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The original Resident Evil is back from the dead. What took so long?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A classic horror video game is being rereleased.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Resident Evil.

CHANG: The original Resident Evil trilogy was released in the late 1990s and has been unavailable for years. NPR's Vincent Acovino has this story.

VINCENT ACOVINO, BYLINE: The year is 1996, and one of the most popular video games in the world is about a zombie outbreak in a haunted mansion. Released on Sony's new PlayStation video game console, "Resident Evil" featured, for the time, terrifyingly realistic graphics, frightening sound design and some of the worst voice acting the world has ever heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "RESIDENT EVIL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) What is this?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Stop it. Don't open that door.

ACOVINO: All of these things made it a massive hit. It brought the survival horror genre into the mainstream and inspired competitors like Silent Hill. And after a dearth of other zombie-related media in the '90s, you could argue it even primed the next decade for its own zombie craze.

ALEX ANIEL: Resident Evil 1 (ph) literally saved Capcom from financial ruin in the latter half of the '90s.

ACOVINO: That's Alex Aniel. He wrote a book about the Resident Evil franchise called "Itchy, Tasty."

ANIEL: Street Fighter 2 had died off, and Capcom, as a company, was being propped up by the president's separate investments in a Napa Valley winery.

ACOVINO: Resident Evil today is publisher Capcom's biggest and most profitable series. There have been more than 30 video games in the franchise, alongside movies, TV shows. And yet, for years, the games that started it all were unavailable. The original Resident Evil is now out on the digital storefront GOG, with Resident Evil 2 and 3 soon to follow.

But why has Capcom shied away from rereleasing these games for so long? In addition to being a Resident Evil historian, Aniel also works for the company Limited Run Games, which licenses and rereleases classic video games.

ANIEL: There's the commercial element to it. You know, is there money to be made rereleasing old games - that, in the publisher's eyes, their world is seen in terms of how many digits there are after the dollar sign, right?

ACOVINO: Historically, there's more money to be made from a brand-new game than a rerelease. Frank Cifaldi at the Video Game History Foundation says there's an altogether different value, though, in these titles being available once again.

FRANK CIFALDI: I think a lot of people don't understand that the state of classic video games - it's kind of like if movies that were beloved in their time were only ever released on VHS tape.

ACOVINO: Cifaldi says most old video games remain unavailable on the commercial market.

CIFALDI: I do hope that releases like this start to unlock things like rights-holders making the path easier for companies like GOG to license that product and make it work on their own volition if they see a market for it.

ACOVINO: For now, gamers new and old can just be glad that a trifecta of old classics are once again back from the dead.

Vincent Acovino, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.