So, QuakeCon happened and the creator of Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami, was supposedly asked if – after the sales ‘success’ of Resident Evil 7 (can’t say Capcom would agree with that but I’ll get to that later) – he would ever be persuaded to return to the helm of the franchise he helped create, for a new installment.
His words? “I might.”
Now, I know lots of people were very excited at the prospect of Mr. Mikami being open to returning to his seminal horror series – some even going as far to proclaim it as “the saviour of Resident Evil”. And there’s no question that it would, at the very least, appear to be a solid idea on paper. Mikami helmed the series up to and including Resident Evil 4, and left after that when Capcom went over his head and did a graphically downgraded version of Resident Evil 4 for the PlayStation 2. Mikami warned Capcom if they handed it off against his wishes, he’d leave – they did, so he did, and that’s how Resident Evil lost its creator. Since then, it went through Resident Evil 5 and 6, both now regarded as pretty awful games (though the press had its head so firmly wedged up Capcom’s bottom at the time they couldn’t hear the gamers crying out how awful the games were) and Resident Evil 7 – which was good, much better than the previous two mainline titles, but let’s just say it’s not going to be anywhere near my end-of-year top ten games.
So sure, in theory, getting Shinji Mikami back on board for the future of the series seems like a solid investment – even though it was Capcom who essentially screwed Shinji Mikami over.
However, as much as I love Resident Evil – particularly the early stuff where Shinji Mikami helmed it all – I’m going to be that guy who says no. This is not a good idea. In fact, I’m going to go as far as to say it’s probably a very bad idea. For both parties involved, and most importantly, for the gamers who want the series to be better.
On the side of Capcom and Shinji Mikami, it could end up quite the PR blunder. Sure, fans are happy -now- about the idea, but gamers are a fickle bunch at the best of times and can turn on a sixpence if necessary (see the review-bombing of Sonic Mania – a really good game, but it has Denuvo so everyone has to crash that games rating because that’s a great idea…). It could very easily be flipped around that Capcom doesn’t know what to do with one of its biggest franchises – so much so it is crawling back on its hands and knees to Shinji Mikami to save their brand from annihilation. As for Mikami himself – it could be construed that he hasn’t done much of note since Resident Evil (I like The Evil Within and Shadows of the Damned but let’s be real, both were flawed and neither will ever reach the mega-hit status of Resident Evil – even if Evil Within 2 does look awesome). So Shinji Mikami could be seen as abandoning his new life and new studio to return to safer, more familiar waters.
I don’t think Mikami wants that. And I don’t think Capcom want to be seen as weak – well, weaker than usual.
Mikami clearly does have new ideas and wants – The Evil Within 2 looks great, and I’m more interested in where he wants to take that series in the future. As a creator, he oversaw the birth of a mega-hit franchise and he’s always – ALWAYS – going to be “the father of Resident Evil”. He doesn’t need to return to the company which, yup, dicked him over to capitalise on his past glories – we know he made Resident Evil. But he’s moved on. And I’m happy he’s moved on, and I’m happy he’s got his own studio and he’s making games he wants to make. At least, I hope he wants to make them – because if not, that’s kinda depressing.
And if Capcom really doesn’t know what to do with Resident Evil – maybe Capcom, back in the fiscal red zone again according to reports, should take the opportunity to either hand the series to new blood who want to cut their teeth on something, or – dare I even suggest this – sell it on to a development house or publishing unit in actual danger of giving a toss about the series? Heck, if Capcom is running dry on ideas – maybe, just maybe ladies and gents and otherkin of Capcom of Japan, possibly you might want to give the series a little break for now. Keep churning out ports and spin-offs, perhaps even a proper Mercenaries spin-off for PS4, XBox One and Switch, and leave the mainline series to rest until you actually have some idea where you want to go with it in the future. Getting Shinji Mikami back on board isn’t going to magically improve the quality of your ideas.
I love the old Resident Evil games, but I’ll be brutally honest – I loved Resident Evil Remake because it was so drastically different to the original game. Different pacing, different tone, different everything, it was a game defined by taking a massive risk by fundamentally altering something that people were familiar with and loved – rather like Tomb Raider: Anniversary a few years later, it broke the rules of a remake by tearing up the rulebook and tossing in all new locales, dialogue, enemies and themes. Resident Evil Remake was a gamble. And so, in fact, was Resident Evil 4. As the traditional series was in danger of fatigue – though now it’s kind of funny to see the media pretend it wasn’t lambasting the latter traditional Resident Evil games for the tank controls and fixed camera angles and praise them instead – Resident Evil 4 was a hugely risky gambit.
What I’m saying here is that Resident Evil is at its best when it takes creative risks.
Admittedly, the series doesn’t always succeed – Survivor and Gaiden two prime examples (though I kind of enjoyed Gaiden… I know, blasphemy!). But then you have the Revelations arc, which are smaller and more self-contained stories designed to give a bit more insight into the universe – I’d almost argue Resident Evil 7 should have been a spin-off for this very reason but eh, what can you do? Oh, and then there are the Outbreak games, which I maintain should be HD Remastered for modern consoles and their shiny online communities, because Outbreak was simply years ahead of its time as a co-op horror game, and I’m a huge and unashamed fan of those little tales. Seriously… ZOMBIE. ELEPHANT. I’m not kidding. That was ballsy. And it was brilliant. And I want more.
Capcom and Shinji Mikami getting back together for a Resident Evil 8 is… well… obvious. It doesn’t look like a risk at all. In fact, it’d be pandering to the past audience and little else, with same old safe ideas and tropes welded in to a nice but I’d fear relatively unsatisfying game in the long run. I diss Resident Evil 6 for a lot of reasons – those snowmobile sections haunt the darkest recesses of my nightmares, Capcom, and not in the awesome way you’d like them too – but I’m far from its biggest critic. In fact, I liked a LOT of the ideas in Resident Evil 6 – Ada should have her own pseudo-stealthy spinoff by this point (no, really, why hasn’t Ada had her own spin-off game yet Capcom?). Sherry should have a thing which shows off her mutant healing superpowers. Hell, Leon should also have explored more of his past as a presidential guard – or even more radically, the aftermath of killing the zombie President, because that’d be an awkward reunion with Ashley, wouldn’t it?
Resident Evil 6 was just too many ideas. That’s the problem. Unlike Resident Evil 5, which had effectively a scant few (bad) ideas and ran with them – hey, remember Lara Croft? Here’s a vague facsimile and a bunch of tombs and zombies! Oh, and here’s Wesker. Because. Just… because, I guess (and of course, Jill in that outfit and I despite that incarnation of Jill with a passion that borders on ludicrously indecent). Resident Evil 6 had lots of good ideas… but never had the time to make anything of them. So the game kept jumping from one control scheme, idea and theme to the next often with little rhyme or reason.
I’d like to see Capcom hand the Resident Evil series to someone who really wants to take a massive gamble with it. Fresh blood, as we’ve seen with the likes of Breath of the Wild, can do wonders for even the most tired and ancient of franchises. A fresh set of ideas, a new perspective and a real passion to make something of what you’ve been given can be a real game-changer (hell, do I need to point out Mario + Rabbids showcasing that UbiSoft can actually – gasp! – still make fun, inventive and creative games and also at the same time prove the Rabbids are still relevant and brilliant?). If Capcom doesn’t have anyone like that in the company yet – perhaps they could, and should, wait until they find someone like that. Some firebrands with enough verve and/or spunk to want to carve out a name for themselves and take those risks.
And I’d rather Mikami carried on doing what he’s doing. He’ll always be the father of Resident Evil and I will always love and admire and respect the man for that… but at the same time, he should be looking to keep carving out at least something new. Better to showcase you can stand on your own, rather than be wholly defined by one big mega-smash. Heck, Mikami is best when taking risks. He should know better than most that returning to Resident Evil isn’t a risk at all – it’s a safety net, a warm cozy blankie. Familiar ground. Not exactly bold or dangerous.
Let’s also not pretend there’s a reason why fans want this too – they want the series to go back to a classical style. They’re all hoping Resident Evil 2 is a faithful remake – actually, I may be weird by hoping it’s not that at all. If Mikami wants to do new stuff with it, fans won’t exactly be thrilled either. They want Mikami back on board and doing the same old thing he used to do. A lot of fans have very specific ideas on what they want to see – more in line with Rod Lima’s excellent Unreal project of an HD Resident Evil 2. And whilst it was clearly excellent – and more impressive it was done by one person – if I wanted Resident Evil 2 that way… why not just do an actual port of the original? Why beg for a remake if you don’t want anything to change?
This is not, however (tying this post up now) to say it would be a complete and utter disaster. In fact, it could be amazing. It could be just what Mikami needs, and it could be just what Capcom needs. Resident Evil has been a little lost – but I don’t think that is Mikami’s fault, or the fault of Resident Evil 5 or 6. Capcom has mishandled what should be its biggest money maker and lately, all it seems to be doing is porting games to every system hoping to make scraps. I can see the appeal of getting the father of the series back on board. It’s a fan pleaser. And no doubt, will make the shareholders very happy too.
But I don’t see what Mikami can bring back that others couldn’t just as easily do given half a chance. This whole conceit is predicated on a simple theory – people liked Resident Evil more when Mikami was at the helm, so him being back at the helm will make people like the series again. And sure, on paper, that makes sense. But as we know, on paper you can make anything make sense. In practice, however, even the surest of bets can go hideously wrong.
Personally, as a fan of both Shinji Mikami and Resident Evil, I’d rather the two kept going their Separate Ways. Better to marvel at the magic you used to make, than try in vain to rekindle it and end up realising it’s just not there anymore. Because ultimately, it’ll be the fans who end up with that horrible feeling of betrayal.
Remember that it happened, and it was good, and hope for better and brighter things in the future. If you keep one foot in the past, you’ll never move forward.
… and damn, do I ever hope Resident Evil will move forward at some point…