I finished Resident Evil the other day, in an effort to expand my knowledge of the history of Survival Horror genre. I was hungry for more good horror games, especially considering I ran out Silent Hill games whose awesomeness are uncontested. Seeing as Resident Evil "started it all", I had high hopes of a horror classic that would have me as pumped for the genre as Silent Hill 2 did. However, knowing the background of Resident Evil, I was expecting an undisciplined sort of horror as compared to the strict rules that Silent Hill set for itself in order to play with the player's expectations. Even though Resident Evil did play with my expectations of its horror, it did so in a negative way, as the horror is practically nonexistent. Although the horrors are nonexistent, the game's ability to engage the player is phenomenal and the experience is unforgettable.
Taking Resident Evil seriously will only doom the player to frustration. The scares are nonexistent, the plot is a total disaster, the writing is atrocious, the voice acting is horrible, and the controls are some of the worst in any game I've ever played. Looking at the game now, I can't see how anyone can consider it a horror classic as the game is about as unscary as Dead Space (although Resident Evil doesn't seem to be trying as hard). However, after obtaining the first ink ribbons I realized that I was looking at the game in a frame of mind that would cause me to never enjoy it. The scares I were expecting were never coming. However, the gameplay for the perfect survival horror game was there, in a package of cheese instead of psychological thrills.
The ink ribbons represents a lot more than a stupid gimmick that prevents players from saving their game, something which I understood the second I picked them up. The framework that the ink ribbons crafted was ripe for scares, in a way that Silent Hill approached in a different way. Ascending the importance of both the scarce ammo and health restoration items, limiting saves was the best move that the original Resident Evil could have done. It made players strategize their attacks on the mansion, fear every encounter with the garden variety zombie, and contemplate every use of a save they have. Because if they screw up, they can't restore their save and try again. It led to the exploration conundrum: "Should I explore and run into enemies and scares to find more crucial items? Or should I press on and try to tough it out and play it safe as long as I can?" which is a favorite of mine in horror. Unfortunately, Resident Evil doesn't succeed 100% in this, as you're going to explore almost every room anyway, but it still does a heck of a job doing so.
Along with setting the framing device for the gameplay for one of my favorite game genres of all time, Resident Evil actually reminds me most of Luigi's Mansion of all things. Not just in face value, either. The main characters come across a mansion full of a colorful variety of monsters, environments, and areas to come back to and unlock, and there's many crevices to explore. The entire experience felt so much like Luigi's Mansion, that I dubbed Resident Evil "Luigi's Mansion, but replace the colorful cast of ghosts and charm with zombies, strict resource management, and plenty of cheese." Exploring the mansion was always rewarding and fun, and finding a new key filled me with excitement as I ran across the halls like a giggling school girl trying to find the new rooms I've unlocked. In addition to this, the main objective of Resident Evil was to have as much fun as you can, which Luigi's Mansion does extremely well (To be fair, Nintendo games are full of this).
As for the cheesiness... There's not much else to say. I mean, what else can you add on top of the infamous Jill Sandwich scene?! Every line of the game is written in ironic comedic gold, as if the localization team had only a vague idea of what humans were and used The Room as their thesis on human interaction. Every character has atrocious voice acting to accompany their hammy dialogue, which leads to several highly entertaining sequences especially involving the primary use of rope. Another hilarious exchange revolved around a missing character, who was found by the playable character in the middle of the game. The exchange went like:
"Holy cow, you're still alive!"
"We were looking all over for you, where have you been?"
"Be safe around here. Good bye" *leaves*
No mention of where they were going or why they were gone, just poof. It kinda makes sense at the end of the game, but the fact that no one bothered to think about it worries me. Interacting with the enviornment is also incredibly cryptic Ã la Zelda 2, as interacting with a locked door will tell you something along the lines of "A shield". Wait, what? A shield of what?
As for the environments and enemy designs, they're fantastic. Every room has different things to offer and all of the rooms are coherent in terms of "zombie riddled mansion that may or may not be evil". There's no random out of place snow area or a random rule breaking minigame. The logic that the environment sets is coherent and the depths that it goes to leads to very entertaining scenarios (like fighting a killer shark in a flooded basement or a plant that grew a mind of its own and conquered an entire shed). The player is almost always given several options to solve a particular boss, which was always fun trying to find the solution that fit you the best. Unfortunately, the extent of options did not spread to puzzles, which would have been neat to be given the option to solve a puzzle by shooting in addition to pushing blocks around.
At the end of the day, I can't help but love Resident Evil. I literally can not understand how anyone could have found it scary at any point in time, but the experience was too much of a mindblowing good time to not leave from it happy. I actually prefer it to the original Silent Hill (which I found relatively spooky, like a pretty alright piece of creepypasta), but comparing the two series leaves something to be desired. The two approaches horror in different ways, and while only one succeeds in being scary, I can't say the other doesn't succeed in being amusing in how it fails in an adorable way. Like a baby wearing a traffic cone on his head. You go "Awwww, babies aren't supposed to do that!" and keep a watchful eye on them so they don't try to stick the cone up their nose. Which looking at RE5 now, I'm afraid we're too late.