newramza.jpg[“The Blue Key” is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch exclusive column from Connor Cleary, this week looking at the slow ascent of the trend to re-make or upgrade titles from previous generations, and how this can impact the sales of such re-releases and ports.]

When Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions came out in 2007 on the PlayStation Portable, I was more than a little excited at the prospect of having one of my favorite games of all time in the palm of my hand.

So imagine my surprise when I booted it up to find a brand new – and gorgeous – title sequence, and my greater surprise when I found that every single line of dialog has been completely re-written.

Not to mention the beautiful, faux colored pencil animated FMVs with high quality voice overs that have replaced many of the cut scenes that were previously done through the in-game engine and written dialog. Final Fantasy Tactics has always been pretty high on my list of greatest stories ever told in a video game, but it was great despite a pretty clunky, inelegant translation that often left you at a complete loss as to what just happened. It was far from a terrible translation, but it was equally far from a great one.

FFT's incredible narrative took on some lofty themes in a sophisticated way, religion, class warfare, familial allegiance, justice, sacrifice, corruption, and betrayal to name only the most prominent. But the full weight of these efforts was lost in the original translation, emerging despite the dialog more than because of it. This is certainly not the case with The War of the Lions.

Every single piece of text in the game has been rewritten with such incredible skill that I often found myself pausing to read a particular line over and over, because it was written so beautifully.

Whereas the writing in the original clashed terribly with the tone of the game, the knightly and poetic dialect of the update heightens the experience and reinforce the tone of the narrative. If someone were to argue that a video game could never possess any real literary value, I would tell them to play The War of the Lions.

If you were a fan of the original, do not let yourself miss the new version. It is unfortunate that Square Enix didn't add anything to make the game more on-the-go friendly though – I was hoping for an in-battle save feature in the vein of Fire Emblem, since FFT battles can get pretty lengthy.

But I am sure fans will share my feeling that War of the Lions is what Final Fantasy Tactics was meant to be. It is the true fulfillment of the grand artistic vision that was intended – but not quite reached – by the original.

But War of the Lions isn't the only overhauled title that Square Enix has put out recently. The DS hosts a few other much-beloved classics of RPG history with complete re-writes and re-created FMVs, the DS releases of Final Fantasy V and VI are great examples. Much like FFT these games had epic, memorable storylines despite their clunky translations, and in their new releases we can experience those stories in a completely new, and all around better, way.

The above examples are instances of full-game overhauls – from start to finish you are experiencing new, upgraded content in the form of rewritten dialog and the occasional cut-scene – but it actually takes far less than that to get gamers excited about buying a game they already played years ago. We will possibly, maybe consider buying a game we remember fondly, but upgrade that game and we'll be salivating to play the new incarnation.

newchrono.jpgTake the PSOne re-release of Chrono Trigger for example (released alongside the overhauled Final Fantasy IV in the Final Fantasy Chronicles bundle) the only real additions to that game were new anime cut scenes totaling probably less than 15 minutes, and an “Extras” mode with unlockable content like sound tests, a movie viewer, an artwork viewer and a bestiary for the hardcore fans.

But that was enough for me, it was all the excuse I needed to drop another hundred hours into the game. And in the end that's all we really need if it's a game we already love: an excuse to play it again.

Hand-held technology is always one or two generations behind the consoles, so it's always been a great way to cash in on ports of old IPs. But with the advent of direct-download, current-generation consoles now offer easy access to previous-generation games too, this saves developers money on distribution and allows them to offer older titles at low prices.

And speaking from experience here, people will often buy things if it seems like a good deal even if they don't know that they'll ever actually use them, hence the digital version of Twisted Metal 2 sitting on my PS3. (Now, if they added a new vehicle or two that you could unlock by beating the game, I probably would have played it by now.)

Despite the allure of digitizing a preexisting title and tossing it into an online store as-is, hoping for some latent cash-flow, some developers are taking note of the upgrading trend. The PlayStation Store, Xbox Live Marketplace, and Wii Shop each have virtual shelves full of games from previous generations that are available exactly how you remember them.

But quite a few titles among the current wave of re-releases aren't mere ports of old titles, they are upgrades – and additions, even minor ones, will vastly increase the sales potential of a re-release. I think this is a market that has just begun to be tapped, and one that could steal some thunder from used game sales. It wouldn't surprise me to see more of these upgrades or remakes come out, especially through the virtual stores, as we head further into the console generation gap.

To finish up, I'd like to make a few honorable mentions and recommendations for successful remakes that fans should be sure to check out:

I still remember booting up the Game Boy Advance release of Super Mario Advance: my eyes went wide when I realized this was a complete face-life of my beloved Super Mario Bros. 2. Between the upgraded graphics, tighter controls, re-created levels, and re-made UIs it felt like a brand new game with all of the familiarity of a cherished childhood memory.

Another great example is Resident Evil on the GameCube. The original RE was creepy, to be sure, but the remake brought it to a whole new level.

Take a pointy, polygonal PSOne game that was already scary, and give it gorgeous graphics, incredible atmosphere, and great sound, and you've got a truly terrifying experience. Especially since they added a few new mechanics and creatures – like the fast-moving Crimson Head zombies, and the nightmare-inducing Lisa – it feels like less of a remake than a complete re-imagining.

megaman_poweredup.jpgFinally, we have Mega Man: Powered Up for the PSP, an excellent re-make of the original Mega Man, the progenitor of a legacy. It is rendered in side-scrolling 3D with a new kawaii-chibi anime style – but don't worry if you don't love the style, you'll get over it once you start playing.

The voice acting littered throughout the game is so-so, and the dialogue isn't quite top notch, but I don't think there are too many people who play the very-old-school Mega Man games for the story. The gameplay is as fun – and occasionally maddening – as it ever was, and really sticks to the roots of the original.

Each level has a few redesigned elements, but when you boot up the game you choose which version you would like to ply, Powered Up or the original, which has also been re-rendered in the new 3D style, but is otherwise a direct imitation. Powered Up also adds a pair of brand new bosses and levels, as well as a variety of new time-killer game types that run the gamut from incredibly satisfying to PSP-breakingly frustrating.

To top it all off, you can now play through the levels as the previously-unplayable bosses. If you're a Mega Man fan, do not miss this one, it's got tons of replay value as well as pick-up-and-playability.

[Have you played any of the recent re-imaginings / re-makes? The new PSP version of Lunar: Silver Star Harmony? The new Goldeneye for the Wii? Feel free to share your thoughts below, we'd love to hear them.]