Resident Evil ceased to be a survival horror series at some point and became an action series with zombies – and according to its creator, that was a decision we made with our wallets.
The Resident Evil games of today are very different from what they were fifteen years ago. The series began as pure survival horror, with scarce resources and more panicked fleeing than direct combat. The man who started it all, Shinji Mikami, says that the series kept that mentality until it became clear that gamers wouldn’t buy another game with clunky movement controls and restrictive camera angles. While Resident Evil 2 and 3 had slowly increased the level of action, it wasn’t until Resident Evil 4 that Mikami decided to create an “action game.”
The turning point, Mikami says, was the lackluster commercial performance of the GameCube’s remake of the original Resident Evil. “It didn’t sell very well,” Mikami says. “Because of the reaction to the Resident Evil remake, I decided to work more action into Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 4 would have been a more scary, horror-focused game if the remake had sold well.”
The change in development strategy was immediate. With earlier Resident Evil games the top priority had been scaring the player, but during development of Resident Evil 4 Mikami told the team that “fun gameplay” was the most important thing to have. “Then the second thing [would be] nothing,” Mikami says. “And then the third thing is to be scary.”
Apparently it worked – Resident Evil 4 was madly successful and managed to redefine both the horror and action genres. When Mikami stopped working on the series at that point, Capcom continued to move away from the series’ horror roots with Resident Evil 5 and 6. These days, Mikami is hoping to get back into true survival horror with his upcoming game The Evil Within.