Sunday, October 23, 2011

Remebering the Horror: Resident Evil Retrospective 1996-2000

In 1996, a genre was defined. Up until then, Survival Horror was a niche genre, with only a few, mostly obscure entries. Alone in the Dark set a lot of the basics for what would comprise the genre for years to come back in 1992, and Resident Evil was the first title to truly take on that style of gameplay. Making a love child out of Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil managed to do many things very well. But one thing made it truly stand out...It made you scream like a little girl.

Back in 1989, there was a rather obscure title called Sweet Home. Released on the Famicom (the Japanese name for the NES), and never released outside of Japan; it was the story of a group of normal people trapped in a haunted mansion. Tasked with making your way out, you solved puzzles using various characters skills, while fighting off various enemies. The catch was, if a character died, they were gone for good, including the skills you needed from them to complete the game (although it was possible to find items to replace said skill). It set the basis for what would be known as survival horror; the fight or flight instinct that drives our survival was called into question. Do you stand your ground and fight the enemy, risking the very lives of the people with you? Or do you run, and not only live to fight another day, but come away with resources you may need more later on?

These basics would later be retooled and used in a much more visceral way a few years later. Developed by Infogrames in 1992, Alone in the Dark would become the forefather of what would become Survival Horror as we know it. Set in a Lovecraftian style setting and story, you had to find your way through a mansion, fighting and avoiding various demons. But rather than the RPG style that Sweet Home took, you controlled one character in real time, and it brought a more immediate feel to the game. No longer could you mull over and plan, you had to act or you would die. Alone in the Dark set many of the basics that would be Resident Evil. Pre-rendered backgrounds, limited weapons and ammo, puzzles and a whole area to explore.

Originally intended as an homage to Sweet Home, Resident Evil (known as the more appropriate Biohazard in Japan), was also set in a mansion. You controlled a group of people trapped in it, and you had to solve various puzzles and fight enemies. But rather than a group of normal people, you were a trained group of police, sent in to investigate a series of grisly murders in the area. I'm unsure of where or when it was decided that Biohazard would be it's own game, but Mikami was onto something. But despite no longer being based on Sweet Home, it was clearly evident that it was inspired by it. Resident Evil even gives Sweet Home a nod and a nudge with it's infamous loading screens (skip to about the
4 minute mark for the RE video to see).
Unsure as to whether it would succeed or fail, as until then, horror was a genre that did not sell exceedingly well; Mikami made Resident Evil a stand alone title.

To their surprise, it sold in droves. Over 1 million in sales, which for 1996 was a huge success.

And thus a franchise was born.

Resident Evil
Release date: March 22 1996
Platform: Everything under the god damn sun just about
Lowest price: $5 average
Highest price: $100+

The game that started it all. Released originally on the PS1 in 1996, this was the game that solidified the style and gamplay pillars that survival horror games used for a good, long time. Notoriously hard, unforgivivng, it caught many who played it by surprise. A given, especially when during that time action games where you had all the ammo you need where the rage. It's creepy tone, and B-movie vibe gave it a feel unlike anything out at the time.

What's interesting to note though was the differences in the Japanese release, and the North American version. The Japanese version lacked many enemies, and also gave you much more ammo. It's notable to mention that in the Director's Cut edition of the game, the training mode is the Japanese "normal" difficulty. While our "normal" is their "hard". The Japanese release also had auto-aim, which wasn't in the original North American release (it was added in the Director's Cut version though). Also, what was excluded from the NA version was the uncensored intro movie. Promised to be in the Director's Cut, it was again left out. Meaning that any NA copy of the game has a watered down intro movie, while I believe most other region releases got the uncut version.

The odd man out though for this title was the Saturn release. Sure, it had the worst graphics. Yeah, it sounded pretty bad. But you know what it did have? A battle mode....and ticks.

First the Ticks, a one off enemy in the game (much like the Chimera, but even more limited). Surprisingly they replaced the Hunters in the underground tunnels. They where pretty much a pallet swap, as there wasn't much different to them; but it's curious such a minor thing was done, and I'm not sure I'll ever know why.

But the battle mode is an interesting touch. Most attribute the mini games to Resident Evil 3; which introduced Mad Jackal (otherwise known as The Mercenaries). But the Saturn version of Resident Evil one featured a very straight forward battle mode.
Just go through rooms killing monsters; simple, but effective.

Interestingly enough though, was the gameboy color port that was in the works around 1998-1999. It looked horrendous, almost comically so. I'm unsure of how far into the project the team was when Mikami pulled the plug. But chances are it was the best choice to make.

Sadly this didn't prevent Resident Evil 2 for the Game.Com from being made, nor Resident Evil: Gaiden.

When it was initially released, no one knew if it would catch on. Which is why it seems to have the only true happy ending, including a "case closed" result screen, implying everything was made right in the end. But the game sold very well, and is often referenced as one of the killer apps for the PS1, and helped push the system to gain a foothold in a crowded market. To this day it's got an infamy about it. From the awful voice acting, to the dogs jumping through the windows. To what I think is one of the creepiest moments in the series; the "itchy. Tasty" journal, which chronicles a mans slow decent into madness as his mind and body are destroyed by the effects of the T-virus. This game, along with Resident Evil 2, is often heralded to be the best in the franchise by long time fans.

Personally this is one of my favorite games of all time, I still head back to it and play it through on a frequent basis. And to be honest, I don't think it has aged at all. Everything about it works just as well as it did when it debuted so long ago.

Personal score : 10/10

Resident Evil 2
Release date: January 21, 1998
Platform: PS1, PS3, Gamecube, Dreamcast, PC, N64, Game.Com
Lowest price: $1
Highest price: $330 (what the fuck....)

Resident Evil 2, possibly one of the best entries in the franchise. If I had to count REmake as a Resident Evil 1 port, then 2 would be the best in the series. Resident Evil 2 was directed by Hideki Kamiya (of Devil May Cry, Okami, Bayonetta, and Viewtiful Joe fame). Kamiya had a more action oriented focus, and I think it shows in Resident Evil 2. The game was bigger, it had more action, more set pieces. And I think in the end it is one of the greatest thrill rides. The game threw so much at you, and some features you never discovered till the 2nd scenario. Most notably the "zapping" feature, in which things you did in the first playthrough directly affected your second character. With 2 scenarios per character, you had 4 scenarios; that's not even mentioning the 3rd and 4th survivor mini-games.

Resident Evil 2 also introduced an enemy who stalked you throughout the second scenario. More often then not, people think Nemesis from RE3 is the first instance of this.

They are stupid people, and never listen to stupid people.

Mr. X is a precursor to Nemesis in every way possible. Silently stalking you throughout the game, nearly every encounter got your blood pumping. Bursting through walls and being a royal pain. Mr. X is what Nemesis wishes he could be, terrifying.

Stylin' man
Another addition was the introduction of a new virus. Although I could go into specifics about how the T-Virus in this entry is slightly modified (thus giving us Lickers and other things), I'm speaking more of the introduction of the G-Virus. Highly volatile, very dangerous; the G-Virus gave birth to G-Birkin, one of the most outwardly gross and terrifying boss characters in Resident Evil history. What was great about the G-Virus history was that it lead to unique boss encounters with Birkin each time you fought. Given that the virus forced mutation at an alarming rate, each time you fought and defeated Birkin he would undergo a mutation, and the next time you fought him it would be an entirely new encounter. Sure, it really is just a way to string a bunch of boss monsters together. But in the arch of the story it made sense, and furthermore it helped plant the fact Birkin was nigh impossible to kill by normal means. It also helped Claire Redfield's character have a depth you don't often see in games. She takes it upon herself to protect a little girl named Sherry, who happens to be Birkin's daughter. And because of a maternal instinct, Claire goes to great lengths to ensure Sherrys' safety, in the face of a monster that cannot be stopped. It helped endear Claire to me as a stronger female lead than in most games, not just another case of tits and ass.

But it's hard to tell if all these features where always there. Resident Evil 2 was scrapped and restarted about 80% of it's way into development, because Mikami felt it didn't have the quality he wanted to follow up his game. This scrapped build is typically referenced to as Resident Evil 1.5, and there are apparently leaked versions of it floating around. I've never been able to get a hold of it, but from what  I've seen, it was a vastly different game. It's impossible to tell which version was better, in all honesty, what we got was probably the better game. But this hasn't stopped fans from clamouring for it to be put out as a bonus to fans. I think half of the allure is that it was never released; and to be smart about it, it was scrapped for a reason.

Speaking of things getting scrapped....the Game.Com version....wasn't scrapped...

Seriously....what the fuck is this shit?! This was made by people....and no one thought "Hey, does this look bad to you?"

But with around 5 million sold, Resident Evil 2 topped the first title. It was bigger and better, it looked better it sounded better. And had a kick ass commercial made by George A. Romero

Resident Evil 2 is still widely considered the pinnacle of the series by many longtime fans. Many of whom want Capcom to remake it much like they did with the first game. It had a far more approachable story, given a more natural setting; it was an improvement in every way possible. And given it was completely started over, and they still managed to come up with a game of this quality, it's an amazing title. Well worth experiencing.

Personal score: 10/10

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Release date: September 22, 1999
Platforms: PS1, PS3, Gamecube, PC, Dreamcast
Lowest Price: $1
Highest Price: $280 (my god....)

Of all the things I felt Resident Evil 3 did wrong, showing off Nemesis all the time was the worst. Rather than make him a surprise, the marketing around the game seemed to shove him down your throat. Don't get me wrong, Nemy was a well designed and used enemy, I just felt he lost all his steam pre-release.

But then again, despite some of Resi 3's failings (one character, very linear world, too much ammo, perhaps too much Nemesis, a somewhat dodgy dodge (hahahahaahahahahaha get it? oh....*sulks*) mechanic), it was a very fleshed out side story.

Wait....what?! Side story?! I know what you are saying "HT?! How can you say that?! It has a 3 in the title?!" (actually, if you said that I would shake my head in shame that you would call me HT)

The truth is, Nemesis (or Last Escape in Japan) was intended as a side story to finish the Raccoon city incident. Resident Evil: Code Veronica was actually the real Resident Evil 3 (and I'm glad it's not). But apparently Sony pulled some stuff with Capcom, and some kind of exclusivity treatment was given, that all numbered Resident Evil titles would be Sony exclusives, anything else could go where ever it wanted. But any numbered entry had to be on a Sony console (granted, this didn't last long given the next 3 numbered entries are mostly known as Gamecube titles).

So Nemesis became Resident Evil 3, as easy as that. Now, I think it was a smarter move. Finish Raccoon City's story as a trilogy, and continue from there.

protip....not how to ask a lady on a date
Resident Evil 3 brought big changes to the core mechanics (another reason why I felt it was a 3 instead of an offshoot). It introduced the dodge mechanic, and although I have my doubts about it, it worked. But that was the problem, sometimes it worked when you didn't want it to. The feature required you to press the "ready weapon" button just as you where attacked, you character would jump out of the way with her weapon at the ready. Problem was it was the fact it was tied to the "ready weapon" action. This meant if you where waiting for the right moment to shoot at a pack of dogs (common in the series), and you readied up right as one leap; chances are you would dodge that dog and then aim at it. Thus, you exposed yourself to the other dogs, and you took damage. Now the idea behind the mechanic was sound, take away some of the mandatory hits the series was known for; and also make it so that you could actually be a bit more aggressive, doing things you would normally never do in other entries.

Also introduced was an ammo creation system. Using different powders you could create a variety of ammo types. Save up for those powerful freeze rounds or make enough shotgun shells to last you 6 play throughs? I could understand the mechanic, but in a survival horror title it made little sense. It was kind of prototyped in Dino Crisis (released the same year), in which you could give your ammo different properties (stun rounds, lethal rounds). But rather than create ammo, you where modifying it to your style; it retained the survival concept, and didn't give you a mobile armory.

And lastly, RE3 introduced random enemies. In past titles (and current) enemies where always in the same place. Meaning if you knew what you where doing, you could know where EVERY enemy was. It made subsequent playthroughs not as exciting. But RE3 changed it up, one section might have hunters, or it could have drain diemos. Nemesis might be perched on a building, ready with a rocket launcher; or there could be nothing. This applied to nearly everything, and made you think ahead. The randomness helped change things up, sadly this was the only title to use it.

Also, two words....Mad Jackal : best mini-game ever.

Resident Evil 3 is one of those games I long hunted after. Never having the funds to buy it when it came out, I ended up getting it years later on the Gamecube. Having to buy a $40 used copy of this game (not to mention a Gamecube) may have initially soured my experience. But in the end it's a fun game, more of a Resident Evil 2.5 (it was called 1.9 internally at Capcom) than a true RE3. But at least it's better than the slog that is Code Veronica.

Personal Score: 8/10

Resident Evil: Survivor
Release date: August 30, 2000
Platforms: PS1
Lowest price: $10 (it's more than some used PS3 titles....)
Highest price: $150 (really?! Don't people know this game is shit?!)

Sometimes a games formula goes stale. And rather than milk that horse for all it's worth (like a certain Activision game), they experiment with it.

This game is why people shouldn't do that.

Clumsy, a bit sluggish, cheesy. Resident Evil Survivor has it all. The only thing it doesn't have is a reason to play it. Unless you want to see these:

Trust me, avoid this game at all costs. It's terrible, it's awkward, and it only serves to confuse you until you kill yourself.

Personal score: 3/10

Resident Evil: Code Veronica
Release date: February 3, 2000
Platforms: PS2, PS3, GameCube, Xbox 360, Dreamcast
Lowest price: $6
Highest price: $190

RE: Code Veronica in actuality isn't that bad. I feel it took huge steps backwards compared to Resident Evil 3; it was also overly long, tedious, and co-developed by Sega.

And we all know what happened to Sega right? RIGHT?!

Part 2 will be ready....prepare for years 2001-2006

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  1. Damn man! This is absolutely fantastic! Great job!

  2. I never knew it was possible to go past the border with pictures on this site

  3. Yeah, for some reason the CMS doesn't scale the X-Large photos to the page width. it sucks.