Back in 2010, Square Enix published the original Nier to a less than stellar critical reception. The game was universally praised for its story, but muddy visuals and a frustrating combat system meant the game would be forever tarnished with a disappointing score of 68 on Metacritic. It would take almost 11 years and a truly astonishing sequel in Nier: Automata for Square Enix to give developer Toylogic a chance to turn Nier into the game that it always had the potential to be. As a result, we now have Nier Replicant, proof that more developers should be given the chance to return to older games to implement new features and fix existing problems by using the lessons learned during the development of their much more successful sequels.
Over the past generation, remakes and remasters have exploded in popularity. Publishers and developers have found that people are willing to pay good money to be able to play improved versions of their favorite games. Remakes like Final Fantasy VII Remake and Crash Bandicoot: The N' Sane Trilogy require a more significant amount of resources to develop and are usually more heavily marketed as a result, whereas remasters typically take a game/franchise and build upon existing work to produce a smoother, better-looking product. Remasters are definitely more common in the industry, but there's an argument to be made that the games that end up receiving remasters are the ones that don't necessarily benefit from them the most.
Incredibly popular games like BioShock, Assassin's Creed II, Dark Souls, and Batman: Arkham Asylum have all had remastered releases on PS4 and Xbox One, yet all of them are already critically and commercially successful. None of these games were made better gameplay-wise, only given a lick of paint and an increased frame rate to bring them up to date with modern releases. This is where Nier Replicant differs.
Nier Replicant is a little different in that it straddles the line between a remaster and a remake. Director Yoko Taro wanted to make it very clear in pre-launch interviews and marketing that the game is much more than a remaster, but not quite a remake. The full title of the game, Nier Replicant ver 1.22474487139..., reflects this quite well, the direct middle point between 1 and 1.5. Instead of simply updating the visuals, Toylogic implemented a new combat system, a new boss fight, and even bolted on an additional ending. It's a fantastic example of a developer revising an older game for a newer audience.
There are plenty of games out there that weren't highly regarded but would benefit from modern changes. The original Assassin's Creed is a fine example of a game that was unique and well-liked enough to warrant a sequel, but its outdated design means that it's difficult to play when compared to more modern Assassin's Creed games. Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations were all remastered instead, infinitely more playable and beloved games, yet less in need of a remaster.
However, this isn't me saying that I don't think remasters of popular games should exist at all. The steady rise in the number of remasters has its critics, but I personally find them to be a great way to reintroduce older games to new people, especially if the game wasn't all that popular to begin with. The more platforms a game is on, the more people get to enjoy that game. I'd just like to see more developers get the chance to do what Toylogic has done with Nier Replicant and develop a new iteration of an existing game that is too outdated to benefit from a simple remaster.
In reality, popular games are remastered more often likely because they're an incredibly safe gamble for publishers to make a bit of extra cash from an already-popular and existing property. A remaster of a more popular Assassin's Creed game is financially safer and more viable than a revision of the first game. However, I point to Nier Replicant again as a case where the success of a more modern and polished sequel can actually inspire excitement for a revision of a less well-received title.
Fans of Nier Automata were excited to finally try Nier Replicant without the almost insurmountable barrier of the game's decade-old combat system. I myself tried playing the original Nier after loving Automata, only to bounce off it after a few hours due to the previously mentioned issues. The remaster made the game approachable for interested younger audiences, capitalized on the success of Nier Automata, and remained similar enough to elicit a sense of nostalgia from already established fans. As a result, Nier Replicant has reviewed much better and sold pretty well, topping the U.K. sales charts on release.
This is just wishful thinking on my part, but I genuinely believe that if Ubisoft or Respawn were to develop a Nier Replicant style remaster/remake of Assassin's Creed and Titanfall, the resulting excitement would reinvigorate their respective franchises. Ubisoft would be able to see what the critical and commercial success would be like if it was to ditch its predictable massive open worlds and return to more condensed city environments. Respawn would be able to see whether there was enough interest in making a third Titanfall game without the risk of actually having to make and release it. Remastering less successful titles would allow publishers to experiment with long-standing franchises with minimal risk.
I personally don't think that the aforementioned games will get the remaster treatment, but Nier Replicant shows that Ubisoft and EA could do so successfully with a good enough marketing strategy. Games like the original Assassin's Creed and Titanfall may not be worth going back to in their original state, but that's exactly why developers should be given the chance to revisit them. Games like these have the potential to be incredible, games that you'd be excited to play instead of painfully look back at and view as necessary stepping stones for much better sequels. Nier Replicant is proof of that.