Discussing remakes, reboots and reimaginings seems to be relevant again with Final Fantasy VII Remake and Digimon Adventure (2020) hitting the streets. The two are splitting opinions, just like any other remake or reboot, soft or hard, that have been coming out way for the last decade and then some. In an old post that I can’t remember title of I questioned the value of these kind of works, if there was any real reason to push forwards of remaking a successful game or series over a title that could benefit from being remade into a superior form. Both the aforementioned titles didn’t need to be remade in the fashion that they were, the titles were still making money through nostalgia and new exposure
To generally cover what sort of remakes these are, FFVII Remake is effectively what the original game would be if Square Enix were making the game now. That includes changes in the battle system and story. The new Digimon Adventure has been called a reboot, but it might as well be a reimagining, using elements from original cartoon, like characters, settings and certain story elements, to make something new and original. Both of the titles are remakes in similar vain that they do not replace the original, but are a different, modern take on them. Whether or not that’s great thing will be left to each personal view, but how much money either one will make will give us indication how the audience have reacted. This being the seventh Final Fantasy game remade, I can assure that’s it is going to make bonkers amount of money despite whatever its weaknesses end up being. The fandom the game has garnered around itself will keep it profitable, though the later instalments might see a hit. In similar manner, the new Digimon Adventure cartoon tries to give new breath to the old Adventure moniker in an attempt to garner new fans for the franchise. Again, too early to say as the show’s only in its second episode and there isn’t much merch out there yet, but if end up being a successful show, they might start the Adventure cycle again like they did in the later part of the 90’s, before all the other sequels that weren’t sequels hit around. Seriously, Digimon Adventure 02 might be a bit hated, but that’s a show that should get be remade to be better.
All remakes and reboots inherit an audience, and they’re the ones that bring in the initial count of cash. Whatever there was first, a TV-series like Charlie’s Angels or a game like Final Fantasy VII, the fans of the original product already exist and they can be used like a safety net. If relaunching the IP fails, you can always turn right around and rely on the build-in audience. There’s of course an exception if the relaunch, reboot, remake etc. is opposing this audience from the beginning and violently opposes them. A relaunch can do this in multiple ways, from killing off previous cast of characters in favour of new ones for no real reason, changing the dynamics of the setting completely, changing the setting and the story either enough to be it its original work or mangling up the perceived positives with further negatives or just making something that’s directly attacking the audience itself either in the work or around the work in the media. The latest Charlie’s Angels was an absolute box office bomb as it wasn’t made for the franchise’s fans, and media specifically stated that this movie was made specifically to certain kind of audience, men need not to apply. After the box office disaster was apparent, the same media outlets cried out loud asking why didn’t the audience members they shunned see the movie. The movie itself enforced this narrative as well, something that bit in their ass hard. Well, the same thing happened with Ghostbusters 2016 and now with Ghostbusters: Afterlife around the corner, the same voices who rebooted Ghostbusters in the first place were crying out and asking do they not matter? That’s the thing really. A build in audience can offer great long-term profit, but in terms of creativity it isn’t the most glamorous job if it’s not a high-profile IP. Star Wars was a high-profile IP, the most massive entertainment train on the planet, but under Disney it was ran to the ground with its soft reboot approach and lack of respect towards the franchise and fans themselves.
The audience and the creators have completely different view what a franchise is all about. Sometimes they coincide and a fan may get into position to create for a franchise they love, but this rarely results in something that’s well received by the rest of the audience out there. J.J. Abrams may have been a self-proclaimed fan of Star Wars, yet the results he put on film were less than stellar. It can also go the other way, with someone who doesn’t get a franchise gets into position to make a new entry to a long-loved franchise, like how J.J. Abrams with Star Trek 2009. It’s as if most of these modern incarnations of long-lasting IPs that turn terrible have something to do with Abrams’ Bad Robot and Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout. Enough with me being prickly about this, but that shouldn’t detract the point; creators perceive these franchises and IP in a different light from the consumers. This should be a given, otherwise there would be no reason for companies to make research into consumer behaviour, wants and needs. Creator working on an original product doesn’t necessary need to concern themselves with the heft of history. If they’re working with a franchise, especially with a reboot of any sort, they need to be aware of the audience expectations. While a work can’t be slaved to those expectations, walking the line between breaking them altogether and appeasing them is necessary. The lack of grass root level knowledge in entertainment industries makes this harder, especially in a time when media is writing for the industry rather than for the customers.
The perception of creators isn’t what we can deliver for the fans and general audience, that’s the PR talk they want you to believe in order to enforce the emotional attachment to the brand. Creators who work on reboots, especially if its someone who worked on the original piece, consider this as their material. Technically speaking, it is. Nobody can touch or decide what they do with it, except the person who pays their salary. In the real world, you have to appease the customer. Even if the customer is paying you to do whatever the fuck you want, you still have to keep in mind the customer’s wants and needs, because if you don’t, it’ll be shown down the line with less money flowing in. Money shouldn’t be the end-all objective, but as far as these are products created by corporations aiming to make profit with products you have to pay for with money you’ve made through your own means, money can’t be divorced from this. That’s the inherit value of kicking off something like a remake or reboot off the ground; the inherited audience should bring in money. Unless you manage to poison the relationship with that audience, after which it is extremely hard to win them back.
What’s the point of remakes, reboots etc? It’s not to make them better. At its core level, the business decision to remake something is to use that emotional attachment customers have made to rake in relatively easy money. If it’s done well, there’s lot more money to be made, while the opposite will damage the IP, but it’s easily fixed by abandoning the remake and returning to the old, if possible. Otherwise something has to be done to salvage the IP for the time being, or let it cool down and reset. FFVII Remake might see the usual cycle of somewhat split opinions, and only later we’ll see people objectively assessing pros and cons of the game. It’s an easy sell title for the generation that didn’t have prior experience with gaming and RPGs overall as their emotional attachment is through the roof. It’s easy to say that remakes etc exist to make the original work better with modern tools and that’s how they’re often sold as. Reality is, however, that they’re mostly creator vehicles to fulfil whatever goals the creator has in mind without any care for the IP or for the audience with intentions of raking in some money on the side. All that money that go into reboots and remakes could go into making new content.