An Abundance of Remasters: Originality in the Gaming Industry
There are some games that are just too amazing to be forgotten. Whether it be the story, the characters, the gameplay, or everything combined, gaming publishers and their fans know when a game has made its mark. But alas, even the best games only enjoy a certain amount of fame and time in the immediate spotlight. Eventually, every good thing must come to an end.
So when nostalgia is not enough and it no longer satisfies a fan base, what is there left to do? Well, remaster the game, of course.
Lately, it seems that all the gaming industry has to offer are HD remasters. Every time you turn around, another game from the past is being regurgitated into high definition for your brand new console. Some gamers grumble and groan about it, while others leap with glee and hand over their money without a second thought. Some do both. Square Enix’s popular Final Fantasy X, for example, was originally released on the Playstation 2 in 2001, yet since then, it has been remastered twice for both the Playstation 3 and the Playstation 4. Fans of the game have had mixed feelings toward the plethora of remasters for one individual game, yet sales have reflected that remasters will indeed sell. Why are so many remasters being made lately? What is it about remasters that keeps us coming back for more, and are they worth the money?
A lot of people argue that the gaming industry has lost most of its originality. Often it seems that when a producer cannot come up with something new, their next best move is to pull out one of those classic, beloved titles from the early 2000s and recycle it with enhanced graphics. Monetarily speaking, it is a good decision. After all, the day will never come when everyone bands together and decides against purchasing remasters. Whether we like it or not, remasters are here to stay. They are an easy cash-in for companies in a stalemate, or for those who need to keep the hype train going between Game X and Game Y.
The answer to the “why remasters” question, however, is not as simple as money. There is much more to the remaster market than financial profit, both for producer and consumer. This article will address some of the variables that affect the somewhat exhausting output of remasters as of late.
Remaster or Remake?
It is first necessary to make the distinction between “remaster” and “remake” to understand the remaster market itself. These two types of games are very different, though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Remasters are simply the same exact game with high definition enhancements and improved graphics. Remakes are actual reboots of an entire franchise, sometimes discarding its predecessor(s) and the continuity preceding it altogether. Remakes usually garner very polarized responses from fans. On one end of the spectrum are those who welcome any addition to their franchise, while on the other end are those who think a remake must stick closely to its source material lest it become something entirely different with a popular franchise’s name slapped onto it for brownie points.
In 2013, Capcom rebooted its popular Devil May Cry franchise with DmC: Devil May Cry. The new game featured a protagonist seemingly different from the Dante fans had known and loved, from his physical appearance to his personality. Needless to say, it caused quite an uproar in the DMC fan base. However, upon its release, DmC met favorable reviews, averaging 8 out of 10 stars from nearly every reviewer. For a game that garnered such negative response in the beginning (and continued to endure during its release, after its release, and still to this day), the numbers could not lie: DmC, while not meeting Capcom’s predicted profit outcome, held its own even in spite of the critics.
The same story often goes for HD remasters. For every few people who complain about a remake or a remaster, several of them will still purchase the game. Even then, some of them will not regret it. The numbers cannot be fuddled. If a game sells well, there is a reason for it—and if a game sells well, it will set a precedent for those to follow. If the numbers show that fans will always purchase remasters, then they will very likely continue to purchase remasters.
The Purpose of a Remaster
As established through the comparison of remakes and remasters, consumer attitude and response is essential. Again, money is the easiest answer to this question. A company will never forget how well their games performed and how well they were received. In that case, as far as the producer is concerned, it would be stupid not to remaster a popular title—wouldn’t it be?
But it certainly goes beyond money. The second-biggest reason companies seem to be remastering games nowadays is to bring new fans to a franchise that they might not have experienced in the past for whatever reason. Recently, Sony has endured much criticism for releasing so many remasters on the Playstation 4 (PS4), a newer console which has only been out since the end of 2013. Part of their reasoning behind this is that quite a few gamers are coming over to the “Sony side” from the “Microsoft side,” aka converting from Xbox to Playstation. Because of this, new Playstation players likely have not experienced beloved classics from the generation of the Playstation 3 (PS3)—classics such as Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, which was recently released as Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection for PS4. Since the PS4 is not (yet) backwards compatible, these classics cannot be experienced without a PS3.
To make these favorites into bundled HD remasters on the current generation’s console is a smart move for these companies. The biggest problem with series that begin on much older consoles is that they do not allow for an expanding fan base. How can someone enjoy the fourth, fifth, etc. game in a series if he or she has not played its predecessors? How can someone play these predecessors if he or she does not have the appropriate ancient console? It takes a lot of work (and money) for a player to collect all of the consoles and games required to fully appreciate a franchise. Companies who choose to entirely remaster these series for new consoles create an opening for new fans to “catch up” on cherished series of the past that they might have otherwise missed out on.
Remastering a franchise can bring in new fans, but it can also bridge the gap between the last game released by a company and their highly-anticipated game coming in the near future. Square Enix is a master of this practice (and as far as many fans are concerned, annoyingly so). Since 2005, fans of the Kingdom Hearts Series have eagerly stood by for the third installment. That was ten years ago, and they still wait. Of course, Square Enix is busy with other projects in the works, such as Final Fantasy XV, World of Final Fantasy, and the long-awaited remake of Final Fantasy VII, but in the meantime, Square knows how to sate the appetites of its fans. In 2013 and 2014, Square released Kingdom Heats HD 1.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix respectively in North America. These games were remasters of the originals but also included some of the other, lesser-known games in the Kingdom Hearts series, like Re:Chain of Memories and the cinematic version of 358/2 Days. Though a beloved series, the timeline of the Kingdom Hearts world is so convoluted that even hardcore fans sometimes struggle with putting the pieces in order, so the addition of these “B-side” games helped eliminate some of the mystery. Nevertheless, Square enjoys its royalties and increasing fan base as it continues to release HD remasters of old games which have been spread out over a number of consoles and handheld gaming devices.
But at last, a new gameplay trailer for Kingdom Hearts III was released at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2015, rebooting the hype train for a game that had been put out of sight and mind for most gamers. Fans went wild upon the debut of the new trailer. Could it be that Square was finally closing in on a release date for a game in development since 2006?
Unfortunately, it was not so. Even to this day, KH3 still does not have an official release date. In the meantime, however, Square has announced another HD remaster: Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, scheduled for release in 2016. This HD collection includes Dream Drop Distance, the cinematic version of Kingdom Hearts χ, and Birth by Sleep—A Fragmentary Passage, which is a short episode that occurs after the events of Birth by Sleep. Though a well-received announcement by most fans, others believed that KH2.8 is just another cash-grab for Square while they continue to prolong KH3. Whether this is true or not, Square’s HD release tactics only further prove that HD remasters serve a larger purpose than making money for the company. After all, if Square had gone since 2005 without releasing another game in the series (or even a single HD remaster), how could they stay afloat, both financially and in the gaming industry? In the end, HD remasters are simply good business strategies.
Are Remasters Even Worth the Money?
If we know that a company’s primary purpose for releasing an HD remaster is for profit, then why do we continue to fall for the bait? In most cases, our love for the original game(s) wins out over practicality. That minute addition to an HD bundle also holds sway, whether it be an entirely separate level or episode, or a cinematic release of a spin-off game. It is one of those times when a deal for something we want and love seems too good to pass on. Furthermore, no one can complain about having all of their games in a series on one or two discs, and for one console. Convenience may cost gamers another fifty to sixty dollars, but in the long-run, it almost makes more sense to compress your collection into something smaller and more uniform—especially since most consoles only enjoy a shelf life of ten to twenty years. What would one do with all of those old games when the old console gives out?
There is, however, one question that is more important than why we continue to purchase remasters: Are they even worth our money? As mentioned above, additional content can sometimes be the deciding factor for some consumers. HD collections are also especially worth the price for those fans coming to the series for the first time, and new fans and increased interest in a series can give it that extra push to keep going into the future.
On the other hand, some fans are too nostalgic for the original game on the original console to change over to a new, HD version. This saves money for a player who could otherwise simply switch around some cords and hook up the old console. After all, is it really a good investment to spend fifty to sixty dollars on a game you already own? Beyond that, some players cannot tell the difference between original and HD graphics—that is, the difference is so minimal to some that purchasing the remaster would be a total waste of money in every way. Those who can tell the difference may not believe a remaster is justified, that the story remains the same even in the face of enhanced graphics, and that it is ultimately still about the story anyways.
The value of a remastered game depends entirely upon the individual. Regardless of the general consensus, however, remasters are not going anywhere. As much as consumers gripe about it, many will still purchase those remasters. The future of the remaster continues to rest in the hands of both the producer and the consumer.
What do you think? Leave a comment.