Over the past year, we have seen a significant uptake in confirmations for long-awaited titles with a significant amount of fan demand. Square Enix is finally making a full remake of Final Fantasy 7, Capcom is at work on a remake of Resident Evil 2, Yu Suzuki is finally free to work on the long-awaited Shenmue III and Sony even revived The Last Guardian, a project many had assumed dead (myself included). We’ve also seen Half-Life 3 listed on a Steam database leak that included many other titles which have since been confirmed. Even last month, there have been some rumblings from some very reliable sources that Nintendo may finally be releasing Mother 3 outside of Japan, which is what led me to reflect on all of these events in the first place. Is this the beginning of a new renaissance for video games or could this be the beginning of the end of the current era of video games?
Yes, I know that last bit seems a bit like hyperbole, but think about it: many of these titles have been the money shot for companies, the one big thing each publisher could offer that could bring even the most jaded ex-customers evangelize that their once-beloved company has made a complete return to form…assuming all goes according to plan. After all, this isn’t the first time that games once thought impossible or abandoned have resurfaced.
Exhibit A: Duke Nukem Forever. After languishing in development hell for over a decade, DNF finally managed to hit store shelves in 2011. It was met with mostly negative reactions: the gameplay had modernized the wrong aspects, while keeping outdated elements that could use updated; the game’s storyline and humor was considered immature and juvenile at best and downright offensive at worst and some have even claimed that the graphics in the final build look worse than some of the earlier unreleased builds. One of the best examples of the old idiom “be careful what you wish for”, the only things that came out of Duke Nukem Forever’s eventual release were the IP being doomed to being confined to one of the scummiest developers I’ve ever seen since I started playing video games and the fact that it acts as a perfect warning that any dream game can easily be turned into a nightmare given the proper circumstances.
Then again, Duke Nukem Forever was merely a sequel. I’ve pretty much always assumed that remakes are held with even more scrutiny than sequels. A few years back, I wrote that sequels generally had a rough time just due to fanbases never being able to agree on how much or how little a new iteration of a series should change from its predecessors. Yet no one would disagree that a game’s sequel should change at least something. Likewise, very few fans would bemoan borrowing any concepts from the game’s pedigree – unless there were complete shifts in the series’ history and even then, most fans generally have a good idea of what game to use as a base for future games in their series of choice. When dealing with pre-established material, the idea that anything should deviate from the source material is itself a heated topic for debate. Some believe that a remake should closely resemble the original game as much as possible, with the only real alterations being improved graphics and load times. Others believe that a remake is license to fully reimagine the original source material to the point where it becomes unrecognizable. Most gamers fall somewhere between these two extremes and unfortunately, there’s the rub: with an even broader spectrum to play with, there’s an even smaller chance that the developers can make a product that would satisfy the majority of the audience.
We’re already seeing that now with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. When the game was first announced, every fan of the PS1 classic was completely elated, especially after the cruel tease that the Steam port of the original PC version was being ported to PS4 in the first place. Eventually, information began trickling in. Fans were pleased with the early graphics and the exploratory gameplay impressed many. Then Square Enix revealed the battle system: not the Active Time Battle-flavored turn-based system the fans had grown up with, but rather something that looked significantly more real-time and action-oriented. From what I could see online, the fanbase was immediately divided: some kept open minds about the changes, with a few even stating that the new changes looked interesting; while others felt betrayed, saying that Square Enix had turned their backs on them. However, the worst was yet to come – Square Enix then announced that FF7 Remake would be episodic, that is, split into multiple games. The most positive response to that bombshell was cautious optimism, but the majority saw the decision with pure, unadulterated pessimism.
The way I see things, there are two distinct outcomes for these games and they all rely entirely on sales and fan response, critics be damned. The game either hits or exceeds its sales targets or fails to make them by a significant amount. Ironically enough, I’d consider failure to be the more beneficial outcome on these projects. Why, you may ask? It’s nothing against the projects themselves, but if the games themselves fail and the publishers didn’t sink all of their finances on development, then it should be easy enough to regroup and come up with a new project without the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase resting on its shoulders.
Conversely, let’s say these games are runaway successes. I’ve only got one question for the publishers should that happen: okay, what’s next? Let’s face it, if these games end up succeeding, all these companies (aside from SEGA, I guess, since they’re pretty hands off with Shenmue III) will have blown their loads when it comes to fan service. After all, what do you do for an encore when the most anticipated title in your library finally gets released? Sure, there are definitely other long-awaited titles from many of these companies – the problem is, none of them have quite the same reach as the titles they’ve chosen. Take Square Enix: if FF7 Remake succeeds, then what else can they do? Kingdom Hearts III has already been announced, but it’s currently being held up by FFXV. After that sees release, there’s really nothing with as much appeal – some fans might ask for a remake of FFVI (trust me, I know at least one guy who’s begging for one); others might ask for Squenix to try their hands at another series, Chrono Trigger comes quickly to mind. The problem with any of these projects is that they lack the same consolidated fan response that FF7 Remake has.
Of course, this is all just one man’s opinion – and that man tends to be pessimistic and likes to find the cloud in every silver lining. Maybe I’m wrong to scrutinize the logic behind finally giving the fans what they want, without any potential thought into the repercussions that might have in the long run or at least consideration of what “the next big thing” would be. In fact, I honestly hope I’m wrong. I happen to like most of the companies that are putting their necks on the line and don’t want them to go the way of THQ, all for the sake of a pie in the sky release that has a snowball’s chance in Hell of reaching the immense expectations of a fanbase that’s been salivating over these releases for at least a decade in most cases.