trying to overthrow the Baron and return the rightful heir to the throne.
As video games advanced during the PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox era, companies were challenging the creative limits of developing technology. Gamers who started in the previous era of the first PlayStation and Nintendo 64 craved much more with the new generation of consoles. They got tired of bright, colorful, cartoony games and gravitated towards more realistic, gritty, and mature games such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. Even kids interested in gaming during this era were geared towards mature games. The first Jak and Daxter came out just as fans of the previous generation were adjusting to the current consoles at the time. They had enjoyed Naughty Dog’s previous series, Crash Bandicoot as well as games such as Spyro, Super Mario, and Banjo-Kazooie. It worked as a great way to get players interested in the PlayStation 2, and excited to see what new, innovative and amazing games the platform had to offer.
A good sequel takes aspects of what was established in the first story and expands on it, allowing it to stand out on its own without rehashing. Familiar characters from the original story experience change; they mature, develop new emotions, expand their personality and engage in new adventures. Jak II kept only gameplay aspects and parts of the lore from the original. The time spent in prison subjected to the dark eco experiments resulted in Jak’s personality change, his newfound voice, and his thirst for revenge. The story of Jak II was far more complex than the simple story of the previous game. The story had unanticipated turns, time to develop the main and side characters, and added complexity to the lore. Time travel contributed intriguing background information, revealing how the mystery of the Precursors tied into the creation of the city and how the use of the world’s substance called Eco had changed. The use of time travel also acted as a way to move the characters from one time period to another, further justifying the darker, grittier environment. The changes make players excited for the story to unfold and the missions they will have to accomplish.