When you talk about the biggest video game series in history, Resident Evil is right up there with the Street Fighters, Super Marios, and Maddens of the world. Aside from releasing over two dozen titles over the last 25 years and effectively defining the “survival horror” genre of gaming, the enormous franchise has infected everything from blockbuster movies to novels and comic books.
Now Resident Evil is set for another huge year.
In addition to having two different Netflix series in production, Resident Evil Village (sometimes called Resident Evil 8 by those sticking with more conventional naming conventions) is poised to be one of the biggest games of 2021. The game continues the story of 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard protagonist Ethan Winters, while also bringing back series regular (and original Resident Evil hero) Chris Redfield.
Much like how Resident Evil 2 expanded upon the survival horror of the first title and Resident Evil 5 built upon the action-heavy gameplay of the fan-favorite Resident Evil 4, Village will take the widely applauded first-person shooter (FPS)/horror blend of its predecessor and bring it to all new places — including a Transylvanian village and castle overrun by werewolves, vampire ladies that the internet is already in love with, and a variety of other monstrous baddies.
SPIN caught up with Village’s producer, Tsuyoshi Kanda, to chat about the title ahead of its release this Friday.
SPIN: What’s it like to see Resident Evil both grow to tremendous heights as a franchise while also evolving as a video game from the classic fixed-camera “survival horror” format to genre-defining horror FPS?
Tsuyoshi Kanda: It can be a bit surreal and somewhat overwhelming when I take a step back and think about how the franchise has come so far over so many years. I’d like to think that a lot of the continued success stems from the fact that one of the core components of the Resident Evil franchise is to always look beyond what we’ve already done and make sure that we’re constantly pushing the envelope and challenging ourselves towards something new. I think it’s very dangerous to grow complacent and rest on your laurels after success.
I look at the change towards FPS as a great example of how we look to innovate and challenge ourselves. Rather than keeping with the fixed camera from the original trilogy, the franchise spun off towards an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective that brought the horror more up close and personal. With the previous title, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, much of what we were aiming for was going back to the roots of horror. We figured that shifting the camera from third-person to first-person would bring even greater immersion and intensity to the fear, which is why that transition occurred. I’m quite happy with the results, and I think that same level of intensity and immersion — if not more — can be found in Resident Evil Village as well.
What do you think has made Resident Evil such an iconic franchise?
I think a lot of it stems from the world and the characters. You could have interesting mechanics and gameplay, but I believe it all falls flat if you’re unable to present it to the players in a compelling package. We’ve made some drastic leaps in terms of gameplay, but a lot of the reason we’re able to do so is because we’re able to draw from a consistent world with memorable characters.
I think we’ve also been pioneers in spearheading the survival horror genre and the horror genre as a whole as well, which has helped in making Resident Evil a more recognizable name in the industry. It’s been a franchise that many different creators from so many different backgrounds have been able to pour their heart and soul into, and I’m very proud and happy to be part of the team.
Speaking of those characters, how do you go about making sure that fan favorites like Chris, Jill, Leon, Claire, and now Ethan grow from one appearance to the next?
Ethan Winters was a bit of an anomaly in the franchise because he wasn’t so much his own distinct character, but more so a persona of the player in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. As such, we toned down his characterization and didn’t push his traits so much as we normally do. In Resident Evil Village, however, we wanted to push his character front and center to showcase his role as a father doing whatever it takes to save his daughter. I think that growth from a nearly blank slate to a fully fleshed-out character is something that players will really be able to see and enjoy.
On the flip side, Chris Redfield has always taken the role of a hero, whereas this time, he’s taken on a much darker, more sinister role. We’re hoping that the mystery of why such a character with a strong sense of justice has taken such a dark turn will be a very compelling and interesting plotline for longtime fans of the franchise.
How do you make sure that the narrative in each Resident Evil game still ties in to the bigger overall theme of the series?
I obviously can’t divulge any details on the story of Resident Evil Village, but we’ve taken steps to ensure that it still all fits within the same universe. I had briefly touched upon this with the progression of Ethan Winters as a character from Resident Evil 7: Biohazard to Resident Evil Village, but there has to be a level of believability to the character’s actions and traits. The characters and environment can’t deviate too much from what’s been built up in the past. Otherwise, it’ll be jarring with a lack of believability, which is something we have to avoid when presenting something new within the same universe.
When you were creating Lady Dimitrescu, did you have any idea the internet was going to fall so deeply in love with her?
It’s always a strong desire amongst the development team to see fans fall in love with any and all of our characters, but we most definitely did not expect the level of love Lady Dimitrescu has received from the fans. It was an incredibly exciting thing to witness, and everyone on the development team was very happy with the reception.
Considering that a lot of people — myself included — find particular sequences from Resident Evil 7, like the Guest House, to be among the scariest and best horror experiences in video game history, how much emphasis goes into creating those really unforgettable moments when you’re following it up with a game like Village?
We were aiming to go back to our survival horror roots, so it’s a huge compliment for us to hear that it was such a scary experience. At the same time, we also heard about people who found the game too scary to play and ended up shying away from it. That’s something we were a bit more conscious of when creating Resident Evil Village, but rest assured that those types of moments can still be found in this latest installation.
In general, we’re always thinking about the tension curve when creating those types of events and where to slot them in. If the player is inundated with those types of moments at all times, the impact is completely lost. It’s all about the slow build-up leading up to those events that make them have the maximum impact. Similar to how important those peaks are, the valleys are just as significant and important as well. We have to make sure to give the player moments of solace and relieve that tension. Otherwise, they just grow immune to it. By having the contrast, we’re finally able to have those build-ups or surprises take effect as well. It’s fundamentally all about keeping the player on their toes and having them face the unpredictable when we want them to build tension, and offering them solace and peace when necessary to maintain the peaks and valleys of the tension curve.