Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Now & Then: Resident Evil

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

“You have once again entered the world of survival horror…”

Those famous words set up a genre that has undergone more definitions than probably any other in video games.  Depending on your personal taste in titles, survival horror can mean different things but it was used first and defined by Resident Evil¹.  This game was basically a haunted house brought to life and has spawned a series that many gamers, myself included, follow endlessly.  Despite the direction of the series not holding well with fans of the originals and a slew of poorly made films, Resident Evil lingers on, if only in our nostalgic minds.

Then: It was 1996 and I was still clinging tightly to the 16-bit era, strolling into my local FuncoLand and asking to see the selection of Sega CD games.  Up to that point, simply asking for that section revealed that you had the coveted $400 console powerhouse that so few 14-year-old gamers had at the time.  I had traded a small fortune in Magic cards for mine, but no matter how many Funco employees warned me, I refused to believe that full motion video (FMV) titles like Night Trap and Sewer Shark were horrid.  That is, until the Playstation came out.

I walked in and all of the back wall Sega Genesis/CDs were removed, completely replaced by new consoles: the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation.  With staggering price tags of $400 and $300 respectively I had no chance of getting my hands on these consoles anytime soon.  At the same time, I was intimidated by the introduction of polygons, titles like Virtua Fighter 2 and Battle Arena Toshinden looked daunting to control and complicated.  That is, until I went back to the trade-in section where a screen displayed a group of marine-looking characters getting attacked by an unknown creature.  Even more enticing, the situation was in FMV, a personal favorite of the Sega CD fans, and looked like a cheesy horror film.  While the employee lazily looked up trade-in values for my pathetic stack of Genesis titles I asked him what the game was.  His response said it all: “What?  Resident Evil?  It’s one of the first Playstation games.  Basically it’s a horror game that drops you into a haunted house.”

He couldn’t have handed me the controller fast enough.  I eagerly booted up the game and re-watched the opening cutscene where a group of police officers get attacked by what looked like disfigured dogs and end up in a spooky mansion.  I was worried when the screen displayed those 3D polygons I feared so much, but the camera angles were fixed and the characters moved at a reasonably slow pace that I could control.  I know this is probably a burden to most gamers today, but back then it was more difficult to grasp the concept of 3D space.  I explored a blood smear and entered a back room only to find a zombie feeding on a body – the short cutscene amazed me with its detail and blood.  Before I knew it, I was back in the action and the zombie was coming for me!  I had selected Jill as my character because I’ve always chosen females as my gaming characters if available, and I did what most of us would have done in real life: I ran.  My partner, Barry, was still looking over the blood smear in the dining room and I escaped into there for safety.  Thankfully he pulled out a huge .357 Magnum and blew the zombie’s head clear off.  I was sold.

At that moment the sales guy told me that I would get $22 in store credit and that my game time was up.  I handed him the controller, scooped up my games and headed out the door.  Back in those days it was always good to have a friend with rich parents and that friend in my life was Chris.  It took a few visits and convincing, but eventually Chris took enough interest in Sony’s console to get one.  Not two weeks later he was slated to go on vacation for the weekend and with a ton of begging he agreed to let me borrow the console – unbeknownst to him I had already traded in a slew of games and allowance to purchase Resident Evil on my own.  That was the best weekend of my high school career that didn’t include dating.  Resident Evil had it all – dogs jumping through windows, traps, and even huge sharks and snakes as bosses.  Even the horrid voice acting and the famous “master of unlocking” line² aided in the true b-movie feel.  Furthermore, it was difficult.  As a  console gamer, the concept of saving often, especially when you never knew what was coming next, was new to me.  After stumbling upon a snake with only a handful of Beretta rounds and three shotgun rounds, I quickly learned my lesson.  Sadly, Sunday evening came just a bit too fast and despite nearly 12 hours of persistent playing, Chris came home and I had to give back his Playstation before getting through the final lab.

It would be two more years before I was able to afford and pick up Resident Evil again, but luckily there were a few more games to enjoy at that time.  I had long since sold my copy of the original game, wanting the later released Director’s Cut, and unable to get Chris to show any interest in the game.  I purchased the Director’s Cut  and RE2 in an in-store bundle at Babbage’s and spent an entire summer week, the one my girlfriend always spent camping with her family, surviving the various perils of Raccoon City.

Now:  Resident Evil still holds a special place in my heart (as well as the hearts of many gamers who experienced this title like I did), but my opinion is shrouded in nostalgia.  By the release of the second title, most games were taking advantage of the dual shock controller and offered moveable camera angles.  Protagonists moved with a smoothness like that of Lara Croft, whereas the characters of Resident Evil were boxy, slow-moving, and unable to move with the versatility of their opponents.  It’s pretty sad when you’re competing against a zombie for mobility or speed and losing.  Still, I love the games, even today in all their blurry PSOne mess.  For the newer generation the GameCube or Wii remakes are the way to go, bringing a slightly updated feel to the classic.  I just don’t feel right playing a Resident Evil game without a Playstation controller, though, despite having beaten the game on every possible console/PC iteration.

As a history lesson, it’s a great glimpse into the progress gaming made at the time with the introduction of immersion and monster closets to intensify gameplay.  If you were just hoping to replay a classic and you have never touched a title in the series, you will find Resident Evil hasn’t aged well at all.  Limitations of the time were adapted to create a free flow for gaming, but it’s a tough and slow-paced road from beginning to end.  Heck, you spend most of your time running from and shooting at creatures you can’t even see.

Resident Evil Fact Sheet

  • Date of Release: March 30, 1996
  • Consoles Released for: Playstation, Saturn, PC, GameCube, DS, Wii, PSOne on PSN

As you can see, the update on the GameCube was drastic and visually stunning.

Fun Facts

  • Director Shinji Mikami had previously done an RPG-like version of Resident Evil on the Famicom (NES) back in the 80’s.  The game is named Sweet Home and never released in America (although a translated version is available for emulators).
  • The Japanese version was much more violent and difficult.  Scenes in the opening FMV were altered in America which changed the visuals to black and white, cut so many moments in the attack on Joseph that it’s impossible to tell what happens, and cuts a shot of Chris smoking.  There were also random scares removed from the US version and none of the boxes are connected in the Japanese version (you have to return to the specific box you put items into).  Many of these features were added to the US version in the Director’s Cut, save for the original opening (which was wrongly advertised on the box).
  • Capcom released the Director’s Cut after the original concept for Resident Evil 2 was scrapped and they needed something to keep fans interested.  In the Japanese release you could get the complete edition that allowed you to view video and screens from the canceled game, named Resident Evil 1.5, or simply purchase the regular version that released in the US and contained a demo of Resident Evil 2.
  • In the GameCube remake several new plot points and areas were integrated into the mansion of the original.  Certain puzzles were changed or removed completely while others remained unchanged.  This version is still seen as the most definitive and most difficult of all versions.

1: Resident Evil is known as Biohazard in Japan, although due to legal issues with the band of the same name, the US and European versions had the name changed.
2: The most popular bad line in Resident Evil is when Barry hands Jill a lock pick and says, “maybe you, the master of unlocking, can use it.”

Written by Fred Rojas

October 24, 2011 at 11:14 am

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