The game industry seems to be full of remakes and remasters these days. In fact, there are so many that the difference between a remake and a remaster can get a little confusing. To be fair, it makes sense that many game companies are going all in on revisiting old games. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and marketing toward it can be very successful. However, this wave of classic titles has inspired many arguments over what constitutes a remake or a remaster.
What Defines a Remaster?
Perhaps we should first examine what a remaster is when applied to films and music. A master copy of an album or a film is what will be used to create all other copies for circulation. With that in mind, a remaster involves creating a new master copy that features improved sound and image quality. While that seems simple on paper, things can quickly get a bit more complicated. What if other significant changes are made?
Official movie edits that differ greatly from the original release are often referred to as a “director’s cut”. Obviously, a director’s cut of a movie does not qualify as a remake, but can it qualify as a remaster? Well, this is where the lines start to blur. Making a director’s cut can involve some of the same processes as remastering a film, but simply calling them remasters can be misleading. If remasters of movies can start to get complicated, you can imagine that game remasters can start blurring the lines as well.
Unlike movies, it can be a lot more difficult to spot the differences between a remaster and the original release of a game. There are many moving parts, some of which are not seen by the player. Differences in game engines and code can alter games in ways that may not be obvious at first. Besides increasing the rendering resolution, remastered games can differ a lot in what they change. Understandably, this can lead to confusion with many remasters of games.
Remastering Video Games
Games are built to work within specific virtual environments. So, in the process of remastering, a game has to be reconstructed to work within a new environment. This can be avoided by the use of emulation, but this may also disappoint many who would prefer a native port of the game. However, if the resolution is increased, and certain assets are touched up, then an emulated game can still resemble a remaster.
Meanwhile, native ports of games can bring in many new changes that are more difficult to incorporate through the means of emulation. Unlocked framerates, quality-of-life changes, new content, and more can help make a remaster stand out. Persona 4 Golden is a great example of this. While it brings several enhancements and additions to the PS2 classic, it still very much resembles the original game. Many consider it the definitive way to play Persona 4.
NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is an interesting case of blurring the lines between a remaster and a remake. So much of the game differs from the original release, but it isn’t exactly a full remake either. Many of the bones that held the original together are still present in the updated version of the game. So, does this count as a remaster? Kind of, but Square Enix markets it as more of a large “update” to a cult classic rather than a remaster, and that’s for a reason.
What Defines a Remake?
A remake can be a bit easier to define but comes with its own complications. Calling a game a remake often implies that it was rebuilt from the ground up. This means that all, or at least the vast majority of assets and code differ from the original game. However, an important question still remains. How faithful to the original game do you need to be for your game to qualify as a remake instead of a completely separate game?
This is where things get more complicated when it comes to remakes. I have seen the word “reimagining” thrown around in relation to remakes that might not be completely faithful to the original game. Think of the Resident Evil 2 remake for example. I remember some people insisting that it was a “reimagining” instead of a remake because of how much it differed from the original game.
In many ways, the Resident Evil 2 remake is a reimagining, but I, along with many others, would say that it also classifies as a remake. I see no reason for the two categories to be mutually exclusive. However, this brings reboots into question. Would reimaginings such as the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot count as a remake? Well, it’s safe to say that Tomb Raider 2013 barely resembles the original game and isn’t trying to recreate it, which goes for many other reboots. A remake can serve as a reboot for a franchise, but this is a rare occurrence.
Remaking Video Games
Obviously, a remake requires more time and resources than a remaster. Remakes require a development process that is similar to, if not the same, as a whole new game. New code, art, voice acting, etc. is necessary to make a fresh experience. That’s not to say that a remaster can’t require lots of work as well. The best remasters out there can nearly resemble faithful remakes.
Why is something such as Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Reunion considered a remaster when Resident Evil 2002 isn’t? Both games contain vastly improved visuals compared to their originals while retaining much of the same game experience. While the first Resident Evil remake is very faithful to the original game, it is still clearly built from the ground up. On the other hand, the Crisis Core remaster still obviously contains an old PSP game at its core. The new coat of paint and quality-of-life features can’t hide that. There’s nothing wrong with that in the slightest, but it does stop it from qualifying as a remake.
Of course, this can all get a little confusing. How can you tell if an intricate remaster isn’t a remake? With the source code of games often not publicly available, spotting what remains the same can be difficult. Besides that, your best bet is to study the differences in level geometry and how game mechanics might work. If you can find sufficient evidence that a game heavily relies on old development materials, that game most likely qualifies as a remaster instead of a remake.
Is It a Remake or a Remaster?
So, Metroid Prime Remastered got shadow-dropped on the eShop in the middle of writing this, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. While many will agree that this Switch version of the game qualifies as a remaster, it has opened up an interesting discussion relating to the differences between remakes and remasters. Metroid Prime Remastered features entirely new assets and lighting to give the game a more modern look that remains faithful. In addition, a new control scheme has been made the default, although players can select a classic control scheme.
This presents an interesting case that is reminiscent of the classic Ship of Theseus thought experiment. How much of the original Metroid Prime can you replace until it becomes a different game? To be clear, this isn’t to say any of the changes that Metroid Prime Remastered makes are bad. In fact, I’m glad that it goes above and beyond the expectations of an average game remaster. It’s clear that far more of the old bones of Metroid Prime are present compared to something such as the upcoming Resident Evil 4 remake.
The point of all this is that video games are a unique medium, and sometimes it can be easy to blur the lines between a remake and a remaster thanks to the quirks of how this medium works. With the successes of remakes and remasters such as Resident Evil 2, Dead Space, Persona 4 Golden, and Metroid Prime Remastered, these aren’t going to stop getting made anytime soon. The line between a remaster and a remake can be a little blurry sometimes, but that’s ok.