Enough time for popularity and fans

Much like Hollywood has been rewarming and remaking old classics, it seems the electronic game industry has been loving to do the same thing for some ten years and then some now. While remakes and remasters have always existed, seeing ports used to be effectively build from the ground up for another platforms using same or similar assets. Mostly during the 1980’s and early 90’s. For example, Capcom’s Section Z on the NES is very different game from its arcade original, just like their Troy. Just compare them for a moment.

Good old CPS-I

Good ol’ FC

I really need to make an entry about the history of character shooting games like this.

The two games are different enough to be called completely different. The NES Section Z could be called to be strongly inspired by and be sourced from the arcade game. There’s no plagiarism in play here. While the two games are counted as separate titles, do remind yourself that every port of a game is counted as a single entry, e.g. Mega Man X4 is as three different titles depending on the platform; PlayStation, Saturn and PC. Anyway, Section Z could be considered a remake of the CPS-I title, as its effectively takes the core of the arcade game and puts it into a form that fits the hardware the best. Capcom used to do this a lot, when it was necessary.

Despite the NES game’s nature as a complete remake to the point of being completely different game, its still called a port. That’s probably change in paradigm how we consider ports. Now we expect every port to be the exact same across the board, while that was, quite literally, impossible with old hardware. I’m repeating things here, aren’t I? The point is, a remake /port like this of a semi-popular arcade title made a great title on its own rights despite it being in all actuality different game altogether. Get on with it!

So I’ve wondered why games that failed due to some lacking qualities don’t get remakes that make them better (there are few posts about that), but at the same time I know its about money and budget. The reality is that something like Final Fantasy VII is able to get a million dollar budget, highly hyped and completely revamped mechanics to the point of game genre being changed to reflect what’s currently more popular (SquEnix has been moving away from traditional RPG format ever since the merger with Final Fantasy now that Dragon Quest is under the same roof) is because the game was so massively popular and impacted gaming culture, especially in the Overseas market. Now I’ll always remind that Phantasy Star II did the whole prominent party waifu death far better way, as did one of the Dragon Quest titles with death of the player character’s father, but all that’s academical at best.

However, that point sort of lose a bit of credibility when something like Grandia, a niche title with no entries in the series bible since 2006 (outside ports), gets remastered ports of its first two games. Grandia has always been a niche title, a cult classic, and these games don’t usually get much in terms of remaster love. Ports and upcsales for sure, PSN is full of some them. However, in Grandia‘s case its more or less a souped up port rather than true remaster. After all, the lack of popularity doesn’t really warrant the money, just like how the Final Fantasy VIII isn’t getting full blown remake like its older sibling, but rather what we used call as HD port. That’s what Grandia’s remaster seems to be at its core too. Sometimes they tweak some things on the way, but ultimately they touch very little.

However, why would Grandia even get this port? It’s not like the series has ever been a massive success. Time is probably the best answer, as mentioned in the title. There are numerous games that are not simply all what they could be, but were made well enough to gather a cult following. Wait a decade or two for the word to get around, Internet hype things up further, look for information how well people regard your title, and you know you already have an installed consumer group you can hit with semi-competent remake. Better take steps easy first, not blow your budget and just give enough for all the old and new fans to play their beloved title on modern platforms, despite everyone and their mother swearing in the name of emulation nowadays.

Imagine if the upcoming Grandia would have been a full-blown remake, with everything made from the scratch with modern day knowhow and tech. No reused assets or such, everything made as good as it could be. While that will never happen, should consumers be satisfied with these remaster-type ports? There are numerous games that could use the same treatment, pretty much every decent game out there, while games with less quality to the originally will be left to be completely alone rather than remade into something better. Even in a case like Grandia, popularity and sales dictate how the series is approached, with time being here the crucial element that has given the series’ first games a golden status that can be exploited. Will it sell well enough to ensure future of the franchise? Probably not, it most likely will make its money back, but history has shown that in cases like this there needs to be far more money coming in to convince the execs to put their minds and effort into developing a new, high-quality entry rather than continue with safe bets. Hey, maybe it’ll sell well enough to warrant a pachislot machine with Konami as the licensee.

The same can be said about Panzer Dragoon. While the situation is a bit different with that game, as the original Sega Saturn source code is lost and the PS2 remake was based on the Windows code, the upcoming remake had to be an actual remake rather than just a remaster. The series has always had a positive reputation, and pretty much everyone who has had the chance to play the games makes a statement for some future entry in the series. Digital Foundry called the game series legendary in their tech analysis even. Though they belittle rail shooters as a genre a bit there, the point stands; even people who value technology and hardware the most value these relatively low-selling titles. Some games simply leave an impact, be it for their quality of game play or otherwise, the word gets around slowly, but surely. This builds both individual fans, separate groups of fans and some fan communities even.

I really hope the poles making this game won’t fuck it up. While the graphics are rather different in style, reminding me a lot of Zelda BoTW, I still ahve hope for it, as stupid as it may be

Still, it’s not exactly a safe bet for SquEnix to make Final Fantasy VII Remake, but safe enough that they know existing fans and cultural osmosis will make it sell well enough. Not so with FFVIII though, and something like Grandia is far behind either of them. Then again, I’m not seeing Sega putting any effort to properly remake any of their older titles, but they are making something new. That’s honestly a lot better. Remaking something like Panzer Dragoon? A close 1:1 remake of the original Panzer Dragoon is not exactly difficult nowadays. Hell, its almost like those ground-up reworked ports, like Section Z. 

There’s more worth in making something like Final Fantasy VII Remake than just a heated up remaster. It may be retreading same steps, but at least it is trying to do something new. We can always go back and play one of the many ports of the original title after all. That is not the case with many other titles, so there’s a golden middle-way we can tread. Hell, I’d take completely new remakes of old games that might be interesting to revisit in a new form, all the while titles with less popularity behind them could always use these souped up ports like the Panzer Dragoon remake or home port of Section Z.

Escalation of moral maturity from game to game

One aspect that’s been part of boys’ play culture for as long as we can go back in written history with records of children’s play is the moral play between good and evil. One of the modern classics that display an everyday battle between these two extremes would be Cops versus Robbers. As we grow up, the stark contrast between good and evil usually begins to dim to the point where we can accept that good and evil are subjective, at least on philosophical level. The contest between the perceived sides still persist into our adulthood, more often than not shaded to the point of the perceived evil being more justified than the opposing side.

The traditional pen and paper role playing games stem from the myths of antique and the knight plays. I don’t think there’s one child in the world who has no played a role of a knight in some play. The knight I’m referring here is more akin the idea of local protector, hence why black knights are the opposing, equal power. Perhaps an allegory for the fallen angel of sorts on some level. Nevertheless, the early computer RPGs were largely digitised forms of Dungeons & Dragons games these people used to have, with Ultima being an example of such. If you look in late 80’s and 1990’s Japanese fantasy light novels and series branched from them, like Slayers, they’re largely based on the author’s own D&D games. With the D&D crowd, at some point they stopped playing knights outside in the nature, and moved indoors. Of course, Live action role playing, or LARPing has become somewhat popular, and is effectively just people playing like kids with far more serious intent and costlier props.

The aforementioned paragraph may sound rather negative, though it’s more an argument of natural change. Whether or not theatrical plays predated children play acting is unknown, but the two have a linear connection between maturity and playing. Play acting became a profession, something done so good that it could be made money with. The adult life is strongly reflected in children’s plays, as playing is often the best form of education and learning for the future. Kids trading stones and sticks on the playfield essentially prepares for commerce. Pokémon TCG was largely panned by parents in its initial release years, but one thing they learned about it was how it taught children the value of goods and trading. Modern world simply allows certain aspects of immature play to be present more than with previous generations. The concept of something being childish and for children only has seen a silent paradigm shift.

Perhaps the example of this is electronic games. While computer games were seen somewhat more mature compared to console and arcade games in the 1970’s and 80’s, they’ve been accepted as a media for all ages since the late 1990’s, with some grudges here and there. It’s still not all that uncommon to see some parents from previous generations to describe game consoles and computers as toys, which often yields a rather negative response due to associated immature mental image it carries with it. While understandable, toys are means to play. Describing a game machine a toy in this sense isn’t wholly inaccurate, as all it exists for is to play.

However, electronic games and machines they run on prevent any creative forms of plays. They offer a statistic, controlled and extremely limited form of play, which is more akin to adult overseeing a children’s play. This is currently a technological issue, as we’ve yet to see completely dynamic world that allows the player to enact whatever possible they want. One can’t build a hut and live in there for the rest of the character’s natural life in a Final Fantasy game, because the game is not prepared for that. It’s limited to the story the game wants to tell. Playing often requires the player to follow the rules, after all. Not all toys allow all forms of play either, after all. While calling video and computer games as toys might sting your ear, the association with play is completely natural and such naming shouldn’t be deflected from the get go. After all, we have adult’s toys as well, which children shouldn’t have access to before they are mentally and physically mature enough.

The same applies to video games. Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim are both games we constantly see people of all ages playing, despite the age recommendations being there. Being a direct descendant of Cops VS Robbers and knight plays, both game simply take the basic core and expand on it. GTA may have you play as the Robber, but the moral hues you’re given are numerous. The same applies to Skyrim, where the player character is a figurative knight on his route to slay a dragon. The means and toys have just changed from a stick representing the baton or sword to a plastic controller and readily set digital world.

The question how much industrially prepared playing via toys has affected modern world’s play culture as a whole is a topic I’m not ready to touch on. However, some examples how things simply change drastically with a toy would be Barbie. The toy is not a doll for girls who play with it, it’s a Barbie. Singling out a toy like this outside all others has grown to the point of almost all toys have been made their own rather than for overall playing in general. Perhaps the largest reason for this change is the successful franchising, where the association with a toy and a character is made so much stronger. A child is not just buying a transforming robot toy, he’s buying Optimus Prime and all the mental images associated with the character.

While the contest between moral sides in boys’ games has escalated since the 1950’s, similar escalation has been lacing in electronic games. This is due to all the aforementioned; electronic games are just part of it. The age-old discussion about boys’ and girls’ games is valid, and while I’d argue that a well made game does cater to both sexes, the truth is that one has more interest towards certain kinds of games over the other. That is the nature of things. However, nothing exists in a vacuum, and games experience as much mixing of these two play cultures as real life does. The Sims is still the best example of girls’ play culture being completely accepted by both sexes (the game’s essentially playing Home), as is Super Mario. Super Mario just happens to be perceived more immature due to the design choices and lack moral greys over something like Halo, which is perceived a a “big boys game.”

This is a point, as not all games, electronic or not, are for all ages. It is up to the parents to decide whether or not Little Jimmy is ready to handle mature concepts like interrupted penetration, self-mutilation in the name of love, the absurdity of how pointless life is or the sheer sexual tension between a man and a machine. Something truly is for “big boys.” The core play doesn’t change with maturity, but the concepts and themes that frame the act do.

Terranigma would sell… most likely

Square-Enix was once a company I followed. Two actually, Squaresoft and Enix. During the last decade after their merging we can pretty safely say that they made most of their money on remakes of their past titles of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The new Final Fantasy games haven’t even made me interested in them, and I bought Final Fantasy XII just because it’s part of the Ivalice Alliance. Never really bothered playing it more than some eight hours, and then basically discarded it to me shelf. Perhaps some day I’ll return to it.

I have to ask if Square-Enix is having a bias towards the games they own. We’ve seen that it’s the Square side of the company controlling and overseeing everything, and very little Enix is in there. We’ve seen rereleases of multiple Final Fantasy games from PlayStation to GameBoy Advance to PSP, but we really haven’t seen any Enix games been remade and released.

SquEnix has an interesting in this regard. They could play it all out with the Heaven and Earth tetralogy and call it the the only contender ever to stand against Final Fantasy on equal grounds or the like. Back in the day you could hear whispers of Terranigma being the challenger to Final Fantasy III (VI). Nowadays it’s almost universally accepted as one of the defining games in the Action RPG genre on the SNES. Being only released in Europe and Japan, the game’s pretty damn expensive unless you’re buying the German language version. Rereleasing this game (and adding more dungeons and other nifty extra stuff) would drop the English cart’s price even among collectors, and more importantly it would allow pretty much everybody to get their hands on Terranigma. The game does need a retranslation much like every other 16-bit game does. SNES game reverse engineering is easy these days even of they have lost the source code; they can just use the same tools emulation scene uses. It’s not unheard of.

Then on what console should Terranigma be rereleased, you ask. Seeing we’re getting bunch on new consoles next year in E3, putting (updated) Terranigma into WiiWare, XBLA and PSN wouldn’t be a bad move. I’d love the idea of getting a PSP/Vita or some sort of DS release, but seeing neither Sony’s or Nintendo’s handhelds are making any proper money, the only realistic route is digital sale. That doesn’t mean they could be cheap about it. On the contrary, they could be smart and pour few extra resources into the project and convert it into proper HD, or at least make it that the pixels won’t make your eyes bleed on a 50″ screen.

I’m usually against digital distribution because the customer has the least control over his products in that form. Good Old Games is one of the few digital distributors I can trust. However, I do recognize it’s advantages, and with Terranigma we can actually put the game’s quality into test with digital distribution. One advantage it has over traditional physical distribution that some of the competition is levelled down. It’s not eliminated, but every product has the same equal opportunity. On WiiWare it would be going against the likes of Super Mario Bros. in popularity. On XBLA and PSN there’s PacMan and the like. It’s a harsh competition. If Terranigma is as good as people tend to regard it as, it’ll sell like hotcakes. If it’s not, then most it’ll most likely stay somewhere around Top 50 selling games, but that’s it.

I do believe that Terranigma would sell. It depends on what SquEnix would do with it. The vanilla Terranigma shouldn’t cost more than 5 bucks or so. Twenty if they remake it like they did with the GBA and PSP ports. SquEnix doesn’t really have anything to lose with this idea, much like they don’t have anything to lose if they ever actually decide to remake Final Fantasy VII. However, FFVII remake would fetch far larger development team and longer time to properly make, while they can just whip Terranigma up just like they did with the Chrono Trigger port to the DS.

Speaking of Chrono Trigger, the amount if English cartridges on both Trigger and Terranigma are limited, but if you ever happen to check the prices of the Japanese carts you’ll notice that they’re much cheaper. Chrono Trigger’s actually commonly bundled with random 10 Super Famicom game packs that game stores sell to get rid of them, as is Terranigma. I actually got my copy of Tenchi Souzou around 15 euros few years back, complete with box, manual and the protective plastic bag. Seeing how the game frequently fetches 80€+ prices in every auction, it makes me a bit dumbfounded that SquEnix hasn’t managed to shove their hands in. 80€ is high price for Terraniga, seeing that a rather large quantity of them is in circulation in the end. Just like with bad games, it’s the collectors’ value and all that which jacks up the price. It’s stupid to see Terranigma go with such high prices. Having played the game quite some time, I can safely say that it is a good game by every standard you can think of. However, just like Final Fantasy III/VI, you do feel how age has caught upon some of its mechanics. Games like Super Mario Bros. 3 are basically ageless, but games like Final Fantasy and Terranigma are usually ravaged by time. Slowly, but surely. Another example would be the Ys series, but Nihon Falcom has been remaking the series for some time now and these remakes will stand the test of time better than the two SNES classics. Not because they’re newer, but because they’re more refined, just like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Space Invaders is. SquEnix has all the means to make Terranigma shine like it should.

And while they’re at it, they might want to check the rest of the tetralogy; Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia/Time and The Granstream Saga.

Hmm, perhaps I’ll dwell deeper into Granstream Saga some day. It’s the ignored last game of the Heaven and Earth tetralogy, so visiting it after visiting Ys would seem viable.