Horror heads home.
Resident Evil 7 was officially announced during Sony’s E3 press conference, but so much of the sequel is clouded in mystery. But that’s the strategy. I sat down with the game’s producer Masachika Kawata and director Koushi Nakanishi to learn as much as I possibly could about the next instalment in the seminal horror series.
1. It’s Not a Reboot
Title aside, it’s possible to play Resident Evil 7 and not realise it’s the latest entry in the long-running horror series. But Resident Evil 7 isn’t a reboot, either. Confused?
Here’s how Masachika Kawata, the game’s producer, explained it to me:
“It’s the next title in the numbered series, so obviously it’s part of the Resident Evil universe, and overall canon, so to speak. It’s not a separate thing, but we have intentionally made it so that maybe when you first play it you’ll almost think: how could this possibly be related to the rest of Resident Evil? But it is. It is an extension of the series so far. It’s not a reboot. It’s the next main game.”
And when I asked would we see any familiar faces – Chris, Jill, Leon – or the nefarious Umbrella Corp?
“Basically no. It’s a whole new set of characters and situations,” said Kawata, who has worked on the franchise since 2005’s Resident Evil 4. But he did say, “There could be some interesting surprises in store as well.” So expect there to be some easter eggs in there at least.
2. Herbs Confirmed
Resident Evil 7 will maintain some continuity with the series through returning mechanics, like the life-restoring green herbs which have been a fixture since the 1996 original.
“I can confirm herbs are going to be in the game for getting health back,” says Kawata. And that’s on the record.
3. Criticism of Resident Evil 6 Was Heard
Resident Evil 6 was a crisis of faith and identity. The series has evolved so much over the years – incorporating new mechanics, more action, more gunplay – and RE6 suffered badly as a consequence. It was misshapen and uncertain of itself. The same mistake isn’t being made with Resident Evil 7, however.
By trying to please everyone, you please no one.
“We saw a lot of different reactions to Resident Evil 6, both positive and negative,” says Kawata. “Both ends of the scale. We took a look at the overall state of Resident Evil and the feedback we got, and we asked ourselves how can we bring the horror experience people remember from Resident Evil ’96, and how can we bring it to modern gamers once again. Exploring that question, and that core identity of the game series – Resident Evil – brought us to make Resident Evil 7 the way it is.
“When it comes to the main series, RE is first and foremost a horror series. I’ve wanted to separate out the different elements, rather than put them together in one game. By trying to please everyone, you please no one.
We asked ourselves how can we bring the horror experience people remember from Resident Evil ’96.
“People out there who like the more action-based, shooter-style of RE – that’s been put aside from the main series and is coming out in a separate game like Umbrella Corp. The order in which we announced the games might have caused some concern for fans, but you know hopefully it makes more sense now in context when you see Umbrella Corp doesn’t exist on its own. And of course, Resident Evil 7 is taking the main series back to full on horror. We’ve taken the approach this is the horror title – this is the actual one. It’s a series that can have many different styles to it, but each game has to have gameplay that makes sense in its own context.”
4. Resident Evil 1 Is a Huge Inspiration…
The director, Koushi Nakanishi, is a huge fan of the original Resident Evil, and it’s clear that it is the dominant influence on this project.
“Yeah, that’s a game that’s always a great reference point to have in mind. Not only this time around, but I also replayed Resident Evil 1 as research for working on Resident Evil: Revelations. So it’s a kind of touchstone for me.”
5. …and so Are Classic American Horror Movies
The interview you’re currently reading was conducted in a big spooky American farmhouse Capcom has erected in the middle of E3’s South Hall. I don’t know about you, but it definitely reminded me of the sinister family home in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
When I asked Nakanishi if that movie was an influence, he said that was definitely the tone he’s trying to achieve:
“The atmosphere of ’70s, ’80s, American horror movies – the lonely house out in the fields or in the middle of nowhere in the countryside where there’s nobody to call for help. I love that kind of atmosphere. That was a big influence on us choosing the Southern United States setting for the game. It feels so helpless and isolated.”
6. Maintaining Mystery Is Crucial
I pressed for details throughout the interview, but Kawata and Nakanishi wouldn’t be drawn on specifics, like plot or protagonist. They really want to maintain a sense of the unknown. They want people to feel genuinely unnerved by Resident Evil 7, and to rattle-off features or details about enemy types would instantly undercut that ambition. Once again it’s memories of the original that lie behind this approach.
“My motivation for not being able to talk too much about that stuff is really because back in 1996 those of us who weren’t working on the game had the experience of playing Resident Evil with a sense of mystery,” Nakanishi tells me. “You know… ‘Where am I?’ ‘What’s happening to these people?’ ‘What are these enemies like?’ ‘Where are they going to come from?’ ‘What’s the story behind them?’
“That mysteriousness is so vital to what we want to get across and what emotions we want you to feel. Again, I tend to repeat myself, every time you ask for more information, but we’re trying to keep it to the minimum as much as possible, so when you finally get your hands on the game it’s going to be such a fresh new experience. You won’t be bored of it already.”
I asked where the eerie looking house from the key art was located in America, and Nakanishi turned the question back on me. I replied with the first Southern state that came to mind: Georgia. “That could be close. You never know.”
7. Fewer But More Meaningful Enemies
So are we still fighting the undead or has the threat changed entirely?
We’re trying take it into a more personal and intimate scale of horror.
Will we be facing ghosts or evil spirits in Resident Evil 7? Even though the actual threat that awaits us wouldn’t be revealed, Nakanishi did reveal something about the nature of these encounters:
“One thing I can say is it’s not going to be some kind of zombie horror where you have to mow down zombies. We’re trying take it into a more personal and intimate scale of horror by there being fewer enemies, but each one poses a significant threat. That’s the kind of horror approach we’re going for.”