I must be getting old. Today we celebrate 20 years since the original Resident Evil was released on the PlayStation in Japan.
It may not have been the true beginning of the ‘Survival Horror’ genre, but it is the game that pushed that term into the mainstream.
I’ve played it a few times; the first was as Jill Valentine around the time Resident Evil 2 was released in 1998 (bear in mind I was only 13). The amazingly acted live intro set had me on edge. I wasn’t sure where Redfield was but I was with Barry Burton (a video game legend) and I had a pistol. I’d be OK wouldn’t I?
Well, no. Upon seeing my first zombie, I panicked, running back into the next room (the first of many ‘saved by the door’ moments), and then turned the console off! After a minute or so to gather my senses I went back in, and played one of the best video games ever made.
You spent a long time looking for keys and backtracking around the mansion. You had to turn on the spot and couldn’t do a 180° (yet). Aiming was hit and miss, and you could get easily get caught by something just off screen. The menu system was clunky, and the voice acting awful.
None of that mattered though. You learnt the layout of the mansion and knew the quickest route to certain rooms. The anticipation of opening a new set of doors with the armour key after walking past them for hours was palpable. You had to pick your shots, and be mindful of the environment. Item juggling was tough, but making tough decisions made it feel worthwhile. The voice acting gave it a certain charm. Would anyone remember it half as well if Barry hadn’t been as wooden delivering classics such as “you were almost a Jill sandwich”?
The game used its limitations to its benefit and became more than the sum of its parts.
A few years ago I went back and completed it again, this time playing as Chris Redfield (essentially playing it on ‘hard’) and finally proved that I could complete it without Barry and a lock pick.
Time hasn’t been kind it in many ways, and its PS1 sequels may have improved upon it in way, but Resident Evil will always hold an itchy, tasty place in not only my gaming history but gaming history as a whole.