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The Pleasures of Old School Resident Evil - Narrative Confusion

WARNING: What follows will probably only make sense to people who have played and finished most of the cardinal Resident Evil games. Read at your own risk.

"It's up to us to take out Umbrella."

--final line in Resident Evil 2

In my imaginary alternate universe where Resident Evil remained consistently interesting, the next game would have been exactly that: taking out the Umbrella Corporation, or at least seriously attempting to. This is sort of what Code Veronica did, but beginning with RE3 the series began its side story-obsessed, franchise-milking holding pattern that completely derailed the narrative momentum of RE1 and RE2.

If we can take Code Veronica as the "real" RE3 (which, from my understanding, is what it was originally intended as) then "RE3" and RE4, at least conceptually, extend directly from Leon's line at the end of RE2. Code Veronica picks up Claire's thread as she attempts to infiltrate Umbrella's Paris branch, and RE4... well my suspicion is that RE4 at its genesis was a companion piece to Code Veronica, a game that extended the globe-trotting pursuit of Umbrella established in RE2. That's the rationale for the European location, and I imagine the original story was similar to the final one except that it was Umbrella (and not the locals) who were masterminding things. If RE4 had been released soon after Code Veronica, instead of the endless remakes and side-stories, I imagine that's what it would have been. However, Capcom kept it in development for years and when it was finally ready they had more or less lost the thread established in RE2, hence RE4 feeling more like a reboot than a sequel. This resulted in a strange experience for anyone who actually remembered RE2, since RE4 finally brought back Leon yet dropped Umbrella out of the story completely. Since Leon's entire motivation at the end of RE2 seemed based on taking down the Umbrella Corporation, it left him with no personal motivation in RE4. This is why RE4 felt so frustrating to me. As a follow up to Code Veronica (which felt very much like a sequel to RE2, in spite of its shortcomings) RE4 is almost entirely non sequitur. Story-wise it feels like RE4 should have been a side story, or even another game franchise altogether. RE5, ironically, feels much more like a real sequel to Code Veronica... finally arriving a whopping nine years later.


Not if Capcom has anything to say about it.

Being a story person I tend to want narrative and thematic significance to dictate which games in a franchise are central and which are peripheral. But the Resident Evil franchise, clearly, does not function that way. It seems much more based on gameplay and/or marketing considerations than story. Of course, I wouldn't expect it to be based on story alone, but many game series, like Metal Gear or Half-Life for example, seem to tailor the size and relevance of their stories to the size and relevance of their gameplay innovations, which themselves correspond to the size and relevance of each game's marketing push. Capcom seems to give no shit about this whatsoever in regards to Resident Evil, which is partially what makes the series mythology such a convoluted mess. The result of such a system is that fans have to wait an untold number of years, and be strung along like puppets, while waiting for interesting things to happen in a storyline. And given the frustrating, relatively poor quality of RE's stories, one wonders at the point of even bothering. I certainly do.

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