The idea of a remake is nothing special. The concept of it has existed ever since the media existed. The idea is simple, take what's old and recreate it, be it in the spirit of the original or putting one’s unique spin on it. Take an old movie from the black and white Hays film code era and remake it with color and an update on a story. Applying this concept to gaming is no different; it has gotten far more prevalent ever since the rise of the hobby.
Nowadays, what was once perceived by the general public as a nerdy hobby has now broken into the mainstream as a common cause to kill the clock. As the newer generations of consoles arrive to a bigger audience, many companies dealing in video games tend to rely on an old tactic: rerelease a video game onto newer consoles. The idea seems sound on a business level: the company sells a game the fans love, so they get their sales from older fans while getting the chance to hook newer consumers into their older IP. As such they will release it and call it a remaster. Or a remake. Or a rerelease?
Understandably it may seem ridiculous to get in over what ultimately amounts to semantics, but the way one labels their re-releases can matter a surprising lot to its consumer base. Technically, all three categories of video game rereleases (rerelease, remaster, remake) tend to be mixed up and confused by video game fans, each of whom holds a unique expectation over what to expect when they buy something so simple as a remake of their game. Moreover what is not helping matters is how companies tend to be guilty of using these terms interchangeably, further adding to the small yet substantial confusion, especially in the case of “remaster” and “remake.”
From a passerby perspective, the semantics behind remake and remaster seem odd and not worth considering. If remakes and remasters both mean to recreate a game, why should it matter if they mean the same thing? It shouldn’t matter, but in the end, I believe it means a lot to those who buy video games, not just fans. Both these words bring up a specific set of expectations the consumer base shares on what to expect from a remake. To start things simple, many people expect a re-release to be that: a simple release of a game with nothing substantial changed about it. The product could sometimes be argued to be a port to modern consoles.
However, when one mentions the notion of a remaster and a remake, people generally start to think differently. What is typically expected of a remake, especially from video game fans, is a complete reimagining of their favorite video game. The graphics are updated to modern standards, controls are tweaked for better feedback, and the gameplay is kept the same but perhaps improved in certain areas where people have addressed complaints. The general public has accepted this notion, as this idea of a remake has been a thing since even the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).
Likewise, when one mentions a remaster, people, tend to lean on the notion of video games being released onto modern consoles, but the most that change is a graphical update with nothing else about the game being changed. At most, a new feature is added to incentivize consumers to pick up the product. This type of rerelease has become prevalent ever since third-party companies began to port over games to the Playstation 4 (PS4), Xbox 1, and Steam. The origins of this idea likely came from this period precisely.
Although small, these ideas create the expectation of people when they hear companies throw around the term "remakes” and “remasters” with this information, therefore it should be simple to understand what to expect. This would be the case, but companies (and even some people) have demonstrated a lack of consistency between the two terms. Take, for instance, the release of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy released in 2019.
Though the publisher deems it as a remastering of the games, many fans argue that the game should be considered a remake, featuring graphics beyond a simple texture update and new features not available in the original PlayStation 1 release. At the same time, others would consider it a remaster, as they would argue that the core gameplay remains the same.
Moreover, the ideas of a remake and remaster tend to be compared against each other whenever a game has both; the prevalence of this is The Last of Us, which had both a remaster and a remake.
Within this discourse, some argue that the 70-dollar remake doesn’t change enough to justify its high price point and even its title as a remake, with its changes lying more in the camp of remasters, with the actual remaster being more worth the purchase.
Furthermore, the scathing criticism lies in the update to graphics appearing more of a texture update rather than a significant upgrade to graphics than fans expect. However, those favoring the remake would argue that the graphical update is substantial enough, alongside the game sporting several features not present in the original or the remaster. The result is an overall confusing discourse with no clear answers.
In conclusion, when viewing the issue retrospectively, the confusion behind what is considered a remake or a remaster pales in comparison to other concerns people hold in the industry, such as the increased price of video games and questionable monetization schemes. However, fans have developed an idea of what a remake and a remaster should be. As long as companies continue to use the term interchangeably, so will this minor but prevalent confusion persist. Doubly so, as the notion of remaking things will continue to be a significant aspect of the media we consume.
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