Well, this is it. The last day of BD’s Resident Evil Week, where we’ve brought you a ton of content, editorials, contests, and opinions on one of gamings most terrifying franchises. It’s been a blast for all of us and we hope that you have enjoyed yourselves!
That being said, I’ve still got an article up my sleeve for all of you. Today, I’m tackling the stylistic differences and tonal shifts from the first three Resident Evil games and 2005’s Resident Evil 4, which went from a more orchestral approach to a sinister, almost alien sounding score.
Read on for more!
The original game was released in March of 1996, a mere 15 months after the Playstation 1 console itself came out. We all remember the clunky controls and the questionable graphics (which were admittedly pretty amazing at the time), both of which were a representation of the console’s limitations. After all, there’s only so far you can push a 32-bit system that plays CDs, which don’t exactly have the most storage space on them.
Also, it is my belief that the short time in between the release of the console and the release of the first game contributed to a certain sound and musical style, namely that it still had a lot in similar with the music and stylings of the still relevant 16-bit era. While the music used better, deeper, richer samples, there were still very heavy nods to the days of the SNES and Sega Genesis.
Composers Makoto Tomozawa, Koichi Hiroki, and Masami Ueda were able to craft some very unsettling music, much of it I believe to be inspired by Bernard Herrmann. The main focus of Resident Evil 1 was on organic, string-based music, reflecting the warm interior of the Spencer Mansion and even to some extent the laboratory underneath.
The music in Resident Evil 1 was focused very much on how organic the game was. If you think about it, the game was very…meaty. Zombie people, zombie dogs, zombie crows, zombie plants (yup), zombie insects, zombie reptiles, etc… Even Tyrant was a human that was experimented on beyond what should ever happen. What they all shared was that they were of the flesh, which influenced the music and gave it that warm string-based style, which felt more comforting and “human”.
Another trend within the soundtrack was an overall grandiose flair, a bombastic approach, especially when it came to action sequences. The more intense the scene, such as a boss fight, the more intense the score, with large attacks and grand orchestrations.
This musical style continued through Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3, where the music was predominantly string-based, still sharing that 16-bit mentality (although it became less of an influence as each sequel was released) and overall bombastic tone.
Resident Evil 2 had some moments of 50’s and 60’s sci-fi/horror cinema, a slight air of cheesiness and B-quality hovering over it. Still, it also had some truly memorable cues, such as the Police Station theme, which still haunts my dreams.
Also, while the Spencer Mansion was primarily wooden and carpeted, and therefore warm, a great deal of Resident Evil 2 took place in city streets or buildings that used a great deal of stone. That’s why the music oftentimes felt very cold, piano melodies reverberating and echoing through rigid, unyielding hallways.
Resident Evil 3 was a bit more militaristic, as evidenced by the story of the game. There was more of an emphasis on marching percussive elements as well as a healthy mix of the the cold pianos and warm strings from the previous entries.
The third game also began using sound design more heavily as music, something that Resident Evil 4 would take to a whole new level.
It would be unfair of me to not mention that Resident Evil 4 came out on the Gamecube, which had higher technical capabilities than the Playstation. Also, the physical format of the Gamecube, the mini discs, held nearly double the amount of info that a Playstation CD could hold, which allowed for richer sounds and more complex instrumentations.
Whereas Resident Evil 1, 2, and 3 took place in overall familiar territories – houses, buildings, streets, which could be in any city or town – Resident Evil 4 took us away from those and instead placed us in a location that was unsettling due to its unfamiliarity. We went from our “home” and traveled to somewhere foreign and mysterious, with locations that we don’t experience on a daily basis. Everything felt alien and outdated, creating a strong sense of unease. This was a strange land and we were never meant, nor allowed, to feel safe.
The strings and organic instrumentation from previous entries more often than not took a back seat to the more foreign, almost tribal sounds that pervaded. And while Resident Evil 3 began to use sound design as part of the music more than the previous two, it was this game that really embraced this concept.
From strange howlings to unsettling ambience, this game definitely took a page from Akira Yamaoka and Silent Hill, creating backdrops that were did not stand out but rather created dread without the player realizing it. It’s like when watching a really suspenseful scene in a horror movie and you don’t realize that there’s eerie music in the background, amplifying the tension to unbearable amounts.
Another reason for this change in style was that the creatures felt more alien and outlandish. Gone were zombies, replaced by the Ganados, who were infected by Las Plagas. These enemies, while resembling humans, never shared that humanity that zombies seem to have. This allowed the music to detach itself from organic methods, showcasing their lack of organic humanity.
While each composer has offered something special to the series, creating music that has stayed with us for years, the stylistic differences are something that should be noted and ascribed to how the game itself evolved over time. From the story to the technology of the system itself, the music has always been a reflection of what was presented.