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Resident Evil Reflections: 20 Years With Capcom’s Frightening Franchise
March 22, 2016 marked a true milestone. For it was 20 years ago this week that a groundbreaking video game franchise was born. A game that not only became an instant classic, but also helped create an entirely new genre, spawned several sequels and spinoffs, and launched a successful series of movies. That game was Resident Evil.
Few games have had the long lasting appeal that Capcom’s survival horror series provides, and despite a few bumps in the road, the Resident Evil series is still widely popular after all these years.
Capcom is celebrating this anniversary in several ways. Yesterday, they posted a video interview with Hiroyuki Kobayashi, a developer who has been with the franchise from the very beginning. The publisher also plans to celebrate the game’s platinum anniversary with even more developer interviews and a massive yearlong retrospective on the Capcom-Unity blog. And if you missed any Resident Evil titles over the years, several games from the franchise are now on sale through Steam, the Nintendo eShop, and Xbox Games Store.
We here at Warp Zoned thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to reflect on 20 years of zombie exterminating, S.T.A.R.S mumbling, master-of-lockpicking goodness. Some of us are new to the franchise, while others have fond memories of booting up the original game back in 1996. So come join us as we shamble down this itchy, tasty memory lane.
Back before Nintendo dropped out of the console war to do their own thing, the Nintendo 64 was in a contentious fight with the Sony PlayStation. And at the center of this fight was a new breed of cinematic games including Final Fantasy VII, Tomb Raider, and Resident Evil. At the time, it was believed that CD-ROMs were the only way to include film-like full motion video scenes in a game like Resident Evil. The ancient technology that powered the Nintendo 64’s cartridge slot just wasn’t beefy enough to handle it… or so they said. Capcom, who has had a good relationship with Nintendo going back to the NES days, set out to prove everyone wrong.
After releasing Resident Evil 2 for the PlayStation in 1998, the publisher worked tirelessly to produce a port for the Nintendo 64. Two years later, they succeeded, and I finally got to help Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield escape a zombie-ridden Raccoon City. Aside from cinematic scenes with slightly lower quality, the entire game made the trip over. My fellow Nintendo 64 owners and I got to experience every great moment including the Licker in the Interrogation Room, Ada Wong, the secret lab underneath the city, and the boss battle against the horribly mutated Birkin.
I’ve mostly drifted away from the Resident Evil series in the years since, but I spent months exploring every corner of the game’s bizarro police station (chess pieces as keys, sure why not!) and I’ll never forget my first visit to Raccoon City.
Back in 2002, I hadn’t played any Resident Evil games at all. I knew about them, and had friends who loved them, but I’d never dipped a toe in myself. I was interested in them, but didn’t really realize how interested I was until I saw the trailer for the movie, which I thought looked awesome.
Of course, my friends who were fans did NOT agree with me. They thought the movie looked terrible, and continued to feel that way even after seeing the movie. But I was actually delighted by the film. I’m sure that’s an odd word to hear in comparison to the film’s content, but there was just so much about it I loved. Awesome female protagonist? Check. Insane AI that takes over the building and kills everyone? Check. Crazy monsters? Check.
The scene that I still can’t watch, to this day, is the one with the laser, where it cuts that guy lattice-wise into tiny, sliding chunks. It’s awesome, it’s gross, and the noise it makes is enough. I don’t have to watch it; I can practically smell it.
But, it still never lead me to playing the games. I’ve watched some of the other movies, which were less satisfying than the first; and I’ve played a few minutes here and there – mostly demos – of the games, but I was never drawn in enough. My friends have gone down one of several paths – some like Resident Evil, some like Silent Hill. Me? I’ll stick with Parasite Eve.
I was never taken in by the whole Resident Evil series, although I do remember watching a friend play the first one on his PlayStation, and that scene with the dogs breaking through the windows and chasing him nearly made us poo our teenage pants.
But then I picked up Resident Evil 4 for the GameCube, and it became one of my favourite games on my little purple box of fun. The fact that it was split over two discs was a testament to Capcom’s desire to make an epic game that managed to recapture the sense of horror of the original, without falling into the regurgitated mistakes of the subsequent sequels. And it was one of two games I loved playing in the dark for added fright value (the other was Left 4 Dead). I have a memory of doing the Challenge Maps, where you had to survive or kill a certain number of people, and after a certain number of mutants were dead, without fail a chainsaw-wielding baddie would spawn, and I would start screaming at my TV while running away, hoping I could kill him with a grenade or a rocket launcher, or, god forbid, tire him out.
But then Resident Evil 5 happened, where some game designer thought that laser sights in bright sunlight was a good idea. I did pick up the on-rails Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles for the Wii, but it was a different experience entirely from Resident Evil 4, which I hold as the pinnacle of the series.
My first experience with Resident Evil was when I was fifteen years old. I couldn’t afford the rather modestly-priced PlayStation, but fortunately my local mom-and-pop video store allowed system rentals. Having read all about the game in recent issues of GamePro, I was eager to sink my teeth into this new game. My buddies spent the night, and we played with the lights off. Like Andrew said, that part where the dogs burst through the window freaked us all out.
Thinking back, Resident Evil was my first step into a real generational leap in gaming. From trying to master these newfangled 3D tank controls, to watching FMV cutscenes, to actually hearing conversations take place instead of just reading them, Resident Evil was a sign of things to come. I also remember calling the video store, asking why I couldn’t save my game. Turns out, played cartridge-based games for my entire life had conditioned me into thinking all games had built-in memory chips. I didn’t realize that I needed a memory card to save my disc-based games. Go figure.
Another memorable experience was a little over ten years ago. Having played through the fourth Resident Evil title more than three times, I had become an encyclopedia about the game. Hidden treasures, weapons, easter eggs – I knew where to find everything. The benefit of being privy to all this knowledge was that I could use it against people. Case in point: several of my coworkers bought the game when it was ported to the PlayStation 2. Now, being the kind-hearted soul that I am, told them of a hidden treasure chest deep in the lake. All they needed to do was maneuver Leon over to the pier that overlooks the lake, and fire a few shots into the water. This would then trigger a cutscene where a bullet breaks a chain holding the chest, and the treasure will float to the top. For those of you who aren’t aware, this is what really happens:
Needless to say, they weren’t very happy with me the next day.
So, thank you Capcom, for giving us so many wonderful memories over the past 20 years. Here’s to 20 more.
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