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What is Resident Evil Village?

Capcom continues to explore the true meaning of the genre it pioneered

Maybe the more appropriate question is: what is Resident Evil? I’m not being facetious here. Capcom invented the term “survival horror” as a marketing tagline for the original Resident Evil released in 1996. And sure, horror games were a thing prior to 1996 (I see you, Alone in the Dark), but let’s not mince words here: Capcom planted the horror flag in a way that made them the genre vanguard going forward.

Konami’s Team Silent may have pimped Capcom’s ride with the Silent Hill series (which took vast elements of Capcom’s Resident Evil framework and contorted them into previously-unseen daymares), but Capcom has remained the genre standard-bearer. The reason isn’t surprising, either. Notwithstanding some missteps here and there, Resident Evil has largely remained a stalwart example of survival horror. This is certainly true for the mainline series. And while Resident Evil has always built its creepy edifice upon a foundation of well-worn horror tropes, the really remarkable thing is that Capcom hasn’t been afraid to challenge — and sometimes completely shatter — their own dogma.

Fan favourites return in numerous Resident Evil games, offering some familiarity (and tying the broader, convoluted story arcs together). Source: Capcom.

A history of rapid mutation

Ever since Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (and to a greater extent, Resident Evil 4), fans have discussed and debated the true nature of the franchise. We, the fans, all have our preferences and we all think we know what Resident Evil really is in the marrow of its bones. Debates about tank controls and fixed camera angles and bombastic action versus slow burn will continue until the sun consumes the earth. But let’s step back for a moment, folks. That these discussions are happening at all and that they are so vigorous is a sign of two important things:

  • Resident Evil games are so good that they’re worth discussing to this degree and;
  • Capcom — a company that could easily have rest on its laurels and continued cashing in on the original idea — have continuously experimented with and reinterpreted their own creation.

Even the remakes of older games are utterly, jaw-droppingly incredible both for their elaborate production value and their willingness to boldly experiment with sacred canon.

Consider the mainline series for a moment.

The first three Resident Evil games can be categorised into a single grouping. They are all fundamentally the same on a mechanical level (although each one expands upon and re-contextualises its predecessor’s ideas).

I’d argue that the fourth and fifth games, too, are siblings. Resident Evil 4 was something of a franchise reboot on multiple levels. Resident Evil 5 is clearly built upon the foundations of the fourth game, but expands upon its ideas and pushes in new directions.

The next category isn’t where Resident Evil 6 belongs, in case you’re wondering. Resident Evil 6 — for a range of reasons that require their own article — is really an aberration. It isn’t a sibling of Resident Evil 4 and 5, nor it is even a distant cousin of Resident Evil 7. And it’s certainly not a return to the earlier games. Let’s skip it for now.

The Maiden, Resident Evil Village. Source: Capcom.

Then you have Resident Evil 7, which is — like the fourth game, but to an even greater degree — a franchise reboot. The seventh game introduced sweeping, dramatic changes to the franchise — most notably a first-person view, which is absolutely a non-trivial reorientation and has wide-ranging gameplay and story exposition implications.

However you choose to classify the Resident Evil games — whatever buckets you assign them to — it’s clear that Capcom has been on a journey of discovery the whole time. It’s as though they have been on a continual search for the Resident Evil DNA. And, having approached it from multiple angles, it’s perhaps reasonable to say that the essence of Resident Evil remains largely intangible (though clearly not entirely elusive).

Undiscovered country

SUPERJUMP has published our fair share of Resident Evil features over the years. I want to call out a quote from my colleague Josh Bycer from this piece, where he wrote:

“Capcom is now in a rare position for them with Resident Evil: they have brought the franchise back, redefined AAA horror games a third time, and have an amazing foundation to build from. “Build from” being the key phrase; I want to see something new.

The reason Resident Evil 4 continues to hold up for players despite having little of the previous game’s DNA was their commitment to creating a different kind of game. As I’ve said, the RE engine was created for being used as the base for future Resident Evil games, and now it is time to run with it. There is so much potential to create new horror experiences, and Capcom is right now the only AAA developer making horror games.”

Earlier in the year, Josh had played World of Horror, a boldly innovative experience that clearly demonstrated there are more depths to mine when it comes to horror games.

I wholeheartedly agree with Josh’s sentiments here. I love the original Resident Evil trilogy, and I couldn’t be more pleased to see the super high-quality remakes of those games. I hope Capcom continues to revitalise their classic library in this way.

At the same time, it’s exciting to see Capcom push Resident Evil in new directions. The latest game in the series — Resident Evil Village — is due for release on the 7th of May. It is another fascinating example of Capcom’s willingness to probe their collective imagination; to chart entirely new courses, and to reinterpret classic concepts.

Source: Capcom.

Mouth of madness

From the outset, Resident Evil Village clearly exists within the same category as Resident Evil 7. I recently played the Maiden demo on PlayStation 5. And while it’s largely a “visual showcase”, there are certainly numerous hints about what we can expect from the final experience.

For one thing, it’s clear that Village is built upon the same mechanical foundations as Resident Evil 7. You’re still playing in a first-person view, and you will make progress in the world by solving numerous environmental puzzles. I’m sure there will be some truly weird and obtuse stuff (like lining up shadows or collecting medallions — surely it wouldn’t be Resident Evil without those flourishes). But I fully expect Village to feel like a slightly more grounded experience in terms of puzzles. The Maiden demo begins with you locked in a cell in an almost pitch-black dungeon. You’ll escape the dungeon by interpreting notes you’ll find laying around (presumably written by prisoners who hoped you’d have more luck than they did). While the puzzles in the demo are very simple (and the main game will likely have plenty of more complex ones), I like the fact that you need to solve them through environmental observation — rather than, say, following on-screen indicators that pull you to the next objective by the nose.

That’s all pretty fundamental stuff so far, and feels like a natural evolution of the Resident Evil 7 design. What I’m most excited about is Capcom’s next-generation alpha antagonists.

Alcina Dimitrescu. Source: Capcom.

We get an extremely brief glimpse of Lady Dimitrescu in the Maiden demo, and a slightly longer look at her through the various gameplay clips that Capcom has released so far. It certainly seems that Lady Dimitrescu is the principle villain, although in typical Resident Evil fashion, this may end up not being the case. At any rate, she’s certainly presented as our arch-nemesis alongside her two “daughters” (who may not be her literal daughters; some have suggested that they might be “creations” — not unlike some of the other monsters in Resident Evil history).

Interactions with both Dimitrescu and her “daughters” are extremely limited in the demo, but I get the sense that these three characters are likely to be the principle enemies we’ll face in the castle itself.

Speaking of which — Resident Evil Village seems to expand upon Resident Evil 7 in terms of sheer scale. The game takes place across two vast locations: a large castle, and the surrounding village itself. The whole thing is actually very reminiscent of Dracula; the demo implies that the denizens of the castle are capturing folks from the surrounding town and keeping them locked in the dungeons underneath as part of some kind of nefarious experiment. The demo refers to “candidates”, for example, and suggests that Dimitrescu is overseeing the initiative.

The village. Source: Capcom.
Scenes from the village. Source: Capcom.

One of the most significant changes in Resident Evil Village is the fact that there’s apparently far more enemy variety now. You might remember that in Resident Evil 7, the primary enemies you dealt with were the Baker family themselves. But outside of these “arch antagonists”, your only other significant enemy was the mold — lumbering, zombie-like creatures that only appeared in specific locales, and were as rare as hen’s teeth.

It looks like the Eastern European village we’ll be visiting in May contains a much wider range of nasties. For one thing, there are Lycans — fast-moving creatures that actively hunt villagers. The trailers show another type of enemy, which can appear in groups, and which also move fast (at least compared to the mold). This time around, combat looks to be more varied and exhilarating — you can actively block, kick enemies away, and potentially pick up weapons that enemies drop (although this hasn’t been confirmed; it just seems plausible from the footage we’ve seen so far).

A merchant — known as The Duke — appears to enable you to craft items, weapons, and ammunition, meaning that resource management will be a key focus for Resident Evil Village.

Source: Capcom.

New horror

Of course, I haven’t played the full game yet — my only direct experience is with the Maiden demo, which contains a specific “mission” that will not appear in Resident Evil Village.

But the combination of the demo and the gameplay footage revealed so far really suggests that Capcom is exploring a range of exciting ideas with this game. They’re growing bolder, too, in terms of defining what a Resident Evil game can be. Resident Evil 7 established a great foundation, but it was also fairly confined in terms of environment. Resident Evil Village extends that foundation in numerous directions and appears to open up the world very significantly — while I don’t want to suggest this new game is “open world” in the sense most of us understand that term, I do think we should expect to see a much broader space that will encourage exploration. And while I’m sure there will be a central plot to follow, I’m hoping that Resident Evil Village offers some genuinely non-linear elements, such that it invites more than one play through.

At least we don’t have long to find out what Capcom has in store for the legendary survival horror franchise. I’m excited to play Resident Evil Village, but I’m almost equally excited for the conversations, analysis, and speculation that will emerge from the community post-launch.

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