Why Some Games Really Do Deserve Remakes

Yakuza_12_PS4

I finally started catching up with the Yakuza series a few months ago. I’d played the games since the English version of the original came out in 2006 but fell off at some point after Yakuza 4. After recently finishing 5 and Zero I’ve just started Kiwami — the remake of the original. To me, it feels oddly like a PS2 game, for better or worse.

Mostly SEGA took the storyline from the original game and dropped it into the engine from Yakuza Zero.  Even much of the core gameplay in Kiwami is updated to resemble the systems in Zero — the character building system, enemy encounters, completion points, etc. Most people point out how the cut scenes clearly re-use the animations from the PS2 version, highlighting the 10-year difference in quality between it and Zero, but I still feel like the overall structure of Kiwami betrays the game’s PS2 roots.

To be honest, in a lot of ways all the modern Yakuza games, including Zero (I haven’t played Yakuza 6 yet as of this writing, which is actually on a whole new game engine) have ignored a lot of the modernity among today’s console games. They still don’t autosave, your health doesn’t regenerate, there are no waypoints or compasses all over the screen. Even beyond that though, I feel a strange and subtle sense of nostalgia from the first few hours of Kiwami in particular. It’s not like the PS2 version is a big memory for me either. I simply rented the game in 2006 and played through it once. My guess is I’m simply feeling reminded of its era.

The first concrete example I can point out is how progression through Kiwami’s story events depends more on NPC dialogue than Zero for instance. The most recent games like Zero and Yakuza 5 seem to rely increasingly on players just looking at the minimap to figure out where to go next. In Kiwami I find myself simply getting information about my surroundings by talking to NPCs, which older games kind of assumed you would do all the time. Personally I think it’s more immersive.

The second concrete source of nostalgia might be how visually austere Kiwami looks compared to Zero. The menu screens aren’t as busy, the game kind of has less going on overall feature-wise. Obviously it has less overall content than Zero because it’s still a remake of the inaugural Yakuza game, from when the designers were still figuring everything out. This could simply be however a result of Kiwami’s clearly lower budget compared to ZeroZero isn’t a AAA game in the same sense as something like Far Cry 5, but it makes Kiwami look like a made-for-TV movie or something. A good made-for-TV movie I guess. Maybe Kiwami’s appearance as a lighter package in itself is what’s hearkening back to a time before console games got so massive.

Maybe that’s a reason I appreciated the remake of Shadow of the Colossus so much. In my blog about that game I said it looks like a minimalist version of Uncharted 4 or Horizon Zero DawnColossus certainly has a sense of austerity unique even in its time, but games have certainly gotten bigger and fuller since its original release in 2005.

Stuff like this is why I’m starting to like this kind of remake — the kind where a developer reaches ten-plus years into the past and completely rebuilds a classic game’s art assets to modern standards while leaving the actual game almost identical.

There are a lot of games from previous eras I think should be remade like this because they actually hold up rather well in every aspect except visual technology (and maybe lacking some modern control amenities). Arguably the recent permutation of this trend started with the Halo Anniversary games but it’s currently hitting classic platformers of the era of the original PlayStation like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. The best of these games are still fun today but have a certain simplicity to them that’s been lost under the weight of all the extra functionality and “content” that’s in today’s games.

The one I’m probably most interested in is the upcoming remake to the original System Shock, which recently received a major refocus to be more faithful to the original 1994 version. Even by today’s standards it’s considered an impressively deep and fully-featured 3D first person game. What if, I don’t know, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or the original Deus Ex got the same treatment?

BULLETS:

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