Hey guys, it’s Kernook here. Let’s enter into the realm of survival horror for a spell, shall we? This will be a retrospective review of Resident Evil. This review will only cover the original black box release of Resident Evil 1, for the PlayStation.
This review will not cover the directors cut, or the duel shock release of the game. That’s for two reasons. Firstly, the soundtrack was changed in both of those versions, and not entirely for the better. Secondly, even though I do have both the director’s cut and the original black box release, I usually don’t play the director’s cut version.
Furthermore, this review does not cover the Resident Evil remake. That’s a topic for a different day. It requires it’s own separate review. Today, I’m just going to be covering the original game. There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s get started.
Resident Evil as a franchise will always be very near and dear to my heart. In order to understand why, I need to give you a glimpse of my childhood. My personal upbringing with gaming isn’t necessarily something that should be emulated.
In 1989, I was born with Dyspraxia and Dysgraphia, which are non-curable motor-skill disorders. They’re also kind of weird, and when I was a child there was no good way to handle the disorders. Experts in the field of medicine sort of just shrugged it off. They weren’t entirely sure how to help alleviate the symptoms, which are a long list in and of themselves. Look it up if you want to, just know that not all of them apply to everyone. There is a spectrum.
What worked for me, probably as a fluke was incredibly lucky. I just want to make that clear. I don’t advocate for buying games for children who aren’t ready to handle the context of that game. Furthermore, I believe it’s up to parents to police their child’s gaming habits. It’s not for the media or the public to decide.
That being said, as a child I spent a lot of my time playing video games. I belonged to a family of gamers. My earliest memories contain eight-bit and sixteen-bit images splashed across the television screen. Sonic and Mario were my bread and butter. We were lucky to have a Sega Genesis, a Nintendo, and a Super Nintendo in the house.
Our gaming library wasn’t particularly vast. Thankfully, we had a large and active gaming family. My bother, older cousins, and even my mom, played video games. We often traded games and systems, to experience the best of all worlds. The medium of gaming was everywhere for me.
When I think about it now, playing the Resident Evil franchise in the late 90’s was one of the best experiences I could have had as a child. It helped a lot for my personal and particular problems. So, from here on out, when I talk about the franchise, just keep that. I do have a positive personal bias towards the franchise as a whole, and I won’t disregard that.
The Beginning: Sweet Home Mutates into Resident Evil
Any gamer that was around for the 90’s knows that it was a very experimental time in gaming history. Prior to the 90’s, playing games with 3D animation was laughable, expensive, and to casual players it was unheard of.
Frankly, 2D gaming was cheaper to develop, more accessible to gamers, and pandered to a wider family-style audience. In general, 2D gaming was just the commonality at the time. Occasionally computers offered a stepping stone into 3D gaming, but even that was limited at first. A lot of games that looked 3D weren’t. They just looked that way, using clever techniques and tricks of the eye.
Sony changed that with the release of the PlayStation. The powerhouse of a system opened doors for developers, and allowed gamers a glimpse into what fully realized worlds might look like.
Capcom, a Japanese video-game developer, had the bold idea of bringing one of their classic games over to the new console. Its name was “Sweet Home“. Now, here’s a little food for thought. Sweet Home was a title for the family entertainment system. It was made in 1989, so everything about it was made with the older platform in mind. Bringing it into a 3D space was going to be a monumental effort. The game was a fusion, containing both RPG and horror elements. Knowing that this would not be an easy task, Capcom asked Shinji Mikami to help them with the project.
To say that the project was a massive undertaking would be selling the matter short. Everything was against them in this effort. Sweet Home was a complex game with multiple story lines, and very intricately created puzzles. They couldn’t just up-heave the general concept, and then proceed to cram it into a 3D environment.
That surely would have been a complete disaster. Thankfully, that’s not what they did.
Instead, the ideas and themes of Sweet Home took on a life of their own. Eventually, from the ashes of all of those great ideas, a new game was born. It was known as Bio Hazard in Japan.
Unfortunately, there was another problem. They couldn’t use the name. A DOS game had already registered that name for a different brand, so Capcom couldn’t use it.
Capcom eventually re-named the title, and it became Resident Evil. The game, in a word, was masterful. There were plenty of horror games to play at the time, but none of them were quite like this one. With the release of Resident Evil, so too, came the birth of survival horror.
An Aside: A Plethora of “You Died” Screens
I was young when I began my Resident Evil journey. The first game I ever beat on my own was Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Prior to that, I didn’t have the skills required to beat the games. I tried, of course, but I always needed help. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis had a freakishly low skill requirement on easy mode.
With tons of weapons and ammo in the item box at the start of the game, it’s actually pretty difficult to die. Well, I mean, unless you just stand there and let zombies eat you.
As a general rule, survival horror is not an easy genre to play. It’s generally made for adults. It’s not aimed at it kids, nor should it be. I played the genre as a child, but I had an older brother that was usually with me. Forcing myself to focus on cognitive puzzle solving, basic game controls, memorizing maps, and recalling enemy layouts were some of the hardest things I ever had to do in a game. This is why I say that playing these games helped me more than I ever could have perceived as a child. They were foundational tools for many of the skills I became able to do after holding a controller and thinking outside of the box.
After playing Resident Evil 3: Nemesis on easy, normal, and finally hard difficulty, I was able to go back to the older games in the genre and play them on my own. Before that, I usually never made it beyond the mansion in Resident Evil 1, or the police station in Resident Evil 2. Before that, poor inventory management, terrible ammo conservation, and a lack of ink ribbons usually did me in.
Entering the Nightmare
Entering into Resident Evil, a bazaar string of murders runs rampant. Victims are being eaten alive.
Resident Evil features a fairly typical story. A rescue mission is taking place. With a string of murders running rampant across the fictional Raccoon City, it’s up to the police to find out what is really going on. In response to this, the Special Tactics and Rescue Service, or “S.T.A.R.S.” have been sent to look into the issue. Having been sent deep into the mountains, the first team has gone missing.
When starting the game, players get to choose between two characters. Both of them are S.T.A.R.S officers. One is a man by the name of Chris Redfield. The other is a woman by the name of Jill Valentine. Each one has their own story, and it serves the player to go through each scenario at least once.
No matter what character you pick, you have a few not-so-simple tasks:
- First, you must find the missing Bravo S.T.A.R.S. team members. At the very least, you must find out what happened to them.
- Secondly, you must find out what has been happening deep in the Arklay Mountains just northwest of Raccoon City.
- Thirdly, you have to survive this ordeal and come out of it alive.
The opening cinematic is the same for both characters. You find out that the other team’s helicopter has been heavily damaged, and no one is around. A pack of deranged zombie dogs attack the group. In a desperate attempt to survive the attack, the alpha team members make a mad dash to the nearby mansion. They hide inside, where they believe it will be safe.
Instead, they’ve walked headlong into the nightmare. The a virus has spread throughout the entire mansion, infecting everything from humans, dogs, plants, spiders, and more.
The mansion itself is a labyrinth of narrow hallways. A maze that needs to be traversed bit by bit, carefully and with an eye out for the looming dangers.
Tight camera angles and tank controls keep the player on their toes. Now, I’ll say this, a lot of people complain about tank controls. In this current era of gaming, I agree they can be a bit clunky. That said, I never had an issue with them. In fact, they were almost second nature to me. For me, I had more of a problem with inventory management and trying not to use up all my ammo.
The game-takes small cues from Sweet Home, Alone in the Dark, and other story driven horror titles. With limited inventory and never enough ammo, players will be forced to explore many areas to find the items they need in order to progress.
Certain keys have to be acquired, and backtracking will happen more than once. This was a risky design decision, but I’m glad it works so well. Typewriters for saving and item boxes for inventory management will be utilized often. They have been carefully placed in areas that players visit often.
On the topic of item boxes and typewriters, they are instrumental in playing Resident Evil. These are core game mechanics across most of the titles. Space on your character is limited, and it is imperative that you plan accordingly. This includes saving your game. In order to save your game, you require ink ribbons. You’ll usually find them in small batches.
Every time you save your game, it costs an ink ribbon. The supply is limited and on the first play-through you might find yourself running out. The ink ribbon is a doubled edged sword, though. Higher end game rankings require faster completion times, fewer saves, and less healing items.
Thanks to constant puzzle solving, there is a sense of adventure woven into the narrative. To be honest, it couples nicely with the campy dialogue and nods to classic horror as a genre.
Nowadays, the original Resident Evil might be a bit too campy, but I still enjoy it. I think it works well, given the graphics of the era.
Newcomers need to remember that the PlayStation era was before high fidelity graphics were even possible in gaming. In my opinion, the goofy dialogue only adds to the charm. In some ways, it has even helped to age the game. Back in the day there were some parts of the game I had a hard time taking seriously. Nowadays, I think it’s actually impossible. I feel like everyone has that moment when they want to laugh out loud at least once. For me, that reason alone makes it an experience worth playing.
Really, there is only one form of combat in Resident Evil. You can either aim your gun and shoot, or choose to run away. Both options have their place, and it’s important to know what option suits the situation best.
Skilled players can do no “save, knife only runs”, but that isn’t something average players will master. Certainly not on their first try.
Learning the contours of the mansion will help you to make these all too important decisions. You can’t murder every enemy in the entire game. Your ammo is limited, and this key fact is what defines the survival horror genre. Well, that, and the tank controls for earlier titles.
Your job is simply to survive by any means necessary. Choosing a live-and-let-live approach comes in handy inside wide open rooms. Outmaneuvering slower enemies will conserve ammunition. Narrow hallways will require a more aggressive approach.
Due to the stationary camera angles and tank controls, sometimes enemies will be hiding just off camera. The developers planned for that, giving every monster in the game some sort of audio cue. They were careful to make every sound distinct and clear against the ambient music of the soundtrack. Zombies have their moans, dogs growl, hunters make a clicking noise whenever they walk, and so on.
Even boss fights like Yawn have carefully placed cues to warn you about what kind of attack is coming. In general, careful players can usually avoid getting attacked by a monster off screen, all they need to do is wait and listen.
If you take damage from an enemy, you’ll have to rely on herbs and first aid sprays to heal you. They’re in short supply, and every time you get hit you put yourself into a sticky situation. Your character will begin to hold their side if the injury is bad enough. If they continue to take damage, they’ll begin to limp slowly, and this makes avoiding enemies difficult.
There are several boss battles, of course. Yawn is a battle you face twice. With the right weapons and preparation, they’re never too hard. If you conserve your ammo properly the bosses shouldn’t be your largest threat. In fact, I’d say that most boss battles in this game aren’t that big of a threat at all.
Instead, I’d say that forgetting where you might have left a zombie or two is a much bigger problem. Backtracking after a battle can be a death sentence. Especially if you’re low on ammo and healing items.
The first Resident Evil game is a true classic among the survival horror genre. It isn’t insanely difficult, but it doesn’t forgive reckless new players either. The game has a learning curve, and it expects you to rise above every puzzle, enemy, and trap that it gives you.
The game is atmospheric in the best ways, utilizing visual assets in a way few games could back then. The musical sound design is flawless in the original black box edition of the game, ambient and often beautiful. The musical quality is abysmal when it comes to the directors cut, or the duel shock releases of the game. Sadly, that’s the trade-off you make if you can’t get a copy of the original.
The voice acting is campy at best, embarrassingly bad at worst, but a lot of that dialogue became a touchstone for gamers around the world. People attend anime and gaming conventions cosplaying as the characters. Fan fiction flooded websites, and fan art followed soon after.
Best of all, nowadays speed-runners collectively band together to experience the game, giving rise to an entirely new audience of survival horror fans. All of that cannot be understated.
Obviously, with the original game being remade, we got to visit the mansion once more with the Resident Evil remake for the GameCube in 2002. Many prefer the remake over the original. I certainly do as well. The remake eventually received a PC port, which is by far the most visually impressive way to enjoy the game.
That said, returning to the original game every now and then is vastly important to gaming history. Survival horror as a genre would be completely different than it is today without the original Resident Evil.
This has been Kernook of “The Demented Ferrets”…
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