Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How Do You Remake a Classic?

King Kong remake movie posterPsycho. King Kong. Casino Royale. Planet of the Apes. Hollywood has a penchant for remaking movies, for good or for ill, but I can't say I blame them for trying. I imagine the temptation to remake a movie might be overwhelming.

Think about it: You could cash in on the success of something that's already proven its popularity. You could finally do justice to a story that suffered from a small budget, lackluster special effects, poor direction, or any number of shortcomings. You could introduce a new generation to a classic you love. The list just keeps going.

Movie remakes are nothing new, but there's another medium that has seen a definite increase in the number of remakes over the past several years: video games.

Resident Evil. Mega Man: Powered Up. The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition. Metroid: Zero Mission. All of the earlier games in the Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy series. Sometimes the remakes are relentlessly faithful to the original, and sometimes they might as well be another game altogether.

I suspect that the majority of video game remakes have the same practical foundation: old video games and old video game systems can be hard to find. If you want to watch a movie from the 1970s, you need only visit your local library or video rental store. If you want to play a video game from the same time period, you'll need to stumble across a yard sale or eBay auction just to find the game, and that doesn't guarantee you'll have a functional system that will play the game.

Atari 2600Beyond that, next-gen snobs might turn their noses up at a direct port of an 8-bit "eyesore," and it's doubtful that big-name companies would allow some of their greatest masterpieces to be lost and forgotten simply because they're old. (The games, not the people at the companies.)

That's probably why so many video game remakes entail little more than a graphical update and a new translation of the dialogue that's more culturally relevant or more accurate to the original Japanese; if age and availability are the only reasons more people aren't playing your game, why change more than you have to?

Of course, you need to take into account both the newer generation of gamers and the gamers who grew up on the game in question. Many people agree that retro games tend to be simpler yet more difficult than newer games; even if it's pretty enough for next-gen snobs to play, will the game be complex enough to hold their interest to the very end, assuming they can make it that far? And what would compel curmudgeonly old gamers such as myself to buy some newfangled version of a game they already own?

I can tell you from experience: Curmudgeonly old gamers are very sensitive about remakes. All it takes is a minor alteration to a "classic" line of dialogue to send them off the deep end.

Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone from The GodfatherThat may seem unreasonable, but imagine the backlash if, in a slightly revised special edition of The Godfather, Vito Corleone said he would "propose an offer that would be unwise to turn down." The way I see things, it's quite a feat to remake a video game in such a way that changes very little and still makes everyone happy.

I bring this up because I recently completed the first of the two titular games in the Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls collection for the Game Boy Advance, which is of course a remake of the classic NES game that spawned more sequels than you can shake a Heal Staff at.

The original Final Fantasy was one of the first NES games I ever owned, and it instilled in me a love of RPGs and an appreciation for finding treasure and kicking butt with characters I customized myself. I didn't fall in love with it and become a diehard purist like I did with EarthBound and Chrono Trigger, which is why I didn't become volatile when I discovered they had changed the first town's name from "Coneria" to "Cornelia."

Original Final Fantasy Coneria town screenshot
Final Fantasy I remake Cornelia town screenshot
300 This Is Sparta parody - This Is ConeriaAt least they didn't change "Garland" to "Garfunkel"; I think I might have developed a nervous twitch over that one.

The remake of Final Fantasy I has its merits, but it also has its drawbacks. It's an excellent case study for the phenomenon of video game remakes, and I look forward to reviewing the game later this week. Until then...

1 comment:

zharth said...

I think the only rational approach to hold towards remakes is that of a love-hate relationship. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't. (And sometimes all in the space of a single remake.)

One classic game remake I had some problems with was Tomb Raider: Anniversary. The graphics in the remake are fantastic - and graphics can go a long way in an adventure game - but what was sacrificed was the very element that made the original game so compelling - level architecture. The layout of the levels in the remake is far too linear and contrived, and it kills the sense of claustrophobia and exploration that, well, defines a good Tomb Raiding experience!

Cornelia actually doesn't bother me as much as I would have thought. :o