This weekend I started playing the original Resident Evil again, using the remastered edition that Capcom released a couple years ago. I haven’t touched the game since I played it on my friend’s PlayStation all the way back in 1997, when he introduced it as the third or fourth exhibit in the case he was building for his console being better than our mutual friend’s Nintendo 64 or my own aging PC.
The voice acting in Castlevania SotN was replaced in later ports. Not just with better acting, but with a different script that had none of the charm of the original.
Also, Square-Enix replacing the sprite art with awful, ugly redrawn art in all of their Final Fantasy ports. And, more specifically, changing the font from the old blocky pixel fonts to Arial or something similarly generic. It looks ugly as sin, and makes me never want to play those games.
The original Alone in the Dark (Resident Evil’s spiritual ancestor) is what always comes to mind for me here. I wrote about it a few years ago. The janky graphics and sound (and my relative youth at the time) made the game much scarier; in hindsight, it’s more just bizarre and goofy.
I think this is especially true of a lot of games from the early 3D era. Pixel art holds up much better than low-poly PS1 stuff.
I’ve been thinking about Another World a lot recently, I think because somebody linked me to a negative review of the game that I felt missed the point. There’s no other game that looks and feels the way that Another World does (especially on the Genesis) and a lot of that is driven home by the cutscenes. They look awkward and so, so dated today, but I love seeing them when I go back to that game (even this youtube video of a VHS transfer of the game does the aesthetic trick for me)
Also, I echo the sentiment of @BBAlpert on Video Game Theatre, one of the funniest endeavors by Polygon
Silent Hill 2’s voice acting is intensely awkward and alien to a degree you rarely see anymore, but there’s something about it that sounds perfect to me. These people were brought to this otherworldly town at their lowest, and the parts that aren’t filled to the brim with monsters exist somewhere between an unfortunate small town reality and a nightmare. James sounds appropriately dazed, detached, especially considering what brought him there in the first place.
I also found myself missing Shadow of the Colossus’ PS2 slowdown in the PS3 port: these gigantic, detailed monsters would bring the system to its knees, and as you struggled to move through, it felt like an extension of your own life or death battle. That’s why I’ve always been uncomfortable with the obsession with 60 FPS: sometimes, a lower frame rate can move you.
I realized how much of a difference it made that James’ voice actor, who was essentially a random recently coming out of a divorce, who knows next to nothing in the art of voice acting and was only there so his daughter could audition for the role of Laura managed to get the role of James. It all came down to spontaneity, he was in a new world just as much as James Sunderland was. There was no preparedness, no experience to be found, he was just there and had to go forward…and it worked wonderfully. He was the guy for the job. It’s also a reminder that sometimes it simply doesn’t fit to just think critically. His performance is a big fat zero, but it is engrossing. Sometimes experience is not the scale to rate everything in a creative work.
I know I can’t ever argue about this because in today’s discussion, it would be seen as a heresy but this framerate is mine now. I love my sub-20 fps, I own it. I delight in the drops in framerate everytime I roam with my horse, I delight in seeing overuse of motion blur everytime it dips down too hard, I delight in my PS2 making dying sounds as the colossus is violently shaking his head to topple me out. I lose all that and more in the PS3 remaster, just for the sake of convenience, I’m simply losing out in the deal.
Resident Evil is a very important game to me because a lot of its atmospheric jankiness is there in a very nuanced way based on the trashy Italian zombie flicks its creators clearly loved, down the color palette.* I used to think that was sort of an osmosis thing and not totally intentional but they doubled down on it with the sound design and look of the remake.
As someone who likes fighting games there’s too many things to list here. But the entire course of the genre has been guided by glitches that get exploited so much they get implemented in some kind of official way in later revisions of a game. After the massive explosion of them in the 90s, as budgets and teams dwindled in size for all but the biggest games in the genre, it’s cool to see how much that jankiness is still embraced to change things up. One that does spring to mind is Shen Woo in The King of Fighters 2003. One of his special moves would inadvertently cancel out projectile attacks if timed just right. This wasn’t intentional, but then in later games they gave him an actual move that does this because it was so popular.
Two games I REALLY love for their junkiness are Shin Megami Tensei and Persona 1. They’re junky game, full stop. But they’re also junky games that have incredibly oppressive atmospheres because of how their limitations and junkiness are exploited. Both are from before the days of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, when the games were primarily played from a first person perspective like Wizardry. In SMT1 while walking from square to square is relatively smooth, you don’t see any potential enemies OR people to talk to or interact with while walking around. Instead stuff just pops up in front of you after you take a step. With the number of dream sequences, gory descriptions, and general apocalyptic nature of the game it adds a great, extra nightmarish feel to it.
With Persona 1, this is stupid but okay so in Persona 1 you move around a world map. Then when you enter a location you’ll be in a small over head area with 2D sprites of your characters/etc. where you can walk around and talk to folks. During these points they…were too cheap to animate any of the sprites besides the player’s. So any time something dramatic happens where a character has to say run to another character or whatever, the screen fades to black, you hear a sound effect of whatever’s happening, and the it fades back in with the character in their new position. I just love that, I don’t know why.
I cannot stand modern Final Fantasy games specifically because they seem to have kept their lo-fi traditions going in a high-definition world and it drives me insane.
The best examples of this to me are FFVII and Crisis Core, two games in the same universe with the same aesthetic and characters. In FFVII, the low polygon characters meant every single action had to be broad and overdone in order to get the emotion across, and the same was true of the dialog. Cloud couldn’t have a subtle facial expression to show his feelings, he had to throw his hands in the air wildly and talk about how upset he was.
Flash forward to Crisis Core, a game with very detailed character models and the ability to do subtle storytelling and… they don’t. At all. When Zack is a little disappointed about something, he slumps down at the waist and droops his shoulders. When he’s proud, he puffs out his chest like a balloon and cockily thumbs his chest. He goes on, at great length, about everything. They don’t need to do these things anymore, and watching realistic looking humans act like marionettes is bizarre.
I miss the simple art style and intense emotions of the earlier games because they added to the fun. Painting with a wide brush made these simple pixels come to life, and it allowed for more outlandish stuff to be taken in stride. Imagine a photo-realistic Kefka walking around and cackling all the time and FFVI becomes embarrassing. Why would anyone let that dude within 100 feet of a butter knife, let alone an army when he’s dressed like a jester and acts like he bathes in mercury?
That lo-fidelity let games get away with a lot of absurd nonsense that was just taken in stride, and I miss that some times.
After playing through the Mushroom Kingdom section of Super Mario Odyssey, part of me thinks it would be awesome to play a top-to-bottom remake of Super Mario 64 with modern graphics and camera controls. But there’s something to be said for its sparse and bluntly polygonal landscape. Night in the Woods writer/designer Scott Benson once tweeted about how there’s something haunting to Mario 64’s environments, with early 3D world design so limited that things like towers and underwater towns are basically abstracted.
The Raven Software Star Wars games (Jedi Outcast and Academy)… I see them as the B-Movies of the Star Wars Universe and the jankiness of the animations/cutscenes combined with the cheesy writing makes me love them so much.
Learning your way around the jank of Daggerfall was an essential part of the experience. Every time you entered a dungeon you wouldn’t know if you’d fall through the floor, run into a high level creature or it may have been physically impossible to reach a quest objective due to the layout. Add to that the fact you’d lose guild reputation for not completing a quest, failure would mean reloading a save prior to even accepting it.
It was a nightmare but I was young and had time to deal with it and was rewarded with the most expansive game world ever attempted. Finishing a quest was so satisfying when your up against that many bugs!
This makes me wonder - in how many cases (not yours necessarily) does this kind of thing come from a nostalgia-tinged papering over of flaws? I say this because it seems like, to a certain extent, games like this are enjoyed despite their bugginess, not because of them. That seems easier to do with the benefit of hindsight, and also when you take into account that the farther back into a person’s life you go, you’re likely to find out they had less and less independent access to something new to play.
Pushing through and finding the diamond in the rough is nice, but - I guess what I’m curious about is, what would happen if we were to take, say, Daggerfall, and drop it relatively wholesale through a time portal into today? Taking into account graphics, if the nuts and bolts of the game were the same and similarly buggy, would the game have the same reception now?
I’m well aware of anime, the difference between anime and something like modern Final Fantasy games is that anime is still by and large incredibly simplistic. An anime character does not look like a passable human being in the way that Noctis looks like a dude with really bad hair. You take the style of one thing and impose it on another and it looks wrong just like if you took a stage performance and made it into a movie it would look terrible. Having lifelike human characters perform in an anime style just looks wrong and absurd. It’s fine if you’re doing it for laughs, but Final Fantasy isn’t.
Part of it might be that it took a bit of time for developers to make 3D graphics where a CRT’s relative differences from today’s screens work stylistically. When I read your post I immediately thought of a lot of PS1 games from 1999-ish rather than any of its earlier stuff.
A cool early example is the King’s Field games though, I love that series and it looks raw as hell in the best way possible.
You might dig the look of the PS1/Saturn game Baroque, great soundtrack too. It’s an interesting one to compare because it has a very intentionally jagged, hostile appearance that takes advantage of quirks everyone today normally tries to avoid with 3D. Sting did a low budget remake of it for the PS2 and Wii that, while still a good game, seriously loses a lot with the newer graphics.