Castlevania Requiem's alterations highlight the game preservation crisis

Konami's bare-bones port-of-a-port doesn't belong in this world

If there's one thing Retronauts readers should be aware of from just this week alone, it's that we love Castlevania 'round these parts. I wrote a story commemorating the tenth anniversary of Order of Ecclesia, the "last" game in the series, and Jeremy posted a video about the original Castlevania for Famicom/NES (in addition to a video about Super Castlevania IV on his Patreon). So I can safely speak for all of us when I say we were looking forward to this week's release of Castlevania Requiem, a bundle of Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood for the PlayStation 4.

Now that the game is out in the wild, I feel comfortable in speaking for everyone again when I say: not like this.

While evaluating the merits of individual titles is entirely subjective it's a safe statement that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood are two of the most fondly remembered entries in the 30+ years of Castlevania games. The former was an international hit on the original PlayStation while the latter was a Japan-only PC Engine game which was so good it managed to become a cult hit as soon as the Internet came around to let the rest of the world know what we were missing. I can personally recall investing hours in downloading a Rondo of Blood ISO in the early 2000s piece by piece from a fansite only to be foiled by the lack of a proper PC Engine CD emulator on my computer at the time (There are no cops reading this, right? Right). The two games are also linked via the story - Symphony was a direct sequel to Rondo and begins with the final battle, Rocky-style - so pairing the two games together in a single package made perfect sense. Releasing that package right before Halloween made even more sense. It seemed like Konami was going all-out with this crowd-pleasing initiative.

It turns out there was a tiny asterisk we did not see in the original Castlevania Requiem announcement, because it is not a port of two classic video games from the 1990s but a port of a port. Konami released Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for PSP in 2007, a 2.5D remake of Rondo of Blood that happened to include ports of the original game and Symphony of the Night as unlockable bonus content. That version of Symphony contained various changes, the most dramatic of which was a new localization and all-new voice acting. Which means that customers buying Castlevania Requiem are getting an experience that differs from the original 1997 release of that game. And as someone who has played that version of the game dozens of times, I find those differences jarring from the altered sound effects for every action to the constant stream of new voices that cry or grunt during gameplay. Even Robert Belgrade's "WHAT!?" exclamation when Death steals all of Alucard's equipment has been replaced and I am confident there is no one in this world who will defend the newer, softer version over the original.

My complaints are not just about the new English language material, although it is disappointing as it adds nothing to the experience (there's also the fact that Richter's original voice actor Scott McCulloch died in 2000 so erasing his work feels extra insulting). I'm more upset that a commercially and critically-successful video game is being re-released in an expurgated form. This is akin to a movie from the 90s getting a new soundtrack for the Blu-ray edition even though the VHS and DVD versions were the same as the theatrical release. I can't help but think of Star Wars Special Edition, the 1997 rerelease of the 1977 film Star Wars which is largely the same movie save for a litany of small changes, nearly all of which audiences did not ask for and openly dislike. That Special Edition has since been Special Edition'd many times over to the point that I have no idea what a 2018 Star Wars Blu-ray would even sound like because I'm not interested in buying one - and that's coming from a kid who grew up deeply enamored with the original trilogy.

So what's the real problem here, besides one video game-liker upset about a port of his favorite video game? The problem as I see it is the issue of preservation. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as it existed in 1997 is an experience worth saving. There's no specific hardware reason that the original game cannot be ported to modern consoles, as the Xbox 360 port runs just fine on the Xbox One with all the 1997 dialogue and sounds intact. The PSOne Classics version of Symphony of the Night also has all the original audio and that is still sold digitally for PlayStation 3, the PSP, and the Vita. Yet in a always-online streaming culture, the Requiem port is going to the become the newest mass-market version of the game. I follow Symphony of the Night on Twitch as it's a game I enjoy watching. Ever since Requiem went live, the PlayStation 4 version outnumbers the original.

This is hardly a cry for a boycott. I can't even promise I won't buy this version eventually because I've bought Castlevania: Symphony of the Night many times over and I haven't played much of Rondo of Blood on any platform (I never did manage to beat The Dracula X Chronicles). But so long as I'm able to write about old video games, I must voice my displeasure with how this particular re-release came out. 2018 is already packed with celebratory modern ports of classic games from decades past and the year isn't even over yet. Companies that make an effort get my admiration and respect and often my money. Konami took a shortcut and figured I'd just cave. Maybe I will! But for now, my reaction to Castlevania Requiem is that mankind ill needs a port such as this.