With the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII being remade, now seems like the best time to create some discussion over the necessity of remakes. Are they necessary? Should we leave the past in the past? If we do have them, what of the original needs to remain in tact?
Welcome to the first column of Pixels to Polygons; the series where we compare and contrast games of yesteryear to more modern entries.
To start things off lets look at what a remake is. A remake is a game that has been treated to more than just graphical enhancements. This means that we will ignore games like the Last of Us Remastered or the Halo Anniversary Collection. While I believe there to be an argument as to whether or not the saturation of these re-releases is warranted or not, it doesn’t affect what we’re setting out to accomplish this time around. Our loose definition allows us to look at a title like Metal Gear Solid: the Twin Snakes, which at its surface looks like a mere graphical upgrade, while in reality, its control mechanics have been altered in a way that demand somewhat updated play styles.
There is a common thread for all remakes I am aware of: a beloved classic receives an update with the intention of making it an updated classic. Some attempts are much better than others, but we’ll get into that later. What’s important is that the treatment only seems to be applied to games that are already cherished, either by generations who grew up with them, or those discovering them for the first time many years later. This doesn’t seem necessarily intuitive at a glance. Remakes seem like the perfect opportunity to take games with great concepts, but didn’t necessarily pan out well with their execution. Games like the first Two Worlds, Naughty Bear, or Fracture all had wonderful concepts, but fell short for one reason or another… or a lot of reasons. It would be great to see these games, and many others, receive extra care and attention to make them exceptional titles. This seems like a great area for remakes to be focused on, however, the demand just isn’t there. This is why we look to the greats.
But if we have games already hailed as a classics, why should we bother taking the time to update them? The aforementioned Metal Gear Solid reaches the near, if not the top of many “Top 10” lists, especially those dedicated to the original Playstation. Duck Tales on the NES is a game that many old-school platforming fans still salivate over, especially when the classic Moon Theme begins to play. Turtles in Time is a top tier beat ’em up game both on console and arcade that still fails to have many rivals in its quality. The list could go on, but you get the point. In order to answer our question on the necessity of remakes, we need to take a look at two concepts: graphics and gameplay.
First up are the graphics. Graphics should always be used as a means of proper conveyance. A game should be as detailed as the story and gameplay necessitate. The original Metal Gear Solid looks terrible by today’s standards. But, everything looks distinguishable enough to play the game. You know what things are, you understand why they are there, and everything works harmoniously together. But I sincerely doubt anyone was complaining when they got an updated version of the game that turned a pixelated polygon head into a proper face with structure and features. Duck Tales looked the way it did due to hardware limitations. While I can’t confirm this, I am sure if Capcom were able to make the original NES game look like the cartoonish look of the Remastered version, it would have been done. But again, the NES game looks as good as it needs to. I have seen a number of comments citing that the graphics have been the only update they’ve enjoyed from the new title. So better graphics aren’t necessary, but certainly welcomed. But, I would wager that some prefer the original graphics, and the series that My Life in Gaming has done in search of the perfect pixel is a reflection of that. So it may not always be true. Since graphics don’t seem to make a game, we’ll direct our attention to gameplay.
Let’s look at the Dragon Quest series for easy examples on how a gameplay remake can be successful. For those who don’t know, the main series of Dragon Quest games are turn-based RPGs that allow players to battle monsters to gain gold and experience and to draw them ever closer to the end of the story. The concept is simple, but is very engaging and effective when done properly. And while the core of the gameplay remains in tact, there were refinements that made each of the remakes in the series welcomed. Enemies will start battles with less health. Characters level up much quicker. Navigation of maps and story progression is more intuitive. There are many tiny refinements which accumulate to be a greater hole. The remade games remove many dated mechanics and become much more enjoyable. So the original integrity of the games remain in tact while the dated mechanics receive updates. The original games are still good and very much playable, the remakes are just better in every way.
Metal Gear Solid The Twin Snakes is another example that shares the same upgrade methods that the Dragon Quest games did. Graphics are updated, the game virtually plays the same in every way, but there are minor additions and refined controls to make the game even more enjoyable. The original Metal Gear Solid is still great, the Twin Snakes is just better.
Now we’ll return to the aforementioned masterpiece, Turtles in Time. The creatively named Turtles in Time Re-Shelled was a remake of the original arcade game, and was poorly received. The updated graphics seemed to be welcomed by some, which confirms what we spoke of earlier. The integrity of the original gameplay was definitely compromised though. Changes include: a recomposed soundtrack, greatly reduced difficulty, the ability to attack in more directions. The soundtrack removed the tempo and complexity that made the original arcade game such a joy to listen to. Listen to the difference between the two sewer levels and judge for yourself. The reduced difficulty allowed players to passively play the game, rather than constantly be on guard to achieve success. The biggest criticism is in the expansion of attack directions, this is where the integrity was most compromised. The precision of combat was removed. Fighting feels much sloppier and less satisfying than the original.
I think our highlight of Turtles in Time Reshelled perfectly shows when remakes are necessary: when game mechanics are out of date. The original Dragon Quest games relied on grinding to extend gameplay, the remakes removed this. The original Metal Gear Solid had somewhat clunky controls that didn’t hold up as well, the Twin Snakes rectified this to some extent. Turtles in Time is basically faultless, so why touch it?
So when we are updating classics to either share with new generations, or re-kindle a love for those who grew up with them, we need to look at if they truly need to be updated. Returning back to the original inspiration for this article, I hope that the developers recognize this when remaking Final Fantasy VII. While it is nowhere near one of my favourite games, I recognize its importance and why it is at the top of so many people’s “Top 10” lists. So I hope the game is treated to more than just graphical upgrades and that whatever mechanics they do switch, they are ones that allow the brilliance of the original to remain in tact.
What are your thoughts? Should games be remade? Do you believe them to be lazy cash-ins? What do you want to see remade, and why? I would love to hear from you.
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