As I installed the original Final Fantasy, a game that first came out when I was three years old, on Sony’s most advanced console to date, I came to a realization: almost everything I’ve played this year has been old. Between the remakes, rereleases, and retro collections, it’s been a deluge of nostalgia. And I, for one, have welcomed it.
These kinds of releases are nothing new, of course. What’s been different through the early months is the sheer quantity of classic releases. Two of the biggest blockbusters so far this year — Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 — are remakes of titles from well over a decade ago. They’re both slick and gorgeous updates that don’t look out of place amongst modern big-budget releases, but part of what makes them so appealing is how straightforward they are. No open worlds full of endless quests or live service elements to keep you coming back. And most of those design decisions come down to their age, as these games were made in a very different time with very different expectations. In my review of the Resident Evil 4 remake, I called it “such a video game,” and I meant that as a compliment.
This trend has really forced itself on me over the last week or so. First, Capcom released a collection of the Mega Man Battle Network games, a series I always meant to play and never got around to. And this week, Nintendo launched its remake of the first two Advance Wars games, a series I dearly missed, while Square Enix brought its “pixel remaster” collection of the first six Final Fantasy games to the Switch and PlayStation. Add in the fact that I’ve been replaying the 2D Metroid games and their 3D successor, along with far too much Tetris via Nintendo Switch Online, and well, I’m just drowning in pixels.
This isn’t to say there haven’t been any good new new games this year. I’ve enjoyed Wild Hearts, Season: A Letter to the Future, and the new episode of Coffee Talk. And, like the rest of the world, I’m rearranging my schedule in preparation for Tears of the Kingdom. Modern games can still be great.
But they can also be a lot of work, frequently tuned to be all-consuming experiences that get their hooks in you and not let go. And hey, I love Fortnite as much as anyone, but that’s not all I want from my video games. Whether it’s an elaborate remaster like RE4 or simply putting the opera scene from Final Fantasy VI on my PS5, these games harken back to a simplicity and focus that I often find missing from their modern-day contemporaries. Resident Evil and Final Fantasy are very different experiences, but they give me the same feeling of a singular, complete journey I’m meant to play from beginning to end. The same goes for the other old games I’ve been playing.
Playing — and, in many cases, replaying — these games has been an exercise in reminding myself what can be so great about the medium. The biggest modern releases tend to imitate each other to the point that they can be indistinguishable from one another. This is what makes a lot of indie releases so exciting and, similarly, what has led me back to all of these new versions of old games — so it’s good news for me that this trend shows no sign of stopping.