What I consider one of the best video games ever made was released on this date in 1998. You may have heard me talk about it or even read something about it back when I was with Nfamous Gamers, or if this is new to you, how I feel about this game determined how I would feel about games for much of the following decade after its release. If you haven’t guessed it by now, the game that I am talking about is Resident Evil 2. The sequel to the genre defining Resident Evil, I happen to believe that RE2 was a much better game, a more fun gaming experience, than RE ever was. The subtle changes made to the game from the first, the development team learning how to improve on the overall gameplay made RE2 a much more entertaining game to play. And adding to the overall gameplay experience of RE2 over RE, the team made some huge moves to extend the shelf life of the game by splitting the game into two discs so that multiple play-throughs of the game could be made.
Technologically, RE2 was going to be much better presented to gamers than the first. That is just a rule of thumb. Even though the games were only two years apart, in terms of what you could do in the game there was a huge gap. Most visibly was the graphical improvement that RE2 benefitted from. It wasn’t a huge leap in graphics quality but enough that it didn’t hurt your eyes to looks closely at Leon and Claire as it did to look at Chris and Jill. The biggest tech improvement made in RE2 though was the addition of multiple play-throughs. While RE let you play as Chris or Jill in separate paths in the game under their own campaigns, RE2 let you play as either Leon or Claire in two differing campaigns and two back-up campaigns to the main quest you selected.
For example: if you choose to play as Leon for your first main quest, you could later play as Claire through the same quest with a different POV of the Leon quest you had just completed. And vice versa would work if you first chose Claire then played as Leon from another POV of that quest. It made for interesting story twists as you played through and often times saw different angels and perspectives to the story. Also adding more to the overall replayability of RE2, and a bit of competitiveness among friends, if you were a good enough player and finished the game under a certain set of circumstances, you unlocked the ability to play as either Hunk, an Umbrella specialist trapped in Raccoon City, or Tofu, literally a block of tofu armed only with a knife who is also trapped in Raccoon City. Being the first among friends to unlock and beat these extra modes was a great way to compete with each other in a game that didn’t have any kind of co-op or vs. mode.
While the tech and gameplay developments are the aspects of the game that people focus on the most when reminiscing about RE2, for me the biggest improvements from this game to the last were the story and characters introduced in the game. RE laid down the ground work for the series, but RE2 is what introduced the expanded story of Umbrella, the Birkins (who helped develop the viruses Umbrella was using), and the mutating G-Virus, which itself was a more powerful strain than the T-Virus introduced in the first game. These added text to the story gave it more depth, more drama than the first game had introduced. Even the new Tyrant models deployed by Umbrella to hunt down the protagonist were improvements over the Tyrant monster players fought at the end of the first game.
Still, the biggest improvements that I stated before were the characters introduced in RE2. Sorry to all you RE purists out there who love Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, but I absolutely hated both characters. In time I would eventually come to kind of hold Jill in some high regards, but to this day Chris just seems like a waste of pixels in my opinion. In fact, my favorite character from the first RE game was Rebecca Chambers, and you only get to play as her for like 10 minutes at most. (Rebecca would later star in her own game, Resident Evil 0.) Starting with the two main characters in RE2, Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, they were huge improvements over Chris and Jill. Coincidentally, Claire happens to be Chris’ younger sister. Her motivation in the game is arriving at Raccoon City and locating her brother. Already she had more motivation in RE2 than Chris and Jill had in RE who were investigating the disappearance of the S.T.A.R.s Bravo team. Also, she seemed a much more fleshed out character than either of the characters in the first RE game. Her caring and protecting of young Sherry Birkin lent her much more of a developed character in that regards.
Then we get to Leon; Leon, who I consider my favorite character out of the entire Resident Evil franchise. There was just something about Leon that I really connected with. Even though his motivation to survive the outbreak was because he was a rookie cop assigned to Raccoon City, his character was much more developed than those of Chris and Jill. Even though Chris and Jill had Rebecca and Barry Burton as supporting characters, they never helped flesh out the characters further than being cops. But Leon had Ada Wong, and the cooperative/adversarial relationship that developed between them throughout the game (and later expanded upon in subsequent games) led to better character development and a more accessible personality than those of Chris and Jill in the first game. Personally, overall, I felt that he was just a much more likeable and relatable character than any other character introduced in the RE series.
The slight improvements in graphics, the added replayability, a better and deeper story that explained more of the backstory of the series, and interesting and approachable characters made RE2 a much more open and overall fun game that I felt far surpassed what its predecessor had laid down. To this day, I still consider RE2 my favorite game in the entire Resident Evil franchise. No other game in that series influenced my gaming experience as RE2 did. Not even Resident Evil 4 and all its advancements. Yes, it was a great game and made a lot of strides to further progress the series as a whole, but RE4 seemed to move away from the survival horror genre to a more action horror type game. So while RE4 is a better game overall, for what the series originally started off as, and for what it did to progress the series at the time, RE2 is still my favorite game in the series for that reason. And it just seems a bit hard to realize that the game came out 15 years ago today. Looking back and playing it from time to time, Resident Evil 2 really has held up against the test of time.