According to director Morimasa Sato, the development of Resident Evil Village started on August 8, 2016. For the 8th main entry in the series, that’s an interesting date for sure (8/8/16!), but the real surprise lies in the fact that this was almost six months BEFORE the release of Resident Evil 7.
“We were still busy developing Resident Evil 7, but my boss told me to start planning for the next entry in the series,” recalls Sato, who was also the director for Resident Evil 7. “At the time, we had no idea how users would react towards the new horror experience and characters of 7 yet.”
Resident Evil 7 took the series back to its survival horror roots, but it was much more than a simple throwback. As the first mainline entry played from a first-person perspective, it was seen as a fresh start for the franchise.
“We had no idea how the change of perspective would be received, so at first we were quite worried. But when we released Resident Evil 7 about half a year after the development of Village started, it was received very well. This helped us decide to make Village a direct sequel,” Sato says.
After seeing the success of Resident Evil 7, Sato decided to have protagonist Ethan Winters make a return as the hero in Village, and kept the first-person perspective.
“As the original creator of Ethan, Sato really wanted to bring this character’s story to completion,” says producer Tsuyoshi Kanda.
“If you look back, you can see that Resident Evil’s systems have drastically changed after every three titles. In that sense, Resident Evil 7 was a title that came with some big changes,” says Kanda. “For us, it was a sincere attempt to deliver a true horror experience once more, focusing on an experience played in first-person. In the process, we brought Ethan to life.”
While Sato initially imagined that it would be more difficult to depict a main character in first-person, he became more and more attached to the character. In Village, he wanted to take this further, and show how Ethan has grown as a person.
“After somehow surviving the events of Resident Evil 7, Ethan and his wife Mia gave birth to Rosemary, their daughter. They were living a quiet life together, but then suddenly Chris Redfield – a familiar character for fans of the series – appeared, killed Mia and took Rosemary away. The game starts with Ethan making his way to the village to save his daughter. While Ethan was just a young man who had somehow found himself in this house of maniacs in Resident Evil 7, this time I wanted to portray him as a father,” Sato explains.
Kanda adds that family functioned as a theme for Village’s story, to which Sato nods. With the Baker family as the main villains in Resident Evil 7, family was an important theme in that game as well, but this time Ethan will be protecting his own family.
While Village is indeed a direct sequel to Resident Evil 7, Kanda and Sato say it’s much more than that. Sato explains that during the planning phases, he had already come up with the idea of a village as the game’s location, and that he was inspired by Resident Evil 4.
“If Resident Evil 7 was like a reboot that inherited the DNA of the original Resident Evil, then you could say that this time we’re doing the same for Resident Evil 4,” Kanda says. “We’ve designed the game and its structure with Resident Evil 4’s essence in mind, so I think that you’ll be able to find a lot of elements that remind you of that game.”
“In the history of the series, I believe that Resident Evil 4 is where the action and combat evolved the most,” Sato explains. “Interestingly, Resident Evil 4 was also set in a village. For Resident Evil Village, we’re bringing the essence of Resident Evil 4, while Resident Evil 7 functions as the base for the game. It’s not a reboot of Resident Evil 4, but the offspring of both Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 4.”
If Village succeeds in combining the horror of Resident Evil 7 and the action of Resident Evil 4, it might become one of the most beloved entries in the series – but these two elements could also stand in each other’s way. If being haunted by the Baker family was frightening because you felt so weak, won’t a more action-focused approach disrupt the balance of that experience?
“That is indeed something we need to be very careful with,” Sato admits. “If you increase the action, it quickly turns into a game that allows you to kill enemy after enemy. That is not what I want. It’s important that the player constantly feels afraid of the enemies, and the experience should be all about overcoming that fear.”
Sato says that he believes that resource management – a traditional feature of the series – will prevent the action from diminishing the sense of fear. Conserving bullets and health items, being forced to advance to dangerous areas to stock up on supplies and wisely using items at the right moment all contribute to that traditional survival horror experience. For this, Sato used the 2018 Resident Evil 2 remake as a reference, which he sees as a perfect example of well-balanced survival horror.
Kanda says that for Village, the team didn’t just want to create a scary horror game. While Resident Evil 7 satisfied fans of the genre, some players found it too scary to even play. For Village, the team went for an experience that is still scary, but in a way that more players can enjoy. To achieve this goal, they came up with two key phrases that would shape Village’s identity: “a theme park of horror” and “ultimate survival horror”.
A horror theme park that’s yours to explore
The village that you will be exploring is much more than just a collection of streets and houses. The player will be discovering four different areas surrounding the village, with one of four Lords (the game’s main villains) awaiting the player in each area. From a gothic castle with a giant countess to a reservoir area ruled by a merman-like creature, the variety of characters and locations shape what Capcom calls “a theme park of horror”.
“By implementing a wide array of horror elements within one game, Village is not only one of the most voluminous entries in the franchise; it also offers different kinds of horror experiences within one package,” Kanda explains.
Sato says that this aim for variety was inspired by Resident Evil 4. By delivering variety in its scenarios, locations and gameplay, Resident Evil 4 managed to feel fresh until the end. For Village, Sato says that he sought to continuously create new experiences for the player.
“Also, when you think of the characters, I think that (Resident Evil 4’s) Ramon Salazar is the kind of character that everyone still remembers,” says Sato. “The appeal of a character like that is something very powerful, so we aimed to design characters with the potential to resonate with players like that. Seeing how well Lady Dimitrescu has been received made me confident that this had indeed been the right approach.”
While in size they’re quite the opposite, what Ramon Salazar and Lady Dimitrescu have in common is the fact that their appeal goes beyond pure creepiness. With such characters, Sato hopes to target a broader audience than just the typical horror fan. That being said, the element of horror definitely isn’t going anywhere.
“While aiming for a broader experience, I didn’t want to lower the game’s peak of fear,” Sato says. “Keeping the peak intact is essential, but if the game is tense throughout, it can become too much for certain players. That’s why we needed a change in pace, and included elements that afford the player a feeling of safety.”
With more freedom of exploration than in previous entries, the player can – to a certain extent – pace his or her own experience.
“The village is a more open and expansive location which the player can freely explore and get lost in,” says Sato. “As you play, you’ll gain access to more parts of the village. Making sure that the player knows where to go next in a larger environment is something we had to be really careful about. We consciously designed it so that you would see and notice the right things from the right locations.”
“If you give the player freedom in a wider area, it becomes easy to lose track of the next objective. On the other hand, if you guide the player too much, you lose that sense of freedom. We went through a lot of trial and error to get that balance right,” Kanda recalls.
While Resident Evil games have always had plenty of secrets, until now the series has offered more narrow and focused experiences. With more detours and optional elements, Village seems to be different.
“This is indeed one of Village’s newest evolutions,” Sato says. “We’ve prepared a more open environment, and basically we just tell the player to go and have fun with it, which is something Resident Evil hasn’t done before. While the main story still advances in what we think is the best order to experience it, it is totally possible to ignore the objectives and just get lost in the game’s world. There are many houses you can completely ignore, but as we feel it’s important to reward the player’s eagerness to explore, there will always be something interesting to discover. We really put a lot of effort into making Village’s exploration worthwhile.”
Sato believes that this freedom of exploration will create a different experience for each player, and hopes that it will become a reason to make players want to come back to the village again and again.
“The fact that Village has so many optional things to do makes it very different from previous installments in the series,” says Sato. “I’d almost go as far as to say that we prepared too many detours, so if you want to experience everything, it’s really going to take you a long time.”
On top of all that, the entirety of Village is explorable without coming across any loading screens, regardless of your platform of choice.
“For the PS5 and Xbox Series X, there’s no loading at all, as the area is completely connected. On the PS4 and Xbox One, the game is loading at certain points, but it’s always done in a way the player won’t notice, so you’ll be able to enjoy a seamless experience – like Resident Evil 7 was – on those platforms, too,” Sato assures us.
While it’s up to the player to decide how thoroughly to explore the village, systems have been created to stimulate and reward exploration, which connects to the game’s other main theme: “ultimate survival horror”.
Overcoming your fears
“By ‘ultimate survival horror’, we mean that this time you won’t just be experiencing fear like in the previous game; you’ll also have to find ways to overcome it,” Sato explains.
Just like in Resident Evil 7, Ethan is constantly hounded by terrifying creatures and characters, but Village offers more options in how to defeat them. “Giving the player more options means that we had to evolve the action,” says Sato. “This is where we really learned a lot from Resident Evil 4.” Sato and his team attempted to capture the essence of Resident Evil 4’s action, and then reworked it to suit Village’s first-person perspective.
“For example, you could block attacks in Resident Evil 7, but in Village you can block, then kick the opponent away, then follow up with a counterattack with your gun,” Sato explains. “The environments have more verticality as well, so the player can climb up rooftops or barricade themselves into a house. With some of Resident Evil 4’s staple elements adapted for a first-person view, the player can come up with more strategies and use the environments to their advantage.”
If you have played the demos released over the past couple of weeks, you probably noticed that Village’s enemies are tough. However, with the right strategy it becomes possible to defeat multiple enemies at once. But if even that doesn’t do the job, you can always upgrade your weapons or increase the stats of your character; another element that Resident Evil 7 didn’t have.
“We wanted to offer multiple ways to play the game, which is where weapon merchant The Duke plays an important role,” Sato says.
Resident Evil 4 also had a weapon merchant, and in similar fashion, The Duke allows you to buy weapons, ammo and health items, and to upgrade weapons. But that’s not all.
“This time, you’ll be able to increase Ethan’s own character stats,” says Sato. “Inside the village, you can find animals like chickens and pigs that have been left out in the open. By hunting those animals, you obtain ingredients, which can be brought to The Duke. He can then cook meals for you, which will increase your stats.”
You can increase stats like health and attack power through these meals, and these upgrades will remain throughout the game. Even if you don’t feel comfortable with Village’s first-person action elements, it should be possible to beat it by leveling up your character as you would in an RPG. That said, given Village’s intricate action systems, Sato hopes that players will enjoy trying out the wide array of available strategies.
“The amount of weapons available has increased, too,” he says. “Quickly switching from a handgun to a shotgun and then a sniper rifle within the same battle and figuring out which weapon is best for each moment should be a lot of fun.”
The village as a lead character
While Resident Evil Village primarily portrays Ethan’s story, Sato sees the village itself as the game’s second lead character.
He recalls that for Resident Evil 7’s visual presentation, the team set out to portray the filthy locations as beautifully as possible. This time, he went for the exact opposite: portraying the beautiful as something horrific. This can be said for the village itself, too.
“The traditional depiction of horror is dark, narrow and dirty. But there are plenty of horror movies with beautiful visuals that are scary at the same time,” Sato says. “I think that beauty and horror don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Castle Dimitrescu, for example, is gorgeous at first sight, laden with beautiful furniture. However, if you take a close look there might be something eerie lying on the table. When you see a patch of blood on an otherwise elegantly decorated wall, the beauty of the wall gives the blood a stronger impact.
“By adding a sense of beauty that wasn’t present in Resident Evil 7, I think we can make the presentation and atmosphere even more horrific.”
The main aspect of the village’s beauty has to be the snow. As a natural element that is often beautiful and terrifying at the same time, snow was the perfect choice for the theme of Village’s visual presentation. That being said, the village wasn’t covered in snow in its original design. Chance played a crucial role in what undoubtedly became the location’s most iconic characteristic.
“We went to a country in Eastern Europe for research during spring that year, but we encountered a record-breaking cold snap. We had to continue our research under -13°F conditions in the midst of a blizzard. I really thought we were going to die!” Sato recalls, laughing. “The circumstances were so extreme that our guide – a local – proposed we call it a day.”
Reminiscing on this trip, Sato says it completely reshaped his vision for what the village would look like – and without this extreme experience, the village would have been a different place.
“To this day, I still wonder what the village would have looked without it,” says Sato.
Given Sato’s original goal to portray both the horror in beauty, wouldn’t it be creepy if the cold snap was an act of fate?
Resident Evil Village will be released on May 7. Be sure to check out our in-depth preview of the first five hours as well as our impressions of extra mode The Mercenaries. For those curious about the last-gen version, take a look at our PS4 Pro gameplay footage. If you can’t wait to get your blood drained by Lady Dimitrescu, don’t miss our feature on the towering villain and her daughters, and also be sure to check out our reveal of the game’s other main villains.
Esra Krabbe is an editor at IGN Japan. He thinks that Ethan should start wearing gloves outside.