Written By: Erika Haase
Reboots, remasters, re-imagining, rinse, and repeat.
It’s terrifying to have a new idea and present it to the world. It’s your baby, you spent countless sleepless nights getting it just right, and you can still see all of its flaws. You hope other people won’t notice them, or at least be civil enough to compliment you on all the good work you did instead. We all go through this in our regular lives with any number of things, and sometimes it’s just more comfortable to turn back to a tried-and-true method instead of reinventing a wheel. A ready-made fan base, after all, is easier to come across than building up a whole new one. The down side, they’re also a lot easier to piss off.
The gaming industry walks the same tenuous line that the movie industry does when it comes to redoing classics and hoping the public accepts it. Sometimes it works, but more often than not it falls so far from the impossible heights of nostalgia the fans hold the original to. At first we were excited for expansions on the memories of our youth, but, recently we’ve become jaded to the blatant cash grabs or corporate mishandling of beloved franchises.
It’s good to stay wary, but it’s also important to keep an open mind. Ask yourself before getting excited about a sequel – did this franchise have anything left to say? Is adding to the story line going to be meaningful, or just feel like bad fan fiction. Alternatively, when facing a reboot or reimagination of a franchise, remind yourself – this may not be how I remember it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a quality product. Remember that even if you don’t like it, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, it might just not be for you anymore.*
*Except for when it’s really just god-awful terrible and you’re totally justified in hating on the waste of money and people’s time in creating an abomination.
Since this is Valentine’s Day week, I’d like to talk about a few beloved franchises that did both great and not so great jobs in recapturing the hearts and minds of their fan bases, both old and new.
REBOOTS – FOR BETTER OR WORSE:
Is there a more iconic game? I’m not sure. If FPSs were listed like American Presidents, Doom and Wolfenstein would basically be George Washington and John Adams. After a lengthy hiatus, DOOM 3 was released to much fanfare in 2004 but was forgettable. The graphics were great, but it was beatable in less than 10 hours. The AI wasn’t challenging. The list went on. Even with the revisions made in the BFG Edition, I heard more people excited by the fact they got to play DOOM and DOOM 2 again than anything meaningful about DOOM 3 itself. In hindsight, with the success of Dead Space, or the more recent cult following for Alien: Isolation, it wasn’t that gamers didn’t want to play a horror sci-fi game. It’s just that DOOM was never a horror sci-fi game. This disconnect from the source material shone light on an underlying problem that should’ve been caught when it was first being conceptualized: this isn’t really DOOM.
DOOM reappeared in 2016, however, as one of the best examples of a reboot I’ve ever seen. It didn’t recreate the original game frame by frame, and it even threw in its own reason for there being demons on Mars, but at its gory, ultra-violent, face ripping, exploding core – it was DOOM. By modernizing gameplay, Mick Gordon’s raging musical scores that incorporated the original melodies turned up to 11 (and then some), and visuals blazing through your optic nerves at a constant, stutter-free, 60 frames per second, you were transported back to the original. This DOOM isn’t a new game. No. This DOOM is what you imagined the original pixelated pinky demons and imps looked like between blinking back in the 90s. When you remember the original game with today’s graphics, this reboot is what you get. An unapologetic, demon kill fest that dries out your eyes as you forget to blink, literally tells you to not stop moving or you’ll die, and lets you rip out the hearts, eyeballs, and skulls of your enemies. The demonic symbolism and big bad uglies are there, but you don’t have time for jump scares. You’re a DOOM Marine and your sole purpose of existence is to kill demons. No one asks The Fast & The Furious to be Drive. Don’t ask DOOM to be Aliens. It doesn’t want to be, and you don’t want it to be, either.
Ah, Tomb Raider. While I love Lara Croft more than words can say, and look at her as my first true game hero, I’m painfully aware of the trials and tribulations this franchise has been through. After the incredible pressures put upon the development team during the first three games, the series began to fall apart in everything from quality to plot. When they tried to breathe life back into Lara as she had been originally written with Angel Of Darkness, it was the final straw. Ridiculous plot lines that contradicted themselves with origin stories, and glitches galore, almost saw an end to Ms. Croft. When Tomb Raider: Legend arrived years later, it was an all too brief but bright glimmer of hope that Lara could be restored to greatness. At nearly the same time, a re-make of the original Tomb Raider game was quietly released for the 10th anniversary of the series and remains one of the best “moment for moment” remakes ever. While Tomb Raider: Legend attempted to give Lara a new origin story, it once again fell apart with bad game design and writing in Tomb Raider: Underworld and Lara went dark again. With the arrival of Nathan Drake who was occupying very similar territory in Uncharted, it was impossible to excuse such a directionless character with a bland cast of side-kicks and shockingly uninspired level design.
Finally, Tomb Raider showed up in 2013 as yet another reboot. To the credit of the fan base and the grand history of the franchise, people were still willing to go on another adventure with Lara. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sold on it. I didn’t hate the game, but I could see the weak points. I mourned the loss of tombs and meaningful puzzles, and curled my lip at the increased focus on combat. It’s not that this game wasn’t Tomb Raider, it just wasn’t a great Tomb Raider – not as I knew it. However, like I said above, remember to ask yourself if this is still being made for you. The answer I had to accept is that no, it’s not. The days of systematically solving puzzle areas in completely deserted environments are more or less gone. They had to be to save the franchise. The gamer base demands a higher level of action, so there needed to be more fight sequences to keep things moving. People are also less accepting of bullet-proof heroes these days, and enjoy flawed characters and origin stories. To compete with the depth of Nathan Drake and crew, Lara had to become someone who could be vulnerable, and who we could watch grow. So, despite my gripes with Tomb Raider, when Rise Of The Tomb Raider came out, I was happy to see that nearly all my critiques of the reboot had been addressed. For what the series has become, the only thing I could ask for now is a less ridiculous story-line. Tomb Raider has never won awards from me for great story telling, but now that we have such silky smooth gameplay and a near-perfect blend of action and exploration, can we please finally give Lara Croft a story that lives up?
For those still itching for more traditional puzzle experiences, give Lara Croft: GO on Android and iOS a try. It’s fantastic. Furthermore, Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light and it’s follow up Lara Croft And The Temple Of Osiris make for great tomb exploration and co-op experiences.
Unrelated to the current reboot and completely free standing, these side-stories allow you to get a little closer to “old school” Croft. Overall this reboot approach has attempted to keep the best of all worlds and I respect Crystal Dynamics for doing their best to include all of Lara’s audiences, new and old.
WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER
Here we have essentially the complete opposite situation of what happened for DOOM. I say that in all the best ways possible. While it’s true that Wolfenstein was originally a pure FPS shoot-em-up experience, and one that I am very well acquainted with as I spoke about in a previous article, it always felt hollow. As a result, the franchise history shows very real attempts to add depth to Wolfenstein, with games such as Return To Castle Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory coming out to very positive reception in 2001 and 2003. When the completely forgettable Wolfenstein came out from Activision in 2009, IGN actually said it best with “…you can’t help but wish that they developed the kernel of ideas in this game into something more. As it is, this new Wolfenstein comes off as an engaging, if otherwise forgettable, shooter.”
It was for this reason that I was skeptical when Wolfenstein: The New Order arrived in 2014. Upon playing it, however, I realized that this franchise had a hell of a lot more to say, and every right to have been given such a haunting reboot. It’s not an easy game to play, and explores the idea of the Nazis having won World War II and what the 60s would have looked like under their regime. Shying away from nothing, including a personally stomach turning sequence in which you get a number tattooed onto your wrist in FPS view at a concentration camp, this game is far from a gore-fest. Racism, the grim choices of war atrocities being committed in the names of good and evil, and the fear of being completely at the mercy of a sadistic enemy, make this game painfully relevant. There are conversations in this game that are almost too dark and painful but are handled with such reverence and voice acting mastery that it’s tolerable. The perfect balance of action and introspection lets you still be the ass-kicking B.J. Blazkowicz, but it doesn’t let him off the hook for justifying taking a chainsaw to a Nazi’s throat to get him to talk, among other actions in the name of war. With a soundtrack composed by the same man who brought the new DOOM to life, Mick Gordon, but in an entirely different vein, this is not the feel good game of the year. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a requirement in your gaming collection. If I hadn’t given this reboot a chance, it would have passed me by and that would have been a real crime.
DEVIL MAY CRY
Here’s a controversial opinion. I loved the new DmC: Devil May Cry. Unfortunately, this reboot wasn’t asked for by anyone, and as a result, was met with scathing criticism from fans. While “new Dante” now has his own set of admirers, he’s also earned the nickname “Don’t-e” and considered inferior to the originally designed Dante of the first four games. In fact, in the Capcom café in Japan, he’s not even featured anywhere.
The sad fact is that the reboot of Devil May Cry had a lot to say, even if none of it was particularly ground-breaking, and the game play stayed spot-on faithful to the franchise. The tension between Dante and his brother Vergil is finally made relatable in a human way. The impact of the demon world on the human one is more tangible with tons of political commentary, and the shift between the real world and limbo had great style. The cast was interesting, with the introduction of Kat who manages to be both a tough and helpful female character and avoids being involved in any love triangles. Sure, you can fight demons with two guns and a sword, but you’re also fighting them in your own head. Dante and Kat have been victims of multiple kinds of abuse. Kat references escaping to the alter-world of limbo while being assaulted by a demon foster parent. There are heavy topics at play behind the scenes of this hack-and-slash, profanity laden adventure. Depression, paranoia, anxiety, and feelings of insanity plague many of the characters as they look for family and purpose. Music by Combichrist pulses throughout, with lyrics about the same topics as well as generally great metal to kill monsters to.
While the game was critically well received, and the Definitive Edition was further enhanced by running at a beautiful 1080/60fps on consoles, the Dante die-hards will probably never accept it as part of the Devil May Cry franchise proper.
Sometimes, even though your reboot is fantastic, if it’s not what the fans wanted it can get lost. While I keep my fingers crossed for another Ninja Theory DmC game, I highly doubt it’ll ever see the light of day unless Capcom has a lot of extra money to throw at it.
REMASTERS – TILL DEATH DO US PART:
SILENT HILL 2 –
How on Earth could a remaster have gone so terribly? One of the best psychological horror games ever written got the extra short end of the stick. Muddy music, audio playing out of sync, and horrible voice acting re-casts were so detested, that Konami finally forked out the extra cash to get back the original voice options even after having fully recorded with new audio. Graphics were shoddily “upgraded” without attention being paid to whether those upgrades actually improved performance. In many cases, the PS3 version performed worse than its predecessor from 2001. Nothing about this re-master was handled well, including the fact that it was bizarrely bundled with Silent Hill 3, a game which had nothing to do with Silent Hill 2 and was actually a sequel to the first game in the series that never got remastered (and needed to be the most). This confusing pile of hot garbage served only one purpose – a way to at least play the story lines of these fantastic horror games if your PS2 broke. As if anyone had needed further proof that Konami had begun to stop caring about games even before the Metal Gear fiasco with Hideo Kojima, this remaster was a giant red flag.
DRAGONQUEST VII: FRAGMENTS OF THE FORGOTTEN PAST –
The perfect example of how to remake a classic RPG. Keep the story exactly the way e same, modernize only the elements that make gameplay more enjoyable for current gaming requirements, and leave everything else alone because it’s not broken. If you were, like many people, not lucky enough to get your hands on a copy of the game when it originally came out on the original Playstation, then this serves as a perfect way to experience the game in the way we all wished we could have in the first place. As someone who played the original, I can tell you this is faithful to the bone and a hell of a lot nicer to look at. Even for Playstation days, the original Dragonquest VII was rough to get through and looked old. What Square-Enix has done for the franchise is greatly appreciated. Don’t even think twice, and buy it.
HYPERDIMENSION NEPTUNIA Re;Birth 1 & Re;Birth 2:
These games are a unique example of not just being a remaster, but also a re-make. The JRPG franchise about anthropomorphized video game consoles has so many entries at this point that it’s achieved Kingdom Hearts levels of using punctuation as titles. That being said, these remakes were a love-letter to the fans and a smart business decision. Re;Birth 1 & 2 made the first two games of the franchise actually playable after the much wider success of HyperDimension Neptunia V. The original HDN game on Playstation 3 was so poorly made that it was missing key tutorial segments that explained how to actually beat the game. The only way it was figured out was through trial and error, and some individuals who should be elevated to saint-hood on GameFaqs for having explained it. Battles were slow, graphics were highly dated, and the narrative went off the deep end by trying to become meaningful in an otherwise goofy world. Re;Birth 1 delivers a lot of the systems from the (then) new HDN:V game, completely re-wrote the script, including making jokes at its own expense at the ridiculousness of the first game, and successfully integrated the first game into the rest of the series.
HDN 2, on the other hand, originally had discarded the first game’s plot and included scenes that were so inappropriate that it earned the title an M rating. When I say inappropriate, I don’t mean nudity, profanity and all the things I love as a warm-blooded human being. Girls clearly presented as being the age of 10-12 years old are kidnapped by a sexual predator who literally looks like Bowser in a gimp suit. While nothing is explicitly shown, jokes are made about him licking them and young girls tasting like strawberries. THANKS, JAPAN. PLEASE TAKE YOUR CREEPY LOLI TRAIN BACK HOME NOW I DON’T WANT TO PLAY ANYMORE.
This scene was heavily edited and re-written in Re;Birth 2 and while still high on the creep factor, is nowhere near as bad as the original. Which is saying a lot, because the revised version is still …. not great. Other than this example, however, the franchise remains an extremely fun and quirky JRPG series that is plagued from time to time by the cultural oddity that is Japanese acceptance of diminutive looking girls in extremely suggestive situations.
ATELIER RORONA PLUS: THE ALCHEMIST OF ARLAND
This game blurs the line between re-master and remake, but regardless is a treasure to every fan of JRPGs, the Atelier franchise, or lovers of material crafting and time-management based gameplay. The original Atelier Rorona was the first of the PS3 Arland trilogy, and the first to make the leap to 3D graphics. Gameplay had dated problems, the time-management mechanic made certain endings almost impossible to obtain, and it looked over-all bad. Considering the stunning sequels Atelier: Totori and Atelier: Meruru had managed to fine-tune the cell shaded “anime as video games” appeal, as well as tweak gameplay mechanics, it was a very hard sell to get someone to go back and play the title that had started the trilogy. All that changed when Koei Tecmo and developer Gust released the thoroughly face-lifted Atelier Rorona Plus. A true definition of the term “re-master,” this game incorporated more streamlined systems from the rest of the trilogy to make certain aspects more playable. The time-management system was fixed to be more forgiving, and graphics were given a loving over-haul to do true justice to the artistic talents behind the game.
I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU REMADE:
In conclusion, don’t accept or dismiss anything simply because of the name attached to it. The games you loved haven’t gone anywhere, and those fond memories are there to stay no matter what a company does to the franchise in the future.
It’s already apparent that people are extremely hesitant of what the Final Fantasy VII re-make will actually mean. The mention of content potentially being episodic sent fans into a flurry of responses ranging from optimistic to vehemently opposed.
Only (a lot of) time will tell if the outcome works, but I personally think the game still has a lot to give to this generation of gamers. The original is badly dated. With stunning prequel and sequel material like Crisis Core and Advent Children, it’s difficult convincing someone that they should plow through the Lego-like polygon graphics that started it all to experience “the best RPG of all time.”
Whether we like it or not, remakes and reboots will continue to be thrown at us, and they should be given a chance to tell us quality stories without taking advantage of the loyalty of our nostalgia. We should likewise remember to not immediately hate on something re-imagined, and approach it with the same sense of curiosity that lead us to those “big Cheshire grins” the first time around.