Although director Shinji Mikami and the Capcom crew released it as Biohazard in Japan, the original 1996 game needed a new name before landing on American shores—partly because it’d be hard to trademark the term “biohazard” as a name, and partly because there was already another game and also a New York metal band using it.
Capcom organized a company-wide contest to generate a new name, and not everyone was happy with the final result. As Chris Kramer, Senior Director of Communications and Community at Capcom U.S., explained to GamesRadar in 2009, “After combing through a huge list of entries, the marketing group decided that ‘Resident Evil’ was the best, as it was a clever pun—the first game was set in a mansion, get it? I voted against the name—I thought it was super-cheesy; can’t remember what I felt was a better alternative, probably something stupid about zombies—but the rest of the marketing crew loved it and were ultimately able to convince Capcom Japan and Mikami-san that the name fit.”
The first Resident Evil topped best-seller lists through 1996 and early 1997, ultimately selling around 2.75 million copies for PlayStation. The next two titles, 1998’s Resident Evil 2 and 1999’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis for PS1, moved 4.96 million and 3.5 million units respectively, respectively, kicking off a franchise that would expand to include a first-person shooter, a series of films, and various mobile and console versions in the years to come.
The first three Resident Evil titles, however, did the major work of giving an entire generation of players a serious taste for blood. When Resident Evil 2 hit shelves, one reviewer—who noted that the two-disc game “[featured] so much adventure it couldn't be contained on a single CD”—gushed that the “spooky sequel [was] was even more graphic” than the original, and “In many areas it [looked] as if the Blood Mobile had an accident."
While later Resident Evil titles have taken on many of the dynamics of shooter games, the series’ first few games are credited with defining the “survival horror” genre, in which characters struggle to survive—somewhat more realistically than in other genres—while managing inventories of needed items, their physical limitations, and (actually taxing) waves of enemies. A review of the game Silent Hill, a 1999 genre successor from Konami, notes that it was the main character’s limitations as hero that made playing it such a thrill: “His aim is awful and his running pace, though quicker than most enemies, still keeps him only a heartbeat away from being mowed down by the demons running amok on the streets.”
Tatsuya Minami, Senior Manager of Product Planning for Resident Evil, told Maximum News in 1996 that to "create a feeling of horror" the team needed a "solid background" and settled on a "European-style house" because it seemed like the creepiest option: "Personally speaking, I've been to America and England many times, where I visited stately homes in the country, and actually felt quite frightened!" Minami said the developers also took cues from European ghost stories, which, unlike those common to Japanese culture, feature the Devil.
The game’s pre-rendered backdrops were also reportedly also inspired by the main setting of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining: the seriously haunted Overlook Hotel (a theory backed up by the fact that, in Resident Evil 2, the word “REDRUM” is scrawled in red in the Hallway area).
If you put in most of your time combating the Umbrella Corporation on a PS1, you likely missed out on a few features that were exclusive to the Sega Saturn port of Resident Evil. A very tough-to-kill zombie version of Albert Wesker resided in the Saturn version’s Battle Game, for example, as well as a second Tyrant (which stayed concealed in its stasis container until the first one was killed). Hunter Alphas changed for the port, too: after clearing the courtyard, Saturn owners got to grapple instead with Tick characters, whose insectoid bodies included sickle-like arms for slicing players to bits.
The 1996 Resident Evil we knew and loved could have turned out very differently if developers had gotten their way about a few things. From the beginning, Capcom planned for Resident Evil to support two players instead of one, allowing partners to assist each other and make tackling the infected/undead hordes a two-pronged affair. This less-daunting version of the game was nixed early on due to hardware limitations. The game’s core cast was almost quite different, too: Jill and Chris were almost accompanied by Dewey, a ‘comic relief’ medic (who later lent his name to a STARS pilot), and Gelzer, planned to be the team’s (massive) radio operative.
Composed by Masami Ueda (who went on to score music for later series titles), Makoto Tomozama, and Akari Kaida, the soundtrack to the first Resident Evil was arranged with tunes from Resident Evil 2 and 3 for a recorded concert performance—called Biohazard Orchestra—by the New Japan Philharmonic orchestra.
By the time 1999’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was being readied for release on PS1, the series was already a smash hit, and its developers rewarded fans with some curious cultural nods in the form of Easter egg content. In a Clock Tower room, for example, an observant player might have noticed that a portrait of the lead character from Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack hangs on the wall, or that stills from Four Weddings and a Funeral and Back to the Future III are among the snippets on a bulletin board. Near-hidden content in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis performed a public service, too. When venturing near the Grill 13 restaurant to collect the Future Compass, a player might have seen the words "SNAILIVIC TSUM EVOMER GOD TNEMERCXE"—or, when reading backward, "CIVILIANS MUST REMOVE DOG EXCREMENT." After exiting the warehouse, they might have also spotted a longer version of the warning which advised, "DOGS, BE ON LEASH AND OWNERS MUST REMOVE DOG EXCREMENT."
Starting with the first sequel, the timeline of the Resident Evil universe got pretty complicated. The storyline of Resident Evil 2, for example, got picked up in two Japanese radio dramas, Chiisana Tōbōsha Sherry (Sherry, the Little Runaway) and Ikiteita Onna Spy Ada (Ada, the Female Spy, is Alive), though they’re not considered canonical. One continuity break that’s impossible to ignore, though, happens between Resident Evil 2 and 3: according to developers, Resident Evil Code: Veronica, released internationally for PlayStation 2 in 2001, is the true sequel to Resident Evil 2—not Resident Evil 3. And if glimpses of the 2002 release Resident Evil seemed familiar, it’s because it’s a full remake of the original.
The original game was inspired by classic horror gore-fests such as Night of the Living Dead, one of the seminal zombie flicks from filmmaker George A. Romero, a.k.a. “Godfather of the Dead/Godfather of All Zombies.” Romero returned the compliment by directing the Japan-only TV commercial for Resident Evil 2. With key undead influences in its DNA, Resident Evil has gone down in history as "one of the finest horror-themed games ever," Retro Gamer wrote in 2004. The site also pointed out that the game, being "full of shocks, surprises and perfectly poor B-movie dialogue, [is] the gaming equivalent of Night of the Living Dead”--possibly giving context to the fact that...
In 2008, Resident Evil’s lackluster script was recognized by the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition with the honor of "Worst Game Dialogue Ever,” a dubious honor that’s only fitting for lines like “Jill, here's a lockpick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you”
As of 2015, the Resident Evil series has sold around 64 million units worldwide, is Capcom’s top seller, continues to make ‘best games’ lists, and, as G4tv wrote, “launched one of the most successful series in gaming history and provided one of its most memorable scares.”
This is a link to a list of Resident Evil games.
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