Featured image courtesy of Cycu1 on YouTube.
Earlier this year, From Software announced the development of Dark Souls Remastered (2018), as we all know. You may also know that some have raised concerns over remaking DS1. What would really be the point, they ask? Does DS1 really need updated textures, updated netcode, updated anything? Couldn’t you just replay the game on your last gen consoles since it hasn’t been five years since they were made obsolete? Others have seen fit to respond with the statement that it’s not a remake, but only a remaster. I’m here now to explain why that is a ridiculous statement.
First of all, as per usual, it pays to dissect the language used in this whole incident. The remake is called “Dark Souls Remastered”, for one. If it was anything but a remake, it would be called anything but “Remastered.” Compare it to any of the recent Age of Empires (2013)and Mythology (2014) remakes, all of which now have the word HD in their titles. If From was simply updating the graphics to the game and re-releasing it, they would’ve just called it Dark Souls HD. And while it is true that “master” from which “remastered” derives is a term from the music industry where tracks are mixed and matched to make a final song, this doesn’t, in itself, warrant the use of the term for video games. More on this later.
Secondly, we have to look at who’s playing semantics. When people say “it’s a remaster, not a remake,” they’re not doing this to attack From or Dark Souls Remastered. Instead they’re doing this to defend both parties from both unruly expectations and justified criticisms. Surely, they say, the bar is set much lower for a game if it’s only graphical and gameplay tweaks. No one expects big things from re-releasing a game. They are, of course, right to believe all this; if one simply updates an old game’s graphics and maybe fixes a few bugs here and there, then one escapes the level of expectations players would otherwise have for sequels and reboots.
But the criticisms one could then level at From or Dark Souls Remastered are ones pertaining to the very reason for existing. Why should we pay close to full price ($40 on PS4) for what is essentially an official texture pack? This is an especially valid question for PC users where the modding community has filled these gaps prematurely, and completely free of charge. It has to be said that modding a bad PC port can only do so much; changing the FPS limit from 30 to 60 on PC can’t be done without some minor side-effects. But then no one has ever considered DS1 a bad game because of this, only a bad PC port. Is it fair, then, to re-release the same game in a now fixed state years down the line and expect people to pay for both versions?
And this is where calling it a remaster appears to be an effective answer to the question of buying both versions. Well, they say, it’s only a remaster. Only a graphical update and technical fix, you see. Since it’s the same game, but technically enhanced, you shouldn’t feel obligated to pay for it at all. Thinking of this sort is really more embarassing than it is disgraceful. In trying to defend From or the remake in this shallow way, these voices forget that they should be defending their own wallets from inconsiderate laziness of this kind instead. But they are right on the key point: no one has to buy the remake. This extends to every product at all times, though, so hardly a point in their favor.
The astute reader has observed that I have never failed to call Dark Souls Remastered a remake up to this point. Beyond merely wishing to annoy my opposition, I do have some theoretically sound reasons for doing so. What really makes a remake, one wonders? Besides greed, of course.
Already I’ve brought up the existence of the simple HD re-releases in Age of Empires and Mythology. Beyond that, there are obviously many more examples of remakes. Ocarina of Time (2011) for the 3DS is one of those remakes where really only the visuals and UI is changed. Streamlined is a word for it. On the other end of the spectrum, we have a game like A Link Between Worlds (2013). This game is, by all accounts, a remake of A Link to the Past (1991), the one key difference being the vastly different story it features, both in terms of plot and as reflected in the gameplay. Truthfully, it’s one thing to touch up outdated graphics and call it a day instead of completely reimagining the entire game.
I’m not here to say that Dark Souls Remastered is a remake on the level of A Link Between Worlds. Comparing the two really is nothing but silly. But I also won’t say that neither Dark Souls Remastered nor the aforementioned Age of Empires and Mythology games are simple remasters. Calling any video game a remaster makes no sense since this term derives from the music industry. In the same way, we wouldn’t call this remake the “director’s cut.” Instead we use words like “edition”, “collection”, and yes, even “remake.” For what goes into updating an outdated game in this way is far more time and effort than simply re-arranging some elements and re-cutting everything down to the final product. It’s not quite as easy as going in and changing some ones into zeroes. But that in itself isn’t the main internal reason to deem it a remake.
You see, part of what constitutes a gaming experience is the way it is played, not just the game you’re playing. This is true on many different levels, such as player input. Playing on a controller is different from playing with a keyboard and mouse, and thus will form different ideas of a game in the player’s mind. Dark Souls 1: Keyboard Edition is an absolutely horrible game, not only because it was never designed to be played that way, but also because it is simply terrible to control and leads to unnecessary frustrations every time it is played. In exactly the same way, the current configuration of ones and zeroes that makes up DS1 on PC is a unique experience, by definition. Everything from the way lighting works to the way one has to use Humanity one by one is specific to that game, that version of the game.
Changing anything as minute as these two things, which the remake does, absolutely impacts the way you experience the game. In the case of Dark Souls, specifically, the player has the feeling that the world is resisting you. Worse, that you’re fighting the world more than you’re fighting the demons and undead. As such, making it easier to spot enemies or easier to use items actually makes the world less hostile and the game easier to play. Part of what makes DS1 a triumph in the minds of many is the feeling of dread and depressive atmospheres in places like Blighttown where lighting is scarce and ugly. The dark look of the game is what puts you off from it while the thought of overcoming the initial dread, your perseverance, in other words, is its own reward. Making Blighttown brighter takes away from the severity of these feelings of dread and overcoming, even if the enemies are just as hostile. For what initially motivated you to continue was the desire to overcome your fear to continue, the darkness being the primal agent in evoking that fear.
Beyond this, in a way that is not unique to Dark Souls, the remake has to be a different version. At the risk of presenting a circular argument, a different version of a game has to actually be different. If making a game brighter and easier to play does not constitute a different version, then all you’re looking at is an officially modded version of the same game you already own. Therefore even the slightest changes made to a game in a later release, does a different version make. Therefore, it makes no sense to call it remastered when the game is being remade.
In a way that will not stop From Software from developing Dark Souls Remastered, or even calling it Dark Souls Remake, I have presented you the case for calling a remake a remake. If companies are going to push their rejects on us regardless, we may as well look them in the eyes while they’re doing it and see that that’s what’s going on. Maybe some day one of us will then also wish to open his mouth and say something before all of us have to bite the bullet.