The original Resident Evil for PlayStation was a groundbreaking horror game when it launched back in 1996. While it arguably didn’t invent the survival horror genre, it at least introduced us to the term. “Welcome back to the world of survival horror,” it told us whenever we loaded up a save.
Of course, the original concept of the game was radically different than the game we ended up getting, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the design changes were almost certainly for the best.
In an interview with GamePro published way back in 1996 (Issue #91), Capcom’s Shinji Mikami made this statement:
In the beginning of the game’s creation, we considered using a Doom-like 3D environment, but we reconsidered. In a full 3D environment, you wouldn’t be able to see the main character, so you would lose that sense of identity. It’s also hard to build that kind of fear that we were going for. We decided it would be more frightening to have the camera suddenly jump to a different view to heighten the suspense.
Just imagine that for a second: Resident Evil could have been a first-person game in the style of Doom. Would this have caused the series to completely bypass the tank-like control scheme that it’s infamous for? Perhaps. But for me, the bad controls and bizarre camera angles are a huge part of what makes this game feel so terrifying, and I’m really glad they went with the static backgrounds in the final product.
In the very same issue of GamePro, the official review states: “Resident Evil stands tall as a topnotch second-generation PlayStation game that’s well worth the green.” I’m going to take that to mean that there are people who agree with me on this, and that those people were working for GamePro in 1996.
It’s also interesting to point out that while some sources claim that Resident Evil was originally supposed to be a remake of NES horror classic Sweet Home, Mikami cites an Italian horror film rather than Sweet Home as his primary inspiration:
My main inspiration was Zombie, an Italian horror movie. When I saw the movie, I was dissatisfied with some of the plot twists and action sequences. I thought, “If I was making this movie, I’d do this or that differently.” I thought it would be cool to make my own horror movie, but we did one better by making a video game that captures the same sense of terror.
The final question of the GamePro interview inquires about a possible sequel. Mikami answers:
We hope that people really enjoy Resident Evil. If the first game does well and there is much demand, we’ll consider doing a sequel.
His cautious optimism is almost adorable in retrospect, now that we have two decades flooded with Resident Evil games and movies to look back on. But there was a time when the future of the series was a gigantic question mark, and all Mikami could do was shrug his shoulders and give us the humble maybe that would eventually become Resident Evil 2 (my personal favorite in the series to this day).