Video Games: The Age of the Remake
By Liam Carrigan
On July 4, 2015
As one of my fellow bloggers reported here, the Japanese, and indeed global, video gaming community went into meltdown recently with Sony’s announcement of a remake of their 1990s hit Final Fantasy VII. Although I’m really surprised that, with all the fawning in the gaming media that now, after all these years no-one has thought to ask the most pertinent question. The last title in the series announced before this remake was Final Fantasy XV. After 15 games, going all the way back to 1987, the fantasy isn’t really so final is it?!
Anyway, Sony’s announcement, whilst undoubtedly a boon for fans of the series is hardly original these days. FFVII is following an already well-trodden path in going down the route of an HD remake. The likes of Super Streetfighter 2, Resident Evil and Devil May Cry, all classic Japanese gaming hits of yesteryear have all been updated for modern consoles in recent years. In particular, I highly recommend the HD remix of Super Streetfighter 2. It does everything a remake should do. Up-scaled graphics give the game almost an anime-like appearance. The gameplay has been speeded up to give things a more fluid and intuitive feel, though not at the expense of detail, and one has the choice of newly remastered or classic 16-bit music tracks.
So it got me thinking, which legends of Japanese gaming that haven’t yet found their way into the realm of remakes deserve another shot? Here is my top 5.
5) Streets of Rage
Released in Japan under the name Bare Knuckle, this classic side-scrolling beat-em up game from Sega was one of the earliest success stories for the fledgling Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US) console back in the early 90s. Giving more than a passing nod to Capcom’s arcade hit Final Fight, the premise is simple. You play one of 3 different former police officers who, having witnessed the rampant corruption and wave of violent crime besieging their unnamed US city, decide to take the law into their own hands. Cue 8 levels of mayhem as you battle dozens of enemies simultaneously in preparation for the increasingly tough “boss battles” at the end of each round. Often imitated but seldom emulated, Streets of Rage spawned two sequels, with Streets of Rage 2 probably being the pinnacle of the series.
A remake was actually planned for the original playstation console back in 1998. Unfortunately licensing issues, and the gradual implosion of Sega’s gaming division in light of the failed Sega Saturn console, derailed the project. It was eventually taken over by a different publisher, Core, several revisions were made to the design and the story, and it ultimately became the rather mediocre title known as Fighting Force. An unofficial remake of the original trilogy, simply titled SOR Remake, became an underground hit on the internet last year before Sega stepped in and served the publishers with a cease and desist order. Hopefully this means Sega themselves still have plans for the property.
4) The Revenge of Shinobi
Predating Streets of Rage by about 2 years, this ninja-themed platform game not only game us some memorable level design and beautiful graphics, which were truly groundbreaking at the time, the game was also one of the first successful collaborations between Sega and music composer Yuzo Koshiro. Koshiro’s soundtrack lends the game an almost cinematic quality and remained the benchmark for most of the lifespan of the Sega Mega Drive.
A remake of sorts, simply titled Shinobi was released for the Playstation 2 back in 2003. However, the game was a mess, with its failed attempts at 3D and a storyline completely unconnected to the original. It wasn’t the Shinobi we knew and loved from childhood. In recent years the original game has been re-released and proved something of a sleeper hit as a downloadable title from Sony’s PSN store. Here’s hoping an HD remake is next on the agenda.
3) Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Known as Biohazard: The Last Escape in Japan, this game was one of the biggest hits of 1999 upon its initial release. Capcom has already shown a willingness to revisit older titles in the RE series, with an HD remake of the original game being released to great acclaim earlier this year, as well as an HD upgraded collection of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica X also proving very popular upon its release a couple of years ago.
Anyone who ever played this title at the time of its original Playstation One release will remember just how terrifying it was to be chased by the almighty and utterly relentless Nemesis throughout the game, and knowing that you had neither the ammo nor the necessary health power ups to beat him. It truly was “survival horror” at its best. Imagine being able to relive that terror in glorious 1080 resolution with modern sound and updated gameplay mechanics. We can but hope and dream.
2) Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny
How could Capcom take the gaming phenomenon that was the Resident Evil/Biohazard Series and make it any better? How about giving the protagonist a samurai sword instead of a shotgun and relocating the game to 16th century Japan?
With a similar layout and open world design to its zombie-enthused predecessor, Onimusha took the “survival horror” genre and sent it in an entirely new direction. Jump scares were replaced with story-driven drama, rocket launchers were replaced with weapon upgrades and magic. In total, there were 4 games in the main Onimusha series, but in terms of cinematic scope and just overall gaming satisfaction, number 2 has always been my favourite. The showdown with Gogandantess, the most egotistical swordsman on all demons, is worth the money alone.
Fans have long demanded an HD remake or at least a re-release of the original series for the current generation consoles for many years. Unfortunately, to date, Capcom hasn’t delivered. Though the developer has never commented officially, it is thought that image rights may be an issue. Onimusha 2 used the image of the Japanese actor Yusaku Matsuda, for the main character, Jubei Yagyu. Its sequel, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege used the images of renowned Japanese/Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro and French film star Jean Reno for the games two main characters Samanosuke Akechi and Jacques Blanc. Getting the rights to re-use these actors’ images for a re-issuing of the game would not come cheap. Nevertheless, fans remain hopeful that the ongoing success of the Resident Evil HD remake will persuade Capcom that it is sometimes worthwhile to “speculate to accumulate”.
Resident Evil 2 (Biohazard 2)
Amidst all the remake and remastering love for some of the series later titles, many fans remain dismayed that the game many regard as the pinnacle of the series hasn’t received a modern makeover as of yet. In my previous post, I named RE2 as one of my all-time favourite Japanese video games and as such I feel some kind of remake or remastering is long, long overdue. Slower, more methodical and less frenetic than many of the later titles, many of today’s games which tend to favour style and gimmicks over actual gameplay substance could learn a lot from RE2. Multiple scenarios and minigames, as well as bonuses for completing the game on the hardest difficulties and in the shortest time give it immense replay value. In the days of “freemium” content and “on-disc DLC” many fans feel fleeced by the gaming publishers. Remaking RE2 in all its glory and with all its unlockables included would set a good example for how it should be done.