Video games have evolved so much ever since Capcom’s original Resident Evil was released on PlayStation nearly 21 years ago. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but it has. The game was such a success that Capcom rushed a sequel into production almost immediately. Resident Evil 2 was released less than two years later on January 21, 1998 which means it turns 19 today! Help us celebrate one of the best video games ever made on this very special day.
The reason that most sequels fail to surpass the quality of the original is because they take things that made the original so special and try to replicate them. “More of the same” is not always a good thing. The best sequels expand upon the mythology of the original and try to improve upon it while still maintaining a certain amount of reverence for the source material. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk but it has been done before (Aliens, The Godfather Part 2, and Scream 2, just to name a few). Resident Evil 2 may be “just” a video game, but with it Capcom managed to craft one of the best sequels ever made.
Picking up just two months after the events of Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2 introduces players to two new protagonists in rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, sister of the first game’s Chris Redfield. In the game’s opening moments it becomes readily apparent that the T-virus has escaped the confines of the Spencer Mansion and Raccoon Forest. The game brings players to Raccoon City itself and hits the ground running. The slow-mounting dread of the first game is replaced with a visceral assault on the senses, dropping players into the zombie-infested streets of Raccoon City. Rather than replicate the feel of the original, Capcom opted to shift the style of its franchise into a new direction, something that it would repeatedly try with subsequent sequels to varying degrees of success (Resident Evil 2 falls in third in aggregate critic scores, just behind Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica). The player eventually makes it to the Raccoon City Police Station, but quickly learns that the street may have been even safer. One of the most notorious moments in the game is the initial confrontation with the Licker.
Resident Evil 2 kept the basic gameplay the same, but introduced the “Zapping System” that allowed players actions to affect future playthroughs. For example, unlocking a door while you were playing as Leon would enable you to get into the room that the door leads to when you play as Claire. It was a novel approach to gaming that helped Resident Evil 2 stand apart from its predecessor.
The game took 21 months to produce, but the initial concept of the game was actually much different than the version that was released (example: the female protagonist was a college student named Elza Walker, rather than the now iconic Claire Redfield). The production team, which comprised of almost 50 people, completed nearly 80% of the game before the producer declared the game to be too monotonous. The concept was scrapped and a near-complete overhaul was made.
Thank [insert name of a higher power here] for that! The game that was eventually released is, as previously mentioned, spectacular. It earned critical acclaim upon its release and to this day remains the highest selling game in the franchise for a single game console. It was also the fastest-selling game in North America at the time. In an interesting bit of trivia: it sold 380,000 copies, earning $19 million in revenue. That is more money than every single Hollywood movie the weekend before earned except for one (that exception was Titanic, which earned $25.2 million the weekend after Resident Evil 2 was released).
I was unfortunate in that I was not able to play Resident Evil 2 when it was released. You see, I was a mere eight-year-old when the game was released. I wasn’t able to play Resident Evil 2 until it was ported over to the GameCube (What? I was a Nintendo kid.) in 2003, almost exactly 5 years after its initial release. While I still maintain that the 2002 GameCube REmake is the definitive Resident Evil game, I still enjoy Resident Evil 2 immensely.
When did you first play Resident Evil 2? Where does it sit in your ranking of the video game franchise? Share your thoughts and memories of this quintessential game with us in the comments below!