Remakes are hot in the games industry right now- they have been for a few years, in fact, and they’re obviously going to be for many more years to come. But as is the case with, well, any other game, developing a remake is not an exact science. Different developers take different approaches based on what kind of a project they’re taking on, with some choosing to make a faithful recreation of a beloved project and others looking to completely flip the script and reimagine the game they’re remaking as something completely new and different.
Of course, both approaches have had excellent successes (and a few notable failures), and both obviously have their own pros and cons. But which of the two is more valuable? Which of the two demands more attention? Which of the two do the fans want? We’ve had a decent number of examples of both kinds of remakes in recent memory, and yet the answer to that question remains unclear- if there even is a right answer. What we’re going to do here, then, is try and unpack that while also looking at a few examples for both kinds of remakes that have both worked and failed to meet expectations.
When it comes to conservative remakes, the advantages are instantly obvious. Simply put, there isn’t nearly as much risk involved with a project that’s sticking more closely to the source material. The remake has a far stronger and sturdier foundation that’s already in place, systems and mechanics have been formulated and thought of, the story is mapped out and ready to be told, and instead of having to conceptualize new ideas, the development team can focus on executing existing ones and really putting the time in with polishing. That isn’t to say that more traditional remakes are easy to develop, of course, but with a pre-established framework to build off of, they definitely have a much more solid pipeline to stick to and fall back on.
Of course, the risk involved is far less intense when it comes to reception from critics and audiences as well. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, goes the saying, and if a remake is recreating a beloved game more or less as is, the assumption is that either its story or its gameplay are still good enough to be enjoyed by people, perhaps with a few minor tweaks here and there. And if that is the case, then the game is much more assured of being received well by those who play it. Of course, the remake in such a case is at completely at the mercy of the quality of the original game, so if you’re looking at something like, say, Destroy All Humans!, you might still get a remake that, in spite of being fun, shows the age in its inherent game design. Even so, it’s still guaranteed to provide plenty of familiar fun.
Even over the last few years, we’ve seen our fair share of remakes that have mostly stuck to the script and enjoyed plenty of critical and commercial success. 2020’s Demon’s Souls remake, 2018’s Shadow of the Colossus, 2019’s The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening– these were all games that overhauled the visuals of their respectively originals completely, giving them a bright and shiny new look, but on the gameplay front, the changes were far more sparse and far more focused on tweaks and iterative changes rather than wholesale overhauls. To say that that worked out well for all three of those games would be an understatement- they’re all three excellent games and wonderful remakes.
Now, there are disadvantages to remakes that decide not too stray too far from the source material, with the biggest and most obvious being that they’re simply less exciting. We’re always on the lookout for new and exciting experiences as consumers of video games, so even if we’re playing a remake of a known classic, we’re likely to be relatively less excited about it if we know that it doesn’t change things up too drastically. The upcoming The Last of Us Part 1 has already been catching its fair share of flak in the lead-up to its release, and while a lot of that is, of course, down to its price as well, the fact that it’s not taking more risks with the things its changing from the original is also a factor that has driven a lot of those criticisms.
That’s where you make a case for a game that’s more of a reimagining than a remake, because even though they’re much riskier for the companies making and financing them, if they’re done well, they are also typically much bigger. High risk, high reward. Resident Evil 2 is the perfect and most blatantly obvious example of this. Capcom decided that rather than simply updating the original game in the most cursory fashion, it would completely overhaul it to the point where it was almost an entirely new game- and it was a risk that paid off.
Square Enix, similarly, took an even bigger risk with Final Fantasy 7. Millions upon millions of rabid Final Fantasy 7 fans would have been more than happy with just a normal remake that overhauled the game’s visuals and gameplay while still telling the exact same story in the exact same manner. Square Enix, however, decided to turn it into a three-game project that re-examines and changes almost everything we know about Final Fantasy 7. And that, too, is a risk that’s paying off in spades.
Of course, there are downsides here as well. For instance, making the right decisions with that to cut, what not to cut, what to add, what to change, and that sort of stuff is far easier said than done, and as we saw with Resident Evil 3’s remake in 2020, if you don’t decide correctly, it may very well blow up in your face. There’s also the fact that radical reimaginings require far more work behind the scenes, from conceptualization to actually creating the content you want to put in the game.
We do have a handful of major remakes to look forward to in the coming weeks and months, including the likes of Destroy All Humans! 2 – Reprobed, The Last of Us Part 1, Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, and more, while further down the line, the likes of Splinter Cell, Max Payne 1 and 2, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, and others have also been announced. Conveniently enough, there’s a healthy amount of remakes from that list falling in both of the groups that we’ve spoken about here, and there’s a good chance that the majority of them are going to be great games in their own right.
Clearly, then, there’s no one right answer when it comes to which style of remakes is best, because ultimately, it all depends on how the developer behind the project is executing on its vision. Are the bigger reimaginings and shake up more exciting? Without a doubt, especially when handled by a talented developer that knows what it’s doing. But a solid remake that sticks to the script and also sticks the landing isn’t anything to scoff at either.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.