We stand in April, a month where the two showstopping releases are games we've technically played before. On one side, we have Resident Evil 3, a remake of 1999's Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. On the other, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which recasts the landmark 1997 PlayStation RPG in stunning modern-day fashion. Two remakes of games at least 21 years old are taking the spotlight.
Neither game is exactly what it was though. Resident Evil 3 carries forward the action-heavy nature of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, but it's missing key sections like the St. Michael Clock Tower. Final Fantasy 7 Remake embellishes on the presentation of FF7's story, but it heavily expands on its intro city—Midgar—and replaces the turn-based combat of the original. If you expect a slavish, perfect recreation of the original, neither game is entirely what you want.
So, what is a remake supposed to be? It's worth differentiating them from remasters, which take the original title, engine and all, and improve the visual and aural side of the equation. Take the Yakuza series on PlayStation 4: Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2 are full remakes of the first two Yakuza games, rebuilding the original releases upon the bones of Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 6 respectively. In contrast, the Yakuza Remastered Collection features the PlayStation 3 versions of Yakuza 3-5 with an improved localization and 1080p visuals. A remaster is repainting your childhood home, a remake is building a brand-new one that looks similar.
We don't all want the same things from our remakes. For some, the marching orders are "I want what was already there, but running on my PC/PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Switch in HD or 4K." These purists want the original experience done up for today, and any deviation is seen as a mark against the overall experience. Take the complaints that the PS4 remake of Shadow of the Colossus lost some of the hazy, story book atmosphere of the original by having high-resolution graphics that were "too sharp." Or classic Tomb Raider fans who feel that Tomb Raider: Anniversary has a drab color palette and rougher level design compared to the original.
Others are searching more for the feeling that the original title created within them. The widely-praised Resident Evil 2 remake plays differently from the original with its third-person camera, improved weapon system, and more resilient zombies. Mr. X moves from a scripted spoiler to an ever-present threat that hunts you through Raccoon Police Department. Even with its stark changes, it succeeds in recapturing the horror and tension of 1998's Resident Evil 2, while at the same time being an excellent game for newcomers.
A remake can never truly recapture the first time you sat down with a landmark classic. Even if you enjoyed Resident Evil 2 back in 1999, replaying through a game is more an act of appreciation, not discovery. You aren't shocked by the Licker's debut; you're noting how the new experience compares to the original, but you're missing the thrill of the new. (The remake changes who the Licker terrorizes first for this very reason.) We aren't intrigued by the mysterious Ada Wong because we know exactly who she is after multiple appearances across Resident Evil's long history.
Frame-perfect action, classic voice acting, and original level composition feel more like the remit of the remaster rather than the remake. Many are enjoying the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered campaign, which keeps everything that made the original memorable, including Kevin McKidd's performance as Captain "Soap" MacTavish and the "No Russian" level. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary released on PC a month ago, offering support for ultrawide/4K resolutions, unlocked frame rates, and enhanced textures. It also included the ability to switch back and forth between the original Xbox graphics and the new presentation. If you want to go back, you can.
There are games that blur the line between remaster and remake, like Vicarious Visions' Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. The developer lacked the original source code, but still tried to carry forward every aspect of the original trilogy anyway. But that's a rarity in regards to many of our recent remasters. Given how great these remasters can be while preserving their original experience, it falls to remakes to dream bigger.
In the course of reviewing Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Editor-In-Chief Kat Bailey told me it was a great deal like Rebuild of Evangelion, a planned tetralogy that reimagines the original Neon Genesis Evangelion. Such a comparison is instructive. At the time of announcement (translated), director and series creator Hideaki Anno said he wanted to recreate Evangelion "to portray my sincere feelings on film," and something that would be "better than the last series." To him, it was about creating something brand-new within the bones of a touchstone of animation history.
The same is true of video games. Many members of the original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis team worked on 2020's Resident Evil 3, and they had the desire to "really build out Raccoon City," according to producer Peter Fabiano. It's hard not to see that co-directors Tetsuya Nomura and Motomu Toriyama had similar feelings about Final Fantasy 7 that they wanted to explore through Remake.
Nomura is no longer the twenty-something main character designer he was during the development of Final Fantasy 7. Now, he's the director of several of Square Enix's biggest games, such as the Kingdom Hearts series, and was invited onto Remake's development by producer Yoshinori Kitase, the original's director. 23 years can change a person, and that's reflected in what Final Fantasy 7 Remake is.
Over the course of several interviews leading up to Final Fantasy 7 Remake's release, Nomura has given us an insight into where he's coming from. "While I believe some would be fine with that, if we were to remake it with the same structure from back then, we could have just supervised it and asked for external developers to do it," said Nomura when asked about the changes made to Final Fantasy 7 Remake, including the new combat system. "However, if we were going to do it ourselves then instead of doing the same as the original, we’d rather have something that can bring surprises to those who experienced the game back in the day.
A phrase within that quote—"something that can bring surprises to those who experienced the game back in the day"—is what I'm talking about. If you're just going to bring a game forward, that's the place of remaster. A remake is a place for creators to return to a project with hindsight, to fix mistakes and improve in certain areas where they felt it was lacking. It's about showing the growth in creators, and perhaps us as players.
While I admit, I would've liked Final Fantasy 7 straight up with better graphics, at the end of the day I want a remake to take big swings. Resident Evil 2 turned Mr. X from an occasional threat to a constant terror hunting you through the halls; you might like or dislike that change, but it's a clear choice meant to provide a unique experience. If you're going to remake a classic, go all out. And if that means that the man who created the winding tale of Kingdom Hearts gets to bring that same wild energy to Final Fantasy 7? I guess I'm fine with the result.
Especially since the original is still there, untouched and pristine.
Major Game Releases: April 6 to April 10
Here are the major releases for the week of April 6 to April 10. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories [April 7 for PC, PS4, and Switch]: Back in 2011, developer Irem was creating Disaster Report 4 for PlayStation 3 when the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami happened. That saw the project halted. With a gap of nearly a decade, Granzella picked up and finished Disaster Report 4, bringing it to modern consoles. Survive the quarantine by playing a digital disaster and throwback to another time.
- Final Fantasy 7 Remake [April 10 for PS4]: Five years after its announcement, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is not only real, it's right around the corner. Square Enix has sunk a great deal of effort into recreating the classic RPG in Unreal Engine 4. We're only getting the first part of the entire project, covering the adventures of Cloud and company in Midgar, but so far, we're off to a great start.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week in Gaming
- You're going to be waiting for some of 2020's biggest games. Last week saw Sony Interactive Entertainment putting The Last of Us Part 2 and Iron Man VR in indefinite limbo. While The Last of Us Part 2 is pretty much done, closures in retail stores are preventing Sony from "providing the launch experience our players deserve". And since they don't know the pandemic will end, they can't provide an updated release date. Wasteland 3 and Minecraft Dungeons also found their release dates pushed back last week. We can expect the number of game delays to increase, alongside publishers holding onto announcements for future titles.
- Microsoft is holding strong when it comes to the launch of the Xbox Series X. The current situation has many wondering if the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles will be delayed. Well, according to Xbox boss Phil Spencer, the Xbox Series X will still be launching in Holiday 2020, even if major anchors like Halo Infinite are delayed. Spencer also said the Microsoft is trying to "stay agile" with regards to the Series X's suggest retail price.
- Valorant is the new shooter hotness, even if most people haven't played it yet. Riot Games finally showed off Valorant, its planned shooter that blends the heroes of Overwatch with tactical nature of Counter-Strike. Riot has revealed that Valorant, which isn't in the League of Legends universe, isn't trying to reach out to everyone. Instead, it wants to retain that hardcore, tactical style of play. Valorant was the number title on Twitch when the embargo broke, despite the fact that streamers weren't actually playing it. Valorant will enter closed beta sometime this week.
- Switch has settled into its place as the port machine, and it looks like that's not changing in the future. VGC and Eurogamer both reported on a rumor that Nintendo is enter closed betaremastering several 3D Mario games for Nintendo Switch. The rumored titles include Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World, alongside a brand-new Paper Mario game. Hopefully, Galaxy 2 will be included in that Galaxy remaster.
- Live gaming events are still struggling to figure out what to do in a world where we're all social distancing. Xbox kicked off the ID@Xbox Spotlight, which highlights indie games from Xbox One that were supposed to be shown off at GDC 2020. While Gamescom 2020 is expanding its digital presence in response to uncertainty around the August show, Bethesda has decided that it won't have a digital event for 2020. That even would've replaced the Bethesda Game Days event, which normally happens during E3 week.
Axe of the Blood God for April 6, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
Kat and guides writer Jake Green talk through the upcoming Final Fantasy 7 Remake, seeing whether the long-awaited title lives up to its pedigree. Nadia is unfortunately not around, because she hasn't had a chance to play the game yet. Boo! Subscribe and listen here!