Editorial: The Case Against Game Remakes
It is no secret that game companies love remakes. Developers have found a business model that miraculously allows them to sell the exact same experience to gamers over and over again – in effect, printing money. Of course, studios have to be careful about how they manage this trick: only certain titles qualify for this treatment, a sufficient (although not excessive) amount of time must have passed before a remake, and the game must satisfy an elite core of gamers who are – how shall we say – somewhat detail oriented. The safest thing to do is simply to release the exact same game again, with minimal changes, so as not to infuriate the loyalist fan base. Now that we find ourselves in an environment of economic uncertainty, we can expect game publishers to start rolling out the remakes more frequently than ever. Game remakes are a low-risk way for developers to cash in on the popularity of safe franchises, without putting their livelihoods on the line.
Sales of Selected Square Enix Titles, 2008:
Spinoffs and remakes made up the bulk of Square Enix's revenue for 2008.
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But what about Final Fantasy VII, you are likely thinking (or screaming). The white whale of video game remakes, FFVII is a title that nostalgic fans have been calling to be remade almost since the game first arrived on the PSOne in 1997. If you are one of the voices calling for a remake of this landmark RPG, chances are that you’ve already played it. You’ve already wandered the streets of Midgar, competed in all of those stupid mini-games in the Gold Saucer, beaten the final boss. You might have already done these things twice or three times with slightly different parties. So what makes you want to go back and do it all again? There are new games waiting to be discovered, cheesy new mini-games to conquer, dastardly bosses to vanquish. The truth is that no matter how well Square Enix manages to recreate the magic of Final Fantasy VII in their inevitable remake, it will never be able to recreate the feeling of awesomeness you felt the first time playing the game.
Let’s take another recently announced remake as an example. Crono Trigger DS is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with game remakes. When the title was first announced, many RPG fans treated it as a sort of second coming. We wrongly imagined it to be a complete overhaul, perhaps with new plotlines, and certainly with flashy new 3D graphics. When the reality hit, however, most casual fans were left disappointed, while the hardcore were left looking for reasons to justify a purchase. Crono Trigger DS is a near perfect replica of the SNES game, although it includes one additional dungeon not found in the original game. Even the art is exactly the same, reusing the hand drawn 2D sprites from the original. That means fans who buy Crono Trigger DS will essentially be playing the exact same game they know and love – and already bought – on the SNES. The amount of days of effort that Square Enix put in to crafting this “remake” can likely be counted on one hand. And yet if past profits are anything to go by, the re-release will undoubtedly generate several millions of dollars in profit.
Gamers need to stop encouraging the practice of re-releasing games to skim profits from the loyal fan base. It stifles creativity, lowers the bar of expectations (What? The new Dragon Warrior remake includes a brand new music track? Day one purchase!!), and takes time away from other more interesting projects. As much as you might think you want that Final Fantasy VII remake, it might be time to let go of the past. Next time you feel the chill of a fanboy panic attack setting in, just close your eyes and remember what George Lucas did to the original Star Wars Trilogy, or what Mark Wahlberg did to Planet of the Apes. Remember that like everything else, video games always look better through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.
If George Lucas was in charge of the Final Fantasy VII remake, would you still want it?