Shadow of Phoenix

Respect for Games

Examination of Horror Video Games – Case #1: Resident Evil (1996)

Posted on this Site: Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Originally Published on Thursday, January 14, 2016 at

I have already written a review of Resident Evil in a previous post.
In that post, I reviewed the entire game.
This time, I’m analyzing Resident Evil as a horror game.
The main aspect of Resident Evil’s horror is commonly known as survival horror.
It emphasizes surviving with limitations on the supply of ammunition, health items, saving the game, and inventory management.
Other aspects of Resident Evil’s horror consist of jump scares, blood & gore, opening scenes, music, save rooms, loading screens, no indication of Chris’ game being more difficult than Jill’s game, and tank controls.
Like many fans of the series, Resident Evil was my introduction to horror video games.
I was probably around 10 years old when I first saw Resident Evil, and I was at a friend’s house with a few other friends watching him play his PlayStation.
The rest of us were still playing our Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis consoles.
One of the games he showed off was Resident Evil, and I was fascinated and terrified by it.
Later on, I received a PlayStation as a Christmas gift, and the first game I borrowed from my friend was Resident Evil.
I couldn’t get very far.
Partly due to the confusing control scheme.
I had never played a control setup like that before, and it wasn’t easy to get used to quickly.
I also had a hard time braving the horror of surviving against zombies and other virus infected monstrosities.
I soon gave up, and returned the game to my friend.
I didn’t get to play it again until a few years later when I finally owned a copy myself.
I finished the game, and fell in love with the series.
Resident Evil (known as Biohazard in Japan) was originally released on the PlayStation console in 1996.
It was re-released for the PC, Sega Saturn, Nintendo DS as well as a Director’s Cut and a Dual Shock version for the PlayStation.
It was not the first horror video game.
It certainly popularized horror video games though, and gave the survival horror genre its name.
The story takes place in July 1998 in a fictional American town called Raccoon City.
Strange murders of victims being eaten have been occurring, and S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team was sent to investigate.
Contact with them is lost, and S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team go on a mission to find their teammates.
Alpha Team, which includes main playable characters Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, soon find out that they will have to fight to survive.
Survival is a huge part of the horror in Resident Evil.
Everything you need to survive: ammunition, herbs/first aid sprays, ink ribbons, and inventory space is limited.
You’re constantly worried about whether or not you can make it to the end.
Ammunition for firearms is the player’s only defense against zombies and other virus infected creatures.
The knife can be used as a melee alternative if the player has no ammo, but it would be better just to run away because the knife is useless.
It’ll just bring a “you died” screen.
Since ammunition is limited and scattered throughout the game, it’s best for players to pick their shots.
One must strategically know when it’s best shoot zombies/creatures.
The best strategy is usually to shoot the monsters in areas that will be visited many times, and avoid monsters/save ammo in areas that will be explored once and never again.
In the beginner mode of the Director’s Cut and Dual Shock versions, it’s easier to kill many monsters since ammo is doubled.
In the standard game and advanced mode (Director’s Cut and Dual Shock versions) players are more likely to be hemorrhaging for ammo.
In fighting monsters, there’s a good chance that Chris or Jill (main playable characters in the game) will get hurt, and they must heal themselves with herbs or first aid sprays.
Not only does it always seem like a player can never have enough healing items, but it’s also good to know which healing items to use at the best time.
The game doesn’t outright tell players if and when to use a certain health item or which herbs to combine for the right recovery needed.
There is only an article towards the beginning of the game giving players a hint on combining green, red, and blue herbs.
Both Chris and Jill have a first aid spray at the game’s start, and it’s obvious what it’s for.
The game manual only explains that when the character’s health is below fine status the player must find a healing item.

One must use tactics to prevent health damage, and use a healing item when the character does take damage.
Players, however, find out the hard way which herbs to combine for particular healing effects as well as when to conserve healing items.
For example, I save first aid sprays for boss fights late in the game since 3 green herbs or a green and red herb can fully recover Chris and Jill from danger (the lowest) health status.
Part of the horror of surviving is forcing players how to figure out for themselves how to make it to the end, and only provide hints to lead them in the right direction.
If a player runs out of healing items or doesn’t heal in time before Chris or Jill dies, that’s where saving the game comes in handy.
Saving the game is critical to make it to the end because there’s a good chance Chris or Jill will die at least once.
But, once again, there are restrictions to saving progress.
There’s no autosaving, and no freedom to save anywhere at anytime.
Players can only save at typewriters, which are located in specific areas in the game.
Rooms with typewriters are usually safe rooms from the monsters.
I’ll talk more about the safe rooms later in the post.
In order to use a typewriter, the player must have an ink ribbon, and ink ribbons are limited in quantity and scattered throughout the game just like ammo and healing items.
Players must find out when is the best time to save.
I usually save before boss fights, and other monsters like hunters that are difficult to fight.
One can’t save too often for it will lead to low ink ribbons later in the game when saving is needed most.
On the other hand, if a player doesn’t save his/her progress enough then he/she is taking a chance of dying, and having to repeat hours of gameplay.
Anytime Chris or Jill dies, the game goes back to the main menu, and the last save game must be loaded to try again.
Whether the last save was 2 minutes or 2 hours before dying, that is where the player must start again.
If there is no saved game then the game must be restarted from the beginning.
Restricting when and where the game can be saved creates more anxiety in players about death within the game.
Players are already worried about having enough ammo and healing items in fighting enemies.
Not being able to save one’s progress wherever or whenever makes surviving more difficult and more nerve wrecking.
To top off the limitations of survival, Chris and Jill need to be able to carry ink ribbons and other items with them, but they have little inventory space to have these items with them at all times.
Jill has eight inventory slots while Chris has six inventory slots.
They can only carry the number of items that their inventories allow, and it’s usually best to leave 3-4 spaces open for picking up more items during explorations.
The good news is that there are item boxes (usually in the same room as typewriters/save points) to store extra items.
The bad news is there is a lot of backtracking to item boxes especially with Chris.
Item management is a great way to make players think about what they need for survival.
It also makes them worry about whether or not they chose the right items to take with them, and if they have enough to get them through.
The main theme of survival horror is restrictions, however, there are other aspects to the horror of Resident Evil such as jump scares, blood and gore, and other small elements that contribute.
Resident Evil is also known for its jump scares.
The game is very good at giving players near heart attacks typically by monsters coming out of nowhere.
The only issue is that sometimes too many jump scares can become predictable and ineffective.
I know some people can be scared many times by jump scares.
Personally I can jump once or twice from scares.
After that it’s not very effective on me especially if I figure out the method the game is using to make me jump.
Then I can predict them.
Resident Evil does have some good scares, but later in the game they seem overused.
Another horror element of Resident Evil is blood and gore.
This is a game about zombies and mutated creatures killing and eating people.
It’s not a surprise that there are graphic scenes of Chris or Jill and other characters getting killed in horrible ways, or characters found dead in a gruesome manner.
Of course, blood is shown when killing enemies as well.
The opening full motion video scenes are actually more graphic in the Japanese release, but they were censored in North America and PAL versions.
Even though the graphic scenes of cannibalized bodies in the introduction scenes were deleted in my country, I still found Chris’ narration of victims of cannibalization along with the creepy music to be terrifying.
It was especially terrifying when I first saw the game as a kid.
Music is a very important component in promoting a certain kind of fear in players.
From unsettling music in hallways and rooms to more intense music notes on boss fights to the soothing score in save rooms.
The music sets the mood of the game, and the mood can change in various parts.
The unsettling music can make players fear something may attack them around the corner.
Boss fights can make one feel like he/she has to survive against great odds with heavier music.
The relaxing tone of save rooms feel more like safe rooms.
Believe it or not, save rooms are a part of Resident Evil’s horror.
Save rooms are not only locations to save progress and store away extra items in item boxes, but also give players a safe haven from the monsters.
It gives players a temporary feeling of security as long as they’re in the save room.
Feeling secure in a save room can make players debate if they want to go back out the door to continue the horror of surviving.
Opening doors and ascending/descending stairs or ladders serve as loading screens.
Instead of being a typical dull loading screen, it shows a door surrounded in darkness slowly opening.
The same goes with going up or down a staircase or ladder.
It may not seem like much in this description, but while experiencing it in the game it always made me fear what could be on the other side.
What will I see when I go through the door, or on the other side of the stairs?
It’s the fear of the unknown.
Something else that is unknown to players the first time they play Resident Evil is that Chris’ game is more difficult than Jill’s game.
Chris has less inventory space than Jill (aka more backtracking to item boxes), Jill gets the bazooka while Chris doesn’t, and on and on.
Except for the Nintendo DS, one can only find out by playing the game, or from people who’ve already played the game that one character’s game is easier than the other.
It makes the player find out the hard way that Jill is the better character to play first when learning how to survive Resident Evil.
When choosing between Jill or Chris, players are choosing between normal or hard respectively without realizing it until it’s too late.
It’s not until players progress in Chris’ game that they find out that in many ways they are more screwed in his game especially if they have already played Jill.

The Director’s Cut and Dual Shock versions on PlayStation have three difficulty level choices added before choosing to play Chris or Jill.
Even then Chris’ game is still more difficult.
Those two PlayStation releases actually have six difficulty levels.
One final comment before concluding.
Many people don’t care for the tank controls and switching camera angles.
Tank controls is a common term for the control scheme where the up button on the d-pad or analog stick always makes the character walk forward, down button has the character walk backwards, etc. no matter the camera angle.
It does take time to get used to when it’s one’s first time playing.
I like the cinematic feel of the different camera angles, and tank controls work best with the switching camera angles.
What does switching angles and tank controls have to do with survival horror?
If a person isn’t used to tank controls, it makes the game much more frightening because the chances of dying are much higher when one doesn’t know what to do.
Plus, it can be difficult to see enemies at certain camera angles, which means players need to be cautious as they walk around the corner or towards an enemy they can hear but not see.
I recommend Resident Evil to anyone.
Any survival horror fan will say that Resident Evil is among the best PlayStation games and best horror games they’ve ever played.
It does have cheesy voice acting, and a difficult control scheme to get accustomed to.
The bad voice acting can be enjoyable, and the tank controls just take time to get used to.
As for finding a copy of the game, the Director’s Cut and Dual Shock versions for PlayStation are probably the easiest to find as far as physical releases.
They can range from $10-15 (US dollars).
The Dual Shock version was released digitally on the PlayStation Store on PlayStation 3 for $5.99.
The Nintendo DS release known as Resident Evil: Deadly Silence shouldn’t be difficult to come by either, it can be as low as $10 for a used copy.
The original 1996 PlayStation and Saturn versions are probably harder to find, and can be around $25-30 and higher.
The PC release is close to the same value as its Saturn and original PlayStation counterparts, but it’s not an easy one to come by.
Picking the right edition of Resident Evil will depend not only on what system you want to play it on and how much it costs.
It will also depend on which features you want.
To my knowledge the original 1996 PlayStation release has the least amount of content.
The Director’s Cut added training (easy) mode as well as an advanced (hard) mode.
Besides stronger, faster, and higher number of enemies, advanced mode contains new camera angles, and rearranged item and enemy placements.
The Dual Shock version is mostly the same as the Director’s Cut along with support for the PlayStation dual shock controller and new music.
The Saturn release has a battle minigame, a new monster, and new outfits for Jill and Chris.
Supposedly the uncensored introduction scenes are in the PC version.
The PC version also included new outfits and Jill and Chris each get an exclusive weapon.
Resident Evil: Deadly Silence adds a rebirth mode and LAN multilayer modes.
It’s evident why Resident Evil was so successful that it led to many sequels, and many video games attempted to follow in its footsteps.
It is still loved by many fans today.
I have played it so many times, and I still find so much fun to play.
It may not scare me like it used to, but I still have concerns with having enough supplies to make it to the end.
Final decision: Resident Evil is a great horror game that keeps you on edge, and may give you nightmares.