It’s nearing midnight, the witching hour, on October 31. The Hunter's Moon is shining brightly through your curtains, providing the only light in an otherwise dark room. The house is silent, except for the occasional sound of an owl hooting outside your window. You feel like the only person alive in the world.
No, this isn’t the opening of a horror story, but is the best setting in which to play one of the greatest survival horror video games of all time: Resident Evil.
Resident Evil is well known for bringing perfection to the horror genre for video games, and for being the first game marketed under the “survival horror” genre. Capcom published its first Resident Evil game, entitled Biohazard (バ イオハザード) in Japan, for the Sony PlayStation in 1996. Inasmuch as another video game and a band already used that name, Capcom could not trademark it in the U.S., so the company held an internal contest to choose a new one. The company’s marketing team chose Resident Evil for the title because the first game takes place in a mansion filled with evil creatures.
Gamers around the world consider Resident Evil the pinnacle of the survival horror genre, but it is by no means the first horror-themed game. Creator Mikami Shinji credits video games such as Sweet Home, a Japanese-only release for the Famicom in 1989, and Alone in the Dark, published by Infogrames in 1992, for inspiring the Resident Evil series and for introducing many popular survivor horror themes.
But what exactly is survival horror? To be honest, it didn’t catch my interest as a player until recently. I had viewed it chiefly as just a darker version of an action game where the player shoots zombies and vampires instead of humans. How wrong I was.
Survival horror is a sub-genre of action-adventure games, but it is often much more complex. Players use weapons that are significantly weaker than their opponents, and their stash of ammunition is extremely limited, which forces them to ration their bullets and avoid direct confrontations as much as possible. For protection, players resort to their surroundings, turning everyday objects into weapons. As the title of the genre suggests, the objective is to survive rather than kill. These games also feature a heavy emphasis on puzzle-solving and on maze-like settings, which players struggles to navigate. Not surprisingly, players often find themselves in areas with low lighting and narrow hallways that provide a feeling of claustrophobia and lead to heart-pounding surprise attacks. Survival horror games are also known for having fewer non-player characters (NPCs) than other genres, and this gives the player a feeling of isolation, as if he or she is the only human left in the game.
Resident Evil games showcase all of these characteristics in an unparalleled manner. Even without the hyper-realistic graphics of today, early editions still manage to keep players on the edge of their seats. The series spawned seven main games, various side-games for the Survivor, Chronicles, and Outbreak series, games for portable consoles and mobile phones, six films, and a variety of novels and comic books. Earlier this year, Capcom announced that the next iteration of the game, Resident Evil: Revelations, is slated to be published for the Nintendo 3DS.
If you’re looking for a classic horror game to get you in the mood for Halloween, look no further than Resident Evil. Turn off your lights and sequester yourself in a small room, and I guarantee you’ll enjoy a wonderful thrill ride. I’d like to thank David O’Connor of the PlayStation Museum for encouraging me to experience this wonderful series and write about it. It’s a blast. If you ever have suggestions for blog topics, please let any of us CHEGheads know!
For now, I’m off to slice up a few more undead monsters. Anyone care to join me?