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Resident Evil, known as BIOHAZARD (バイオハザード) in Japan, is a highly successful franchise owned by Capcom that started its life as a video game created by Shinji Mikami and Tokuro Fujiwara released in 1996.
Resident Evil is Capcom's best-selling video game series as of 31 December 2020 having sold 107 million units. The success of this franchise has spawned numerous video games, several comic book series, novelizations, a Hollywood action film series, CGI movies, stage plays, an expansive variety of merchandise and cross-over promotions with other franchises.
The franchise is primarily advertised as horror video game series with other media made to promote or relate to a specific major release or forms their own small spinoff series'. Since its debut, most of the games and certain other media installments make up a main canon universe which tells an ongoing science-fiction story where advances in the timeline are typically close to the same year in real life.
The games follow a concept known as "Bio-real" as a word given and engineered by Capcom staff that were working behind the concept phases. The primary story involves a series of accidental viral outbreaks caused by the Umbrella Corporation creating "Bio-Organic Weapons", which prompts a handful of reoccurring protagonists to venture into different careers to fight against the threat of bioterrorism. A reoccurring antagonist named Albert Wesker spurred on many important events while alive and continues to postmortem through his lasting influence on the world.
Rather than having an overarching plot, the stories of each major game installment are mostly self-contained and instead share narrative and thematic elements. The basic flow of each game involves a viral incident occurring via a newly introduced engineers virus, and the parties responsible and their motives are hinted at and eventually revealed.
Other installments and spinoff series' have followed their own shorter or self contained stories or canons.
Gameplay usually involves putting the player character in a survival scenario and incorporates simple firearm combat, navigating and finding keys to advance through maze-like areas, puzzle solving, inventory management, and rationing limited healing and ammunition items.
The typical enemies are zombies and with less common tougher BOWs. Some games have a "pursuer" type enemies that stalks the player throughout areas. Almost all the games include "File" items which are text documents that hint at how to solve puzzles or give backstory, and some form of roleplaying.
The franchise's inception was by Capcom in 1994 as a project for the PlayStation mandated to be a horror game similar to their earlier developed title Sweet Home with Shinji Mikami chosen as director.
Although the title Bio Hazard was chosen in Japan, the Director of Communications at Capcom pointed out that it would be impossible to trademark such in the United States due to another game and a band already using the name. A contest was held within company to find a new name leading to "Resident Evil". As standard of Capcom to designate their own genres, "Survival horror" was applied to the game. Resident Evil the game was released in March 1996 to critical acclaim which solidified it as one of Capcom's flagship series'. Work on a sequel called Resident Evil 2 began soon after and was heavily advertised appearing at Tokyo Game Show while still in early development.
Before its release, Capcom expanded the series with other media. Alongside the original game's release, a guide book called "BIO HAZARD Perfect Capture Manual" was published and in that same year, the Marvel comic book tie-in also called "Resident Evil" & a CD soundtrack were released, and the rights to produce a Hollywood movie were sold to Constantin. In July 1997, the first Resident Evil was released as a port for Sega Saturn in Japan alongside the supplement books Inside of BIO-HAZARD and BIO HAZARD The True Story Behind BIO HAZARD which contained additional story and information that added the to the universe's lore. Later that year, a new version of the game titled Resident Evil: Director's Cut which contained additional content, and the first audio drama called "Makoba Village Tradegy" which was a story prequel to the game were released. This trend of different media releases, supplement materials, and game ports & updates would continue for the rest of the franchise's history.
Most of these spinoff media were not released outside Japan and the lore would be subject to unsupervised localization changes and additions. While the novella within BIO HAZARD The True Story Behind BIO HAZARD received an English release as Resident Evil: The Book, the game manual notably contained newly written backstory information which carried over to the pack-in book for the soundtrack CD and the game itself was subject to many translation errors.
Meanwhile, Resident Evil 2 was facing troubled development and was thusly scrapped and restarted as partially advised by newly hired writing consultant Noboru Sugimura and Mikami who was a producer on the project. The scrapped phrase became known as BIOHAZARD 1.5 by fans and eventually Capcom. The game proper was released in January 1998 again to widely positive reception.
It was during Resident Evil 2's rebooted phase it was decided there would be an on-going story and main universe to the games and Capcom began planning the future of the series after its release. The stylization of franchise name was also subsequently changed from "BIO HAZARD" to "BIOHAZARD" without a space between the words.
Capcom in addition to creating more games, also had multiple other game scripts and supplement material written concurrently by Flagship & Sugimura and outsourced help over the next year in order to release titles on all then current platforms. However, many of these projects would change form by final release. New projects started in '98-'99 were;
- Resident Evil 0 for Nintendo 64 by Capcom Production Studio 3, which eventually released with the same title on Nintendo GameCube in 2002.
- Resident Evil CODE:Veronica directed by Hiroki Katō of Capcom Production Studio 4 for Sega Dreamcast, which released in 2000.
- BIOHAZARD 3 for PlayStation, a sequel that involved HUNK on a ship that would get entirely scrapped and the team would move on to a different project. Had Kamiya as produce.
- BIOHAZARD GAIDEN written and made by Capcom internally which eventually became Resident Evil 3: Nemesis partially due to the original BIOHAZARD 3 being scrapped.
- A port of the first Resident Evil outsourced to another developer. Due development trouble, the project was cancelled and in order to have a release on the system, an unrelated project was developed into Resident Evil Gaiden which was written by Hiroki Katō.
- Resident Evil 2 remakes for Game.com and Tiger 99x.
As these projects were being planned, written, and developed, a Nintendo 64 port of Resident Evil 2 was released with the addition of the "EX Files" which helped tie-in and foreshadow the yet-released projects.
Resident Evil Survivor is released starting Capcom's Light gun compatible cross-franchise series, "Gun Survivor". In subsequent years Resident Evil Survivor 2 CODE:Veronica and Resident Evil: Dead Aim are also released as part of the series with the former started as an arcade game in Japan.
Resident Evil Outbreak was developed exclusively for the PlayStation 2 and its primary innovation was incorporating of online multiplayer.
After the initial BIOHAZARD 3 project was abandoned, BIOHAZARD 4 began as a new project to be released on PlayStation 2. By 2000, a story scenario had been decided on development progressed until Mikami vied and convinced staff to re-purpose the project into its own game due to deviating too much to be a Resident Evil title. This project became Devil May Cry and released in 2001. In 2002, Capcom made an exclusivity deal with Nintendo which included releasing their Resident Evil 4 project only on Gamecube. The series of projects now colloquially known as "Resident Evil 3.5" began and got scrapped with different directors until 2004 when Mikami took over.
Due to declining series sales, Mikami made the decision to take Resident Evil 4 in a more modern and action-oriented direction. The retail product Resident Evil 4 released in January 2005 to incredibly positive reception and strong sales, going on to win multiple game of the year of awards and be cited as an influential turning point in gaming.
Concurrently with Resident Evil 2's production, Capcom began their a merchandising partnership with Tokyo Marui to produce the a replica of the Desert Eagle from the game and would continuing working with them to produce tie-in products for the rest of the franchise history. Flagship also had written the novel BIO HAZARD The Wicked North Sea which was published in the same month as Resident Evil 2 and would go on to write for the arcade attraction "BIOHAZARD 4D-EXECUTER" and the continuing drama album series starting with "~The Doomed Raccoon City~ VOL.1". Also as part of expanding the lore of the universe, the first in-universe documentary called Wesker's Report was released alongside some releases of Resident Evil CODE:Veronica X.
Capcom heavily expanded on licensing the brand to other companies in this time-span. Soon after Resident Evil 2 the publications of S.D Perry's series of novels, WildStorm's "Official Comic Magazine" comic, and King's Fountain's BIO HAZARD 2 manhua began all containing their own original stories or retellings of games as well as the production of the stage play "Bioroid: Year Zero".
Other ways the franchise expanded were with the opening of the scream park BIOHAZARD Nightmare, and the licensing to Toy Biz and Palisades to begin series' of action figures, and finally the release of Resident Evil the film which marked the beginning of Paul W. S. Anderson's own ongoing film series.
In 2001, Capcom launched the first anniversary campaign to celebrate Resident Evil's 5th anniversary which involved releasing specially marked merchandise and a website to advertise such. Capcom would continued to do anniversary campaigns every five years.
After Resident Evil 4's release, Capcom heavily dialed back licensing out the brand and kept most project in-house along with reducing the number of game projects being worked on and released. As a new area of expansion, Capcom began producing their own spin-off media that tied into specific major game releases and started heavily using social media to advertise their games.
To promote Resident Evil 5, Capcom developed a Resident Evil widget that could be added to over platforms, began using alternate reality games, Facebook applications, and viral marketing. By mid 2012 while promoting Resident Evil 6, Capcom broke the top 100 of the The Dachis Group's Social Business Index.
Following the release of Resident Evil 6, Capcom began an internal company restructuring with the goal of making digital distribution more efficient. These investments allowed the releasing of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 episodically and remasters of more games via download viable products.
With the development of Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Capcom revealed their intent to make the Revelations title into a full companion series to Resident Evil. Revelations will be used to fill gaps and expand on already existing mythology while the main series pushes forward. Furthermore, producer for the Revelations series Michiteru Okabe has said that the main series will remain more action-oriented, wanting to reach a mass audience. However, the new Revelations series will be for the fans at the heart of the series. With promises of a stronger focus on the survival horror aspects that made Resident Evil so well known to begin with, Capcom hopes to use the Revelations series to support their long-time fans and provide them with something closer to a classic Resident Evil experience.
Partially tied to Capcom's initial attempts to expand further into eSports, Resident Evil: Umbrella Corps was devolved.
In 2015, unlike any other reveal by Capcom or the gaming industry in general, the remake of Resident Evil 2 was formally announced the day the project was green-lit with having heard years of fan interest on social media being cited by the developers as a reason for its incepotion. Despite the early reveal, no information would be shared about the project until its proper "reveal" trailer in 2018.
During E3 2016, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was revealed and along with the rebranding and refocusing of the franchise image under a new logo, and the launching of the Resident Evil Ambassador program, an emailing list for Resident Evil updates.
In late 2019, the console game "Resident Evil: Resistance" was teased and revealed on social media as a working title in mid-development with no release date. A departure from Capcom's typical announcing of games months before release and from the typical format of the major industry developers. Instead, the title began near immediate beta testing and surveys for feedback to use as part of the development process.
The remake of Resident Evil 3 has announced and released on April 3, 2020, alongside with Resident Evil: Resistance.
In June 2020, Resident Evil Village has announced on the PS5 The Future of Gaming event.
- Productions; films, plays, drama albums etc.
- Comics & manga
- Supplement literature
- Guide books
- Manuals for games
- Soundtracks and albums
- Art books
This franchise has been heavily influenced by George A. Romero's Dead movies, as well as the Alone in the Dark series of PC horror games, early seminal examples of the genre. It should also be noted that the Resident Evil series was inspired by a 1989 Capcom game, based on a Japanese horror movie, called Sweet Home. Most Resident Evil games carry over themes from Sweet Home such as multiple characters, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and special items.
"Survival horror" despite having been coined for and solely applied to the series, the description has become adopted into colloquial language to mean a broad genre of gaming.
Achieving such a high success and popularity, the franchise has often been referenced in popular culture.