Lately, Hollywood has what many consider a bad habit. They’re rebooting film franchises left and right. Here, have a Ghostbusters reboot. Have Teen Wolf. Have Batman. Whenever folks start to complain about this pattern, lamenting the fact that there are no original ideas in Hollywood anymore, I want to shake them by the lapels and scream, “Do you remember American Graffiti?”
No, of course they don’t. My generation doesn’t remember American Graffiti, because it wasn’t made for us. Even the biggest geeks don’t recall George Lucas’ 1973 film classic, because it looks nothing like Star Wars or THX-1138.
See, American Graffiti was pure nostalgia for come-of-age Baby Boomers who were settling into adulthood in the early ’70s. Set in 1962, the film follows four high school graduates on the last night of their last summer vacation before college. It perfectly captures mid-century American car culture – central to the plot are a 1958 Chevrolet Impala and a 1956 Ford Thunderbird – and what it meant to be a young adult in the post-war era.
There’s a reason American Graffiti came along in 1973 and not earlier. Sure, Lucas wasn’t really old enough to make the film any sooner, but I mean a reason bigger than that. It’s because the film would not have been nearly as lucrative. Its target audience – young Boomers – would have had the disposable income in the early 1960s, but the movie would have meant very little to them at the time; it’s an accurate representation of teen culture, but it didn’t have the glossy sheen of nostalgia to add to its attractiveness.
And that’s what so many fail to understand when they complain about franchise reboots. They are, more often than not, timed for optimal financial return. Like it or not, the production company’s business model is not centered on creating a pure art form; it’s designed to make money. As such, production companies are rehashing old ideas, not because they have nothing else, but because those ideas sell, and sell well. They’re selling nostalgia, and moviegoers are paying to relive their childhoods.
But what does all this have to do with video games?
In recent years, particularly with the release of the latest console generation, the video game landscape has begun to look remarkably similar to those of film and television. Blockbuster titles from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3’s later years began to pop up, remastered, on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Some, such as The Last of Us, turned around more quickly than others.
Just like the film industry, the video game world has a long history of rereleasing hit titles on newer consoles. The porting practice has made popular games truly timeless, making it possible for gamers to bring their favorite titles to newer, incompatible consoles.
Ports of older games – such as DuckTales or Earthworm Jim – often receive generous upgrades to visual and audio quality. Such will certainly be the case with Final Fantasy VII Remake: a ground-up rebuild of Squaresoft’s 1997 smash-hit. But that upcoming game is poised to change the state of video game remakes as we know them.
Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t the first game to be rebuilt from scratch. After all, the Pokémon franchise has already successfully revived its first three generations, and Square’s own Final Fantasy III got its first North American release as a Nintendo DS remake. However, these games are outliers in an industry that favors long-awaited sequels to revivals, and Final Fantasy VII Remake stands out as a Triple-A console title: a unicorn, even in the porting world.
Square Enix’s long-awaited Remake is in a position to take the industry by storm, revitalizing the JRPG genre and ushering in a parade of classic game remakes. The porting trend has, arguably, floated the Xbox One and the PS4 long enough for companies to bring out exclusive titles to beef up the consoles’ relatively small game libraries. With so many great JRPGs waiting in the wings for revival, it looks as if Final Fantasy VII Remake might be the hero we’ve been waiting for.
Although it may seem as if the video game industry is boarding the nostalgia train pretty late, it’s actually right on schedule. Those of us who played Final Fantasy VII and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as elementary school students are now adults with careers and families. Not only do we have the money to buy these remakes and relive our childhood experiences, but we’re also compelled to pass them along to the children in our lives. Seen in this light, there’s no better time to remake the games we all grew up enjoying.
If you don’t like the concept of film franchise reboots, then it’s probably safe to say you aren’t looking forward to the trend reaching gaming. Keep in mind, however, that nostalgia sells and is usually a win-win. Think about it: you get to relive a childhood classic with the most up-to-date graphics your money can buy, while your purchase funds new, original products from publishers and developers, which you will – in turn – purchase and play. Reviving old favorites isn’t a cop-out; it’s just good business.