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6 June, 2014

Remakes and Remasters (Part 2)

Posted in : Essays, Features on by : Zachery Oliver
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Director’s Cut Bonus Features!

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

1 Peter 4:10

If anything, the people presenting new products should add something before a simple re-release. I respect the companies who really go out of their way to improve a game substantially upon its unleashing; Final Fantasy III for Western territories, for example, plays like an entirely different beast from its NES counterpart and hearkens more to the SNES titles than the Final Fantasy series’ past. However, it also retains the game’s difficult portions while adding new stuff that works well! That’s the promise and hope of most remakes: improvement, not a new spin on an old product. Stewardship comes in handy if a company has a special product on their hands – how will they make it better than it was?

That explains why nearly every re-release comes with some version of a “bonus” or “special” feature, whether we mean a pre-order item, some in-game options, or just some awful padding to make up for the lack of good game designers in your company anymore (Final Fantasy GBA post-game dungeons). We just aren’t satisfied with an old game being remade; we need some new features. On one hand, it does entice people to purchase a product they already own; on the other hand, some of them feel like awfully frivolous throw-aways in the long run that seem dumb in retrospect.

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Returning to our Mega Man example, Powered Up added some new bosses and modes (like a challenge mode), sure, but they really hit the jackpot with the level creator. Yes, the one feature that would cause any Mega Man game to immediately ascend to heaven actually exists! And you can build horribly challenging, awful levels for other people to play! Truly, what a moment! I had more fun designing level and messing around with that creator because, unlike Little Big Planet, it has good controls already affixed. That’s an insant win in my book. Add that you can play as ANY of the Robot Masters in the game (that’s true for the New Mode, once you unlock them), and there’s potential for some great design. I love Mega Man: Powered Up!

On the other hand, you could just phone it in with a idea that sounds cool to a ten year old, yet doesn’t exactly come out in practice. Maverick Hunter X tries admirably to shove Vile, that most awesome of designs, into Mega Man X as a playable character. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work, and it doesn’t provide any additional challenge to the game. You just go through the motion with a slightly different moveset, and that alone does not give me cause for celebration. Neither does the prequel movie “Son of Sigma”, a nice twenty-minute anime for those who like that sort of thing. When will I watch this again, though?

The companies selling this to you, of course, know exactly how this works. They want you to buy it again; some will take the effort to craft something new and exciting for the fans, while others will just jam a concept into a game without integrating it with the other elements. In other words, you can clearly see a difference between real and perceived value on the part of the consumer if you look hard enough. Perceived value shows you a cool feature, but requires little effort on the part of the creators; real value forces them to add actual stuff to the game that adds to the central core of its systems in some way. The difference comes out clearly between Powered Up and Maverick Hunter X.

And to really drive the point home, if you’re going to add post-game content to your RPGs, Square-Enix, can you not make them palette-swapping incredibly boring unbalanced slogs through a giant maze of doom and death? I get that things like Sealed Temple and Dragon’s Roost should challenge people who played Final Fantasy V/VI a million times over (read: hyperbole), but the execution comes out in a most un-delightful way! When bonus content forces you to play the game entirely differently (i.e., puzzles rather than battles, and grinding rather than resource management), then that content needs some re-balancing so that it works with the skills fostered in the main game. Otherwise, it’s a bit of a cheat.

FF4 DS Characters Remakes and Remasters (Part 2)

Definitive Edition?

A just balance and scales belong to the Lord;
All the weights of the bag are His concern.

Proverbs 16:11

I imagine that I am not exactly the best candidate to form such judgments, though. Previously, I mentioned that I own Final Fantasy IV in four different formats, and I am completely serious about it. I don’t think any of the “remasters” (of which there’s a PSP one that I should own, if just for completion purposes) actually exceed the original version in any way. The PS1 version adds a cutscene or two while bringing LOAD TIME to a SNES game, the GBA version contains a battle system glitch which basically ruins the game, and while the DS version (now the iOS version too) improves the graphics, it also adds the undercooked Augment system (basically worthless and unnecessary additions) while slowing down battle animations.

Still, I think all of them keep the essence of Final Fantasy IV – it really depends on the kind of pacing, graphics, and dumb “extra features” you want (again, the PSP version is one I need, since it includes the sequel The After Years on it). And that’s really the only good conclusion I can give: if you like version X or played version Y, you probably didn’t miss out on  much. Only in the most extreme cases do the remakes not live up to their original inspiration, and those turn into sorry cases indeed!

We remake things, in a weird way, to preserve our past and our history. Yes, we end up filling such classics with silly ideas and assumptions taken from our surrounding culture (i.e., we are right and people of the past were most certainly wrong, so let’s “fix” them), but we still find ourselves re-adapting and re-imagining our ideas for a different era. Christianity may remain a singular truth, but it also demonstrate many facets (if you see denominations as a good thing, of course!). Perhaps this is just a human impulse to remember that which came before.

Whatever the case, remaking and buying said remakes without reservations constitutes some serious business. Try before you buy, as they say…

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Written by Zachery Oliver

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Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.

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