In 1996, a small team led by Shinji Mikami with Capcom released Resident Evil. The game featured memorable characters, horrific monsters, and some cringeworthy dialogue. The game would also spawn various sequels, spin-offs, a movie franchise, and would go on to define the beloved “survival horror” sub-genre of gaming. But does the original live up to it’s legacy?
The story follows the members of Raccoon City’s S.T.A.R.S. team, as they investigate a series of grisly murders in the forests outside the city. Bravo Team’s helicopter went missing, and it’s up to our heroes in Alpha Team to follow up and uncover the mysteries of their missing comrades… and the mansion they find themselves chased into by wild dogs. And so the horror begins.
One of the main strengths of Resident Evil is it’s cast of memorable characters. In the game’s beginning you choose one of two protagonists, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Jill Valentine is weaker physically and has access to less weaponry. However, she has more inventory space (very useful in a game where inventory space is so precious), and is armed with the lockpick, which means that said inventory space isn’t filled up with keys. This also earns her the legendary title “the master of unlocking”, so it’s a win-win. On the other hand, Chris Redfield is a big and burly military type, so he’s tougher and has access to cooler weaponry. On the downside, he has two less inventory spaces (fewer pockets?), and doesn’t have the lockpick, possibly due to his massive man hands not being dainty enough to use it.
The two playable characters are backed up by a strong supporting cast, including their S.T.A.R.S. comrades Barry Burton (the TRUE hero of the game), the over-enthusiastic medic Rebecca Chambers, and the mysterious team captain Albert Wesker. Wesker in particular has become a fan favourite, possibly due to his “epitome of 90s cool” appearance of slick blonde hair and sunglasses that are seemingly attached to his face.
The cast are rather stereotypical (more than likely due to the Japanese development team and their idea of Western character archetypes), but it all adds to the cheese factor. Because despite Resident Evil’s legacy as a survival horror game, it is essentially a B-movie in video game form. The big guns, the spooky mansion, and the enemies. Oh, the enemies. From the shambling zombies, to the dangerous, agile Hunters, to even giant snakes, spiders and plants, the game has a diverse menagerie of monstrosities to fight through. And the most important B-movie element of all? The dialogue.
Now as a Japanese developer writing American characters (there was no localisation or even Japanese voice acting, simply subtitles for the Japanese version), the dialogue was never going to be sterling. But when you compare it to other Japanese-written Western games (for example the work of Hideki Kamiya, who funnily enough directed this games’ sequel), it’s incredible just how hilariously bad the dialogue is:
“It’s a weapon! It’s really powerful. Especially against living things.”
“That was too close! You were almost a Jill sandwich!”
“It looks like he was killed by a crow or something!”
I could go on, but I really can’t do these lines justice using the written word alone. You have to hear them. It seems that, without the budget to fly actual American voice actors to Japan, Mikami and his team had to resort to hiring local English teachers to voice the characters. English teachers with no experience of voice acting or, seemingly, regular speaking patterns. Don’t get me wrong, the voice acting is awful, but it actually works with the rest of the game’s over-the-top cheesiness.
Another element of Resident Evil’s gameplay that came to define the survival horror genre, apart from inventory management, is it’s fixed camera style. Instead of a regular third-person view, the camera is constantly fixed at certain angles that change when you move, much like CCTV cameras. While this can sometimes make moving and navigating frustrating, it actually provides more of a challenge, forcing you to constantly think about which way you’re moving, adding extra pressure when enemies are approaching you. It also helps to build up tension. For example, after you enter a room and find yourself looking at one end of a long corridor, you can see your character. You can only hear the shuffling and moaning of zombies off-screen. What do you do? Do you wait until the zombies make their way to you, possibly forcing yourself into a corner if you can’t kill them in time? Or do you charge ahead, allowing you to see your enemies’ position but running the risk of getting chomped as soon as the camera angle changes? It adds an extra element of strategy to the combat of the game.
Yes, the sequels are better, and the remake of this improves everything tenfold, but this game will always hold a special place in my heart. From watching my stepdad play through the game, to attempting to play the game myself and turning the game off in fear when I saw the first zombie. I even own the “Totally Unauthorised Guide to Resident Evil”, and sometimes still read it to this day. A large part of my gaming life, both in childhood and adulthood.