Video games tend to gravitate toward trends, because... well, that's just the nature of the pop culture beast. When discussing Resident Evil: Revelations 2, however, two trends in particular bear mentioning.
For starters, Revelations 2 pushes back against the series' overall direction. The overall franchise has grown increasingly action-oriented since 2004's Resident Evil 4, abandoning its survival horror roots in favor of pure action. Resident Evil 6 may have carried the familiar name, but in many ways it was largely indistinguishable from any number of current action franchises. It incorporated trendy mechanics like cover shooting, quick-time events, and more; you could barely recognize it as the progeny of methodical zombie capers of the bygone PlayStation era.
Not so for Revelations 2. Like its predecessor, it sidesteps the AAA clichés that define the mainline Resident Evils in favor of slower pacing and greater tension. It's not Resident Evil 7; for fans of the older games, it's actually something much better.
"I think the best way to explain it is that Revelations almost exists as a bridge, a middle ground between the classic RE and the more modern RE," says producer Michiteru Okabe. "We're definitely aiming to retain the feel of horror in the early games — the dread, the item-management — but at the same time, we're also pulling in elements that people liked about games from the post-RE4 titles. The general controls, the idea of aiming at specific body parts.
"Basically, we're taking the best of both worlds approach: All the stuff that people like about the classics, all the stuff that people like about the modern games. Putting it all together into one type of game."
Revelations 2 represents the franchise's attempt to deal with the changed imposed by the march of time and the need for big franchises to remain appealing to a large fanbase. Square Enix's Final Fantasy, for example, has evolved considerably over time, to the point that Bravely Default was developed as a Final Fantasy title but underwent a name change for fear that it had too much in common with what Final Fantasy was rather than what the series has become. Meanwhile, closer to home, Capcom's own Mega Man series struggled with evolution before eventually throwing its hands into the air and simply revisiting the NES era.
In both of those cases, evolving franchises dealt with their conceptual drift by taking fairly drastic measures. Revelations 2, on the other hand, sees Capcom using a more delicate touch. While the main line of numbered sequels will continue to chase trends and likely move ever further away from the PlayStation originals ("We spend a lot of time now thinking about what that next big jump is going to be — something that's going to have that same impact as the leap from RE3 to RE4," says Okabe), the Revelations spinoffs deliberately explore an alternate reality where the series clung more closely to its core ideals.
"A lot of the staff members on Revelations have been involved with RE since way back in the day," says Okabe. "What we really see with these games is the culmination of the know-how they've build up until now. You could say this is the kind of game they've been bred to create. It's only natural that it ends up retaining some of those qualities."
He elaborates: "RE been around long enough that it means different things to different people. It has a really broad audience. With the numbered titles, that's where you see us aiming for a wider audience with a more epic storyline and a high-end experience where we try out somewhat risky ideas. On the other hand, with Revelations, we're taking sections of the RE timeline that we haven't explored deeply before and bringing it to the fans."
Okabe seems philosophical about the divide in the series and its fanbase. He describes its shift toward mimicry of blockbuster action films as natural and organic. "Obviously, you don't want to rest on your laurels and keep kind of doing the same game over and over," he says. "As technology progresses, there are more and more things you're able to do. And as creators, you don't want to get stuck in a rut and keep doing the same thing. It's not that anything has particularly changed on the outside but rather that any series will evolve naturally as tech improves and creators want to try new things.
"Revelations, though, exists in a different space in the overarching franchise, where we're given that ability to take pieces and parts from both types of games — both the modern and the classic — the parts that people liked, and blend them together create to create a different beast."
While Capcom is building the game with an eye toward long-time fans, Revelations 2 also greets new players with open arms. Despite the title, the game has little to do with the original Revelations, Okabe says. "We actually created it very specifically to serve a dual audience. It's not a direct sequel to the previous title — there's no foreknowledge required to jump in and enjoy the game play and story. So people who aren't really RE people can enjoy it. But at the same time there's just enough content — Easter eggs and hints and callbacks and homages — that if you are an RE fan you'll enjoy it on a different level.
"There are a couple of things that it shares in common with the original Revelations, though, even if there's no direct story correlation. First, there's the focus on horror and the horror experience. The other aspect is the serialized, episodic storytelling. The original Revelations was also broken up into smaller chapters and bite-sized chunks, and we've retained that approach to storytelling. So it's not a direct sequel, but it shares the format of the original. That way everyone who's played the original knows what to expect... they know what they're getting into structure-wise, even if it's telling an entirely different story."
And what is that story? Frankly, I couldn't even begin to tell you where it fits into Resident Evil's baroque and baffling plotline, but Okabe says it's legit even as he concedes the franchise's complexity.
"It is a series with a long history and a complicated universe," he agrees. "What we've had the advantage of doing here is that even though this is a canonical part of the timeline, we've found a chunk of time that hasn't really been explored with characters who haven't been revisited in a while. So there was a nice hold for us to fit into there."
Which brings up to Revelations 2's other nod to current game trends: The young female companion character. It's become all the rage for blockbusters to team its protagonist with a teenage girl, something we can probably trace back to Yorda from Sony's ICO. The powerful connection that Ico and Yorda shared played a major part in that game's enduring popularity, and it's been widely imitated. Over time, though, the character dynamic has shifted somewhat; where Ico was quite a bit younger than Yorda, more recent examples of the trope — most notably Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us — have aged the protagonists considerably to create more of a father-daughter dynamic.
Like those games, Revelations 2 adds a teenage girl to the mix: Namely, Moira Burton, daughter of series mainstay Barry Burton. Where this adaptation differs is in making Moira's older ally a woman rather than a man. The lead character of Revelations 2 is Claire Redfield, who has played an active role in a several previous Resident Evil titles. In placing players into a woman's role, and one much younger than the likes of Bioshock's Booker or The Last of Us' Joel, Revelations 2 changes the relationship between the characters.
"Clearly Claire is not a father figure," Okabe agrees, "but they do have an established relationship and you'll see the two of them grow. Really, it's a coming-of-age tale for Moira. We watch her grow up and grow into her own person. She doesn't want to be a burden on Claire, whom she respects very much, so you see her taking on that burden herself. So it's not a traditional father figure kind of thing, but the idea of her looking up to and idolizing Claire is a part of that — it's more of a big sister-ish role."
Of course, companion characters are nothing new for Resident Evil. From escorting the President's daughter in RE4 to the tough, gun-toting Sheva in RE5, it's become something of a tradition for the series. However, Revelations 2 upends this standard as well by making Moira playable. A single player can jump between Claire and Moira at will, or a second player can take control of the younger woman.
Despite being playable, though, Moira is by no means an action heroine. She's much more a believable teenager, more akin to Ellie from The Last of Us than, say, Sheva. She refuses to carry a gun, and when left to her own devices will generally run to hide when zombies draw near. She's not totally defenseless, mind you; Moira can pummel zombies with blunt weapons as a matter of last resort, and she totes a flashlight that can be used to scour the dark environments for otherwise invisible items as well as blinding enemies to give Claire a clear shot at them. But the heavy lifting in combat situations comes down to zombie battle veteran Claire, creating a significant difference in the fighting capabilities of two players in a cooperative situation.
"The asymmetrical gameplay is a very deliberate choice," explains Okabe. "The reasoning there is that we wanted co-op, but we also wanted a sense of horror. It can be very difficult to balance those two things. The method we settled on was to go with asymmetrical gameplay. If you have two characters armed to the teeth, it becomes a different kind of game. It becomes harder to scare people because they feel like they're in an action movie or something. So we wanted one character who was there to focus on the action-y things and one character who was there for support.
"Another advantage that gives us is that there's a certain subset of players who will begin playing but won't make it to the end because it's too difficult or they get too scared. So the idea here is that, even if it's just for part of the game, you can pull a friend in. That way we can encourage people to get through to the end and give it a shot."
Moira does have one other form of self-defense: A mouth foul enough to make Ellie from The Last of Us sound like a devout fan of scripture. She may be frightened out of her mind, but not so frightened she can't drop some remarkably inventive F-bombs every few sentences.
Okabe laughed when I asked him about her colorful dialogue. "Any time you introduce a new character into a franchise like this, Moira's want to make them stick out and become memorable," he says. "One particularly effective way of doing that is to give them a unique way of speaking so they stick in your head. She does have a unique way of speaking in the Japanese version — the scenario writer thought that would be a good way of making her stand out. I don't know if the overall feeling of her dialogue maps out one-to-one between Japanese and English, but she definitely has a distinct way of talking in Japanese to make her memorable."
In the end, what really matters is that Revelations 2 manages to strike an intriguing balance between old and new, offering both appealing characters and a nice combination of old-school horror without the clumsiness of classic Resident Evil. In fact, I enjoyed my brief time with the game enough that despite never having been a particular fan of the franchise, I ordered a copy of the original Revelations to whet my appetite for the sequel later that day. There's still a great deal of uncertainty over the future of the franchise's main entries. But here in the side stories, at least, it seems to have settled into a excellent groove.