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Video Game Remakes, Remasters, Re-Releases: What’s the Difference?

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The Last of Us Part 1 Remake was released recently and got a lot of people talking about what makes a video game a remake. Lots of similar words get thrown around when a new iteration of an older game comes out: remake, remaster, and rerelease, and trying to figure out what each of them means can be confusing. To clear up some of this confusion, let’s take a look at each of these terms and what type of games fall under each of them.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Wrath (2021)

Let’s start with what is probably the easiest to understand. A re-release is when a company releases and releases a pre-existing game that they have previously released. This is usually for porting the game to another console. An example of this is when Dragon Ball FighterZ originally released on PS4, Xbox One and PC and later re-released on Nintendo Switch.

The game’s assets and content are usually exactly the same as the first time, although sometimes you can get “extended ports” which are still the same game but may have some additional content. Many of the Wii U ports for the Switch are like this, offering new content to encourage players to buy an older game, like the new Bowser’s Fury section added to Super Mario 3D World.

The re-release and porting of games like this is important as it gives the game access to a larger market beyond those who owned the original console. This is especially true when that original console was something like the Wii U, which very few people owned.

Final Fantasy VIII (1999) vs. Final Fantasy VIII HD Remaster (2019)

A remaster is when the original game is re-released but the graphical fidelity is improved. This is most common when a game is released on a standard definition (SD) console and later ported to a high definition (HD) console. The PS3 generation in particular has many HD remasters as it is one of the first HD consoles. The game and its world will be upgraded to a higher resolution for the more advanced machine. This results in sharper textures and cleaner character models.

There are numerous examples of HD remasters, many bundling multiple games to give more value to the port, like Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix or The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection.

Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (2014)

A remake is when a previously created game is made from scratch with new assets, graphics, and possibly new controllers or game features. These are usually created for new consoles years after the original was released, to make the game more accessible to new audiences that may have been too young to play the original. Pok√©mon fans who haven’t been able to try Ruby and Sapphire may be able to play their remakes: Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

Shadow of the Colossus (2018)

Some remakes such as Bluepoint Games’ Shadow of The Colossus Remake and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part 1 aim to be as similar to the original as possible, although the games are still being built from the ground up using new assets. This has caused some confusion among players, as at first glance they arguably look more like remasters of the original games (which both titles have already received) than full remakes.

While it’s easy for fans to look down on remakes or HD remasters because they’re so similar to the original game, most of the time when you put them side by side you’ll see a clear difference in quality. It could even be surmised that these remakes look so similar to the original because that’s how we imagined the original game to be. I mean have you seen the original PS2 Shadow of The Colussus? Brilliant game but probably a little blurrier than you remember.

Video Game Remakes Remasters
Resident Evil 2 (2019)

On the other hand, some remakes are quite different from the original game, so they can be considered less of a remake and more of a reinterpretation. They can still roughly follow the original game’s plot points, but have an entirely new combat system or add new characters. These are significant as they can often serve as a reboot for the series, serving as a fresh start that can act as a springboard for new fans.

Good examples include Resident Evil 2 (2019), Tsukihime – A Piece of Blue Glass Moon, and Final Fantasy VII Remake, which despite its name is more of a soft reboot and maybe even a sequel to the original Final Fantasy VII games.

Video Game Remakes Remasters
Soul Calibur VI (2018)

There are many different ways to bring a game or series to new audiences, with the best way varying by game. Some remakes or remasters have been mistreated, like the glitchy XIII Remake (2020), but for the most part, remakes and remasters are a good thing.

A fresh entry into a series, no matter what it is, can help open the franchise to new audiences and attract a new player base. Sometimes a remake or reimagining can even help breathe new life into a series like Soul Calibur VI, rebooting the franchise and undoing Soul Calibur V’s unpopular plot points.

Video Game Remakes Remasters
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (2017)

They can also be a surefire way for companies to test the water and relaunch a long-dormant series, like with Trials of Mana (2020) or The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, eventually leading to Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, the first all-new Crash game in about a decade.

As nostalgia continues to sell and the demand for video game preservation increases, we’re likely to see more re-releases, remakes, and remasters, and if that means more new content for my favorite series, I’m all for it.

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