/Game remakes vs remasters: whats the difference?

Game remakes vs remasters: whats the difference?


If you missed a classic game at the time of its original release, there are a few reasons you might find it tough to play in 2020. 

For one, you might not have the same nostalgic appreciation for the game as those who did play it at the time, which can sometimes make up for a game’s shortcomings when it doesn’t age so well. Secondly, unless you’re happy to collect older games consoles, a lot of retro games simply don’t work with modern machines. 

If you prefer to move with the times, maintaining access to older titles is often at the mercy of console manufacturers. 

While facilitating backwards compatibility is the traditional way to provide players with access to their collections of older games, developers and publishers alike have found a more preferable and profitable method: through remasters and remakes. 

Repackaged classic games are now commonplace, with various classics re-emerging on our shelves and hard drives in the form of ‘HD Editions’, ‘Remasters’ and ‘Remakes’. With so much unfamiliar marketing jargon attached to our favorite games, it’s not always obvious what’s changed between the original and these new versions. 

If you’re a bit confused by it all, then don’t worry. We’re here to (simply) break down the differences between game remakes and remasters.

Remasters: a lick of paint

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age went above and beyond a simple ‘HD remaster’ (Image credit: Square Enix)

The term ‘remaster’ is something that’s used across multimedia as a whole, with the term holding significance when it comes to the likes of music and film. Remastering usually involves enhancing the quality of an original ‘master’ version, meaning the fabric of the source is merely enhanced, rather than modified. 

Within videogames, this same rule usually applies, with the most popular form of remastering being based on fidelity and resolution. To put it simply, remastering an old game will make it look less like pixelated vomit on your fancy new TV. 

Despite this simple definition, remasters can still vary in quality, which is often down to how much effort has gone into each instance. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 saw a plethora of ‘HD Remasters’, mainly consisting of ported titles that weren’t previously compatible on the aforementioned hardware. Other than upscaling the original title to an HD resolution, there’s little else that distinguishes them from their original form. 

This type of HD upscaling could also be achieved through backwards compatibility, or through using additional hardware to upscale a retro console, as described in our retro gaming guide. Some would say that this specific type of HD remaster is the same as stealing the wheels off of someone’s bike to resell back to them, which we’re somewhat inclined to agree with. 

Thankfully, the art of remastering games has come a long way. Rather than simply upscaling the resolution, remasters such as Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age revitalized the game’s textures, performance and soundtrack. With consumers expecting more from their videogame remasters, simple ports are becoming less common. As a result, many publishers have ventured into not just adding polish, but rather rebuilding games from the ground up.

Remakes: a world of reimagination

The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a completely new game based on the original, while 2019's Final Fantasy 8 Remastered was the same game, only improved in many ways. 

The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a completely new game based on the original, while 2019’s Final Fantasy 8 Remastered was the same game, only improved in many ways.  (Image credit: Square Enix)

The word ‘remake’ basically means a completely new game based on an older game, usually a classic. But there are variations on how this is defined. 

Rebuilding using modern technology
Videogame remakes in the classic sense could almost be viewed as a process of painting by numbers. Many of these projects will simply take the original game’s mechanic loops and ideas, and rebuild them using modern technology, with better controls and often new assets, with the result usually being an experience you’re familiar with – but much more polished.

Great examples of this type of remake are the likes of the Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, MediEvil and Shadow of the Colossus remakes, which in their new guise are visual recreations that bear an uncanny resemblance to their original retro counterparts but aren’t exactly the same game. See also the Wii U’s Zelda: Wind Waker remake, which has a slightly different art style, and adds the option for faster sailing around its seas.

Same idea, different execution
Now, though, we’re starting to see total remakes that are more than just a better version of the original. They’re essentially different games, even if they use the same story, setting, music, art style or gameplay ideas. 

We might not have our hands on it just yet, but the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake is looking to be a prime example of this, ditching the traditional turn-based shenanigans of the original and instead using the mechanics of modern Final Fantasy titles. Regardless of Final Fantasy VII’s complete overhaul, Cloud will hopefully still slip into that cute purple dress like he’s supposed to.

Resident Evil 2’s 2019 remake, too, is designed to mirror the original as much as possible, but instead of the 1998 version’s fixed camera angles, it’s a more modern over-the-shoulder third-person shooter. This approach shows how you can give people a comfortable dose of nostalgia while still making a best-in-class game for today’s players. No wonder Resident Evil 3 is getting the same treatment.

Expect to see more of this kind of remake in the next few years.

Identity crisis

MediEvil

Some people got confused about whether MediEvil is meant to be a remaster or remake (Image credit: Sony)

If one thing is certain, it’s that repackaged nostalgia sells. The recent wave of retro recreations from the PSone has marked a new culture within the industry, one of which opts to use the modern standard of technology to breathe fresh air into classic franchises and reintroduce them to a new audience.

While trying to differentiate between a ‘remaster’ and a ‘remake’ can sometimes prove a bit technically confusing, it is worth noting that trying to use these labels as an absolute will likely never prove accurate, in which case, you’d be best to adjust your expectations. 

The only absolute in this dynamic industry is those old games on your shelf that have already been made and mastered, no matter how disappointing their modern-day resurrection may be.

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