In honor of of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, I’m kicking off my new “DigiQuest Spotlight” series, an article series dedicated to highlighting important titles in gaming or anime, by turning back time and taking a stroll through the desolate mansion hallways that started it all. In this first installment, we’ll be taking a look at one of the most iconic “Survival Horror” games in history, the original Resident Evil, but even more specifically, Resident Evil (Remake).
A Brief History of Resident Evil
The original Resident Evil, or Biohazard in Japan, was released in 1996 on the PlayStation system (1997 for both PC and Sega Saturn) by Capcom and series creator, Shinji Mikami. Stranded in an abandoned mansion during a search and rescue mission, Resident Evil follows the story of two protagonists, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, as they attempt to uncover the home’s secrets and locate their missing team members. While others came before it, Resident Evil was the big gateway game into what became known as the “Survival Horror” genre. “Survival Horror” was a pillar of gaming that would lose its identity to the rise 3rd person action games, only to be revived in independent game makers and then realign the trajectory of the Resident Evil series.
For it’s time, Resident Evil was a truly groundbreaking title that revolutionized gaming. In 2002, Capcom created a new iteration of the classic title and, in doing so, solidifying it as one of the greatest games of its genre. 2002’s Resident Evil, or referred to by most as Resident Evil (Remake) was developed for the Nintendo GameCube as an exclusive title, remaining so for many years to come, by Shinji Mikami alongside the development of the genre-breaking and arguably most’s fan favorite Resident Evil game, Resident Evil 4. RE:Remake reimagined Resident Evil from the ground-up, not in just visuals and improved gameplay, but in everything from new important mechanics and enemies to the addition of a entirely new sub-plot. Remarkably, the game still managed to retain and even improve upon its original feeling while seamlessly merging the new elements to create what would be a truly stunning game. In this spotlight series, we will be focusing directly on the reimagined Resident Evil (Remake) so sit back, relax, and let’s dive head first into this mansion full of zombies.
A Game that Defined a Genre
From the first few moments of the game, you decide the story you wish to unfold. Which side of the coin will you choose? Chris’ or Jill’s? Through their varying perspectives and skill sets, who you choose alters your playthrough with different story beats, encounters, and ways to perform the same the same tasks. Though the core of the game does remain the same, it allows players to “choose your adventure” with actual meaning, adding a twist that few games do even today. While the plot of Resident Evil itself isn’t anything to write home about and even in RE:Remake does it show its infancy as a game, its the atmosphere that truly drives you forward. Even though the game and it’s story have a quirky Japanese charm to it, the world around you reflects the exact opposite. As you progress through the dark, drab mansion what mysteries are waiting for you around the corner? And, can you overcome that shaking feeling that you never know what’s lurking behind you?
As a game that originated from 1996, it’s no surprise that it shows signs of aging with its stationary camera and tank movement controls. Even I dismissed the game at first but once you get acclimated, you realize there’s a method to the madness. Your limited camera view plays a critical role in creating an experience that would otherwise feel less frightening. Careful enemy placement keeps you guessing around each corner, your lack of control in combat creates tense moments where panic can easily take over, and camera angles mixed with eerie backgrounds help to create an unforgettable and uncomfortable experience throughout your play. By taking complete control away from the player, you feel powerless before the undead menace and, despite what feels like an aged experience, it creates an unexpected level of immersion, if you allow it the chance.
As years have passed, the definition of the “Survival Horror” genre has changed. At a time, every bullet truly seemed to count as searched high and low for a herb to keep you alive until the next encounter. Inventory space was limited and what you carried on you was a decision made at the cost of something else. This is when Resident Evil is at it’s finest. Inventory management and item scarcity is a key piece of playing classic Resident Evil games, even down to file saving. A feature found in the classic games that Resident Evil 4 did away with was the Ink Ribbons. As you explored the mansion, typewriters were scattered throughout and they acted as your save points. Unfortunately, they only work if you have a way to type your save information onto the paper. For this, you needed ink ribbons. This precious item was also scattered throughout and came in limited quantities so each save you make in Resident Evil mattered and each tightened the noose around your neck. Learning to be as efficient as you could be per save became apart of the meta game. One slip up could cost you greatly. Ink Ribbons were the true definition of survival in this “Survival Horror” genre and are, in my opinion, one of the coolest aspects of the game, now lost in time.
Along with fighting to survive, Resident Evil made a name for itself in it’s adventure game-like puzzle and use of cleaver backtracking. At times, the game’s puzzles are as ridiculous as a Grim Fandango puzzle but then it turns around and strikes you with something cleaver. Whether it’s replacing a shotgun-mounted trap with a broken shotgun or playing a piano in the proper progression, the game balances your struggle against the zombies with unique, sometimes comical, puzzles. These puzzles are supplemented a step further through the use of exploration. As you progress, you are forced to become uncomfortably in tune with the areas around you. Remembering an old door you couldn’t access or a statue missing an eye becomes critical to solving the mystery in front of you. Knowing your way around the mansion and being able to traverse is yet another core tenet of Resident Evil. And, when you least expect it, the game takes the trust you’ve placed into each of its halls and rooms right from under you. Not always will your return to a past location be as familiar as you believe you’ve left it.
In the case of Resident Evil (Remake), the game made advances in what Resident Evil could truly be. A variety of small changes were made to the core of the game but among them was one core mechanic that made the game that much more terrifying. The Crimson Heads. These new enemies are born from the corpses of remaining zombies. In RE:Remake, every zombie whose body you leave lying around becomes a liability. Due to backtracking being a vital part of the game, an old enemy becomes a new obstacle, one that is above and beyond more powerful than last time. As you progress through the game you will unlock the ability to burn enemy bodies that weren’t taken out with a head shot. Much like Ink Ribbons, there’s only so much fuel around to burn the bodies. You can’t burn them all, another layer added to keep your time in the mansion as tense as possible. At times, you will be forced back down a specific hallway, one you know has a corpse in it. Has enough time passed? Do you think he’s turned crimson? You can only know by pressing forward. Among the new additions, Crimson Heads changes the way you play dramatically and is a refreshing take all these years later.
Much like the what you do in the game, Resident Evil is a delicate puzzle where all of it’s pieces come together to reveal a stunning picture. Resident Evil (Remake) is an undisputed classic in gaming that holds up surprisingly well. My first encounter with it was just this past year, 20 years after it’s original release and it quickly became one of my personal favorites. If you haven’t played RE:Remake and want to see what started this now seven game series with various additional spin-off then look no further.
Resident Evil (Remake) was remastered for modern platforms and is now available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Steam.
The Future Looks Bright
While writing this, I’ve begun playing through Resident Evil VII: Biohazard and all I can say is the game is a new twist on an old formula. RE7 is a highlight reel of what modern indie horror games have been doing mixed with the AAA polish and core feeling of a Resident Evil game. Honestly, RE7 has no right to be as good as it is. After the previous mainline entry and a couple of bad spin-offs, it was clear to most people that Resident Evil, a once great series, was all but dead. There was a lot of ways Capcom could have botched the newest entry but thus far they are hitting all the marks. You can see traces and inspirations from the original game throughout and it makes everything that much more satisfying. Resident Evil VII is a cleaver and refreshing return to form that keeps me at the edge of my seat and I can’t wait to hop back in. If this is what the series now has to offer, then I think I’ll be sticking around for a while longer.
Thanks for reading my first entry in this new DigiQuest Spotlight seires. For more information on the past of Resident Evil and a look at the various versions, I highly recommend Super Bunnyhop’s video titled “REmake vs. REmake Remake vs. Resident Evil”. Stay tuned for the next spotlight focusing on the game that broke the genre but still manages to be one of, if not the, best in the series, Resident Evil 4.