Media Jump: A Look Back at Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It's been over 17 years since Buffy appeared on the small screen. Do you think its due for a video game resurgence in this age of high standards for storytelling, gameplay, and graphics?

Earlier this month, Buffy the Vampire Slayer quietly celebrated its 17th anniversary for the day the first episode ever aired on television.

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What began as a campy teenage vampire love story with a bouncy blond cheerleader and a mouthful of quippy one-liners quickly evolved into a deep, emotional, action-packed, and downright magical rollercoaster that kept us glued to the television screen for seven years.

Buffy also engendered a passionately loyal fanbase that has since followed the franchise from one medium to another.

And I don’t just mean the comic books.

It’s true that Buffy made the leap from ridiculously campy movie to the small screen, then jumped straight into the comic book theater with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 and never really looked back. But while there is always talk about what does and does not count as canonical evidence in the court of TV franchising, it is worth noting that a veritable library has sprung up of officially licensed novelizations and spinoffs, as well as quite an impressive collection of Buffy games – from video games to tabletop RPGs and a collectible card game. 

The folks at Dark Horse Comics could argue that they’ve seen as much (if not more) Buffy action as the TV show – having held the license for 16 years, seven of which are now considered canon. In celebration of launching Buffy Season 10 on March 19, Dark Horse issued a challenge to those of us in the media:

  • to watch all seven seasons of Buffy (and Angel too if we want to)
  • to read all of Buffy Season 8 and Buffy Season 9 as well as Angel & Faith Season 9

And write about it. All by April 2. Hah! Piece of cake! I can always go for more Buffy! But I also took it a step further. I dusted off my old consoles and handhelds… and did some Buffy game binging on the side. I won’t lie – they weren’t all A-grade material, and certainly have not aged well. But no one can deny that they were excellent for supplementary material, some of which is now used in canon. Case in point: it’s Faith Lehane – and you can thank the role-playing game for that one!

What’s happened in 9 seasons of Buffy? 

The short answer is: a lot. 

Season 1

Sunnydale is invaded – by a plucky blonde with a fresh new outlook on a brand new school. No more burning down gyms, no more jabbing bumpy undead things with tiny fence posts… new school, new life. Not that that lasts for longer than 20 minutes. Season 1 introduces us to the Slayer who is determined to be normal, even in a town located directly on top of the Hellmouth that draws all kinds of supernatural nasties – from giant she-mantises to cyber-demons… to a vampire named the Master, with whom an encounter means death to the Slayer.

Season 2

Juggling the teenage issues of life, love with a several-hundred-year-old vampire, death by life-sucking Incan mummy or mind-controlling alien eggs, and keeping Sunnydale safe from the desperate predations of Spike and Drusilla, Buffy already had plenty on her plate by the time her 17th birthday rolled around. After the events of that night, a brand new monster is loose in Sunnydale – Angelus, the most sadistic vampire in European history.

Season 3

Crushed by her mother’s rejection of her and her secret, Buffy runs away to the big city… but she can’t stay away from Sunnydale forever. And she’s not the only Slayer back in town, Faith appears in Sunnydale on the run from a demon named Kakistos and stays to party hard and live large. A demon-hunting partnership and tentative friendship is ruthlessly ripped apart by a succession of shady Watchers and bad situations, drawing Faith to try and make make amends to the wrong side as Buffy and her Scoobies take on the Mayor.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Xbox: In 2002, Buffy jumped to the Xbox. It was the second game made, but took off in the middle of season 3 – this one I actually had quite a lot of fun with and actually cared about the story. (Unsurprisingly, since I usually enjoy Christopher Golden’s writing.) An ancient demon named Lybach possesses Dru and forces Spike to do the dirty work, creating a bridge between Hell and Earth for a demon army. The super secret debug mode allowed for some multiplayer in an otherwise single-player game.

Season 4

Buffy’s life takes a more serious turn now that high school is over and she’s moved on to Sunnydale University. Here she meets apple pie sweetheart Riley – an undercover agent in the super-secret government Initiative, and Spike makes a reappearance with a chip in his head to keep him safe and cuddly around humans. This is arguably one of the weaker seasons of Buffy with a ho-hum villain and a lackluster season finale, but it contains some of the shining episodes of Buffy history like “This Year’s Girl,” “Who Are You?” and the award-winning silent episode “Hush.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the Game Boy Color: In 2000 the Buffy franchise made it onto the handheld market with a Buffy game on the Game Boy Color which is set in the 4th season as she fights a motley crew of evil vampires out to wreak havoc on campus and throughout the town. A sidescroller, the gameplay in this one is surprisingly not that bad for a game from this generation… although you will quickly learn to absolutely loath the sound.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wrath of the Darkhul King on Game Boy Advance: One again set in season 4, this boasts better graphics compared to the GBC. I don’t own this one, but this beat-’em-up rides on the popularity of “Hush” as Buffy discovers two henchmen of the Gentlemen while on patrol and has to deal with both the Gentlemen and Adam out to wreak havoc on Sunnydale.

Season 5

Stranger things have happened in television… but nothing hit quite like Buffy and newly-minted Dawn turning around to face Joyce Summers with identical cries of “MOM!” Just like that, Buffy has a sister – has always had a sister, in fact. How did you miss it? Meanwhile a crazy Glory uses her brain-sucking powers to stay sane in this pitiful little earth dimension as she searches for the hidden key back to her hell dimension where she is a god.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds on GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox: The First makes another appearance in this first multi-platform Buffy game from 2003, and this time Buffy has more than just the creatures population her own world, but from multiple alternate realities bleeding into her own. 

Season 6

Arguably one of the most depressing turns in Buffy’s life – once she comes back, that is. When Willow drags her out of Heaven and back into the real world, the Slayer gets a huge hit of real life after Joyce Summers – a terrible job, a flooded basement, and a little sister that just keeps finding new messes for herself. As Willow delves even further into magic, the situation takes a dangerous turn when the Three Geeks take things dark side. 

Season 7

What was an occasional odd vision of the dead coming back to subvert and to goad throughout the entire series reaches a head as the First Evil is revealed in the form of anyone that has ever died. The Scoobies search feverishly for Potentials, saving them from the First who is out to end the Slayer line. The season culminates in an explosive finale that leaves the landscape of Sunnydale, and the Buffyverse, forever changed.

Other Buffy games: There were two other video games that were released (one of which never made it to North America) but I have never been able to try them, and there is very little information about them. There is more about the tabletop RPG that spanned six volumes of core rulebook and supplementary materials, and was modified to fit right in with the Angel RPG as well.

Season 8

The whole world has changed in just one year – every Slayer that could be a Slayer now is a Slayer… and Buffy is now the leader of an international network of Slayers and the supernatural-friendly. This first comic season find hers bound in a fight against a growing anti-Slayer sentiment from a mishmash of government authority, highschool-ditz-turned-reality-TV-star Harmony, and Japanese vampires who all label her an international terrorist. Things rocket into sky-high zones of weirdness as a giant Dawn battles a robot through the streets of Tokyo, and a familiar face is found hiding under the villainous mask of “Twilight.”

Season 9

This second comic book season marks the split between the Buffy series and the Angel & Faith spinoff. After the Twilight crisis of season 8, Buffy is left to pick up the pieces and deal with a world that is now bereft of all magic. New headaches include the Xander-coined “zompires,” and Severin, a new enemy that can drain the magic from demons and Slayers alike – including one familiar blue-haired face from Angel

Angel & Faith Season 9

Meanwhile in London, Faith has her hands full with Angel who has finally stepped back into his “help the helpless” clothes to save the world from little girls with giant tentacles and search for a way to bring Giles back to life. But now the pair have to face new consequences of Angel’s tenure as Twilight, as an unhinged Whistler reappears along with half-demons Pearl and Nash to unleash a mystical plague to restore magic to the world – by mutating the human race into a magical species. 

And what happens now?

With the first issue of Season 10 out just a few short weeks ago, Buffy and her Scoobies barely have time to recover from saving Dawn before she has to fight off a zompire hoard in Santa Rosita, unknowing that a new threat is fast on its way. 

As the series continues to grow into a wider and broader scope, further and further away from its Sunnydale roots, there have been vague rumors in message boards and Buffy subreddits discussing its return to the console.

Do you think that’s likely to happen? 

Personally, while I suspect time has only allowed a passionate fanbase the opportunity to grow… I’m not sure we’ll be seeing another Chaos Bleeds any time soon. 


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Author
Image of Stephanie Tang
Stephanie Tang
Avid PC gamer, long-time console lover. I enjoy shooting things in the face and am dangerously addicted to pretty. I'm also a cat.