Few gaming franchises have been as influential as Capcom’s Resident Evil. The series managed to define the survival horror genre two decades ago when the PlayStation classic released on March 22, 1996. Now the Resident Evil 20th anniversary is upon us, and the series has branched out to many genres. We’ve decided to take a look back on the influential series’ past 20 years, and what will come in the future.
A Brief History of Resident Evil
In 1996, Capcom released Resident Evil on PlayStation. Not only was the first game directed by the legendary Shinji Mikami well received by both critics and fans, it ended up defining an entire genre. The survival horror title was highly innovative at the time with its inventory management, pre-rendered backgrounds, and exploration being highly praised. These are all elements that would be used repeatedly in the series, and are still largely present today.
After the runaway success of the original game, Capcom soon started working on the sequel. While Resident Evil 2 released a mere two years after the first game, development was anything but smooth sailing. Shinji Mikami, who was working on the heavily anticipated sequel as producer, often butted heads with new director Hideki Kamiya. In fact, development was so rocky that the game, which fans now refer to as Resident Evil 1.5, was entirely scrapped after a year and a half of work in order to go with a new scenario.
Kamiya would later reflect on development, while talking to Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata. “I was making decisions without vision,” said the Bayonetta creator, who treated the initial failure as an opportunity to learn. Hideki Kamiya, and his team, would then go on to create the Resident Evil 2 that fans know today. One that is largely believed to be the greatest survival horror game ever made.
Capcom would once again use the same engine for its final mainline Resident Evil game on PlayStation. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, which was directed by Kazuhiro Aoyama, ended up taking some risks that have left it less beloved than the other games in the original trilogy. Fans were mixed on the implementation of Nemesis, the game’s antagonist who constantly chases players through the game, and more of a focus on action over exploration.
Thanks to the success of the first three games, Resident Evil quickly became one of Capcom’s biggest franchises. This led to a number of spin-offs that both retained the game’s core gameplay, and branched out into different genres. Three separate light gun shooters released on PlayStation consoles, including Resident Evil Survivor in 2000 and Resident Evil: Dead Aim in 2003. The series even went online with cooperative play with the Resident Evil Outbreak series that ended up being too ambitious for its own good.
By 2005, the series had gone from the next big thing in gaming to feeling dated. Games like Resident Evil Code: Veronica X and Resident Evil Zero failed to innovate, and it was time for the series to be shaken up. This happened in a huge way as Shinji Mikami came back to direct Resident Evil 4. Mikami took the series that he had helped create into a bold new direction. The slow, methodical gameplay was thrown out the window for a new action-oriented approach as the game got rid of pre-rendered backgrounds in its transition to an over the should view.
The changes ended up working better than anyone could have hoped, as Resident Evil 4 not only gave the series new life, but helped influence a generation of action games. Some fans didn’t like the new direction of the series, but even detractors can’t deny that Mikami directed an incredible game.
It would be four years until Capcom released a follow-up to their most influential release since the original Resident Evil, and understandably expectations for Resident Evil 5 were astronomically high. Depending on who you ask, Resident Evil 5 was either a solid sequel that built upon the solid base of 4, or an underwhelming follow-up that didn’t manage to wow gamers. Either way, it didn’t present the next great innovation for the franchise, and Resident Evil needed to decide if it was an action game or survival horror.
The most recent mainline game in the series is 2012’s Resident Evil 6. Largely considered a disappointment, it tried to find a balance for fans of both genres by offering up multiple campaigns. Sadly, that ended up creating several mediocre stories that never managed to successfully come together. It was a classic example of a series trying to find its identity, and failing to do so.
Resident Evil 20th Anniversary - 20 Years on PlayStation
While Capcom works on figuring out what direction to take the Resident Evil franchise, they’ve been porting and remaking plenty of past games in the series. Next up is a full-fledged remake of Resident Evil 2, which is one of the most beloved games in the entire franchise. If it’s successful, then survival horror may end up becoming the series’ forte once again.
If not, we can expect to see more action-oriented titles like the upcoming Umbrella Corps. The Capcom Osaka developed multiplayer-based shooter looks to take its action to the next level. We’ll find out whether or not it ends up achieving that goal later this year, but fan anticipation has been sparse so far.
Even if you’re not hopeful for Resident Evil‘s future, you should still be able to enjoy the Resident Evil 20th anniversary. While not every release has been spectacular, the series has been able to reinvent itself several times over the past two decades. Reaching the apex of both action games, and survival horror. Few developers can claim to do that, let alone a single series. It’s been a very interesting 20 years, and we’re looking forward to 20 more.