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10/28/2019

Five underdog games that should get a remake/reboot (but probably won't)

In no particular order.

Xenogears (Squaresoft, 1998)

Xenogears is an RPG loved and hated in about equal measure.  On one hand, it might just be the most impressively cinematic PS1 game ever made - the camera work, environments, dialog and writing are impressive and lavishly-produced, like a high-concept anime series on a game disc. On the other hand, its dragging pace, repetitious combat, mediocre dungeon design and uneven tone, as well as the fact that it was released very unfinished, earns it a lot of ire too.  It was a game that was just a bit too ambitious for its time (and had a few too many cooks in the kitchen), and while Tetsuya Takahashi has tried again to replicate its success with games like Xenosaga and the Xenoblade Chronicles franchises, neither has achieved quite the same level of acclaim as the first one he made under Square.  It'd be a lot of paperwork to sort out all the legalities and reassemble the original dev team, and convincing Nintendo to give a budget worthy of its scope would be a nightmare in itself, but I would love to see a remake that tells the tale of Xenogears as it was originally envisioned.

Fighting Vipers (Sega AM2, 1996/2001)


Fighting games were enormous in the 1990s, with seemingly every company trying to get their own slice of the pie. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat (and the numerous spinoffs thereof) were the clear winners in popularity, but several others got their starts here too - Soul Edge, Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Guilty Gear to name a few of the more prominent ones.  Fighting Vipers is one that seemingly just got lost in the shuffle, though, being unpopular in the arcades and only seeing a brief stint of success on the Saturn during the 1996 holiday season (and as part of the crossover game, Fighters Megamix).  However, I've always been a fan of its fast-paced, hard-hitting street fighting style, as well as some relatively unique mechanics in breakable armor, a heavy emphasis on juggling and the ability to land devastating smashing hits that send the enemy flying (even through the ring wall if you win a round with them).  It had an even less well-known sequel that saw an unceremonious, no-frills home port on the Dreamcast in Europe and Japan late in the system's life, but that wasn't enough to stir up interest and the series has remained largely dormant since then, save for a little-promoted port to Xbox Live Arcade and PSN.  Fighting Vipers should get another chance at the limelight, especially given that fighting games have risen to stardom again.

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (Sega, 1991)


Generally regarded as the black sheep of the Phantasy Star franchise, but again, I've always been a fan of it.  It's a uniquely bizarre game with some weird enemy designs and a setting that appears to be a standard fantasy world, but quickly delves into heavy science fiction elements too, all with a surreal bent and some surprisingly good music throughout.  Not to mention some relatively unique mechanics for 1991 - namely, the ability to view three out of seven potential storylines and four different endings depending upon your choices during the adventure.  Sadly, the game was also rushed out, resulting in a lot of dungeons being cut down, enemies going unused and the story being trimmed down a lot from the original script, so it never achieved the same level of acclaim as the others in the series.  I'd definitely love to a remake that fills in the gaps and shows us the full experience that Alisa III has to offer.

Mega Man Legends (Capcom, 1998)


Mega Man Legends was a promising new turn for the franchise, taking the series into 3D, giving it a creative setting with some charming characters, and working in some RPG and Zelda-like elements - upgrading your character, building weapons out of parts, navigating dungeons and fighting bosses.  All good stuff, but hampered by some clumsy controls (built for the non-analog PS1 controller), frustrating difficulty fluctuations and some generally just dated design elements, like being unable to lock on to enemies and move at the same time.  But the worst part is that we were frustratingly close to this one - Mega Man Legends 3 was teased for a long time before Capcom abruptly cancelled it, leaving us all high and dry.  Come on guys, there's clearly demand for more of the franchise; hell, you cashed in on it yourselves after Mighty #9 flopped with Mega Man 11.  Dust off those old design docs, port this series over to Unreal 4, polish up the controls a bit, and let us enjoy it at last.

Ultima 8: Pagan/Ultima 9: Ascension (Origin Systems, 1994/2000)


 The final two games in the Ultima franchise are regarded as disappointments by most, and while I do think they have some redeeming qualities, I have to agree for the most part.  Pagan was a bizarre new turn for the series, moving more into being an isometric action game with mouse controls (not a good combination) while trying to retain the puzzle-solving and storytelling aspect of the series.  In the latter it does a better job, though it suffers from being rushed, with large portions of the story and planned dungeons being abruptly dropped or cut completely, not to mention an
extremely anticlimactic showdown with the big bads at the end.  9 fared a bit better, with a spanning, seamless world realized in full 3D for the first time in the series and a much more sensible UI and control scheme; however, it was also very rushed, resulting in a lot of bugs, near-constant crashes in some places, and the original storyline being mostly dropped in favor of one that felt for lack of a better word, childish; this was not aided by some very unimpressive voice acting and cringe-worthy dialog ("What's a paladin?"  "What's the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom?" etc), not to mention a lot of laughably trite speechifying.  It was still a fairly fun game to play at the end of the day, but a far cry in storytelling quality from the series' golden days.  That, plus EA abruptly ending support for the game before many of its bugs could be patched, has left it as a disappointing end to the series for most.  Sadly, while Richard Garriott has tried on many occasions to buy back the IP from EA, they're adamantly holding on to it for reasons that only they know, so we may never see Ultima get the sendoff it truly deserves.  But we can always hold on to the glimmer of hope known as "fan remakes", I suppose.

And a couple of honorable mentions.

Advance Wars - One of the games that defined the Game Boy Advance in its first year, it's an immensely fun turn-based strategy franchise that just abruptly fell off the map around the time Fire Emblem started to become popular.  Probably no coincidence, but come on Intelligent Systems, there's still plenty of love for the franchise; bring it back!

Startropics - I know, I know.  It's been twenty-five years since the last entry, Nintendo has no interest whatsoever in bringing it back outside of the odd Virtual Console or cloud gaming release, but I can always hope Mike Jones will emerge from the dust and go on another weird adventure with Zelda-inspired gameplay in a relatively modern setting, right?