Resident Evil 2!
I arrived at being a Resident Evil fan through a somewhat tortuous history. Despite being a huge fan of the Playstation, I never actually played any Resident Evil games on the system, despite the series being one of the console’s best sellers. I certainly thought Resident Evil looked cool, and I did get to mess around with Resident Evil 2 at a friend’s house, but for some complicated reasons, I never actually got a hold of those titles for myself. The first game in the series that I actually got to spend appreciable time with was Resident Evil 4 which was a marked departure from what had been the series’ convention.
Eventually, I would play those original Resident Evil games through the DS port of RE1 and the PS1 on PSP releases of RE2 and 3, which is to say that my first experiences with those games were through handheld versions. And despite playing those games in their diminutive forms, I thought they were amazing, and it really solidified me as a fan of the series going forward. Resident Evil 2, in particular, left an impression on me. I still vividly remember downloading it to my PSP in college before heading home for Christmas to spend a week with my family and getting some Racoon City action in on the side. Despite that break being a busy holiday week with lots of family stuff going on, I was so enamored with the game that I somehow managed to squeeze in enough time with it here and there to complete both the Leon and Claire campaigns. As I get older, I feel myself getting less and less excited for games long before they release, but I was super pumped a few years back when Capcom announced that Resident Evil 2 would be getting a modern remake.
Resident Evil fans will know that the series can be divided into two separate eras. There was the original era of Resident Evil that used fixed camera angles, tank controls, and limited items and ammo to produce slower, less precise, but more methodical action games. With the advent of Resident Evil 4, the series majorly shuffled things up and pioneered the modern over-the-shoulder action game. While the series has maintained its horror theming, emphasis was put more on precise aiming, less restricted ammo, and linear level design that contrast with the more backtracking oriented earlier games. The shift in direction for the series has been a huge point of contention for some Resident Evil fans, but I personally enjoy and find merit in both styles.
The Resident Evil 2 remake is a case study in wanting to eat your cake and still have it. It tries to combine the limited ammo and less linear level design of the original Resident Evil 2 with the over-the-shoulder combat experience of the more modern games. And for the most part, I think it succeeds at creating a delicate fusion of these contrasting gameplay styles. It even manages to incorporate elements of the offbeat Resident Evil 7 in a way that just clicks.
Resident Evil 2 offers two campaigns, one from the perspective of Racoon City police force newcomer Leon Kennedy and the other from the perspective of Claire Redfield, the biker sister of Resident Evil 1 protagonist Chris Redfield. The game starts with the player’s chosen protagonist making their way into Racoon City, Leon to start his new job and Claire to find her brother who has gone missing. What awaits them when they reach the outskirts of town is a doomed city overrun with a zombie outbreak. In a turn of fate, Claire and Leon cross paths and one of gaming’s greatest duos is born. After teaming up, Leon suggests to Claire that they make their way to the Racoon City Police HQ to figure out what’s going on and hopefully find safe refuge. Upon entering, they find the building nearly abandoned by the living, save for one dying officer who hints at a hidden escape route that could help the pair make their way to safety.
Within the massive RCPDHQ, the player is immediately greeted with a great many locked doors and blocked pathways. Exploration and backtracking is thus necessary to slowly open up new areas and progress in the game. RCPDHQ is essentially one big mystery that players need to work through. Eventually, players move beyond the police department, but each subsequent area is similarly structured.
For those unfamiliar with Resident Evil 2, the game is comprised of two separate campaigns, each focusing on one of the main characters. While Claire and Leon cover much of the same ground in their individual stories, they access most rooms and areas in a different order, gain different weapons, and there are certain important areas that are campaign specific. In addition, each protagonist interacts with a different set of characters along the way, meaning they each have a fairly unique story. When all of these aspects are taken into account, I feel like each campaign is distinct enough that a second playthrough with a different character doesn’t simply feel like a retread, and it’s worth playing both of them to see the complete story in all its glory.
As a remake, the new Resident Evil 2 is a fairly extensive reenvisioning of the classic. Much of RCPDHQ will be familiar to returning players, but new key areas and story beats have been added such that the game feels like a new experience while still strongly evoking nostalgia for its forebear. By far the biggest change is the more modernized camera and combat. Ditching the fixed camera angles and simplistic aiming system of the original for the over-the-shoulder style that became the norm with Resident Evil 4, the new Resident Evil 2 walks a thin line of trying to recapture the elements that made the original resonate with so many players, while also upgrading the game to the standards and expectations of 2019.
Personally, I think it’s very successful. Initially, I had doubts that the much more precise and agile gameplay would work well with Resident Evil 2’s monster design. When Resident Evil 4 arrived, the series replaced its iconic zombies with more intelligent and nimble enemies to compensate. Slow, shambling zombies might have been a threat in the earlier games with their clumsier controls and more claustrophobic environments, but it seemed difficult to believe that such monsters could present any sort of danger when headshots could be easily pulled off with true analog stick aiming. Fortunately, this remake does make them a sufficient challenge through both their herky jerky movements that makes targeting specific body parts more difficult and the fact that they can take a fair bit of ammo to bring down, ammo for which there is a reasonably constrained supply. And of course, zombies aren’t the only monsters that Leon and Claire face off against.
In the original Resident Evil 2, Mr. X, a mutant supersoldier sent in to clean up witnesses to the outbreak, would stalk the RCPDHQ during whichever character’s campaign the player chose for their second playthrough. The new remake turns Mr. X into the star of the show, with both Leon and Claire having to contend with him for a fair portion of their individual campaigns. While Mr. X would seemingly appear at random in the original game, the remake greatly expands his role into a persistent and pervasive threat that is always hunting for the player.
A near unstoppable foe, after his initial appearance, Mr. X’s loud footsteps can always be heard lurking the halls of RCPD. The flow of the game is radically changed by his presence. It becomes a struggle between cat and mouse. The player must always be listening for his approach, and when he does happen to reach the player, the best strategy is usually to cut and run for safety. Furthermore, loud noises like gunfire summons him toward the player’s position. No longer can the player calmly take their time to bring down zombies and other monsters with well aimed shots. The threat of Mr. X means the player must more or less always be on the move.
In terms of scare factor, I must admit that, while it has a moody, desperate atmosphere, Resident Evil 2 is not really particularly close to being the scariest action horror game I’ve ever played. There are definitely some good scares here and there, and Mr. X creates a low boiling tension that always simmers in the back of my mind while playing, but I can think of a few action horror titles that are far better at creating dread and suspense, such as The Evil Within and Dead Space. To be honest, even the original game wasn’t really super-scary, and it definitely injected what felt to be more of an action movie feel into Resident Evil. With that said, I really enjoy the game for what it is, an excellent horror-themed action game, and would rather not dwell on what its not.
Resident Evil 2 will probably be the highlight of 2019 for me (at least in terms of the world of video games). It’s super nostalgic while also standing on its own as an entirely new game. To be honest, the game kind of makes me wish they would team Leon and Claire back up again for Resident Evil 8 or something. They are easily the stand out protagonists of the Resident Evil series to me. And with Resident Evil 7 essentially being another reinvention of the series’ survival horror formula, I can only wonder if the next game will continue what it started or use Resident Evil 2 as its template. Both are excellent games in my opinion, and it’s incredible to see the series turn itself around after the mess that was Resident Evil 6.
So there’s a chance Onimusha might come back…
In a recent interview, Street Fighter overlord Yoshinori Ono let slip that internal discussions at Capcom were occurring over which of the company’s many dormant classic series should be revived, with Onimusha being mentioned specifically by name. I’m a big Onimusha fan, so naturally this is good news to me, even if nothing may ever result of such early discussions. Beyond just Onimusha, I think Capcom of all publishers may very well sit on the largest vault of beloved series that have laid quiet for too long. Off the top of my head, I can immediately think of Onimusha, Dino Crisis, Darkstalkers, Maximo, Okami, Final Fight, Power Stone, Demon’s Crest…. the list goes on. It’s good to know that the door isn’t completely closed on some of these and indicates that Capcom still is in touch with what made the company a success in the first place…unlike certain other competitors of theirs.
Onimusha was the first game I got a chance to play when I first got ahold of the PS2 back in the day. I don’t know if other people have these, but there are certain games that in my mind sort of symbolize my experience with a console. These games aren’t necessarily the best or my favorite games for a particular system, but they sort of set the tone for how I remember my time spent playing the rest of the platform’s library. For NES, that would be Super Mario Bros. For PS1, it would be Final Fantasy VII. For PS2, it would probably be the original Onimusha: Warlords.
For those who have no familiarity with Onimusha, imagine it as a hack-and-slash samurai version of Resident Evil. The series is composed of four games, all of which were released during the lifespan of the PS2. (There was also a tactical RPG spinoff on the GBA, and some mobile and browser games which are best left unmentioned.) The series mainly features Japanese swordsmen as playable protagonists in an alternate history where humans are covertly hunted for food and ritual sacrifice by a race of extra-dimensional demons known as the Genma. Across history, the Genma have made blood pacts with great conquerors to lend their power in battle in exchange for a stable supply of human nourishment drawn from the defeated peoples. During the point in history that the series takes place, the Genma have allied with the ambitious Japanese warlord Nobunaga Oda. Nobunaga’s armies thus become a supernatural threat to the nation’s already war torn populace.
Similar to the Resident Evil series, Onimusha features a fixed camera system with polygonal character models overlaid on pre-rendered backgrounds. Movement comes in the form of RE-style tank controls, and combat is, of course, focused on sword fighting as opposed to gunplay. I wouldn’t call Onimusha a horror series, but especially in the first game you can sense the series’ survival horror forebears. The original Onimusha features a dark and sometimes macabre atmosphere, and the events of the game are entirely centered on a feudal Japanese castle overrun with monsters in the same way that RE1 and 2 are centered on the Spencer Mansion and RCPD HQ respectively.
In hearing of this news, I kind of have to wonder what a modern Onimusha game would look like. I very much doubt today’s audiences would be receptive to a game that closely follows the series roots with pre-rendered backgrounds and tank controls. I see a new Onimusha going one of two ways: Either it would focus on slow-paced, methodical swordplay like Dark Souls or fast-paced acrobatic and combo-driven combat like Devil May Cry. Of those two, I think the slower Dark Souls-inspired combat would be the preferable of the two, as that would be closer to the PS2 games. Also, a game that took cues from Dark Souls’ horror atmosphere would help it feel like one of the original PS2 games.
However, all of this dreaming may be for not, as Ono explained that there are going to be certain “battles” he’ll have to fight to get a new game made. But, whatever, it’s just good to know that someone is fighting for it.