What’s in a remaster?

Why are some considered such a disappointment, and others acclaimed?

The last few years have seen their fair share of remastered games. Why exactly these remasters came out has varied. It has ranged from a need for a port ( The last of us on PS4) to making past classics available on modern consoles. It’s difficult to debate that these remasters are ultimately appreciated by the gaming community. However, one important question has to be addressed.

What exactly should a remaster offer audiences? It’s a tough question to crack, and a topic which has already divided many gamers.

The following analysis will attempt to find some meaning in the confusion. Using three games as examples, we’ll try and piece together what is or isn’t satisfying in a remastered game. These games will include Dark Souls remastered, Shadow of the Colossus and Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. Let’s dive right in.

Dark Souls Remastered

It would be an understatement to say that fans of the soulsborne series are excited for the remastering of Dark Souls. The intricate level design, as well as punishing combat has made FromSoftware’s game a founding father of the modern action RPG. However, that’s not to say that there wasn’t a share of dissapointed fans when it came to the remaster. While the pragmatic had anticipated a low level of redesign, some still clung to hope (silly hollows).

Indeed, it’s not entirely ridiculous.  The studio might have taken this opportunity to rework areas of the game which remain disappointing. While the frame rate issues associated with Blighttown have been confirmed fixed; fans hoped that Lost Izalith would finally be given the makeover it needed. For those who haven’t played the game, the area is very clearly unfinished. Large swathes of terrain are simply covered in lava, and populated with the ‘Bounding Demons of Izalith’. We’re not talking 4 or 5 here, with smart placement. We’re talking a whole lot and placed haphazardly.

That said, the remaster never claimed to touch up these locations. Very early on following the Nintendo Direct announcement, it was made clear that this remaster would concern itself with frame rate and texture before anything else. Still, the communities polarized response to this promise makes it clear that we’ve come to expect varying degrees of work in a remaster.

So, was it irrational for fans to believe FromSoftware would change Lost Izalith? Maybe. But it’s this sort of miscommunication and lack of a clear standard in remasters which leaves fans dissapointed. Indeed, the studio made itself a target to such criticism when it released Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. Why? Let’s take a closer look.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

Scholar of the First Sin was an attempt by director Hidetaka Miyazaki to harmonize the second entry in his beloved series. While he served as a supervisor on both DSII and the re-release; there was a concerted effort by his team to flesh out the lore in the game. This was done primarily by changing NPC dialogue and altering enemy placements.  However, Scholar also added a touch of visual storytelling to what was already a great game. So when fans of the series look to the upcoming Dark Souls remaster, it’s understandable that expectations rise quickly. Miyazaki and FromSoft have already demonstrated an willingness to alter one of their games to better flesh out areas which fell to the wayside.

Indeed, both these games introduced an older Dark Souls game to new consoles, and both include DLC as a combined package. It’s simply not enough to claim that Dark Souls just couldn’t be improved upon. Several of the later zones, and now-infamous bosses could benefit from a rework. Heck, to this day, the Bed of Chaos is still a special form of pure evil! It is still the only boss which was designed in such an infuriating manner as to require that player progress be preserved between attempts at defeating it.

I already hear the cries of anger. Scholar wasn’t a remaster, it was re-release! Indeed it was, but the fact that this must be specified and that it entails criteria which remain opaque is in and of itself a problem. What players got in SotfS very much resembled what will be coming with the DS1 Remaster. That includes updated textures and some work to lighting. Why one remaster was given more thought than the other, is a mystery.

This takes me to the third example, Shadow of the Colossus released recently for the PS4.

Shadow of the Colossus: The Prodigal Child

Bluepoint’s remaster of Shadow of the Colossus stands apart from the games I discussed above, and for an important reason. The PS2 game remaster was the second to be produced by the studio, so they had some serious experience converting Team Ico’s vision to new consoles. But that can’t explain in and of itself why the PS4 remaster was so well received, why so few fans were dissapointed in it.

Shadow of the Colossus is a majestic game, just like Dark Souls, but it benefits even more clearly from sharper images and reworked textures. The game centers so much on “painting landscapes” for the player that very little of the game’s enjoyment comes from what one could dub ‘traditional gameplay’. So when Bluepoint remasters the classic, and rebuild the graphics engine to fit within today’s standards, the actual gameplay experience doesn’t have to change at all. The Colossi were unchanged, but the feeling of exhilaration one gets when playing the game doesn’t entirely rely on them doing so. It’s about the sublime landscapes, the sense of scale! Both of these elements were touched up with the engine changes.

PC v. Console

After this overview, one thing still has to be addressed. There is an apparent connection between the systems on which the game releases, and the expectations which fans may have concerning the remaster. For one, it seems that Dark Souls Remastered gets a particularly bad wrap given the extent of players who now own the game on PC. Community mod DSFix has been providing Souls fans with quality texture replacements and quality of life changes for a few years now. When the screenshots of the PS4 remaster came out, fans were dissapointed to notice that they’re version of Dark Souls 1 on PC was more vibrant. While this can be due to the reworked fog and tweaks to the light engine, it was a major letdown for fans.

Another point to keep in mind is that Shadow of the Colossus and other games such as The last of Us are PlayStation exclusives. Would these games have been released on PC, one could easily bet that graphical mods would exist within the year. In such a situation, their remaster might just elicit the same disappointment as Dark Souls Remastered.

So what is a remaster?

Given the previous examples, it’s clear the industry still hasn’t figured it out. While many have come to associate a remaster with texture and lighting work, many would hope for a different standard. That a remaster should almost feel like a new game. In the case of some games, this is an easier task to achieve if the studio is willing to invest time. The Resident Evil remaster is a perfect example of that, given the huge graphical leap it provided fans.

How do we define a remaster as opposed to a remake? Does one entail more work that the other?

Indeed, some games don’t benefit as much from graphical overhauls. A remastered game such as Dark Souls, which relies on knowledge of the world and enemy placement should include more. While some fans will be thrilled to see Dark Souls run at 60 FPS, PC players remain alienated.

Perhaps, there is a lesson to learn from the Skyrim: Special Edition re-release on PC. If there is increased stability in the base game, modders may be offered more variety and options in the upcoming years by using the Remaster as a basis. Without confirmation from FromSoftware, or release, that remains nothing more than a speculation.

What do you think belongs in a remaster? Why? Let us know in the comments below!


Cédrick studies law, but his passion lies in gaming. PC is his platform, PS4 is his bloodborne machine, Dark Souls is his true love.

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