What Do You Think of Switching Heroes in a Series?

Raiden from Metal Gear Solid Series.  (Crime of not being Solid Snake.)

Raiden from Metal Gear Solid Series. (Crime of not being Solid Snake.)

For those that don’t know the story behind Raiden: There is a popular video game series called Metal Gear Solid.  My friend is big into this series, so he knows more than me.  I do know that the main character of the first Metal Gear Solid was Solid Snake (codename, of course) and they changed things in Metal Gear Solid 2.  The change was that you played as Snake for a bit in the beginning and then you play the main game as Raiden.  People didn’t really expect this and Raiden got destroyed because he was the effeminate male hero instead of the grizzled macho hero like Snake.  Basically, he was to step in as the new hero and failed because people didn’t want him.  I believe something similar happened when they tried to make Gohan the main hero of Dragonball Z instead of his father, Goku.

For long series, this seems to happen because the main hero has ended his story.  There is typically a transition period where the new hero works with the old one and you have a passing of the torch.  If I learned anything from playing MGS2, it’s that you don’t just hurl a new hero into a series without easing people into him.  The character has to earn the role of being the new hero.  So, it’s entirely possible to successfully do something like this if you plan ahead and prepare your audience.

There are some shows that I’ve seen where the first hero is killed off and a new one is brought in.  Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Primeval and I was iffy on such a change.  You have character loyalty, so you’ll lose some people using this method.  It can help to upgrade a secondary character to the main hero status, but you need to lay the groundwork for this.  Although, there is the possibility of making the new guy struggle with trying to live up to the former hero’s reputation.

Aside from the above suggestions, I think the following can help:

  • Don’t make the new hero severely weaker than the former hero.  People might think they’re getting cheated.
  • Don’t make the new hero extremely stronger than the former hero.  People might not understand why the former hero has to retire if he’s not the stronger one.
  • Give yourself time to get the opinion of the audience and adjust if necessary.
  • If you fail in your second hero, DO NOT PANIC!  Try to calmly find a way to fix it and don’t destroy the series in desperation to keep going.  This includes returning the first hero without a good reason.

So, what do people think of a book, movie, video game, or television series that changes the main hero?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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25 Responses to What Do You Think of Switching Heroes in a Series?

  1. sknicholls says:

    Given different powers but equally strong makes a lot of sense, especially if a hero has to die. the son who becomes a hero after his hero father or brother dies can work…if not a bit cliche.


    • That is a safer way to go. Video games will try the ‘unconnected’ hero to have your character start from scratch in terms of abilities. I’ve seen it done in long-running television shows. I think it’s an attempt to keep things fresh or jump the shark.


  2. jmcobbrn says:

    I’ve noticed that story lines that are character driven have a harder time switching to a new main character. For me, I find I prefer a new story line to be started if a new main character is introduced. To continue the same story is difficult, unless the new main character is exactly like th old one and then I wonder why they changed. With a new main person bringing in a whole new personality and out look on likfe, it just might be easier to give them their own plot line. It can fit into the world’s over arching theme.

    And then there’s Dr. Who and all the comic movie reboots…


    • Dr. Who has a great system that allows for a changing of the character. I can’t think of any other series that has that much flexibility. Comic book movies are odd though. They’re the same characters with different takes on them, so you kind of get the same story.

      You’re right about a new hero needing a brand new storyline. One that isn’t identical to the previous hero because then it gives you the feel of it starting all over again. I’m having trouble thinking of a series that switched heroes successfully. Wait! Charmed switched out a sister.


  3. That’s an interesting question. Instinctively, I’m thinking we’re looking for more of what we love in the next product of the series, and if it’s the hero that we love… Yet, we also like variety. If it’s too much the same, we don’t like that either. There is also the change in audience appeal, e.g. making a feminine hero in the next product. The switch has been pulled off well, but it probably also carries some risk. Your suggestion of feedback is probably a very good one. 🙂


    • Easing people into it helps too. A lot of creators think they have the unbreakable fanbase that will always go along with their ideas. Sadly, it doesn’t usually work. A changing of fans will happen with every change, so giving hints and minimizing the shock a smart way to go.


  4. Jack Flacco says:

    Good question. I’m sure it depends on the story’s structure, it’s audience’s reaction, and the amount of time the audience spends with the character. I know of one instance it failed miserably and that was when Mulder left the X-Files. Another agent took his place, but the show never recovered by his loss. It then died a sad death. The Jurassic Park series on the other hand did very well changing heroes throughout. So, really, it depends on the circumstances and the audience reception to the change. In the Jurassic Park movies, though, the dinosaurs were the real heroes!


    • Forgot about X-Files. I think the new hero move is a big risk. I wonder if it being done in TV is more of a reaction to the actor leaving the series unexpectedly. Jurassic Park is an interesting one. Honestly, I didn’t like the third one because it didn’t have enough fodder characters to spread over the movie. Dinosaurs were definitely the real heroes. Curious to see how the fourth comes out.


  5. MGS2 Trivia: The writer/director, Hideo Kojima, claims that Snake is still the main character of the game, despite players controlling Raiden for the majority of time. His concept was to further develop Snake by portraying him from another character’s perspective (Raiden), and use story elements that were unavailable from a first-person perspective. I thought it was brilliant, but most people apparently didn’t care for it. In any event, it’s amazing that he was able to keep the secret intact among hundreds of developers for several years before the game’s release!


    • My friend is a big MGS fan and discusses this a lot. Supposedly it’s only in the States that Raiden was ridiculed and hated. He believes it’s more culture. Japan is okay with efeminent heroes while we prefer our heroes manly. It was a ‘bad’ trade off in the minds of many. Personally, I had no problem with him.


  6. I’ve never been much of a video game player and the books and movies that I read and watch don’t tend to change heroes that I can remember, but in my opinion I think it would break the flow and be quite awkward. That may be just because I have been exposed to anything in particular where that has happened. Great question though, I’m sure that others will have a more knowledgeable answer than I do.


    • Flow and awkwardness are very important. The hero switch is not common and it’s rarer that it’s done well. That’s why I think a transition period would work best. A passing of the torch method.


  7. Papi Z says:

    Reblogged this on The Literary Syndicate and commented:
    Charles asks a very good question. How do you feel about main character changes? Does it change the feel of a story, tv or movie?


  8. MishaBurnett says:

    Some television shows that feature ensemble casts have survived changing cast members– CSI and M*A*S*H, for example. As far as main characters, the film “To Live And Die In LA” changed the hero in the middle, and I think that’s one of the reasons that the film did poorly–the audience wasn’t ready for it and it killed the momentum of the film for a lot of people.

    And then there’s the Star Wars franchise, with the whole “Let’s make the villain of the last three movies into the hero of the first three movies” thing.

    Piers Anthony’s Xanth series started with one main character and then went off to all sorts of other characters, and Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld did much the same thing.

    Personally, I would consider a change in the main character less of a continuation of the original series and more launching a spinoff series–like the multiple Star Trek shows.


    • I remember hearing complaints about “To Live and Die in L.A.” when I worked in a video store. People really don’t like that kind of shock. Good point on the ensemble cast too. Those types of shows allow you to switch out characters with more ease. Though, it feels strange watching CSI with so few of the originals left. That’s probably a personal preference though.

      I agree that a new main character should be the sign of a spin-off or new direction. It makes more sense that way instead of people wondering why the original hero wasn’t kept.


  9. mrschmoe says:

    I would like to brain vomit my two cents. The way I see it, switching heroes/protagonists is like forks in the road. Another protagonist, different personality, different outlook. Leading to a spin-off series or different direction in the series. Once that can of worms is opened. Some fans may not like it. Others would definitely hate it. Others would get tweaked.


  10. JS Riddle says:

    As in video game references I can give you two that switch up main characters in different ways. Silent Hill……because honestly its the town that is the character you just play through as the people. The other, by far the most important and accepted switching, is the Resident Evil game franchise. The second one you get 2 characters to play. Leon and Claire. Both with their specialties and both going through the same timeline, just differently but always interweaving.

    Now in television, I have to say that is why I love Doctor Who. It can switch out the main character for a whole new different/yet same character almost effortlessly due to the regeneration clause and the companions come and go but are almost as important as the Doctor himself.

    In books, I do have to say that I may be a bit skewed in my idea because in my series I am doing a slow transition to get the readers comfortable with the idea of the switch, why and all of that. If things are done in a certain way, it can turn out okay. If your characters are developed well enough ahead of time it makes the baby steps easier to take.


    • I forgot about the horror games and how they change up heroes. I think that works for the genre because it is the monster that is the main attraction. Most horror franchises switch heroes because of this. I’m thinking about how Wesker appears more often in RE than the array of good guys. Definitely villain focused.

      The slow transition is definitely the way to go. Gives you time to adjust and readers time to prepare.


  11. darsword says:

    Thank you for posting this. You know, I don’t think I have thought of this before. I am thinking about a couple books I’ve written that my main characters didn’t rise to the occasion. Now I have a thought to move forward to a rewrite that might work better. Thanks, again! 🙂


  12. darsword says:

    Reblogged this on Darswords and commented:
    I hadn’t thought of this before. Newbie or just naive? Time for some rewrites. A couple of my main characters just didn’t measure up to the story. How about you?


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