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Resident Evil 4 and Gaming’s Unbalanced Obsession with Remakes

Are we surprised such a great game is still… well… great?



Leon Kennedy holding a gun in Resident Evil 4 Remake.

Resident Evil 4 has been met with near-universal acclaim from critics and gamers alike. It has been hailed as an early game-of-the-year contender for 2023, is considered one of the strongest entries in its iconic franchise, and will likely show up in future conversations as one of the greatest games of all time. It is a remake of Resident Evil 4, an eighteen-year-old game that was met with near-universal acclaim from critics and gamers alike. It won several game of the year awards in 2005, is considered one of the strongest entries in its iconic franchise, and has frequently been cited as one of the greatest games of all time. 

The gaming industry loves a good remake. And given Capcom’s recent hot streak in remaking their classic Resident Evil games, the decision to give RE4 another crack – and the fact that it turned out as good as it is – really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. But should Capcom, and the industry as a whole, really be devoting so much time and resources to breathing new life into games that have already cemented their place as classics? Or if publishers are so obsessed with resurrecting older games for a newer audience, should they be more selective about choosing titles that never got a chance to shine in the first place? 

Joel from The Last of Us.
Image: Naughty Dog

Alongside Resident Evil 4, some of the other high-profile game remakes in recent years include The Last of Us and Final Fantasy VII. It doesn’t take long to figure out why these particular games were given the remake treatment. Critical acclaim aside, each of these games sold well north of 10 million copies each. The developers knew they had an already established market of millions of gamers out there who may be interested in revisiting one of their favourite games – not to mention all the first-time players who would be keen check out what made these games so beloved. From a business and financial point of view, remaking these games is a no-brainer. 

The Last of Us: Part I was Naughty Dog’s attempt to propel their renowned game into the PS5 generation with updated visuals, refined gameplay, and a slew of accessibility features. The developer’s main intent was to protect the design and story integrity of the original, so most of the levels and cutscenes are re-created like-for-like. However, with only nine years separating the original from its remake, Part I often fails to justify its existence for essentially giving us the exact same game, only prettier. It’s not like The Last of Us was sore on the eyes or showing noticeable signs of ageing in 2022.

This is especially true of the remastered version, which anyone could already pick up and play on the PS5. For a much cheaper price. And without omitting the multiplayer like in Part I. The new accessibility features were certainly the most welcome new addition to this remake. But it isn’t like there haven’t been games that have patched in accessibility options post-launch. And without charging full price for them. At the end of the day, the question on many people’s mind was: did we really need this?   

A battle in Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Image: Square Enix

Final Fantasy VII Remake suffers from almost the exact opposite problem. For this long-awaited remake to this titan of the JRPG genre, Square Enix completely uprooted major elements of Final Fantasy VII and rebuilt them from the ground up. The result is a game that bears an aesthetic resemblance to the 1997 classic, but makes significant changes to the original’s gameplay, story, lore, and – perhaps most noticeably – pacing.

Square Enix’s decision to remake Final Fantasy VII across a planned trilogy speaks to the power of established properties in gaming, but it also highlights an over commitment to spending resources in reimagining the past. Let’s hypothesise that the final instalment of Final Fantasy VII Remake comes out in 2027. That would be thirty years after the original, twelve years after Remake’s reveal, and likely hundreds of millions of dollars and combined working hours for the development of these games. That’s years of energy, effort, and financial investments being spent on completely rebuilding a game that you can currently play in its entirety on all modern gaming systems. Once again, the question on many people’s mind was: did we really need this?

Leon in Resident Evil 4.
Image: Capcom

So, why even bother with game remakes? The obvious motivating factor is for publishers to reproduce the financial success of a previously lucrative game. But game remakes can serve more of a purpose than simply filling the pockets of publishers. One of the more pressing needs for remaking older games is to make them accessible for a newer audience. If you are a gamer who primarily plays on consoles, then you are limiting yourself to a five-ten-year slice of gaming history per system. When Nintendo released Super Mario All-Stars on SNES, they weren’t just capitalising off the success of the 8-bit Super Mario Bros trilogy, but they were ensuring these classic games could be played by a younger audience on their new 16-bit hardware.

However, all these examples are of games that already enjoyed strong sales and a positive fan response in their first lives. What of the forgotten games, the hidden gems, the unfairly overlooked? For every smash hit, there are dozens – if not hundreds – of other games that fail to leave much of a mark on release, regardless of their quality. It’s harder for publishers to justify remaking a game that underdelivered when it first launched, but if the creatives truly believe in its original potential, then these types of remakes can be quite magical.

Old west in Live A Live.
Image: Square Enix

Live A Live was a 1994 Super Nintendo JRPG from Square that was never localised outside of Japan and sold poorly in its home country. Despite its underwhelming commercial returns, the game built a global cult following in the decades since – spurred on by its unique multi-character structure, eclectic design, and the fact that it shares a director with a little game called Chrono Trigger. After years of remaining in the shadows, Live A Live was finally allowed to live again with a 2022 remake that made use of the gorgeous HD-2D engine, implemented quality-of-life improvements, and most importantly, finally made the game officially available outside of Japan. The game’s long years of service as a forgotten treasure during Square’s golden age was rewarded with strong sales and the global recognition it always deserved.

Another commendable justification for remaking a game is when an older title’s strengths are being held back by fundamental flaws in its design, aesthetics, and/or story. Having a second go at such a game allows the developers to address these weaknesses to ensure that the good stuff shines even brighter. After all, there’s a reason more people want a remake of the Hobbit films than The Lord of the Rings.

Samus shooting in Metroid: Zero Mission.
Image: Nintendo

The original Metroid is a game that shows its age. Despite spawning one of the most highly respected series and sub-genres in gaming, playing Metroid on NES today can be a headache-inducing undertaking. The original’s charms are dampened by obtuse world design and clunky controls, issues that don’t harm its overall legacy, but certainly present an obstacle to anyone who wants to play the game today. These flaws were addressed in the game’s remake, Metroid: Zero Mission for the Gameboy Advance. Zero Mission took lessons from newer Metroid games and used them to polish off the rougher edges of its 8-bit influence. The result is a slick, stylish, and satisfying return to planet Zebes, and a remake that only enhances what made the original so great in the first place.

All of this brings us back to the Resident Evil 4 remake. This game does improve on the original in several significant ways. The levels have been fleshed out with interesting new areas, encounters, and content. The controls have been brought in line with modern third-person shooters. There are too many quality-of-life improvements to mention, both big and small. And the visuals are simply *chef’s kiss*. The pure class of this remake can be seen as enough of a justification for its existence, and we should be championing large publishers like Capcom whenever they hit it out of the park like they have done so with this game.

Chainsaw man in Resident Evil 4 Remake,
Image: Capcom

But is hitting it out of the park as impressive when the pitch is an easy one to smash? Some would say yes, and that’s a perfectly valid way of looking at it. But if Capcom is so determined to remake their older Resident Evil games, then wouldn’t there be more artistic purpose in bringing back one that isn’t already considered one of the all-time greats? They could revisit one of the lowest-selling games like Code: Veronica or see if the potential of Residential Evil 5 is truly there when remedied of its faults.

Gaming loves a good remake. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But if the balance is tipped too heavily in favour of games that are already near-universally adored, then we risk never dipping below the surface of gaming’s rich, deep, and varied history.

Harry's friends got sick of him talking about video games all the time, so he decided to write about them online. When Harry isn't cosied up with a good fantasy novel, chances are he'll be grinding his way through a JRPG or obsessively backtracking through a metroidvania.