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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. While 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".
The tone of the game was mix of horror, grounded sci-fi, & mystery and the plot involved police officers Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine trying to escape a mansion full of zombies and other monsters seemingly created from a viral outbreak (hence the Japanese title). The story concludes with their escape after a confrontation and subsequent death of their superior officer Albert Wesker, who reveals his involvement in the viral experiments that created the biological weapons encountered as an employee of the front corporation Umbrella. The main gameplay premise was very unique for its era which was based around managing limited ammunition, health, and even game-saving resources to solve puzzles and survive encounters rather than eliminate all enemies. Although the then status quo was to create games in full-3D, the project used pre-rendered backgrounds coupled with fixed-camera angles to create the perception of highly detailed environments which compliment the restrictive gameplay. Other immersive techniques used included a live-action opening and ending movie, in-game voice-acting for cutscenes (albeit of poorly executed), the ability to "examine" scenery for clues or flavor-text, a separate "examine" option for inventory items to closely view them as 3D models, and a few well directed jump-scares. As standard of Capcom to designate their own genres, "Survival horror" was applied to the game.
Resident Evil was released in March 1996 to critical acclaim and became a PlayStation best seller which solidified it as one of Capcom's flagship IPs. Work on a sequel called Resident Evil 2 began soon after with Hideki Kamiya as director and its advertising commenced quickly having appeared at Tokyo Game Show that same year while still in very early development.
Before the sequel's release, Capcom expanded the franchise with other media. Alongside the original game's 1996 debut, a guide book called "BIO HAZARD Perfect Capture Manual" was published and during that same year, the Marvel comic book tie-in also titled "Resident Evil" & a CD soundtrack were released, as well as the rights to produce a Hollywood movie were sold to Constantin Film. In July 1997, the first Resident Evil was re-released as a port for the Sega Saturn in Japan packaged the supplement book Inside of BIO-HAZARD & BIO HAZARD The True Story Behind BIO HAZARD which contained additional story and information that elaborated on the universe's lore. Later that year, a new version of the game titled Resident Evil: Director's Cut which included additional content and the first audio-drama titled "The Tragedy of Makoba Village" which was a story prequel to the game were released. This trend of different media expansions, supplement materials, and updated game versions & ports would be maintained 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 excerpts which carried over to the pack-in book for the soundtrack CD and the game itself was subject to translation errors. This would also be a tendency for the series which sometimes led to scenarios where localization would reference previous alterations or ignore Japan-only material resulting in perceived inconsistent lore.
Meanwhile, Resident Evil 2 was facing troubled development so was thusly scrapped and rebooted as partially advised by newly hired writing consultant Noboru Sugimura & Mikami who was a producer on the project. The scrapped phase became known as BIOHAZARD 1.5 by fans and eventually Capcom. While the gameplay and production techniques were mostly the same, the main innovation was it directly continued the story and expanded the universe of the first game which was not yet common for the video game industry. The plot involved new protagonists Claire Redfield, sister of Chris and Leon Scott Kennedy, police officer from the same department surviving a new outbreak in the city the mansion was located near. Like Chris and Jill, they would encounter the fallout of Umbrella's illegal activity and end in a position of fighting to take down Umbrella after the entire city and evidence against the corporation is destroyed by a thermal bomb launched by the United States government.
Resident Evil 2 was released in January 1998 again to widely positive reception and was an even bigger success than its predecessor. It's initial release remains the series' best selling game on a single platform.
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 which Capcom began planning the future of after its launch. The previous four protagonists, Chris, Claire, Leon, and Claire, all would return in major titles as well as the thought deceased Wesker who would serve as a reoccurring antagonist who spurs on many of events of the story. Viral outbreaks, biological weapons, and Umbrella would also be reoccurring plot elements. Lastly, the stylization of franchise name was updated from "BIO HAZARD" to "BIOHAZARD" without a space between the words.
Capcom in addition to creating more games over the following year, also had multiple other game scripts and supplement material written concurrently by Flagship & Sugimura while outsourcing help from other studios 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;
- BIOHAZARD 3 for PlayStation produced by Kamiya, a sequel that involved an outbreak on a ship that would get entirely scrapped and his team would move on to a different project.
- BIOHAZARD GAIDEN written and made by Capcom internally which eventually released as Resident Evil 3: Nemesis in 1999, partially due to the original BIOHAZARD 3 being scrapped.
- Resident Evil CODE:Veronica directed by Hiroki Katō of Capcom Production Studio 4 for Sega Dreamcast, which released in 2000.
- A port of the first Resident Evil for Game Boy Color outsourced to another developer. Due to development trouble, the project was cancelled and in order to have a release on the system, an unrelated project was transformed into Resident Evil Gaiden (not related to aforementioned BIOHAZARD GAIDEN) which was written by Hiroki Katō released in 2001.
- 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 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 plots of the yet-released projects.
Resident Evil Survivor was 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 were also released as part of the series with the former starting as a Japan-only arcade game.
A remake of the original game also titled Resident Evil would be released exclusively for Nintendo GameCube in 2002 and Resident Evil Outbreak was developed for the PlayStation 2 which its primary innovation was incorporating of online multiplayer released in 2003.
After the initial BIOHAZARD 3 project was abandoned, the team now directed by Kamiya began work on BIOHAZARD 4 aiming to launch for the PlayStation 2. By 2000, a story scenario had been decided on and development progressed until Mikami vied and convinced staff to re-purpose the project into its own game due to deviating too far 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 new Resident Evil 4 project only on Gamecube. Projects to be Resident Evil 4 would begin and subsequently be scrapped with different directors until 2004 when Mikami took over. Those projects are colloquially known as "Resident Evil 3.5".
Due to declining sales from nearly every title since Resident Evil 2, Mikami made the decision to take Resident Evil 4 in a more modern and action-oriented direction in efforts to achieve more appeal and notoriety. While nearly every previous game was built around the same formula and mechanics, almost every convention was challenged and changed. Umbrella, their viruses, and zombies were not a present part of the plot and instead a bioterrorist group and their parasite-based weapons served as the antagonists. The project now used a new refined over-the-shoulder camera system and allowed for precise aiming which was now essential for combat.
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 the gaming industry. It's formula became the template for future titles going forward starting gameplay conventions like the use of "Quick Time Event"s, a "dynamic difficulty" background mechanic, a melee combat systems, and collecting money/points for character/weapon upgrading.
Concurrently with Resident Evil 2's production, Capcom began 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 continue the drama album series with "~The Doomed Raccoon City~ VOL.1". Also as part of expanding the universe's lore, the first in-universe documentary called Wesker's Report was released bundled with the updated version of Resident Evil CODE:Veronica.
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 adaptions 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 lines of action figures, and finally the debut of Resident Evil the film which marked the beginning of Paul W. S. Anderson's 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 produced. As a new area of expansion, they began producing their own sometimes canon spin-off media that tied into specific major game releases and started incorporating social media and viral marketing to advertise their games.
In 2007, the on-rails spinoff console game Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles was released. Promotions tied to included the "History of Biohazard" webpage on the game's official website; which acted as an early web-resource before Capcom would create more, the two-part prequel manga BIOHAZARD UMBRELLA CHRONICLES: Prelude to the Fall; the first supplement manga made, and Wesker's Extra Report which was a supplement text that came with special editions of the game in Japan that gave additional backstory.
In 2008, the CGI film Resident Evil: Degeneration was released which acted as a bridge between the previous title and the upcoming Resident Evil 5. Future CGI films would also act as bridges between major titles.
To promote Resident Evil 5, Capcom implemented various viral campaigns. They launched the Resident Evil widget which would periodically update with new screen shots, ran the blogspot.com blog called Experience Kijuju which was written from the view of a character in the game's setting, published the Majini Makeover Facebook app & the Kijuju Survivors viral campaigned to have web users spread awareness of the game, and an light alternate reality-esque flash game that simulated using a computer desktop called BSAA Remote Desktop to read files that reported on events leading up to the game.
Resident Evil 5 launched in 2009 and was notable for being the first major released on the 7th generation of home consoles and included co-op supported with online connectivity. Since release the has remained Capcom's number 1 best selling title. The major plot point of the game was the actual death of reoccurring antagonist Albert Wesker.
After the game's launch, rather than re-releasing a completely new version with new content, Capcom adapted the relatively new industry practice of post-launch Downloadable content to augment the base game. The DLC consisted of player-vs-player multiplayer modes, short story-based campaigns, and extra costumes. In 2010 Resident Evil 5 Gold Edition was released as a package deal containing all of the game add-ons. Releasing "Complete" version would also become a standard practice of the gaming industry and Capcom. The title was also supported with various console themes, avatars, and the Resident Evil 5 Studio Lot which was a special PlayStation Home hub.
The following years saw the release of Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles; essentially a gameplay sequel to Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, the two Nintendo DS titles Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D; a purely arcade combat focused spinoff, & Resident Evil: Revelations; a story prequel to the last major title, as well as Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City which was the first non-Capcom developed title for home console and was an alternative "what-if" on early events of the franchise's story. All of them had similar marketing campaigns as Resident Evil 5 which further experimented with viral marketing. The series' first high definition remasters were also released as "Biohazard Revival Selection" consisting of Resident Evil CODE:Veronica and Resident Evil 4.
In 2011, official social media pages for the series were launched including Twitter, YouTube, & Facebook as well as the official Japanese fanclub website for the series CLUB96. All of which were used to reveal Resident Evil 6 the following year. Along with first trailer, the web service RESIDENT EVIL.NET was announced which would offer stat tracking and online competitions.
The incredibly large and diverse "No Hope Left" marketing campaign was ran to advertise the game with a focus on viral marketing and PR stunts. The most elaborate being the Wesker & Son Resident Evil Human Butchery campaign involving sending out grotesque press kits and opening a "butchery" selling meats made to look like human body parts. While promoting the game, the series was one of the most engaged with IPs on social media.
Resident Evil 6 released to more mixed reception than the previous two major titles but still had strong sales also becoming one of Capcom's best selling products. The game also marked an era where the plots would simply center around different bioterror events disconnected from a central antagonist or group, but instead would loosely connect to Wesker and Umbrella's legacy and lasting impact on the world.
Following its release, 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 digital download as viable products. The over the next five years, remasters produced included Resident Evil Revelations (known as biohazard Revelations: Unveiled Edition in Japan) now on home console with RE.Net support, Resident Evil Chronicles HD Collection consisting of remasters of Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles & Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, the remake of Resident Evil, Resident Evil 0, and another remaster of the forth major title branded as Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition.
In 2015, Resident Evil: Revelations 2 was released in four different episodic installments. Episodic gaming at the time was still being experimented with, and Capcom's addition was to announce the entire release schedule ahead of time and contain it within a month's time as opposed to a year. The following year in 2015, partially tied to Capcom's initial attempts to expand further into eSports, Resident Evil: Umbrella Corps was released which was primarily an online player-vs-player multiplayer experience.
RESIDENTEVIL.NET was utilized to promote the aforementioned new home console titles and some of the remasters. Resident Evil 6 had online-only unlockable content such as additional text to the unlockable files, concept art via "The Art Director's Notebook" section, bonus costume vouchers to be used in-game, and various challenges in the form of Online Events. The two "Revelations" titles were supported with "Present Codes" which were special codes given out across Capcom's social media used to unlock additional loot in-game. For the most part, none of following released featured as much content, and instead focused on promotional events and stuck to player stat-tracking. Promotions included the viral-marketing share campaign "Raccoon City Contagion" for the Resident Evil remaster, the "In-Game T-Shirt Contest" to design a costume for main player character in the Resident Evil 0 remaster, and an wearable promo decals for cosmetic customization in Umbrella Corps.
Non-video game projects released only in Japan included the stage play BIOHAZARD THE STAGE, the first more modern attempt at a musical; MUSICAL BIOHAZARD ~ Voice of Gaia ~, and the web comic hosted on Club96; BIOHAZARD the Toon as well as more CGI films and mangas. Many cross-over promotions with other IPs were conducted during this time period. These ranged from Resident Evil 6 characters appearing in the mobile game Zombie Café, the production of track "Until the Justice" preformed by Japanese singer Raychell to promote the Resident Evil 0 remaster, and Resident Evil: Revelations 2 running joint ads with the horror movie "Annabel".
Also during 2015, the remake of Resident Evil 2 was announced the day the project was green-lit in response to having heard years of fan interest on social media. Despite the early unveiling, no updates would be shared until its proper "reveal" trailer in 2018. Lastly during the E3 2015, the tech-demo KITCHEN was available and presented only as a test for Project Morpheus; Sony's virtual reality gaming system. However, it was secretly a demo for Resident Evil 7: Biohazard which would not be revealed until the following year's conference.
Resident Evil 7: biohazard
During E3 2016, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was revealed along with the rebranding & refocusing of the franchise image under a new logo, details about their new proprietary game engine the "RE Engine", the launching of the Resident Evil Ambassador program which is an emailing list for updates & rewards program, and the immediate release of Resident Evil 7 Teaser Demo: Beginning Hour; a demo made to capture the "feel" of the game rather than sample a piece of near finalized gameplay. The marketing for the game involved drip feeding details through two different updates to the demo, the "The World of Resident Evil 7" ad series, and the producers on the project making many appearances at various trade show to talk about the game.
Resident Evil 7: biohazard released in 2017 to much more positive reception than the last major title. The installment marked another major reinventing to the series' identity akin to what Resident Evil 4 had done. Gameplay was now in first-person and less action-oriented, while introducing new concepts like prominent stalker-type enemies and a greater reliance on ammo crafting. As part of the goal to make the game feel fresh, the new protagonist Ethan Winters was introduced along with the new Mold biological agent that produced enemies that were different than anything before. The RE Engine notably utilized a new method of creating graphics via photogrammetry, which gave a more photo-realistic aesthetic with accented moments of body horror. So far, all the future Resident Evil games have been powered by it. Previous titles were generally had more censored content in Japan, now Japan began receiving a standard strongly censored version having the typical "D" rating on Japan's CERO rating system, and a separate less censored "Z" rated version.
Promotional material tied to the game included BIOHAZARD 7 resident evil Document file which detailed the new technology used to develop of game, and Tokyo Marui released the web article "Samurai Edge AWM01 Archives" and three tie-in airsoft products that each come with their own supplement literature that expanded the lore related to the game.
Post Resident Evil 7: biohazard
Going forward, ResidentEvil.net instead of offering interactivity with titles, launched multiple activities to interact with such as the One Click Questions and the Daily One-shot & "Under the Umbrella" articles.
In early 2019, the remake of Resident Evil 2 released to great reception. The title notably refined gameplay challenge into goals into the form of Records which would unlock content. Previously this concept took the form of just stat tracking in Resident Evil 6 without unlocks, and was untracked but offered unlocks in the previous title. The game also for the first time included a visible gameplay timer which was tied to the players final rank. These refinements added replayability and made the game speed-runner friendly and were retained for future titles.
In late 2019, the console game player-vs-player game Resident Evil: Resistance was revealed while in mid-development with no release date, a departure from Capcom's typical preference announcing of games months before release. Instead, the title began near immediate beta testing and surveys for feedback to use as part of the development process. The Ambassador program was utilized used to recruit play testers for the privet betas of upcoming titles. It was formally released in 2020 packaged with the remake of Resident Evil 3 which acted as its multiplayer component. Later that year, the eighth major title Resident Evil Village was announced along side it's multiplayer companion title Resident Evil Re:Verse, packaged together akin to the previous release, albeit released later. Additional DLC for Resident Evil Village produced post-launch and a console remake of Resident Evil 4 were also announced and subsequently released.
In 2021, Resident Evil 4 was re-released now remade for virtual reality as the first game in the series for Oculus Quest 2. In 2022, Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3, and Resident Evil 7 biohazard were re-released with visual enhancements for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S & PC following the new industry trend of graphical upgrades rather than marketing wholly new "remastered" products.
During this era, Capcom launched Resident Evil Portal which was a merging of the contents of the official franchise website, the portal website, Club96, RE.net, and the Ambassador program into one unified website, as well as aired the first "Resident Evil Showcase" which was an online stream dedicated to delivering Resident Evil news. RE Portal would eventually have unique content added through its "History" section.
Just before the launch of Resident Evil Village, its associated ARG known as The Merchant's Quest ran and was notable for using reddit.com as a hub relying on users commenting the solutions to progress the game, rather than custom made websites. After the game's launch, an "Ask Me Anything" thread for the game's developers was hosted on Reddit for producer Tsuyoshi Kanda to give responses to during E3 2021. This was a rare example of Capcom directly interacting with the community through a social platform. The game itself was notable for continuing the story of Ethan Winters as a direct sequel sold with the DLC in-universe document "The Baker Incident Report" viewable in-game where as other titles told self-contained stories with separate supplement media.
As part of Capcom's new VR-X areas of their Capcom Plaza stores in Japan, BIOHAZARD VALIANT RAID was released as a 4-player arcade attraction utilizing Virtual Reality headsets and motions controls. Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, the franchise's first CGI-anime series and the first live-action films after Anderson's run titled Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City premiered in 2021.
Finally rather than having crossover promotion and cameos mitigated to relatively small IPs or Japan-only games, crossovers with much larger series' initiated such as events for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Dead by Daylight, Fortnite, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
- 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.