Let’s Talk About Video Game Preservation
There is nothing inherently wrong with video game remakes – in fact, a lot of them are easily justifiable. Unlike in the medium of film, where remakes often feel like a way to cash-in on familiar branding, the interactive nature of games means that remakes can be a way to respectfully modernise titles that feel more mechanically antiquated, or visually inadequate, while retaining their original appeal. Despite this, the more prevalent rise of remakes in the games industry has led to a concerning trend of the original versions of classics being left behind and replaced by their more modernised counterparts.
With improvements in hardware being required every number of years to play the latest releases, it’s not surprising to see fewer classic titles re-released for modern hardware. It takes time and money to port over older games, and when it comes to the unfortunate cases of missing source code – as seen with Crash Bandicoot’s original outings – remakes become almost essential for retaining the legacy for modern audiences. But now we’ve reached a point where it seems to be widely accepted that remakes act as adequate replacements for the original releases, but that’s not true, regardless of how faithful a remake is.
Personally, I found 2019’s remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening to be a categorical improvement of the original release, but not everyone who played the game did, and it certainly takes its share of creative liberties that evoked different reactions. The mixed response to the toy-like aesthetic of the remake is completely justifiable, with the new visual style being a huge departure from the 8-bit visuals of the original game. While the original game has seen its share of ports, thanks to the Virtual Console functionality of past Nintendo systems, those who want to play Link’s Awakening on the Switch are stuck with the remake.
But what about less divisive remakes, such as 2018’s Shadow of the Colossus? While it’s true that its updated visuals are much closer to the art-style of the original game, feeling like a more visually spruced up one-to-one translation, it still makes a few adjustments that a number of fans are rightfully opposed to. One of the wider debated topics is Wander’s more rounded facial features, giving the lead a younger and more innocent appearance in stark contrast to his gaunt and mature depiction in the original. One could argue that this complaint feels closer to nitpicking than substantial criticism, but it’s an indicator that even the most faithful remakes aren’t perfect representations of the original products, and even the slightest of changes can be enough to raise alarms for certain die-hard fans. And again, like with Link’s Awakening, those who want to experience the original Shadow of the Colossus on PlayStation 4 are out of luck, either having to play the remake or seek out the classic version on a different system.
Many people like myself might not feel strongly opposed to remakes that accurately replicate the playstyle and beats of the original releases, instead viewing them as reasonable substitutes. Even still, that doesn’t account for the remakes that act as much more drastic departures. For all intents and purposes, the remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 may as well be treated as different games with how many creative liberties they make, yet it’s becoming increasingly harder to gain access to the original versions for comparison as time passes. It’s easy to imagine a future where these strikingly unique takes on the events of those early Resident Evil titles continue to get ported to subsequent systems, while the originals are left behind as old relics. We’ve already seen it happen with the remake of the original game, after all.
Square Enix appears to have approached the balance of old and new with the most respect, letting the 1997 version of Final Fantasy VII co-exist on modern platforms alongside the 2020 release, making both options readily available to fans. One can only hope that this approach isn’t temporary, and instead continues to be adopted by both Square Enix and other companies looking to keep their classic titles in the public conscious.
The most consumer-friendly action would be to include the original versions bundled in with the remakes, so that both newcomers and returning fans can sample the different perspectives while also further appreciating the growth of the medium as a whole. Certain issues with source-code can’t be avoided, but for most games there’s no excuse. It seems like the majority of companies seem to view remakes as the definitive way to play their back catalogue, while acting as if the original versions are obsolete. It’s not enough to just recreate games; the gaming industry needs to take the preservation of the original creative visions more seriously. How else can the industry celebrate its own evolution while also continuing to push forward without being able to reflect on its more humble beginnings?