Let’s cut right to it: remakes and remasters are not problematic as a practice; however, they can be a problem in practice. Because their budgets are but a fraction of new projects, the risks subsequently few whether they’re well known IP’s or not, whether little effort is applied or much, they strike every party involved an easy proposition. And they can take advantage of you.
Yet despite the malignment, the wrinkled noses words like “remaster” are increasingly greeted with, re-releases are necessary for the medium and its collective consciousness. We champion games as an art form but rarely treat it like one ourselves, visualizing each platform or generation a tree, and each game grown in the tree’s lifecycle its fruit. The resultant mechanism or technology of the tree when in truth it’s the reverse, the fruit infinitely more important than the tree. The tree is there, or should be, to bear the fruit.
If we don’t help carry the fruit of the medium’s labours forward, our vehement declarations of “art!” ring false, because we’re ourselves rendering the canon – which houses the most testimony to our claims – invisible; transmuting it, maybe, from an interactive auditory, visual and mechanical form back into mere glyphs. Or we might as well be.
Sometimes it’s not a matter of carrying the thing forward, but of reconstructing it. To remake the thing, as Square Enix will Final Fantasy VII. Some games, through design and/or aesthetic, can be ironed out and polished up every decade or half decade with little to no visible or consequential wear. The Wind Waker‘s, Okami‘s, Journey‘s, for which a full-blown remake would be a hard sell, or at least a puzzlement, even to their cherishers.
Whereas the Final Fantasy VII‘s – which is to say, landmarks in the canon for one reason or other – demand it, if for the sake of preservation than nothing else. A preservation which, more than simply preserves, enlivens. Resuscitates for our collective consciousness. Shadow of the Colossus, for example, demands this “more”. Oh darling, and how.
One day perhaps, so will Ocarina of Time, Half Life 2, Metroid Prime, (really, take your pick) even if the resources aren’t there, nor the interest, nor the possibility. It’s true to say some works are products of their time, but the beauty of remakes is their simultaneously being old and new products, or works.
All this, of course, to speak nothing of the many games which go about the task completely wrong, be it with price (God of War 3: Remastered – $40 for a new framerate and resolution!), or promotion (Gears of War: “Ultimate” Edition – at nine years old, it had better be!). Or in timing – a means to fill gaps in lucrative seasons with quality a secondary concern. (So long as they’re ready, I take no issue with remasters being placed in gaps of new-title releases: it’s harmless and to the benefit of the consumer as well as publisher.)
We tend to embellish fond, meaningful and positively impactful moments of our lives with a lacquer they may have never had. Nostalgia at base, together with every emotion and detail we bring to, and help inform these moments with, past and present, gives, sometimes, the thunder the bass it never had, the swordfish its opalescence even after it had died. In reality, its colour probably faded from its scales as soon as blood had spilled onto the cold white fiberglass of the deck.
I spoke in my piece on The Last Guardian of the hopes and, by turn, fears we have of future experiences, our want of eventual memories we can cherish and glow over to the utmost later on, but it is when we make the old again and anew, ironically, that we are more likely to experience it as we remember.