It is one of the best-selling video games in all of Capcom’s history. However, at the start of its development, no one was very convinced that such an ambitious project could replicate the success of its prequels. The easy would have been a merely continuous experience, but instead, its developers opted for a return to the origins. Something that not everyone agreed on. Time would prove them right.
When the development of Resident Evil 7 began, shortly after finalizing that of its prequel, his team had to ask themselves an important question: Should they continue the saga as before or try to return it to its origins? It was not just any question. The last installments of the Resident Evil series had completely put aside the concept of survival horror to focus, instead, on a much more past concept of turns, which at times seemed inspired by a Hollywood blockbuster. Capcom has always shown great pride in the franchise and in having captained the heyday of horror video games since the mid-1990s, which is why there were some voices in the studio that were dissonant with the path that the series had taken. We cannot forget that the fifth and sixth installments of Resident Evil, clearly focused on action, have been the worst rated of the entire saga. Although Capcom could not turn a deaf ear to a bitter reality either: Resident Evil 5 and 6 have been their most criticized titles, but they were also, until that moment, the two best-selling video games in their history. Not only from the series, but from the entire studio catalog.
That was the dilemma faced by its director, Koshi Nakanishi, who was already a veteran of the series, having worked on Resident Evil 5 and directed the great Resident Evil: Revelations. Although in reality, if we pay attention to the chronicles, that decision was not so much of Nakanishi but of much higher spheres in Capcom. As well as the president of the company himself, Kenzo Tsujimoto, who suggested to Jun Takeuchi, a studio legend, that he lead a profound change in the direction of his star series. To the point that a project to develop that seventh installment, clearly continuous with respect to the prequel, was canceled in view of the warm reception by the press from Resident Evil 6.
At Capcom they developed the RE Engine to make life easier for their developers and then they could reuseJun Takeuchi, who had previously collaborated closely with Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya in the development of the first two Resident Evil installments, is surely the developer who knows the saga most intimately within Capcom, so it was the best possible choice to return Resident Evil to its origins. Also, Takeuchi had an added challenge. He not only had to spearhead a transformation in the series, but also restructure the inner workings of the studio. The idea was to imitate the structure of large international studios, replicating the structuring of their teams and their development processes. So, from the outset, Capcom developed the RE Engine, a cutting-edge graphics engine, with tools to make life easier for its developers, which they could later reuse in other projects.
In the development of video games in Japan there is a common practice that is to define a project with one word. The one chosen to define Resident Evil 7 was harawata, which we could translate from Japanese as “guts”. Anyone who has played the game will understand this definition perfectly. If something is not missing in this installment it is precisely the offal. A sample of identity that at first was intended to be even more radical, because in the early stages of the game, the main character, instead of having his hand amputated, was going to be eviscerated. The free gore, its atmosphere and its setting, which was once again like a single house in the first installment, were directly inspired by Evil Dead, Infernal Possession in Spain, the mythical film directed by Sam Raimi that catapulted Bruce Campbell to fame . Inspiration resulting from long weeks of deliberation by Takeuchi, who concluded that Evil Dead would be the perfect muse to return the saga to its origins, especially for those young developers who never got to know these roots.
Takeuchi assembled a trusted team, which would be led by developers who knew, as demonstrated by Koshi Nakanishi, that they fully knew the essence of what defines a Resident Evil. In his words: “It was less about changing how I worked and more about remembering how we worked at that time.” However, all his changes were not well received at first. Some of these developers, for example, did not quite share Takeuchi’s idea of moving to a first-person view. It was the way the producer had devised to transmit terror to the player in the most intimate way possible. In fact, the main team was invited to visit abandoned houses on the outskirts of Osaka, some of them haunted according to local legends, in order to reflect that horror firsthand. That commitment to terror was such that the game’s script was not written until the last moment. The design and art teams worked together to develop the most terrifying ideas imaginable, which they would already make fit after the event. The person in charge of this task, by the way, was not a Japanese, but Richard Pearsey, a scriptwriter specialized in video game narrative who was responsible, among others, for the extraordinary Spec Ops: The Line.
The team knew they were on the right track when they sent their Capcom colleagues in the United States a small sample of their work. In order to clearly explain his conception of the project, Takeuchi ordered to create a simple video of a few seconds, in which the protagonist is chased by a ghostly woman through a ruined house. The video caused a sensation, both among his fellow Americans, and among the rest of his peers in Japan. It is also during this time that it is decided that the game would be compatible with virtual reality glasses, thanks to the efforts of one of its programmers, Kazuhiro Takahara, who had begun to test that technology in his spare time. A providential decision, as Sony was finalizing the details of its Project Morpheus, its VR glasses for PlayStation 4.
Sony’s virtual reality viewer was also providential in gauging public reactionSony’s virtual reality viewer was also providential in gauging public reaction. At E3 2015, Capcom introduced KITCHEN, a demo set in the game’s universe in which one of its secondary characters is subjected to a terrible experience without being able to do anything to prevent it. At no time was it stated that this was a sample of the future Resident Evil 7, which no one outside of Capcom knew or even that it was being developed, although its creators left enough indications, very subtle, that suggested it. The demo was a critical and public success, once again confirming Takeuchi and company that they were on the right track.
It was at E3 the following year, in 2016, when Resident Evil 7 was finally officially presented, also confirming that KITCHEN was part of that universe. The reactions exceeded the expectations of Takeuchi, who could never overcome the fear that the public would not accept this radical change in the direction of the franchise. The rest is history: the demo released shortly after the official announcement was downloaded by millions of people, and within a few months the game reached four million copies sold. At this time the game’s sales are counted at more than ten million, which has made it, with the permission of Monster Hunter World, the best-selling title in Capcom history. Long surpassing, effectively, the Resident Evil prequels.
The success of Resident Evil 7 marked the trajectory to follow in the development of the sagaThe success of Resident Evil 7 marked the trajectory to be followed in the development of the saga, as Resident Evil Village, the eighth part of the series, demonstrates perfectly, which strictly follows the guidelines devised at the time by Takeuchi. It is certain, therefore, that the next installments will continue this approach to very intimate first person horror. But if something Resident Evil has shown is its ability to reinvent itself, so it would not be surprising that in a few years, who knows when, a new installment of the saga takes a totally new and different path. I guess this is, deep down, one of the great virtues of the Capcom series: always surprising and astonishing its audience. Something in which Resident Evil 7 was no exception.