Narrative Analysis: Advanced Topics
This past week, Capcom executives announced the long-awaited remake of the 2005 action-horror classic Resident Evil 4. Although the announcement has generated considerable buzz, some fans are concerned about potential changes to their favorite title. These concerns come on the heels of Capcom Promotion Producer Edvin Edsö’s comments about the remake process, in which he stated: “We aim to make the game feel familiar to fans of the series, while also providing a fresh feeling to it. This is being done by reimagining the storyline of the game while keeping the essence of its direction…1” While fans will have to wait some time before they can see this reimagined story for themselves, the anticipation gives us the opportunity to discuss what defines a remake and how narratives can change in the remaking process.
When creators take a pre-existing piece of media and recreate it with new assets, this is what’s known as a remake. Like sequels and prequels, remakes are a way for creators to continue a franchise while minimizing risk, as remakes come with a pre-existing audience. Such recreations and reimagining have been popular across media forms for centuries, from restaging famous plays to recasting famous movies, and video games are exceptionally fertile territory for remakes. Constant technological improvements have drastically changed the capabilities of computers and consoles over the last forty years, which leads to some games looking dated within just a few years of their release. To keep these games fresh from generation to generation, developers will remake them with the latest technology, improving the graphics and the gameplay experience. At the same time, the developers may also take the opportunity to alter the game’s narrative. Whether these changes are small or large depends on the scope of the remake and the reasons for the changes.
Types of Remakes
Game Discussed: Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition (Square-Enix, 2022), Chrono Cross (Square-Enix, 1999), Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (Square-Enix, 2007), Final Fantasy Tactics (Square-Enix, 1997), Resident Evil 2 (2019, Capcom), Resident Evil 2 (1998, Capcom), Final Fantasy VII Remake (Square-Enix, 2020), Final Fantasy VII (Square-Enix, 1997), God of War (Santa Monica Studio, 2018)
Game upgrades can wear a variety of faces, depending upon the goals and intentions of the developer. The simplest way to bring an old game to a new audience is the Remaster. Remasters are cosmetic overhauls that bring the game’s visuals up to modern standards with minimal changes to the underlying game. As such, a remaster’s narrative should remain unchanged from the original, so players who pick up a remaster expecting story improvements may find themselves disappointed. One recent example of a video game remaster is the multi-platform role-playing game Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition (Square-Enix, 2022), a remake of 1999’s Chrono Cross for the Sony Playstation. Although the remake’s graphics have been improved to approach modern standards, the story remains untouched from the original. (To read more about Chrono Cross’s story problems, read our StoryScan article on Chrono Cross and Plot.)
When developers make below-the-surface improvements on a video game while staying true to the fundamental structure, the resulting product is known as a remake. Remakes run a gamut from minor to major, depending upon what kind of changes the developers want to make and how deep the changes run. One common type of change is the Retranslation. When original titles are translated from one language to another, the quality of translations (also known as localizations) can vary wildly. In the earliest days of game development, before the medium became mainstream and budgets expanded to match, games were often translated under tight timelines and limited budgets.2 Localization has grown into its own industry since then, and the quality of translations has grown tremendously. As a result, many popular games from the early years have received remakes with improved localizations. One well-known example of a drastic retranslation is Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (Square-Enix, 2007), a rerelease of 1997’s Final Fantasy Tactics. The original Tactics was known for its low-quality English translation3, so the development of The War of the Lions represented an opportunity for major improvements. Although some fans disliked the finished product’s antiquated dialect, most agree the retranslation was a massive step forward in terms of clarity and legibility.
A remake that goes beyond translation changes and alters the underlying narrative is known as a Reimagining. Reimaginings take the core concepts from the original game and rebuild it from scratch while making alterations to the narrative. While some parts of the remake can share a great resemblance to the original, other sections may be either completely different or new. Capcom’s 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2 (1998) is a milder type of reimagining: the story has been altered in several places to add depth to the setting and the characters4, but the plot is relatively the same. The more recent Final Fantasy VII Remake (Square-Enix, 2020) based on 1997’s Final Fantasy VII, takes a more drastic approach to the reimagining concept. Covering the first third of the original game, FF7R takes the first few hours of the original’s story and expands it to the length of a complete game. By necessity, this radical expansion resulted in an extreme amount of new content, so much so that the original and the remake have more differences than similarities. Although FF7R’s full story has yet to be completed, it’s almost certain that future entries in the series will be such in-depth reimaginings.
The final type of remake, the Reboot, strays the farthest from the original content. A reboot occurs when developers take a franchise in a new direction with an entirely new game, one so different from its predecessors that its existence essentially resets the franchise. Developers often reboot franchises when they’ve released several titles in a row to poor reception, as the reboot gives them the opportunity to salvage the best parts of a struggling series. Reboots may revisit story beats from previous titles, but they’re typically geared towards new audiences and are meant to stand on their own as a result. God of War (Santa Monica Studio, 2018) is a prime example of a successful reboot, as it takes the protagonist of the series (Kratos, the titular God of War) and puts him in a new setting with unfamiliar challenges. While previous God of War titles depicted a young, angry Kratos seeking revenge against the Greek gods, God of War (2018) explores the life of an older, more contemplative Kratos in the Norse realm of Midgard. After a half-dozen titles with the same character in the same places, players were more than grateful for the reboot, and the franchise is in a better place than it’s been in years.
With so many terms for video game remakes, it’s easy to get them all confused. Remasters, retranslations, reimaginings, and reboots are all valid ways of bringing older content to new generations, but their success depends upon the needs of the franchise. Developers who wish to remake their older properties should consider what they want to achieve and what resources they have available, so they can set the right expectations for their fans and themselves.
Sequels are supposed to be low-risk and high-reward, but they still have to capture the elements that made the originals great.
Narrative Analysis: Pitches
A good prequel adds depth to the original material while telling a compelling stand-alone story.
StoryScan: Chrono Cross and Plot
Chrono Cross’s story struggles to get off the ground due to a lack of goals, stakes, and urgency.
1 Edso, Edwin. “Resident Evil 4 comes to PS5 next year: first gameplay and story details.” Playstation.blog, June 2, 2022.
2 “Video Game Localization – History.” Wikipedia, 2022.
3 Mandelin, Clyde. “Why Final Fantasy Tactics’ Little Money Line is So Incredibly Slow.” Legends of Localization, 2013.
4 Aniel, Alex. “Resident Evil 2: The big differences between its 1998 & 2019 releases.” Stevivor, Jan 24, 2019.
5 Cooke, Oliver James. “Silent Hill 2 Design Document.”
* Reference Footage (Resident Evil 4): John Wolfe. “Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition  – ROBO SALAZAR.” YouTube, 2014.
** Reference Footage (Final Fantasy Tactics): PJWillow. “Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions – All Cutscenes and Dialogue – Part 1.” YouTube, 2016.
*** Reference Footage (Final Fantasy VII Remake): MKIceandFire. “FINAL FANTASY 7 REMAKE All Cutscenes Full Movie HD.” YouTube, 2020.