From Crash Bandicoot to Kingdom Hearts to LA Noire, this year brought a host of remakes and re-releases.
Header illustration by Tom Humberstone
— Sometimes there doesn't feel like there's space in the modern world for mythology. Every day is already so full of larger than life characters. History seems to be written, and rewritten, at a speed that's sometimes terrifying. It takes everything I have to keep up with it sometimes. Our tradition of oral storytelling has faded, favored by methods that give more concrete, and less interpretive, records of our daily struggles. Maybe demons, thunder gods, and dragons feel a bit distant when I've been given the tools to write myself in as the protagonist of the story.
But that's also why I love video games. Here old myths are given new life, and new myths are born from the legacies of the characters that I grew up with. To me, the Belmonts are as important to the myth of vampires as Dracula himself. Mega Man sits alongside Greek tragic heroes in his reluctant struggle to bring peace both to his world and his conscience. And like a lot of good mythology, there's a desire to return to and reinterpret it. We are generation remix, after all.
So the heroes of my youth returned again this year in new adventures and retellings of old ones, maybe embellished a little bit more this time for the new generation.
Our fuzzy friend Crash returned in a surprise resurrection, spinning his way through jungles, labs, fields of snow and even time itself. Oh, and many, many stacks of crates. Vicarious Visions saw fit to oversee this retelling, coloring in vivid details from the more vaguely penciled lines of the original, but maybe adding in a few more unintended pratfalls with their fuzzy collisions.
At a certain intersection of myth and merry melody came Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Prologue. Kingdom Hearts brought Disney's own takes on mythology into a world with the Square Enix's own legends, and Final Prologue both retells an old tale and teases a new one. Dream Drop Distance's portable tale is brought onto a larger stage, and the aforementioned prologue brings a brief glimpse into the world of the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3, aiming to capture the magic of its strange crossover after over a decade of quiet.
Of course for each of the more playful there's a darker reflection, and we saw a return of the more urban legends as well. Though maybe a bit fresher in our minds than others, L.A. Noire returned with its police procedural, and a look into the troubled mind of detective Cole Phelps. Once again we were free to explore the streets of a post-world war Los Angeles, though maybe this time with more ambiguity to finding the right response during interviews.
In place at once more contemporary and less modern, The Silver Case finally reached our shores, and brought with it another case or two. Its world has been drawn in sharper color this time, but remains a somewhat ambiguous, wrapped in surreal visions of crime, politics, and told through differing perspectives. In a way, The Silver Case is an origin myth, joined alongside Moonlight Syndrome and Flower, Sun, & Rain as the palette from which Suda Goichi would later drawn upon.
Yakuza brought us a similar return to the origin of urban myth and the criminal underworld. Yakuza Kiwami gave us a fresh look at the first chapter in a sprawling saga of crime families, political dealings and double crossings, paying close attention to the cinematography and storytelling of the original Yakuza while adding new stories alongside it.
Yakuza 0 acted as strange sort of bookend—it's both a prequel to Kiwami and the original Yakuza, but a clear peak to a style of storytelling that the team's been honing for several games. Both brought in a new audience for the long running saga of crime.
Telling a story again is the way we keep our mythology alive...
But even with the love for the urban myths, there's still plenty of space for swords and sorcery. Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age brought back the complex combat and politics of the world of Ivalice. There's more texture this time around, with the pace sped up for this retelling. Around four times as fast, if you really want. There seemed to be a bit more appreciation this time for a story that's had a long standing reputation of not quite living up to the legacy of Final Fantasy's mythos.
Tales of empires and kings remain popular however, and sometimes we see stories made for the big stage be adapted for a traveling troupe. Dragon Quest 8 returned once again for 3DS this year. It had returned previously for iOS, but this time it felt a little more comfortable. It's a cozy fit, for the cozy world of Dragon Quest.
Sometimes you want to find a story a little less well traveled. Enter The Dragon's Trap, a remake of Wonderboy 3 for the Master System. Despite, or maybe because of, having so many divergent retellings, Wonderboy 3 remained a quietly loved tale. The original was ported to a few systems, sometimes with entirely new characters or licenses obscuring its origins. The Dragon's Trap remakes the SEGA original, sticking close in play, but giving it a beautiful new presentation and orchestral score. It is truly lavish, and gives a new generation a chance to appreciate it. You can feel the passion Lizardcube had for the original game in all of it. There are fans of the other tellings of Wonderboy, however. Some even went as far as recreating Turma da Monica, the Brazil-only licensed version of Wonderboy 3, in the same hand drawn art style in a mod for The Dragon's Trap.
And how can we talk about fan creations without telling the story of Sonic Mania? Sonic Mania is the result of years of efforts by fans to tell their own original story with the beloved Sonic characters. Modders and hackers build a culture of fan remixing around Sonic the Hedgehog, and this year their efforts came to a peak with Sonic Mania, an official Sonic game by the fans. It's a brilliant return to 2D for a beloved character who has himself gone through so many interpretations. Those interpretations all feel alive here, with even obscure characters from spin-offs making a reappearance. The game, the music, even the opening movie, each gave a generation who'd grown up with Sonic a chance to tell his story.
Sonic's not the only pop hero to return. The Blue Blur had a revival this year, but the Blue Bomber is set for one in the next. Mega Man's history was celebrated recently with anthologies of his first 10 major adventures, and Mega Man 11 was announced this month, 7 years after the last game in the series. Like so many of these other icons of game mythology, Mega Man has a history that's spanned decades, and his return is another chance at keeping the character alive in people's minds.
Next year seems like a good year for lovers of robots in general. Zone of Enders 2 is given a fresh remaster, and Virtual-On, out of the picture for so long, returns with a new collaboration with A Certain Magical Index.
But some myths are made not by the repeated adventures of their characters, but by the goliath impact of their singular stories. The tragedy of Wander and the Colossus comes to PS4 next year, joining a generation of retellings.
This constellation of remakes and revivals can sometimes make it feel as if we've no new stories to tell. But a look at our history, and the way we've told stories can show us otherwise. Telling a story again is the way we keep our mythology alive, how we remind ourselves of the wonder we felt the first time around, and pass it onto those after us. It is important that we don't forget the original tales, but there is a magic in seeing a story with new eyes.