Itchy. Thirsty. My Time with Resident Evil Village

It’s absolutely clear to me that the people behind Resident Evil Village were beyond thirsty when making this game. Maybe the term “thirsty” will lose its colloquial meaning at some point in the future, so let me be clear for future readers: these developers were horny as hell. Sure, the Resident Evil series has had some very attractive characters in the past, but they were usually limited to one or two a game. A Jill Valentine here, a Leon Kennedy there. Sprinkle in a little Sheva Alomar if ya fancy. But Resident Evil Village is filled with characters that seem made to lust after, which is in stark contrast to Resident Evil 7, which had virtually no characters worth pining for. I imagine an early development meeting where the game’s director was like “okay, everyone, with the power of the new consoles and the versatility of the RE Engine, I want this game to be very, very pretty.” And someone on the design team whipped out a forbidden thirst notebook that they’ve been sketching in for years. Anytime they had to draw yet another throbbing, slick, pustule-ridden monster, they would take a break and draw a character they wanted to kiss and do the naughty with. That notebook became the core design doc for this game.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and start with my experience with the game. I’ve written about my love for the various Resident Evil games and characters in the past, so I guess for context I’ll just say that I’ve been a fan since the very beginning. I favor the earlier games and, like some other fans, was mostly turned off by some of the convoluted/silly twists and turns the series started taking. But I loved the new direction (also kind of throwback?) of Resident Evil 7 and I was all-in when I saw the first trailer for Village. Is there still silliness to be found? Sure. But Capcom has traded twisting, crisscrossing storylines for simpler narratives told in elaborate, well-crafted set pieces, much like the earliest games in the series. When I say that Resident Evil 7 and Village go back to the roots of what made the series special, that’s what I mean. I don’t mean that they’re returning to shuffling zombies and Raccoon City. They’re returning to interesting premises that are then fleshed out with minimal story and maximum atmosphere, and an attention to detail in world building.

We can see evidence of this shift even in how Capcom has handled the naming and marketing of Resident Evil 7 and Village. RE 7 was introduced as Resident Evil Biohazard, but many quickly took to calling it Resident Evil 7. The Biohazard moniker wasn’t just a tribute to the series’ Japanese title, which has always been Biohazard, though. Capcom treated RE 7 as a spiritual refresh of the series. New characters, new setting, new biological weapon type (fungus), new perspective. Old level design, themes, storytelling, atmosphere. I believe Capcom used Biohazard because they wanted the game to reach a new audience, and one thing that deters many gamers from a new entry in an old series is numbers. How many times have you heard (or asked yourself) “do I have to play the other games in the series to play this one?” The next Final Fantasy game is Final Fantasy XVI. 16! And there are still plenty of people who aren’t sure how the series works or whether or not you need to play previous titles in order to ‘get’ the newest entry. So, Capcom wanted players to think of RE 7 as a new title that was wholly unconnected from previous titles so that they could hop right in without worrying about feeling lost or confused about who a character was or why you were doing certain things. I don’t know how well it worked, though, because, as mentioned, people instantly began calling it RE 7 and not Biohazard. With Resident Evil Village, however, in some of the earliest interviews with developers about the game, they insisted this game be called Village. Yes, there is a very clearly highlighted VIII in the word “Village,” but when asked if this game was “Resident Evil 8,” the team stood fast and insisted that it was Resident Evil Village, probably for the same reason as with RE 7: they want to market it to people who may have never played a Resident Evil game before. This time, however, I think it worked. I hear the occasional person say “Resident Evil 8,” but for the most part both the gaming press and people I’ve seen on social media or Twitch refer to this entry as Resident Evil Village.

Whatever you call this entry, I loved it. I finished my fourth playthrough recently, a hardcore run, and I plan on getting the platinum trophy for it soonish. The above-mentioned blend of classic RE elements with gorgeous new settings and characters was a winning combo for me. In the early RE games, the pace was generally slow, plodding even, punctuated by moments of terror as you navigated just a few familiar spaces. Starting with Resident Evil 3, the series began working toward the concept of forward motion, where you’re constantly moving from one set to the next. It traded atmospheric horror for the anxiety of having to always be ready to act and react. I never felt like they got the balance between those two things right, if they were even trying. But with Village, it’s about as close as you can get. There are several areas in the game, each with its own style, design, enemies, and more. In some, the pace is slow and you’re meant to puzzle your way through various rooms. In others, you’re moving quickly and aren’t too concerned about exploration because the pressure is on and you have shit to get done. Maybe this blend of the two approaches to the RE formula will leave ardent fans of either upset that the game doesn’t lean heavily one way or the other, but I thought it made for a dynamic experience where in one stretch I was stressed and in distress, and in another I could take my time and explore the gorgeous scenery.

Speaking of gorgeous scenery, I really want to talk about how beautiful this game is. I’m not talking about the sexy thirst traps yet. We’ll get there. Keep your pants on. Pants on, eyes up, because we’re talking about some ceilings. There is so much visual detail in this game that I legitimately can’t fully do it justice in either writing or pictures. Virtually none of the screenshots I’m sharing really represent these visuals in their full glory. I do want to focus on a few examples of the graphics and visual design, though, and ceilings are one of them.

Our beloved Lady Dimitrescu’s castle is much like the lady herself: huge, beautiful, elegant, and I want to be inside it. Wait, what? Shhh. Let’s move on. At every turn I was overwhelmed by the level of detail in each new room or space I entered. Chairs, tables, shelves, a delicate teacup stained with lipstick and blood, a lace shawl draped over a regal couch with two black gloves thrown carelessly nearby. At some point I realized I’d also constantly been looking up at each new ceiling I stepped under. Ceilings in video games have long been an afterthought for game designers. Real house designers, too, I guess, but why would video game ceilings ever need to be unique and detailed? There’s never much of a reason to look at them. Yet here I was, constantly tilting the camera up to appreciate the virtual, digital woodwork, paint, and sculpting. I know that the designers use some kind of high resolution scanning technology to photograph objects and then render them in-game, so maybe these are real ceilings in some real castle or estate in Europe, but either way I was weirdly blown away by the care and attention that went into something as minor as this.

Something I liked more broadly about the game’s visuals was the variety of textures and the way light interacted with those textures. I’ve gushed about the RE Engine’s ability to render realistic looking surfaces before, but with the power of the PlayStation 5 at their disposal, the development team really went all out in producing an incredibly impressive variety of unique textures for this game. Again, these pictures don’t really do the game justice, but I want to talk through a few, starting with one that I think highlights how many different detailed and unique textures you encounter in the castle alone.

Maybe the picture above doesn’t look super impressive here, but if you get close to anything in this photo you’ll find a realistic surface that reflect the soft light from the window in its own way. The fabric of the carpet looks and “feels” different than the fabric of the decorative chair. The wood on the floor has a different grain and reflective surface than the wood of the wall or the wood of the chair or the wood of the small table. The canvas of the painting looks like canvas. The frame looks hand carved. The peeling wallpaper looks at once dated and perhaps formerly elegant, and it reflects both the light and shadow of the window and curtains. I could go on, but again, this is just one picture.

Also, I’m calling them “textures,” but for the majority of 3D gaming history, “texture” usually meant 2D art on a flat surface, meant to give the appearance of “texture.” So, a grass “texture” might have been mottled and green, maybe with some hash marks, to make it look, at a glance, like grass. Over time, other 2D elements were added, like clumps of tall grass, to increase the believability, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that some versatile video game engines were able to render surface to actually look like they had a texture and weren’t just 2D pictures plastered on a polygonal surface. The RE Engine is one of those engines. If you look at some of the surfaces in these pictures, like the floor here:

Or the table here:

You’ll see that things like imperfections, grooves, or separations, are actually rendered in 3D, meaning they’re affected by light and shadow as they would be in a real 3D space, which makes them look incredibly realistic. And these kinds of textures are everywhere. The basement floor in Donna Beneviento’s house, for example:

As soon as I saw it I knew what that floor felt like. I’m no interior designer or architect, so I don’t know if it’s glossy concrete or some other kind of poured material, but I just know that it’s hard, cool, and smooth, just by looking at it. And, again, you can see that it’s uneven, and the light reflects off of it as if those slight, broad bumps and waves are really 3D and not just a flat picture. I’m giving a lot of credit to the engine, but I think the actual visual artists deserve tons of credit, too, not just for the overall design of these spaces and elements, but for the amount of detail that they put into these designs as well. I went on a whole tear about Leon Kennedy’s radio case when I wrote about the RE 2 remake, and now I want to do the same for Donna Beneviento. I should give a general [SPOILER WARNING] here, because I’ll be getting into some light spoilers here, and then major spoilers later (especially in the pictures). Donna Beneviento is a great character, and I’ve seen some people claim that she “steals the show” from Lady D (blasphemy). And yet, we barely see her. She’s in, I think, two scenes (and a couple of very brief flashes), and you barely get a good look at her before she turns to dust. But let’s look at the level of detail they put into a character we’ll see on screen for less than five minutes, total:

Okay, so this isn’t her whole design, but there is one detail I want to laser focus on. Is it the lace doll dress, which has actual holes in the surface and isn’t just a picture of holes? No. Nor is it the thick fabric of Donna’s dress, the etched bone of the doll, the soft wood grain of the chair, or any of the other impressive surfaces and details of this model. You’ve probably guessed it by now, but it’s her hands. And not just the fine lines and creases of her skin, which are very realistic looking, but her nails:

Look at them! They are flawed and imperfectly perfect. Her nails have grown out a few days since they were painted, as evidenced by the fact that we can see some bare nail at the base, near the quick. The paint on her pointer finger looks bumpy, as if her first coat was uneven (or the nail itself is bumpy). The paint on the middle finger looks very smooth and glossy, and the light reflecting on it is clear and shiny. On her ring finger, however, the light is softer and more absorbed than reflected, which seems to indicate that she might have scuffed that nail or messed up the last coat of paint. And look at the little chip near the edge! All of this detail on a hand that virtually no one who plays the game will get close enough to see in their playthroughs. Might the visual designers have scanned in a real person’s nails and just mapped them on a model in the game? Maybe. Either way, a lot of care and thought went into these choices, it seems to me, and I will never shut up about how impressed I am by the visuals of these games. I legit want to live in either Castle Dimitrescu or House Beneviento. Elon Musk is running around spending all this money blowing up spaceships when he could be building an exact replica of one of these homes for me and I will never forgive him for that.

Visuals, aside, I found the gameplay to be surprisingly smooth and responsive. There’s a throwaway line in the very beginning the game that reveals that Ethan has been through military training, so maybe that’s why he’s so much steadier and more adept at using firearm than Leon Kennedy was in RE 4. When you tried to aim any weapon with Leon, it was like he was doing so while being tickled. He could not keep his aim straight. Ethan aims, reloads, and changes weapons like a pro, and it made for very satisfying combat, which is something I’m not used to in RE games (not that it was ever the point). With such precise aiming, shooting shambling zombies might be a breeze, but as with other recent RE games, the developers make up for it with enemies that have erratic, only semi-predictable movement. Lycans will walk menacingly, then suddenly shift to a low dash using their arms, then stand up and side-step a shot. Ghouls will shamble, like zombies, and lazily loll their heads or jerk their upper bodies dramatically to swing a weapon. The combination of precise weapon handling and erratic enemy movement meant that I mostly felt in control of situations, but when shit went sideways or I began to get overwhelmed, I panicked. I like that balance in RE games.

As far as the story goes, there are certainly some silly, anime-esque aspects (I mean, you fight a flying vampire dragon lady, a fishman, and a giant mech dude, all in the same game), but it all made sense in the context of the new storyline that started in RE 7. I especially liked the idea that this fungus, able to transform only specific types of people, was around for centuries in Europe and is likely the source of many mythic characters and creatures that we’re familiar with, like vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and more. It’s an interesting if minor twist on the original concept of a virus being the source of modern zombies. I’m not necessarily fully invested in Ethan’s story, but I thought they told his tale well. Do I think he’s really dead? Probably not, unless the developers want him to be. If his seeming unpopularity affects their decision, it would be easy to leave him dead. He did blow up, after all. But they wrote themselves a nice little insurance policy that would allow them to bring him back, too. Chris Redfield and his Blue Umbrella crew are in the area to investigate this new type of mold, and in one audio clip right near the end of the game, one of Chris’s team mentions that testing shows this new mold is very different than the mold found in Louisiana in RE 7. It’s revealed, again near the end of the game, that Ethan actually died in RE 7 and is, himself, a mold monster. How does he have all of the memories and mannerisms of the real Ethan, then? Well, they also explain that the European strain of mold has a huge underground root system that acts as a database, storing any and all DNA that it comes in contact with. It’s how Mother Miranda, the game’s antagonist, plans on bringing her dead child back to life. Her DNA is stored in this “database” and Miranda has been seeking a vessel to transfer her daughter’s essence into. If this mold has a “database,” it stands to reason that the mold in Louisiana did/does as well, given that Evelyn (the antagonist of that game and a test copy of Miranda’s daughter) was able to commune with all mold creatures in the area and communicates with Ethen now, who she recreated through potentially similar means. If that’s true, Ethan’s essence is still alive and able to be transferred to a new vessel or reformed by Evelyn at any time.

In another twist, the BSAA shows up in the final assault, and it’s revealed that they were using bioweapons that looked like ghouls in tactical gear to infiltrate Heisenberg’s compound. Chris is confused, and I think we are supposed to also be confused as the audience, especially given that at the very end of the game Chris says that he’s going to BSAA headquarters to investigate. There is one clue that I noticed on Heisenberg’s very low-effort, basic-ass conspiracy board that I think explains why the BSAA was there:

Heisenberg was creating an army of bioweapons in his factory. There were literal production lines of bioweapons constantly cycling in the background of the main factory floor. In his notes, he reveals that he is trying to create an army to challenge Miranda and basically rule the world. On this board, he very clearly writes “BSAA Come!!” While this could mean a few things, it makes me think that he summoned the BSAA, perhaps with the intent of partnering with them or selling them his bioweapon army. It can’t be a coincidence that the BSAA happens to be using bioweapon soldiers when they show up to a facility that’s manufacturing bioweapon soldiers. Either Heisenberg called them or he simply predicted they would come. I have a hard time believing the latter, given the lack of contextual evidence.

There’s so much more I could talk about but we’re getting long in the tooth here and I need to cover the most important aspect of this game, which is what you’re here for anyway, right? Let’s get to it. These character designers take the term “horny on main” to a new level. Instead of publically pining after virtual sexy people, they just went ahead and created them. A game full of them. The most obvious, of course, is Lady Dimitrescu and her lovely, bite-y daughters.

Besides being featured prominently in the game’s promotional material, sexuality is just a part of their design. Even as the Dimitrescu “daughters,” Bela, Daniela, and Cassandra, are hunting me down to kill me, they’re seemingly in an erotic frenzy, talking about tasting my man blood, tying me up, and shouting things like “don’t you love me?” as I attack them. They chain me up, sniff at a handkerchief that has my blood on it, and are desperate to “consume my man flesh.” When they catch me and chomp into my neck, their eyes roll back into their heads in ecstasy. Yes, most of this is about them wanting to eat me, but their mannerisms and tone are undeniably sexual. And look at them! They’re just sexy, vampy, Nicks-ian babes.

I really loved this flirty little flip of the handkerchief

Our most cherished and worshipful Lady D is, of course, the most famous of the sexy characters in this game, though, and my only complaint concerning her is that she wasn’t featured more prominently. That’s not a real complaint. I knew going in that she was probably just one of several major characters, but I love her design and personality so much that I just want more. So much is made of her size, but that is on the lower end of her most attractive qualities in my eyes. A huge part of it is just how she holds herself and her mannerisms. She is constantly aware of her posture and pose, and moves with determined grace. She doesn’t just command her daughters to string me up – she does so with a stylish flourish of her hands before placing them firmly on her hips. In her argument with Heisenberg, she booms at him with a commanding voice before switching effortlessly to a soft lilt and tossing her head back to show her superiority. Yes, I understand all of this makes her sound like a bitch. And she is. A big, boss-ass bitch. And that is hot. Her fair skin and dark eyes, peeking out from her wide, stylish hat don’t hurt either. I should note that she wasn’t as scary and intimidating as Mr. X from RE 2. If Mr. X caught you, there was a chance that he’d insta-kill you, but other than slashing at me, Lady D didn’t seem to have that ability, which was kind of sad. It would have made it that much scarier. I wish they’d either added an insta-kill move, or a hug move. That would have worked, too.

If I ever become wealthy, my first move will be to hire someone to recreate this for me

There are plenty of other sexy characters in the game, but there were two that surprised me. No, not Heisenberg and Chris (though I was actually surprised at how many people I’ve seen thirsting after Heisenberg. Really?). We’ve already talked about the first: Donna Beneviento. Okay, okay, so she has some issues and she is incredibly shy when it comes to showing her face. But she is a major, under-the-radar beauty. Yes, she plays with dolls, but I have shelves and shelves of action figures, statues, and amiibo, so if she can make Batman or Princess Peach fly around and talk, I’m going to take that as a fun party trick. She also loves games! We played hide-and-seek and tag. So. I’m just saying, I don’t think it would be hard to convince her to sit down and play some games with me. She would love Little Big Planet! And, like my high school self, she has a majorly goth, black-centric wardrobe. She doesn’t have Lady D’s presence, but I think we could make it work.

Lastly, the big baddie herself, Mother Miranda is a stone cold fox. And a stone hearted monster. A minor detail. Look at her!

I don’t know nearly as much about her as the others, because she doesn’t have her own house that I can snoop through to get a sense of who she is and how she lives. I know that she tore a baby apart and put it in jars that she gave to her friends. Which, you know. Not cool. She also did so in order to get a new version of her old baby, and I’m not necessarily looking for kids right now, especially of the moldy variety, but… well, that’s all I got. She’s hot. That’s about it. She’s got the face of an angel and six wings to match. The developers of this game were thirsty as hell and it came out in all of these designs, but you know what? I am not complaining. After a whole run of games filled with bulgy eyeball creatures and slimy mutant blobs of teeth and tentacles, I will take a slew of sexy ladies.

And their plus ones, I guess

Okay, I have to let you go, but I have so many thoughts about this game so I will just randomly throw out some final blurbs. I was disappointed by how they treated The Duke’s character. Many people seem to like him, but his design is very fatphobic. My first run of the game was surprisingly easy. I didn’t mind, though, and the hardcore run was, indeed, pretty tough. I’ve seen people claim that the House Beneviento part of the game “rips off” PT. It certainly seems inspired by it, but the game borrows from tons of horror media, including Dracula, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Saw, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and more. If anything, it seemed like homage to PT, particularly given the fact that there is little chance Silent Hills, the game that PT was a demo for, will ever come out. I was one of the people that thought Chris might become a werewolf at some point, but I wasn’t necessarily upset that he didn’t. He was a little more brusque than I would have expected. With how much Ethan suffered, and his pierced hands, and his sacrifice and resurrection, it’s hard not to see him as a Christ figure. I thought the concept of family was super interesting, especially given the previous game’s focus on it as well. Evelyn, in the previous game, was made from a sample of Miranda’s daughter’s DNA, right? And she was obsessed with family. She kept looking for a family. Miranda, her sorta-kinda mother, in this game, is also deeply concerned with family. Also, Evelyn seems to make Ethan as a mold creature, and he’s also obsessed with family and will do anything he can to protect/save his daughter, Rose. Was he “programmed” to do that by Evelyn? Hmm. I didn’t mind the action-packed Chris section at all. After being so precious and careful about my ammo and aim for most of the game, it felt cathartic to just let loose. Lastly, who is this figure in the very last shot of the game? They’re walking on the road in the far distance, and they’re far too small to make out any features, but I don’t for a second believe this was just a random design choice.

Spring Cleaning 2021

I just wrapped up the spring semester last week, and as usual, it was a bit hectic. I’d planned on keeping up with these posts, especially because I’ve recently played some games that I had lots of thoughts about, but ‘twas not to be. So, given that two of my most anticipated games of the year are coming out this week and next (Resident Evil Village and Mass Effect Legendary Edition), I figured I’d do a spring cleaning, as it were, and just jot down some brief thoughts about the many games I’ve played since my last post. These aren’t even all of the games, actually. I’ve continued to play Ghost of Tsushima and Minecraft with friends, I played a bunch of VR games with my family, and I’m finishing up a platinum trophy run of Arcade Spirits on PS5 since I picked it up on sale and was itching to replay it anyway. It’s been fun seeing the other romance options, but Naomi is still #1 bae. I just read that the sequel, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is coming out early next year, so my hype for that will slowly be rising. Anyway, let me stop jabbering and get to… more jabbering.

Life is Strange 2

When I saw the trailer for Life is Strange: True Colors in March, I was reminded that I’d never gotten around to the second game in the series. I played and loved both the first game and Before the Storm, and I’d purchased LiS 2 in a sale, but I just never played it. Given that I’m writing this, I think you can guess that I ended up giving it a shot. Wouldn’t that be the worst twist? Write out a whole prelude about how I’ve been meaning to play each of these games and then just move on. No, no. I did play it, and I mostly really liked it. It follows the same formula of the previous two games, including having your character keep a journal. Where Max was big on snapping photos in the first game, our new protagonist, Sean, will find a quiet place to sit and sketch his surroundings, which you do several times throughout the game. You also collect little trinkets and sometimes if you investigate something in the environment while you’re exploring, Sean will write about it or add a little sketch to the journal. I love these kinds of charming details in these games. It goes a long way in developing these characters and complicating the story that is more directly told via dialogue and cutscenes.

There was a lot I liked about the game, but my main complaint has to do with just how much of a bummer the story was. I wouldn’t hold that against it in an objective review. Some of my favorite stories are tragedies. I think the game says some serious and important things about timely issues, like racism, the US justice system, homelessness and more. And I think it handles those issues pretty well. But, I tell you what, it makes for a depressing ride. The narrative structure is what I’ve come to call “tiered tragedy.” I don’t know if that’s a real phrase, but I couldn’t get it out of my head as I was playing it. The other games in the series might also be called tiered tragedies, as would something like The Walking Dead. In these kinds of narratives, our characters never seem to catch a break. There is a tragedy at the very beginning of the story (a popular girl goes missing, a father is killed, a zombie apocalypse), and our characters are ushered from one tragedy to the next, seemingly endlessly. They can never really catch a break, because any time they find some time to rest or begin to rebuild their lives, the narrative structure demands that they encounter a new tragedy, probably worse than the others. In LiS 2, this meant that no matter how hard I tried to make Sean a good brother, an honest survivor, a heroic figure, I seemingly just kept being punished for it. And, like I said, I wouldn’t say that this makes it a bad game. It just left me feeling kind of defeated in the end. There is no “happy” ending, as I verified by looking them up after I finished the game and got a pretty sad ending. Turns out it was one of the better ones. There is definitely a place for stories like this in games, though, and that sense of hopelessness may very well have been a part of the point of the game. These characters, Sean and Daniel, are not only burdened with being Hispanic during a time in the US when a violent, vocal minority despises them, they’re further  marked by this new tragedy that makes them orphans, criminals, and transients. What kind of life do they have ahead of them, even with the “happiest” of endings? But, again, maybe that’s part of the point. It’s hard to succeed and overcome tragedy when the system fails you again and again.

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas was another game I’d been meaning to play for quite some time. “Some time” being, uh, just over a decade. Jesus. When “newer” games on your backlog are ten years old, you know with some certainty that you’re getting old. Sigh. Anyway, I absolutely loved Fallout 3 when it came out, and I spent many an hour scouring that game’s fictional Washington DC/Virginia wasteland. I collected every bobblehead, did every single mission I could find, and squeezed every ounce I could out of the story and world. So, playing New Vegas seemed like a no-brainer. I was a little worried that it was being developed by Obsidian, which by that time I’d only known as the developer of the very good but very buggy Knights of the Old Republic II, so when the reviews for New Vegas started coming out and reviewers complained about the many bugs, I grew even more worried. I hated the idea that I might encounter a game breaking bug 20 hours in. My friend, Ron, did play it at launch, and he reported that he encountered something very much like that. So I put the idea aside and told myself I’d come back to it after it was patched. And I did! Plus… an extra decade.

Anyway, let’s get to the game already. Like Fallout 3, this was a huge game, and I spent a lot of time with it. I didn’t quite exhaust every side mission and collect every snow globe, but it was pretty close. I started playing on my old PS3, but I ran into some technical issues with it so I switched over to playing it via PlayStation Now on my PS5, and near the end of the game I was plagued by some very annoying hitching. Between that and the encroaching release of Resident Evil Village, I sort of rushed through the final stretch of the game. When I started, though, I was at first a little put off by the graphics. Well, not the graphics. The movement. The game seemed very dark, and there was a certain amount of motion blur that made me feel… odd. I’d never run into that in a game before. I turned the brightness up and decided to press on, and I’m glad I did. As soon as I began doing quests for the townsfolk in the opening area, I could sense that same magic that I’d loved about Fallout 3. Roaming the desert, helping friendly strangers, sticking it to the scum that would take advantage of the less fortunate, stumbling upon stories and relics from people that died long ago in the war or shortly after.

This game, more than the other two I’ve played, really plays up the concept of factions and their conflicting motivations. There were so many factions, major, minor, and even medium, and I truly had a difficult time choosing how to deal with some of them. I supported the NCR from the beginning, but I found myself trying to be at least somewhat diplomatic with the other factions so that they wouldn’t stand in my way at the final battle with Caesar’s Legion. Sometimes that meant actually helping them out, and sometimes that meant killing or ousting the current leadership and inserting someone who was easier to influence. It was much more complicated than I expected, but I appreciated it. The final battle could have been a little more engaging, but overall I loved this game, as I could have guessed I would. Oh, and for my primary companion, I went with Veronica as much as I could. Who doesn’t want Felicia Day following them around, punching heads off and quipping wise? As for my second companion, I switched pretty regularly between ED-E and Rex, a very good boi.

Emily is Away ❤

I was looking forward to this game from the minute Kyle Seeley, its developer, announced it. I loved the first two games in the series, Emily is Away and Emily is Away Too, in part because of how they tapped so directly into my nostalgia by taking place entirely in AOL Instant Messenger chat windows. The third game takes place in a fictional version of Facebook (Facenook) in 2008. Setting aside, the game’s narrative plays out just as the previous two did, via a series of chats with other characters. I named my character after myself, selected the pixelated profile picture that looked most like me (which wasn’t very close at all – I’d love future installments to allow actual character creation, but given that one dude makes these, I doubt it will happen), and jumped in, ready to find love… I hoped.

I don’t want to spoil much of the story, but I will say that I liked the writing a lot. The interactions seem very real and believable, and there were so many scenarios that seem ripped straight from my early years on social media. It’s what these games are really good at. They simulate memories that I’d nearly forgotten all about. There is something exciting and visceral about flirting with these virtual characters, in part because they stimulate real feelings I once had doing that exact thing. Unfortunately, as with the other two games, warm and fuzzy flirtation isn’t the only mood the game simulates. As I said, I won’t spoil anything, but there are several endings, and after my first playthrough I was bawling. I was hurt, and it felt a little too real. Just as with the happy emotions, I was all too familiar with the sad feelings of distrust, inadequacy, rejection, and abandonment.  I felt like I’d done everything right, and yet things just didn’t turn out my way. And that was the most painful part, I think, because that’s the kind of thing that goes through your head when a real relationship falls apart. In both cases, I was left looking back and wondering what I did wrong. Maybe if I’d done this different or said that another way… but that kind of thinking, as it is in real life, changes nothing. You have to move on. So I did. My second playthrough ended much, much better. Fuck Emily. Evelyn 4 ever. That should be the next game’s title.

Peggle 2

I don’t have much to say about Peggle 2. I played and loved the first game, and this entry is more of the same. The concept seems so simple, but there is a surprising amount of skill involved. Yes, you basically just launch a ball into a screen of pegs and hope for the best. But once you start getting the hang of it, you begin to see better and better ways to aim your ball, resulting in awesome chain reactions that result in those oh-so-satisfying endings that the series is known for. The new Peggle Masters are just as cute and charming as the first game’s, with Luna being my clear favorite. So spooky and cute. These games are old and I decided to play this one for the first time on a whim, but I do wish PopCap had churned out a couple more over the years.

Tender

Tender is an iOS game that simulates the dating app Tinder. You eventually learn that you are a human that’s travelled to an alien planet in search of… love? Maybe? You swipe through a variety of quirky, hand-drawn aliens, each with a short bio. These profiles aren’t as expansive as real dating profiles, but you see some familiar lines and attitudes. If you match with someone, you chat with them in much the same way as you do in Emily is Away. You choose between 2-3 dialogue options, and then tap your phone to pretend to type it out. If your conversation sparks interest, the other person (?) proposes a date, which you schedule in real time, meaning you have to actually pick up your phone and virtually meet the person at the time and date that you selected. If you forget, they understandably get pissed. It’s a very cool and interesting concept, and there is lots of cool and unique artwork in the game, but ultimately I walked away feeling underwhelmed. Part of the reason for this was that, of the eight or nine characters I chatted with, none of them went particularly well. What’s worse is, apparently the game asks for the name of your real life ex at some point (which I had forgotten and had to be reminded of by Tab, the friend who recommended the game) and it introduces them as one of the characters you can swipe on and romance. Not realizing this, I thought the name was a coincidence and swiped right on her. I then had to virtually chat and romance (and, ultimately, try and fail to reject) my ex. Not cool, man.

Layers of Fear

I love horror movies and games, but something the two share is that there are plenty of crappy releases of each. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because there are some people who voraciously consume any and all horror, regardless of quality, and more power to them. I just don’t have the time to check everything out, and some of the bad stuff is, like, annoyingly bad. So, I was I hesitant to try Layers of Fear until I heard Brittney Brombacher recommend it on the What’s Good Games podcast. I’ve listened to that podcast enough to know that Brittney’s tastes pretty closely align with mine, so I figured I would give this game a shot.

While it does have the hallmarks of B level horror (less-than-stellar voice acting, cheap scares, weak writing), it also plays around with environment and expectations in some cool ways. I really like when horror games mess with perspective, perception, and other visual components. It’s why I loved Eternal Darkness on the GameCube so much, and why I’ve wanted them to make a sequel. LoF starts out as a pretty standard spooky-mansion game, then devolves more and more into an exploration of nightmare imagery. While I did appreciate the mind-bending visual puzzles, I was also a little sad that the story was told in an unsatisfying way, seemingly in service of the visual spooks. Where the story ended felt very different than where it began, so I almost wonder if they had given us more chances to revisit the mansion in its original state, knowing what we know later in the game, if the story’s conclusion would have felt more grounded. Maybe none of this makes sense if you haven’t played the game, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers, since this game is a mystery, too.

Sakura Succubus

I was tipped off to this game by that same friend, Ron, from the famed New Vegas blurb (above). “Play it and tell me how it is,” he said. Fine. I’ll play the erotic hentai game. For you. For friendship. Okay, so maybe it’s for friendship and maybe it’s because I’ve played a few other sexy-type games. Either way, I played it and was mostly disappointed. It’s rated M, but it’s hardly all that scandalous. It’s suggestive, at best, and despite the game’s tagline of “There’s no shortage of women to woo!”, there are only three. Three women to woo. If that’s not a shortage, it’s gotta be pretty close. I mean, granted I am single, so three women is a surplus to me, but in terms of a fantasy dating sim/visual novel, I’d count three as a shortage.

I didn’t hate this game, because it did have a few funny lines and some of the art was pretty decent. But that’s about all I can say about it. The reason I tend to avoid many visual novels is that they rely almost exclusively on two things: writing and art. There are rarely any gameplay systems or puzzles or even very much in the way of animation. They’re mostly static images and text, so if those elements aren’t interesting, impressive, or engaging, I get bored very quickly. This is where my main issue with this game lies. It has an interesting enough premise, and some of the static images are cool, but there isn’t very much variety in terms of different character poses, expressions, or minor graphical variations, and the writing is pretty bad. I don’t always like to criticize writing in games, because it’s historically been less than impressive to begin with, but the writing in this game contains the kinds of things they tell you not to do in writing classes and workshops. You’ll click through a scene, then the next scene begins with your character waking up and walking you through what you just did. Like “My memory’s a little hazy, but I remember talking with that sexy lady at the bar, and I followed her back to her place where she seduced me, and then I…” We just did that! Why do me need a recap! There is also a lot of unnecessarily elevated adjective work. It’s one of those things they try and break in novice writers. If you mean “face,” you should probably just say “face.” Put the thesaurus down. No one calls it a “visage” anymore. I’ll end on a positive note and say that this was the easiest platinum trophy I’ve ever gotten, though. I literally just clicked through a story for a couple of hours and *badoop* Platinum Trophy Unlocked.

Resident Evil Extravaganza (Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil Code: Veronica, Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil Village Demos)

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve recently felt like I could revisit old games without feeling like I was wasting my time (thanks, anxiety). Because of that, I decided to go back and finally, finally finish Resident Evil 0, the only mainline game in the series I haven’t finished. I’d started it twice and never got past the first or second boss, respectively. I think part of it was that I wasn’t a fan of switching characters frequently or the new inventory system, so for this run I decided to use a guide and lower the difficulty to easy. I probably could have just stuck with normal because it ended up being very easy with the guide, but I was able to blaze through the game and I’m glad I finally played it.

One of the things that really struck me about this entry was just how gorgeous it is. I played the HD remaster, sure, but the graphics were only scaled for HD, not reproduced. The move to fully 3D environments in Resident Evil 4, which came out right around the same time as this game, meant a sacrifice of highly detailed, pre-rendered backgrounds for more free mobility and camera movement. It was a good choice, to be sure, but there is something very cool about such an old game looking so good. At the time of those games’ release, gamers were pretty insistent on games being fully 3D, gorgeous, and highly realistic. Tides have changed since then, though, and I wonder if Capcom could get away with releasing an old school, pre-rendered-style ­Resident Evil game. Not a mainline entry, because people would probably lose their shit, but a throw-back side story. These screenshots don’t really do the game justice, but the lighting, shadows, and particle effects were especially impressive. The little leech eggs looked so gross and gelatinous and cool! A weird thing to get excited about, maybe, but you weren’t there. You had to see them in all of their jiggly, glistening glory.

Beauty aside, I did end up liking this one. It, like RE4, is where the series really starts getting into some of the batshit melodrama that would climax in RE6, but it also had a lot of fun stuff from the original games, like shuffling zombies, zombie dogs, big, creepy mansions, and more. Plus, it stars Rebecca Chambers, who I was always hoping to see more of after her brief appearance in the original game. She isn’t always given the same love as the other series mainstays, but I really hope she turns up again soon. Maybe Chris really will turn into a werewolf in Village, as Capcom has been teasing (probably misleading), and then he’ll attack Ethan and we’ll be like “no way!” but then right before he chomps his face, a huge syringe will plunge into his shoulder, and the camera will cut over to Rebecca, who will tilt her glasses down and say “who’s the Alpha now?” Because, you see, she was STARS Bravo Team, and Chris was STARS Alpha team… never mind, let me move on.

After having such a good time with 0, I had a hankering to play Resident Evil 4, even though I’ve played through it several times on both the GameCube and the Wii. It was… uglier than I remember, heh. Where 0’s HD makeover highlighted the benefits of static backgrounds (more processing power available to render the 3D models and other things), RE4’s makeover made some things look better (character models), but some things remained very muddy (environmental textures). It was still great fun, though. I remembered, as I was playing, how exciting and different this entry felt when I first played it. I was also reminded of how Capcom ran with some of the more action-oriented aspects of the game with RE5 and RE6, though. Some of the shooting and the action was fine, but what I liked about RE4 was less those elements and more exploring a spooky village and then an elaborate, deadly castle. Sound familiar? As long as there aren’t too many roundhouse kicks in Village, I’m hoping it takes the best elements of RE4 and RE7.

Deciding to stick with my Resident Evil kick, I chose to play through Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X, since I barely remembered it after playing it a little on a friend’s Dreamcast, and then all the way through when it first came out on the PlayStation 2. I remember thinking it was okay but not great back in the day, but I’ve since seen so much love from some corners of the RE fandom that I was convinced I must have been missing something. I mean, I like Claire a lot, so it is cool that she has (mostly) her own game, but after replaying it now I think my feelings are about the same. I began to get annoyed at having to backtrack in the last half of the game, especially with the annoying moths, who would not only poison me, but also force me to stop and endure the injection animation. This game did introduce semi-fully 3D environments, though. Partially-3D, I guess? So it was visually impressive for its time, but it didn’t have the brand-new excitement of the very different RE4, and it also didn’t retain the same retro-feeling magic of RE0. Plus, there are some very overt issues with gender, which was a little cringey. So, this is certainly on the lower end of my list of Resident Evil games, but I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it. It had enough REzzy charm for me.

And, of course, I have been playing the Resident Evil Village demos as they’ve been made available. I didn’t make it through the Village demo the first time I played it, even though I was trying to be pretty efficient and not linger too much on gawking over the beautiful environment. I made it through the Castle demo a time and a half on my first run, though, but much of that showed up in the MAIDEN demo so it wasn’t quite as exciting. With the 60 minute demo of both sections, I was able to make it through all of both areas. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say later, after I’ve played the actual game (out tomorrow!), so I’ll just leave you with some of the screenshots I took of the demos. I’ll be playing Village all weekend, so get ready for a big ol’ post about that soon, too!

I was obsessed with this corner. Look at how the light lands differently on the cloth of the curtain, the wood from the wall, and the metal of the gun. *heart eyes emoji*
More *heart eyes emoji*
Is this a Deftones album cover?

Revisiting Resident Evil 7, Thirsting After Lady Dimitrescu, and Getting Hyped for Village

One thing I’ve learned in my many years as an avid gamer is how to manage my hype levels. When I was a kid, I would tear through every page of Nintendo Power or EGM, eagerly consuming every bit of available information, speculation, and rumor about the games I was excited to play. My hyperbolic fervor did nothing to speed the games’ release schedules, though, so I would essentially torture myself for months, wanting constantly to play the newest entry in a favorite series or some new, rad looking IP. Worse, the incessant, obsessive yearning would warp my expectations of these games, so much so that I was often underwhelmed with the very games I was expecting to love. I’ve learned to temper my hype and expectations until a game’s release is close, so you might ask me if I’m excited about a game a year from its release and I could say “eh, I guess.” Then, just a few months from its release date, if you asked again, I might be like “holy shit, yeah, that game? Already pre-ordered the Deluxe Special Day One Collector’s Limited Platinum Gold Diamond Edition, boiiiiii.”

Thus is the tale of my hype for Resident Evil Village. As a big fan of the franchise, there is always a certain level of excitement with the approach of any new mainline game in the series, but Village is very close now and with the excellence of the last three games (Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil 2, and Resident Evil 3), my anticipation is accelerating greatly. After the announcement trailer in June of last year, my hype was shambling like a regular zombie. It was there, it was moving, but it wasn’t in danger of infecting me with uncontrollable, unchecked expectation. Now, after the recent Resident Evil Showcase, my hype is definitely a Crimson Head zombie. It popped right up and is sprinting after me, ready to chomp me with jaws of unbridled hype. That whole analogy got so far away from me. Kind of like a licker when it leaps through-okay I just need to stop.

Resident Evil Village is probably my most anticipated game of this year, and I am so delighted by how much attention Lady Dimitrescu has gotten on social media lately. I’m genuinely not pulling a hipster “I liked it before it was cool” move, but Lady D and her witchy-looking lady friends were the most intriguing and exciting thing about the original trailer released back in June 2020. They were only very briefly shown, but there was something so mysterious and, yes, sexy about their poise and style that just kept me thinking about them. Were they vampires? Ghouls? Witches? I didn’t know, but I was ready to meet them.

Why are they so hot, though? Please, forgive my thirst over these characters, but I have to document my feelings for posterity. I’d hate to reach a point in my life where I realize I’ve forgotten about *checks notes* every virtual character I ever lusted after. I think the witchy “daughters,” as Lady D calls them in the latest trailer, are pretty self-explanatory. They’re… witchy. That’s pretty hot in and of itself. But Lady D’s magnetic allure surprised me. If you told me that I would be lusting after a posh-looking woman in a wide brimmed hat and an outfit with a general “heading to the Kentucky Derby” kind of vibe, I would have said “I’ll lust after anything at this point, I’m desperate.” No, wait! I didn’t mean that. Note to self: edit that out before posting. What I really would have said was that you were crazy. That does not seem like the kind of aesthetic I go for.

So, what, then? Why does she seem so hot? Well, as my Gaming Crushes posts have probably revealed, I do have a thing for strong, capable women, and Lady D is brimming with power, poise, and authority. The refrain I keep seeing in reference to her is “step on me,” and she definitely captures that vibe perfectly. There is a playfulness to her menace. She might be chasing after me and trying to skewer me with her impressive nails, but she’s having a blast while doing it, and that’s more than I can say for grumpybutt Mr. X. She’s bold, confident, and seemingly very self-assured, and that’s definitely attractive to me. Does it hurt that she owns an expansive, beautiful estate and has a keen fashion sense? No. It does not. The high-society look rarely does much for me, but she rocks it. The pale skin, dark hair, fiery eye combo doesn’t hurt, either.

Okay, I’ll move on in a second, I swear, but I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Lady D popping up on social media in response to the latest trailer, but there is one very fast cut from the original trailer that I have yet to see anyone share, and I’m kind of surprised.

While it’s difficult to say what’s happening in this image with 100% certainty, it seems likely that our lusty lady is, well, feeding on what looks like a person’s arm (also, note the tooth-like bumps under her lips – those look like some serious chompers). Given the first-person perspective of the game and the fact that Ethan had his left arm cut off and stapled back on in Resident Evil 7, I’m kind of thinking these witchy women popped it off and are feeding on Ethan’s potentially unique life juice. Why would it be unique? Well, he did get his arm and leg chopped off in the previous game and inexplicably functionally reattached them with either staples or a bottle of freaking first aid potion. In the RE universe, that probably indicates he has some kind of healing power or something, right? Which would make the way that Lady D talks about Ethan in the recent trailer make sense. She not only knows him by name, but she’s also apparently been tasked with tracking him down by a superior. If we’re moving into fantasy territory where vampires, werewolves, and giants exist, though, my money is on his blood being special in some way. So the fact that she is, in all of her towering, seductive, dominant glory, at some point, sucking on your arm, makes me feel… well… I don’t know yet. I’ll get back to you in May.

Okay, okay, I’m done thirsting. For now. As I mentioned in my last post, I so rarely take the time to revisit old games that I’ve played before because there is constantly something new and exciting to play, but recently I’ve allowed myself to do just that. I beat Resident Evil 7 at least a few times when it came out, but I never got the platinum trophy because some of the more difficult achievements seemed, well, difficult. I wanted to revisit it just to sort of play it and experience the horror again, anyway, so I decided to go for the platinum trophy as well. I replayed it once on Easy difficulty, just to get back into it and grab the trophies for using less than three medicine items and never opening the storage chests, and then I tackled it on Madhouse mode. And, phew, it was no joke. I used a guide to make sure I didn’t miss any of the mode-exclusive collectibles, but I rarely find guides useful when it comes to boss fights, so some of those really did a number on me. It took me a long time and a lot of stress lines, but I finally managed to beat it and I got the platinum. Feels good, man.

I also went ahead and bought all of the DLC, which I’d never played before, so I dug through those as well. Some of them aren’t my cup of tea (particularly the combat/survival focused entries), but a few of them added some nuance to the base game’s narrative and I really appreciated them. The first of these is “Daughters,” which offers a glimpse at the Baker family just prior to their infection by Eveline. There are some indications of the family’s humanity in the base game, but not quite enough to fairly frame the tragedy that became their life. This DLC has you, as Zoe, help Jack and Marguerite prepare to take on another apparent victim (Eveline) of a recent storm that is devastating the region, including their farm (and it further explains the boarded-up and broken-down state of the grounds when you get there). There are little clues scattered around the house that show a close, caring family (aside from Lucas, who still seems like a dick), which heightened my appreciation for the Baker family and Zoe as a character in a big way.

Speaking of Zoe, I also really liked “End of Zoe.” This DLC was quite the opposite in terms of gameplay and tone, as instead of passively exploring the house, you play as Joe, Jack’s brother and Zoe’s uncle, bullrushing through the swamps surrounding the Baker’s house and bashing infected and alligators alike in the face with your bare fists. It is ridiculous and very un-RE-like, but also very fun. The main antagonist is what seems to be a resurrected Jack, looking very much like Swamp Thing, and squaring up to him with just your fists is silly and badass. Joe sees an enemy and he doesn’t think “dang, how much ammo do I have? Can I afford to take it down?” He thinks… well, I don’t even think he does think. He sees an obstacle, and he punches it. Literally everything. Wooden crate? Punch it. Boarded up door? Punch it. Toothy ooze monster? Punch. It. Can you imagine him in the previous RE games? “Hmm. A door with the shape of a diamond on it.” *punches through it* “Oh no, a giant snake.” *punch it in its giant snake head* Nemesis comes bursting through the wall. “SSSTA-“ *Punch* Like I said: ridiculous but fun. Plus, it gave us a satisfying (if cheesy) conclusion to Zoe’s story.

The last piece of DLC I’ll talk about is “Bedroom,” an escape-room style bit where you play as our favorite cameraman and Sewer Gators alum, Clancy. If you like the recurring, sometimes macabre puzzles littered throughout the RE series, you’ll probably like this DLC. It’s not just a collection of standalone puzzles – they’re all interconnected. You have to figure each out using environmental clues and solve them in the correct order to escape the room that Marguerite has locked you in. Think of the “Happy Birthday” puzzle that Lucas sets up. It took me a few times to get it, but it never felt unfair or illogical. With both this and the “Daughters” DLC, I kind of wish they’d been in the core game. I guess I can see how they might have affected pacing, but both of them feel like they would have felt natural and contributed something to the tone and setting of the game.

I will continue my revisiting… Revisiting Evil… does anyone have that as a blog or podcast name yet? If not, I should nab it. “This week on Revisiting Evil: how to make a Jill sandwich. Plus, coming up later: why Nemesis would make a great astronomer,” Anyway, I will continue playing old RE titles by starting Code Veronica X soon, since that’s probably the mainline entry I’ve played the least and, thus, don’t remember very well. To look forward, though, I wanted to talk a bit about the “Maiden” demo for Resident Evil Village.

The first time I played it was before my decision to replay RE 7, so playing it again after that really highlighted how far the RE Engine has come. I posted about how impressed I was with it after Resident Evil 2, but it seems like Capcom continues to squeeze every ounce of beautiful, reflective, textured blood out of it with Village. I’m so glad there is no combat in this demo, because it really allowed me to just wander the rooms of this big, ornately decorated castle and inspect every detail. I know there are some people who lament the direction Capcom has taken with RE 7 and Village (despite getting two of the best remakes of classic PlayStation games ever, but that’s a debate for a later time), but I very much appreciate the attention and care they’ve given to maintaining so much of the atmosphere and tone that made some of the earliest games so memorable. Paintings, statues, decorations – these are things that bring texture to a setting just by existing, but the level of texture and what it adds to a player’s experience is variable. If a team has the time and skill, they can create set decoration that tells a story of their own. Some of those in the demo are very classic RE, like:

But some of them seem so well conceived and executed that they bring the castle to life in much clearer and more nuanced terms than any of the previous RE settings. Look at this photograph:

Every time I do it makes me lau- oh god, what am I doing? Ahem. Moving on. It’s just a simple picture of… bats? Birds? Creatures? It’s eerie, sure, but does it have significance? Or is it just for ambiance? If it is just birds, why would this regal, matronly vampire have it framed and on display? Upon close inspection, it looks to be a bird of prey (right) with its talons stretched out, aiming to pierce another bird that it attempting to dodge. Lady D is the antagonist pursuing Ethan in this game, and she, too, has long, retractable talons. Consider also this vase:

At a glance, it looks like a pretty typical medieval style vase. Given the castle’s age and Lady D’s lineage, it might be an actual medieval artifact. It fits the castle’s décor and contributes to the overall spookiness of it, but what may have been behind the developer’s decision to include this specific design? Well, if there is one word that springs to mind when I look at this scene, it’s “ritual.” We don’t see much here, but what we do see is a seated man surrounded by others, seemingly against his will. His brow looks furrowed in concern, but more importantly, the man behind him seems to be clasping his shoulder as if he is preventing him from standing. Another man reaches out to stay the hand of the apparent captor, as another (very tall) man stands contemplating, with his hand on his chin. They are, it seems, deciding his fate. If you read the notes and pick up on context clues in the demo, there is a suggestion of some kind of ritual. There is a list of potential candidates for said ritual or purpose, and in the latest trailer, Lady Dimitrescu refers to “the importance of the ceremony.” I’m not trying to make some grand statement about this vase or any of these background details, but I love how much texture they bring to this setting. This vase lets me believe that some ancestor of Lady Dimitrescu (or the lady herself, if she turns out to be very old) had an artist make a vase to commemorate this ceremony, or perhaps she saw this and it reminded her of the momentous occasion. Either way, it seems to be far from randomly chosen as background flavoring. I can’t wait to play the final game and take my time looking at the impressive number of background decorations that will probably be spread all throughout the castle.

Aside from admiring the graphics and environmental nuance, I very much enjoyed seeing one of Lady Dimitrescu’s daughters in action. In my first playthrough, I rushed past her, as it seems I was expected to. But in later sessions, I followed her up the stairs and watched her glide and dissipate around a corner. The way that she moves is very cool, and I am ready to be both spooked and subtly stimulated by her and her sibling’s pursuit of me in the final game. It’s like “oh, noooo, don’t block my way and bite my neck, sexy vampire ladies! That would be sooooo baaaaaaad!”

So, yes, I am very much ready for May 7th. I’ve preordered the Deluxe Edition, am still playing through old RE titles, and am hopeful that my friends will eventually let me watch them play through the Maiden demo so I can bother them with my dumb love of the same kinds of details I discuss above. I’ll be back in May, of course, with a post about the main game, and don’t be surprised if you see a Gaming Crushes post about Lady D at some point, heh. Until next time, this has been Revisiting Evil. Smash that subscribe button. I’m just kidding. I’m full of dumb jokes today. Ugh. Okay, bye.

Save Point: Discussing My Dissertation

When I started this site, one of my intentions was to use it as a place to write notes and short blurbs about my dissertation as I researched and worked on it. I did post a thing or two about some book notes, but I haven’t really done much else. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, I think, is that I just didn’t feel very confident about my topic – for a while, at least. I am in a fairly traditional English department, so other than our one digital rhetoric professor, there isn’t much of a place for a dissertation that is essentially a video games studies project. The process of writing my prospectus was basically filled with anxiety and stress about convincing my committee that this project had the potential to be important and relevant. I was continually hearing dissenting voices in my head. “But why does this thing matter? What are you actually bringing to the field? Do you really know enough to write this?” But after I wrote my prospectus and began converting it into a presentation, I found my confidence again. Mostly. I won’t sit here and say there aren’t still doubts, but in the process of condensing my prospectus and thinking of how to verbally pitch it, I ended up convincing myself that it was as good as I had originally thought when I came up with the idea.

So, having said all that, I am going to start posting blogs about my work. The second of the previously mentioned reasons for not doing so earlier is that I was nervous about people taking my ideas. After much reflection, I have come to conclude: who gives a shit. I’m doing this work with the intent to share it anyway, and I don’t love academia’s habit of hoarding and gating off knowledge to boot. What scenario is that little anxiety-corner of my brain imagining? That someone will see my blogs and publish their own version of my dissertation? I mean, maybe, but that seems pretty unlikely, especially given that I have lots of material that I’m not posting. What is more likely, I think, is that someone might end up seeing this and thinking “hey, that’s kind of like my work,” and if I’m lucky, they’ll reach out and I’ll have a new contact/friend to chat about video games and research with.

Future posts will probably be a lot more specific. I don’t have an exact plan for what I’ll be sharing. Sometimes it will be fully formed thoughts, sometimes it will be aimless rambles, sometimes it will just be interesting tidbits (to me) that I may or may not even end up using for anything. With that, I suppose I should say a little about what my project actually is. The working title of my dissertation is Soft Power-Up: Japanese Games as Cultural and Rhetorical Exports. The “soft power” in the play on words in the first part of the title is kind of a key component of the project. Soft power is a term that essentially describes a nation’s capacity to influence other nations with culture, rather than traditional forms of global power, like military might and economics. There have been lots of studies on Japan’s use of soft power to fill the gap left by its loss in economic superpower status in the 1980s. Most of these studies focus on widely known things like sushi, karaoke, tea ceremonies, anime, manga, and more. Studies on the use of video games as a part of this national strategy seem surprisingly lacking. The most recent edition of The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture has chapters on music, education, food, anime, and much, much more, but there is not a single chapter on video games. This edition was published in 2009, which is far too recent for any excuses of “well video games weren’t big yet.” Video games are and have been huge exports for Japan since the 1980s, to the point of being the only cultural product that Japan exports more than it imports.

So it seems like a no-brainer to me to study this. I was recently pointed toward Rachael Hutchinson’s book Japanese Culture Through Video Games, published just last year (after I had stopped research for my prospectus), which seems to cover much of what I intend to look at in my work. I have yet to read it, because academic texts are vastly overpriced and I am a poor grad student, but I’ll hopefully find a cheap copy soon. I feel pretty confident that my approach will be different enough that I won’t be treading the same ground, but I can’t deny I was a little sad to see that someone had (at least partially) beat me to print. On the other hand, I was so excited and felt weirdly vindicated (to the doubting voices in my head, anyway) to see that a very close approximation of my idea was not only taken seriously by another scholar, but published by a major press as well.

One thing that differentiates my project from Hutchinson’s (I think) is our choice of case studies. Of all the games noted in her introduction and table of contents, I don’t see any mention of the Persona, Yakuza, or Resident Evil series, or Death Stranding, and these are the games that I’ll be looking closely at. She does have a whole chapter on absentee parents which I am interested to read, because that is one of the many aspects of Japanese culture I see reflected in a metric crap ton of Japanese games and was planning on talking about in my project. I chose the Persona and Yakuza series because they both take place in real Japan, often depicting real, specific locations that exist today. So they offer insight into how the developers chose to depict their culture in explicit terms. On the other hand, there are notable Japanese games that are set in America or other Western settings, like the Resident Evil games and Death Stranding. I want to use these games to show that, regardless of setting, there are a whole host of aspects of Japanese culture that end up showing through in these games (in implicit terms). When consideration of these two types of games are combined, I hope to show what Japanese games are “saying” about Japan to the Western world, how that message has changed over time, and why it all matters.

Okay, I should shut up. As usual, I am mostly writing these for myself, to work out and solidify ideas, and just start writing things out that might be useful later. However, I’m also sharing this for anyone that’s interested in Japanese games, is or will be writing a dissertation, or is in any of the many fields related to games studies. If you want to reach out, please do. I’d be happy to answer any questions or share/swap sources. Thanks for reading, and look forward to more posts like this. Or don’t, I guess. That’s cool, too. You do you.

Video Game Crushes: Jill Valentine

Oh, Jill Valentine. Won’t you be my valentine? No, wait, that’s cheesy. And it’s April, not February. Ahem. Please be my Jill sandwich – no, wait, weird and gross. You truly are the master of unlocking… my heart. *cool sunglass guy emoji*

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The original Resident Evil was a huge reason I betrayed my pulpy Nintendo fanboy blood and asked my parents to help me buy a PlayStation. I had a Nintendo 64, so why did I need a PlayStation? All those games are ugly and stupid and not Nintendo, I thought. Wait, there’s a game with zombies? And a big, creepy mansion? A-a-and there’s, like, giant spiders and snakes and stuff? I mean… I guess I could get a non-Nintendo console. Just this once.

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It didn’t quite happen like that, but it was close. My sister’s then-boyfriend had a PlayStation, and when I told him about RE he went out and bought it right away. He and my sister preferred to watch me play, though, so we huddled in his attic with the lights off and played through the game bit by bit, jumping at the zombie dogs, solving puzzles together, and reading all of the creepy notes lying around. That experience satiated what hunger for the PlayStation had risen in me, but as soon as I heard there would be a sequel the hunger returned and I began the classic console negotiation with my parents, where I had to explain that this new console was not the same as the N64 and played completely different games that I couldn’t play on the N64. They eventually relented, and my first games for the PS were Resident Evil: Director’s Cut and Resident Evil 2.

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Okay, so I love the Resident Evil games, but where does Jill come in? Well, my love for Jill started with my preference for playing as her in the first game. If you haven’t played the first two RE games, you have the option to play as one of two characters: Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine in RE, and Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield in RE2. I remember we chose Jill for our first playthrough because she had more inventory space than Chris, but we played through Chris next. Regardless, I always found myself gravitating toward Jill, whether it was in the original, Director’s Cut, or the remake for the GameCube. I was sad when Capcom announced that she wouldn’t be in RE2, but ecstatic when I found out that she would be the star of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.

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Source: https://gameranx.com/updates/id/193437/article/capcom-producer-reveals-why-they-redesigned-jill-valentine-for-resident-evil-3-remake/

Jill has come a long way since those famously cheesy lines from the first Resident Evil. As mentioned, she starred in the original Resident Evil 3, she had a very cool surprise appearance in Resident Evil 5, she once again took the lead in the surprisingly good Resident Evil: Revelations, and she returns in the latest RE game, the remake of Resident Evil 3. Her long and harrowing journey reveals one of the reasons I crush on her so hard: she has seen some serious shit. As an Army vet and member of Raccoon City’s Special Tactics and Rescue Service (STARS), Jill was already a badass with military weapons and explosives training, combat skills, and a quick, keen intellect. Layer on top of that all of the horror and hardship she’s seen, and her readiness to not only endure but to return to these terrifying situations in pursuit of the truth and a way to contain the dangerous bio-weapons she’s discovered, and it’s clear that she is one. tough. lady.

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When I poll my students about what they would do if a zombie outbreak happened, you’d be surprised how many of them say some variation of “lay down and die.” A real zombie outbreak would be terrifying, indeed, and after Jill survives just that during the “Mansion Incident” in the Arklay Mountains, she doesn’t collapse in defeat. She begins her own investigation into the event, because it’s clear that her superiors aren’t going to do it. And after the events in Raccoon City, when so much has been lost and she once again survives unimaginable trauma, her response to a villain challenging her ability to discover the truth is a sly smirk and “I’m not afraid of a little detective work.” *swoon*

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She’s not all brawn, though. She cares about those she trusts and she is loyal to her friends and steadfast about her personal ideals. She has some serious trust issues (uh, same, and how can anyone blame her?), but if you demonstrate loyalty she returns it in kind. She has escaped death several times, and she could count herself lucky and stay away from the madness, but she genuinely wants to protect others and help those who are also fighting, like her old friend Chris Redfield or her new friend Carlos. Given her personal fashion choice in the original RE3, a mini-skirt and tube top, I also like to think that she wasn’t always all business. That maybe she had a fun, casual side before she was pulled into the never-ending cycle of horror that is Umbrella and its nefarious products. Regardless, she is strong, smart, capable, caring… and one hell of a locksmith… of my heart… I overplayed that a bit, didn’t I? Damn it.

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Sienna Guillory as Jill in Resident Evil: Apocalypse

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Source: https://residentevil.fandom.com/wiki/Jill_Valentine

Resident Evil 2 Infects My Heart

So the semester is well under way, and although this is my first semester with no coursework, between lesson planning, grading, and reading/prepping for my prospectus (not to mention making time for games/relaxing), I’ve once again fallen behind on posting blogs. I really want to write out my thoughts about Resident Evil 2 before they slip even further from my mind, though, so this is going to be a ramble-y mess of a blog, but here goes.

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First off, as I like to do, I should explain my history with the series to contextualize my feelings. I grew up a Nintendo kid, so I loyally bought a Nintendo 64 even though the then-new PlayStation was getting a surprising amount of hype. There were several games that got my attention and made me want to betray my fanboy roots, but ultimately it was the original Resident Evil 2 that pushed me to convince my parents to buy me a PS. Before then, my sister’s boyfriend had one, and we three played the hell out of the first game, Resident Evil. I usually played while they watched, but we turned the lights off and eagerly consumed every classic, b-movie moment.

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Source: http://horadoterror.com/top-13-jogos-terror-ps1/

So of course Resident Evil 2 was the first game I bought for my shiny new PlayStation, along with Resident Evil: Director’s Cut. I wrote about the former on my Top 25 list, saying “Resident Evil 2 was magical in that it retained the same haunted, abandoned feeling that the first game had, but amped it up in every aspect.” I think that sums up my feelings about it pretty nicely, so let’s fast forward 17 years to when Yoshiaki Hirabyashi announced in a 2015 YouTube video that Capcom had approved a remake for RE2, and you can probably guess that I was pretty ecstatic. Over the years I’ve learned to be cautious with my excitement, though, so after my initial freak-out session, I allowed myself to forget about the game until it came out this year. And here we are.

Announcement
Original Video

Having said all of that, I might come off as biased, but I objectively think this game is going to make for an interesting conversation piece when the game of the year discussions begin. It’s clearly going to be in the running for some awards, but will gaming sites consider it a new game, thereby eligible for the top spot? Or is the fact that it’s ‘mostly’ a remake disqualifying? I suppose what matters more is the standard it will set for future remakes and reboots. This game didn’t have to be this good. Look at the recently released Spyro Reignited Trilogy. That game’s developers largely left the core game untouched, but they did an excellent job of updating the presentation. Fans were, from what I hear, mostly very happy, but the game(s) didn’t seem to reach a profoundly expanded audience. Resident Evil 2 sold millions of copies and was all over social media for weeks. It seems likely that many of the people who played it had never played the original, meaning that if done well, remakes can actually greatly expand a series’ fanbase and not just appeal to the base that already exists.

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I’m waxing philosophical, so let me get a little more specific in what I loved about the game. I’d like to start with the feeling I had when first entering the police station. Although I was more excited to play as Claire, I chose Leon to start with because he was the recommended starting character for the original game, so I wanted to experience this version just as I did its source.

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Entering the police station in the original RE2 was like entering the mansion in RE (with the difference being that you are in control of the frantic fleeing that precedes it). It was a safe space, a refuge from the madness outside, but in both cases something seemed… off. In RE2 it’s a combination of the looming, carefully lit statue that dominates your view, and the emptiness and quiet of a seemingly-abandoned police station during a massive emergency. If the police are gone, how bad must things be in this city? This is one of the things the developers nailed: atmosphere.

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Atmosphere is one of those nebulous things that is really the result of several elements coming together, though. The original games felt atmospheric in their own ways, but the improvement in graphics allowed the team to make a key change to this iteration: it is dark. Like, almost pitch black where your flashlight isn’t shining. Where the original games used camera angles to obscure your vision and create anxiety about what might be in each new room, this game uses darkness, and it’s super effective. Sound is key in both games, because a common strategy is to pause when you enter a new area, listening for a telltale zombie moan or licker click. It made for an exhilarating back and forth, where one minute you’re lulled by the security of a cleared room, only to exit into an unknown and potentially deadly situation.

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But, really, what do you know about anxiety in the first half of the game? You certainly feel like an old, grizzled veteran of it… until you meet Mr. X, when a new kind of terror promises to haunt you at every turn. In the original game you’re treated to a cutscene that shows some kind of pod dropped through the roof of the station – a hint of something menacing to come. There is no such hint in this version, which I think is great because even though I was very familiar with the old game I was still caught off-guard when he popped up in this one.

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He was a son of a bitch in the old game, but in this version he is absolutely overbearing. Where you used to be able to duck into a safe room and have him leave you alone for a while, in this one he is relentless in his pursuit. The sound of his heavy stomps triggers a sense of panic, and the use of context-specific controller vibration dependent on his distance from you is a reminder of how effective (and neglected) that technology is. The pulsing music that follows him contributes to the fear, and it reminded me of the use of harsh, grinding music in the old horror movie The Entity, where the music is used as a way to indicate when the invisible spirit is ‘on-screen.’ More impressively, I think, they managed to give Mr. X a personality using posture, head movement, and gestures, without him ever uttering a word, which is something that I don’t think the old game accomplished nearly as well. I’m being too clinical in my description, I think, but it’s difficult to capture his presence without shifting into narrative prose. If I recommend this game to someone who hasn’t heard about it, it will be in part because I’ll want to hear about their response to Mr. X.

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A great throwback to a similar scene in the original game

The game also gets a lot of the little things right. One of my favorite little things about the older games was the brief notes and journal entries you’d find. You didn’t need to read them to understand the main story, but they made the world so much more real and rich. In this iteration, when I came across Chief Irons’ notes on his taxidermy subjects, I excitedly flipped through each macabre page. And then I came across this:

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The tone was definitely different than the previous pages, and the measurements didn’t seem to make sense. It was pretty clear that he was talking about a woman, but… did he kill her? It says “captured,” but also “forever.” Did he kill a woman and stuff her, like an animal? I didn’t think much about it beyond that, but later, when I was playing as Sherry and sneaking through Irons’ secret office, I found answers.

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It’s the little things. Another one: the gore. Of course a game where you’re killing zombies will have some gore, but there were a few particularly noteworthy scenes where they really turned it up a notch. I’ll just let the screenshots speak for themselves.

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After beating the game with both characters and thus getting the “true” ending, I still felt like I wasn’t quite done with it, so I decided to get the platinum trophy, which would require at least a few more playthroughs. On one such playthrough I decided to try Claire’s alternate noir costume. The game flashed a prompt asking me if I wanted to use the included filter, but I honestly didn’t read it or think about what that meant. I was happily surprised, then, to see that the game was in black and white once I was dropped into the world.

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Having studied film in grad school, I was a little embarrassed to realize only as I made my way through the game just how noir it was the entire time, even without the filter. Gumshoe with a heart of gold, femme fatale, rainy urban setting, symbolic use of light and shadow, Mr. X’s trench coat and fedora (plus the fedoras strewn all over the police station)… how did it take me so long to see it? It’s something I’ll probably write more about later, but things like that are really exciting to me, because if we read video games as texts with ‘authors,’ like we do with film, we have a Japanese team making a game set in the west and very clearly influenced by western texts (themselves influenced by German texts). And how does a Japanese player read it? Super fascinating stuff.

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Okay, I have a million more things I could gush about (performances, story tweaks, enemies, gameplay, etc.) but I’ve already spent more time than I should have writing this, and there is something that really stood out to me but that I haven’t seen anyone talking about on social media or in the press. I mentioned the lighting earlier, and while that’s great on its own, in some cases it highlights how excellent the textures in this game are. The textures in Resident Evil 7 were great, but Capcom really seems to be mastering the RE Engine.

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Okay, these screenshots aren’t big enough to do them justice, but check out the shot of Leon in his alternate Arklay Sheriff’s costume. There’s lots of impressive stuff here, like the fact that everything on his uniform bobs and sways realistically with his movement, but let’s just focus on textures. The braided belt actually looks braided, not like a pattern overlayed on a flat surface. His handcuffs have a realistic metallic gleam. His pants are a heavier weave fabric than his shirt. You can see that the display and buttons on his walkie-talkie are actually depressed and the light creates appropriate shadow on them. Most impressively, I think, are the textures of the different leathers on his belt segments. Look at the walkie-talkie holster closely. You can not only see a realistic imperfection on the surface, a bubbling where the leather may be separating, but it too casts a very minor shadow of its own. Crazy.

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Look at Leon’s uniform in this next shot. You can not only see that his shoulder pad is a different material than his shirt, but it’s saturated from the rain that he just came in from in a different way, too, and in a different way than his neck, which is shiny as opposed to soaked. You can also see the stitching at the seam of his shirt in great detail. Ada’s dress is another feat, as it looks like real, slightly bunched (there must be a word for that) fabric, even when she moves.

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You can see several textures in this shot of Claire, too, like the lighter leather of her knife sheath, the metal of the gun, the fabric of her fannie pack, and more, but what I really want to draw attention to is the design sewn into the back of her vest. It might be a little difficult to make out because I made this image smaller (to save muh tables), but you can see that it truly looks sewn in, as the stitching is very detailed, follows realistic patterns, and actually casts a shadow as if it were really imprinted on the vest. Plus you can see the little wrinkle/bunching of fabric just below the pattern, which is also realistic, because stitchwork like that is often more stiff than the surrounding fabric, so it doesn’t bend as easily as that same fabric.

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I could talk extensively about William Birkin’s mutated design, but I just wanted to specifically draw attention to the way the bones in his ribs protrude from his side (it looks cooler in motion) and his main eye (below). His eyes are especially impressive, because they look realistically gelatinous, including the ability for us to see through the cornea when it’s angled to the side. These are things that developers could only sort of achieve in cutscenes in the past, but now this is all in real time.

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Lastly, just check out this zombie. The most basic and common of enemies. The filminess of the eyes, the gloss of the teeth, the hair matted with filth, the wounds… the level of detail and the ability of this engine to render even the most mundane of enemies as interesting and exciting to look at just blows me away.

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So, yeah, I don’t have an elegant conclusion to this unwieldy beast of a blog, so I’ll just end by saying that this is one of my favorite games of all time. I loved the original, but Capcom improved on and added to virtually everything that made that game so great. It makes me so happy to see the near-universal love and praise the game’s been getting, so I hope when the end of the year does come it gets the accolades it deserves. And as much as everyone seemed to hate Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, I really liked it, so I would be so beyond excited if they brought the same level of refinement and innovation to remaking that entry next (can you imagine if Nemesis could break through almost any barrier!?). But, hey, I’ll be happy with a Resident Evil 8 announcement at E3 2019, too.

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