What Horror Is, Isn’t and Will Be, According to Shinji Mikami

By: - 19th Jul 2013
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In an interview with Eurogamer published today, Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami explored various topics including his view on game developers and his life history.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Mikami made his voice heard about the state of the horror genre, and game developers interested in this genre should heed his words.

Shinji Mikami is the creator of Resident Evil and was involved in the development of the series up until 2007 when he left Capcom.  Given the disappointment many fans feel with the latest Resident Evil titles as well as the approaching release of his upcoming title, The Evil Within, Mikami has expressed his point of view not just regarding the Resident Evil series, but about horror gaming in general.

How exactly did Mikami develop interest in horror?  He described having watched a few horror films as he grew up and noting to himself what he might have done differently if he were in the same situation.

Mikami then discussed applying to Capcom when he first graduated from college, and though his application was initially rejected, he was ultimately hired by the organization.  After work on a few titles, he was then tasked with directing a sequel to Sweet Home, a horror RPG released for the Famicom that was based on a movie with which it shares its name.  He rose to the task, creating Biohazard (aka Resident Evil in the US), and as they say, the rest is history.  Not only did Resident Evil prove to be a successful title, it started a defining series and also revived the survival horror genre.

Though not directly referenced in this interview, Mikami’s stance regarding the ‘evolution’ of the series he created is apparent to those who read the interview’s transcript.  His main focus in developing a horror game involves creating a tense atmosphere by limiting the player.  In the classic Resident Evil titles, he accomplished this with static camera angles and a limited inventory system.  As a result, this provided the player with a sense of vulnerability.  This atmosphere was largely sustained through the early titles and was recaptured in Resident Evil 4, albeit in a different way.  Though Leon’s saga was now told with an over-the-shoulder camera, there was still a sense of being alone and having the odds stacked against you as you often faced rather intelligent enemies in great numbers.   Though RE4′s camera was maintained, the sense of vulnerability that was successfully portrayed in Mikami’s last Resident Evil title was lost in the subsequent entries.  Resident Evils 5 and 6 are more reminiscent of uninspired action movies where obviously invulnerable protagonists deal with hordes of enemies without even breaking a sweat.  As such, the tense and creepy atmosphere established in the previous titles is essentially gone, leaving a series with games that have very little in common with their predecessors.

This is an example of change not always being a good thing, especially when the reasoning behind the change is illogical with respect to the identity of the series.  Resident Evil 6 served as an attempt to appeal to gamers that are fans of the shooter genre.  Though a successful combination or a blending of two genres can result in a title that changes the face of gaming, Resident Evil 6 is neither successful nor defining.  It essentially falls flat in both the horror and shooter genres.  This is the likely reason why Mikami stated that perhaps now more than ever, looking back to the origins of the survival horror genre is more important to him than innovation.

A mere rehashing of the formula used in the original Resident Evil titles is not what he has in mind, however.  His discussion regarding game sequels alludes to this as he remarks that their very nature could serve to prevent the creation of a frightening atmosphere unless properly checked.  When subsequent games in a series begin to feature the same enemies and pitfalls as their predecessors, they provide a sense of familiarity that begins to undermine the potential for a tense atmosphere.  Perhaps this is the reasoning behind the shift in the style of the Resident Evil series that was first apparent in the fourth game.  Gone are the slow and unintelligent zombies as they were replaced by faster and more relentless Ganados.

Being able to further pick the brain of the man responsible for the revival of survival horror would be a dream for virtually any fan of the genre.  For instance, I would be curious to see what Mikami’s stance is regarding the online petition to remake Resident Evil 2.  I would also be intrigued to see if titles such as The Last of Us have impacted his way of thinking regarding modern horror titles.

In all, I would have to agree with Mikami’s various points, and that isn’t just because I am a diehard Resident Evil fan.  Mikami in many respects is an innovator, and his tactics were successful in reviving the survival horror genre in the mid 1990s.  As it seems that history is repeating itself as the survival horror genre is in need of another revival, is it possible for lightning to strike twice?

Mikami expects to deliver on his principles and hopes with the release of his upcoming title, The Evil Within, which is slated for release on current and next-gen consoles sometime in 2014, and given his mindset, I believe that his efforts to return survival horror to its roots will be what is needed for revitalization of this ailing genre once again.

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