Remakes and remixes

The one question that was thrown at me few weeks back was whether or not Resident Evil 2 warranted a remake. Ultimately, it did not. The original Resident Evil 2 is one of those timeless classics that still play well to this day, even though the PlayStation era 3D graphics are rather outdated. The game itself is still solid, but that goes for all games that are solid for their era; they’re solid for the future as well. However, not all games can stand the test of time, or even their timely competitors, but some games just tend to have a possibility of being great and for whatever reasons just didn’t measure up. Be it budgetary, lack of experience, skill or whatever, there are numerous fan favourite games that are more or less terrible, yet we love ’em. Chances are that those games would never get a remake.

The argument goes as follows; games that have good design and yet were terribly made should get remade because they would benefit from it. Effectively, realising the original concept properly. While that’s a nice sentiment, the business side of things doesn’t really support the notion. Why remake a game that didn’t make sales, has a very little or not following or has some sort of infamy around it when you could tap something better? Resident Evil 2 remake cost a lot of money to make and advertise. It’s part of Capcom’s current big three titles, Monster Hunter World and Devil May Cry 5 that are effectively the titles the Big C is banking on as seen in their last year’s annual report I have a post about. It’s no coincidence that all these three titles are part of their respective franchises. After all, creating a new IP has its own risks that your company probably doesn’t want to undertake when you’ve just put millions into some restructuring and R&D in order to make a new engine all the while demanding high-end graphics that pushes the visuals as much as possible. Square-Enix follows the same line of thinking with Final Fantasy VII‘s remake, even though they’re taking their sweet time to actually finishing it. However, there’s also one snag that applies to both RE2 remake and FFVII remake; they’re effectively completely new games.

Let’s question if remaking a game by completely changing it from ground up like these two did is actually remaking anything. The remake of original Resident Evil will be used as the point of comparison, a golden example of a remake. What makes it different from the two aforementioned remakes is that it still uses the same systems and designs from the original game, just improved in every way. You can still see where the roots are and side-by-side comparison is completely possible. For RE2 and FFVII, that’s largely impossible due to their nature of completely remodeling and changing the groundwork of the games’ designs. RE2 remake is effectively nothing like the original game and are separate products altogether, whereas with RE‘s remake uses the same base work. FFVII doesn’t even belong to the same genre as the original, opting to go for full-out action. It’s almost like Square Enix is wanting to move away from the time tested Wizardry+Ultima model they’ve made their bed with all the variations we’ve seen in most of the mainline Final Fantasy titles.

Remake is a nice word, because its semantics it usually is associated with in the game industry offers a lot of leeway. Sometimes upgraded ports are marketed as remakes, because it’s easy and has a nice ring to it. The positive association a remake tends to have nowadays would imply that it’s a whole new upgrade to push things further. An example of this would be the HD remakes of few last generations we’ve had, which offer nothing more than higher resolution graphics, sometimes wide screen support and nothing else. Questioning whether or not this is a proper remake or just an upgraded port shouldn’t be an issue. Reading the marketing slang shouldn’t be hard.

Then again, this line of thinking may be completely wrong. Should we consider remakes as something that takes the core essence of a product, like RE2‘s concept of surviving inside a zombie infested city and completely remodeling its game play and concepts, as proper remake instead? After all RE‘s remake can be called exactly that as well, but seeing that is effectively the original game with prettier graphics and updated stuff, shouldn’t that be more or less a remix instead? Sure, all the assets have been recreated from the ground up for the game and so on, but ultimately it is more or less a remix recreation of the original Resident Evil. Compared to remixes like this, a remake should push the game’s concepts to further extents and stand as its own standalone title. This would fit the idea of remaking FFVII as an action game as well, despite the whole genre change it has going on for it. Our golden example of a remake doesn’t really stand against how RE2 was remade. It would be possible to remake the first Resident Evil and change everything about it without losing the core concept of a resident filled with evil. Then again, Resident Evil itself is a sort of remake of Famicom’s Sweet Home, genre changes and all to go with it.

As said, marketing’s have their hand in this quite a lot. Using a dictionary or the like to determine the true meaning of a remake is largely useless, when it’s a nice term you can drop around to whatever re-release it fits even remotely. After all, marketing department have their hands full already trying to push whatever latest editions they have at their hands now. It’s like how Super Robot Wars titles tend to be affected largely by what Bandai-Namco wants to promote currently or if some series has an anniversary, in which case they can push few more units by having it include in a game. Let’s not forget that sometimes games that are completely new are sometimes dropped into the remake category just because it uses its franchise in some ways. The recent contest oriented Pac-man games at one point were marketed as remake of the original Pac-Man game, despite this being not the case to any real extent. That’s like saying Mega Man 2 is a remake of Mega Man just with new stages, music, bosses and weapons. That would apply to any kind of sequel, though there’s an argument there how Hideo Kojima remade the original Metal Gear three times around.

The original question remains; Did RE2 warrant a remake? Apparently the sales data showcased that it did. In a perfect world, there would be no need for remakes. In a less perfect world, the money to make remakes like this would go for games that mechanically would require one. The one we got is still driven by sales and demand, and by the fact that Capcom recognizes the position Resident Evil 2 has in the franchise, among the fans and as an overall game. No other title in the series warrants anything similar. RE4 is still modern enough to run as it is, and perhaps that’s the best justification for remakes nowadays; to modernise games that have a ready audience. You don’t see remakes that don’t already have an audience, or games that the devs themselves don’t dare to touch. There’s a goddamn good reason Nintendo doesn’t do remakes like most other companies.

Perhaps its generational. Most of the faces we know from the industry tend to tell that they don’t really want to work on sequels or keep a series going once they’ve finished it in their own minds. Sakurai was pretty much done with Smash Bros with Melee, yet here we are. Kojima meant Metal Gear to end with pretty much every major entry in the series. Shigsy didn’t touch 2D Mario in almost twenty years due to how much work they are compared to the 3D games. However, with new blood coming into these companies, it might become more viable to remake old titles that still have a place and possibility to strike true. The same applies to the consumer side, perhaps even mores so than towards the devs. The generation that grew up with the 360 and PS3 would have a hard time going back to earlier consoles, some have even remarked how not even the Third Generation of consoles look like, and I quote a younger friend, real games. Updating PlayStation era games to modern visual (and game play) standards would open new avenues without really losing anything due to the build-in fandom. On one hand, you serve the fans with an arguably better version of the game and attract customer who missed the original, or didn’t or couldn’t touch it because it was on PlayStation, PSN not withstanding. As much as even the industry likes to think otherwise, very few games are timeless in the proper meaning of the term. They may take the test of time within the context of the era, but putting them face to face with their modern counterparts, they lose in almost every area of design. Direct comparison without taking context and capabilities of each of the era would be rather unfair, but for a timeless classic that should not be a problem. After all, if Super Mario Bros. 3 can stand toe to toe with modern 2D action games in terms of designs and gameplay, the rest of timeless classics should be capable of this. For the early 3D games, that’s not exactly the case, just like how first games can’t really stack up against most other modern 2D games of similar nature.

REmake2‘s success probably makes Capcom wonder what other titles they have they could give a similar treatment. With their interest to resurrect some of their sleeping IPs thanks to Mega Man 11, IP which saw a raise in sold units from 32 million units to 34 million since June 2018, it’s not entirely impossible that Capcom would wake one or two of their classic series with a remake. Chances are that they’ll be testing the waters with some releases and bundles before green lighting anything, but you never know. Then again, they should finally remake the original Street Fighter.

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