Without a doubt, Japan has played a pivotal role in shaping the «survival horror» in the gaming industry. It supplied and continues to supply, as a rule, the best representatives of this direction. As soon as Resident Evil entered the scene in 1996, many other genres began to borrow various elements from it, and it soon became difficult to put horror in front of you, or, for example, action with horror elements. The same parts of System Shock are a great example of this.
However, from the middle of 95 to the early 00s, enough titles were released that can be considered the canons of the genre. Below we will talk about some of them.
Resident Evil (1996)
Actually Resident Evil from Capcom and introduced the concept of «survival horror». The game was conceived as a 3D remake of Sweet Home, but it was clear to the father of the series’ founder Shinji Mikami almost immediately that he could take the genre up a notch. All those ideas that have been formed in the genre over the past 15 years, Mikami polished and demonstrated to the players in a new light.
To do this, he worked alone for the first six months, sketching out concept art and coming up with a script. It was originally planned that everything would take place with a first-person view, but after seeing Alone in the Dark in time, Mikami decided to borrow a cinematic fixed camera from her.
A fan of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Mikami decided to set a mansion away from civilization as a setting for a greater sense of isolation for the players. There we meet characters such as Chris, Jill and Wesker, who will appear in more than one part of the franchise.
Fans liked the viscous and atmospheric gameplay, consisting of shooting zombies and solving riddles. Third-party developers also liked it, in connection with which games began to appear on the market that clearly borrowed elements of the commercially successful Resident Evil.
At the moment, the series has more than 20 titles for various platforms, six films, three animated films, not to mention all kinds of comics and novelizations of almost every numbered game. The success of the recent Resident Evil 7: Biohazard showed that Capcom is able to continue to force the series to evolve and sell the game, even without everyone’s favorite characters. In addition, a remake of Resident Evil 2 is expected in 2018, which will refresh the memory of one of the most iconic representatives of the genre.
Parasite Eve (1998)
Unexpectedly, Square, the future Square Enix, at that time known primarily for the Final Fantasy series, said its word in the development of the genre. Parasite Eve is based on the popular Japanese book of the same name by Hideaki Sena.
The father of Final Fantasy, Hironobo Sakaguchi, wanted to put the seventh installment of the beloved franchise in a New York City setting, but the idea had to be scrapped until the idea of a survival horror game loomed on the radar.
Parasite Eve was not only the company’s first game to be heavily developed by Americans, but also the first Square title to be 17+.
Like Final Fantasy, Parasite Eve is an RPG, but only on the surface. Bringing elements of horror into the usual mechanics, Square came up with a kind of hybrid of RPG and action, made with an emphasis on cinematography. Most of all, critics appreciated the fresh combat system, which no longer required to take turns, but allowed the main character Aya to maneuver between opponents, increasing the variability of possible attacks. Also unlike an RPG, Parasite Eve is fairly linear and doesn’t allow you to freely explore the game’s world.
Critics praised the impressive graphics and even found their charm in the lack of voice acting. However, for many players accustomed to the long adventures of Final Fantasy, the 15 hours required to complete Parasite Eve was not enough.
Encouraged by generous reviews, Square rushed to release a sequel in 1999, followed by The 3rd Birthday in 2010 for the PSP, which was something of a spin-off of the series.
Silent Hill (1999)
Despite Capcom’s dominance of the horror industry, there are enough players who consider Silent Hill to be the benchmark of the genre.
In places where the fear of Resident Evil seemed too straightforward, Silent Hill gave players mysticism and an intricate, controversial plot, on which more than one guide has been written. Where Resident Evil tried to frighten the player with the menacingness and number of monsters, Silent Hill frightened with silence and the unknown, and plunged into incomprehensible horror with its signature design of monsters and locations with bleeding walls. In a sense, the developers from Team Silent offered a more serious and adult approach to the genre.
Not to mention that all of the above is unimaginable without the signature musical score created by the iconic Akira Yamaoka, who has gone from composer to franchise producer.
Interestingly, Silent Hill was initially sent to those employees who did not fit into any other project. Konami commissioned the formed Team Silent team to create a title with a Hollywood vibe that would sell well in the US. After months of fruitless work, the members of Team Silent decided to ignore Konami’s demands and instead make a game that would have a dialogue with the player, rather than naively trying to copy Hollywood.
Despite initial skepticism, after the game’s presentation at E3 in 1998 caused a flurry of applause, Konami decided to give Silent Hill more attention, increasing the budget and increasing the game’s advertising campaign.
Unfortunately, in general, the Silent Hill series cannot boast the same success that Resident Evil has. The first three parts received rave reviews from critics, and the fourth part was justified by an interesting concept. But since SH: Origins in 2007, Konami has left the development of titles to European and American studios, and there is no trace of Team Silent left. Western developers couldn’t compete with the originals, and in the end, even Akira Yamaoka left to pursue other projects. And after the canceled reboot under Hideo Kojima, Konami decided to put the franchise on the back burner.
Dino Crisis (1999)
It should be noted right away that Dino Crisis was made by the same team as Resident Evil, with the same Shinji Mikami at the head. Some of the critics even called it «Resident Evil with dinosaurs.» However, Mikami, on the contrary, wanted to get something new from the genre. In contrast to «survival horror», the studio decided to make the so-called «panic horror». To do this, instead of zombies, he made dinosaurs enemies that attacked much more actively, could move between locations and generally made the fight much more dynamic than Resident Evil.
The plot in Dino Crisis does not stand out with something special. As in RE, the player, in the company of other characters, enters a mysterious place, this time filled with reptiles, and tries to unearth its ins and outs.
The pre-prepared backdrops were replaced by full-fledged 3D levels, as in the same Silent Hill, which again added some dynamics to the game. Compared to the RE, the control became more flexible — now it was possible to aim on the go too. There are surprisingly few varieties of opponents in the game, one of the versions included only five types of dinosaurs.
In general, perhaps Dino Crisis is «Resident Evil with dinosaurs.» But although the game was built according to the usual system, Mikami really managed to show it from a different angle.
Released a year later, the sequel more or less repeated the success of the original and, like it, sold a multimillion-dollar print run. The same cannot be said about Dino Crisis 3, which was released in 2003 and sent the heroes to the year 2548. The question of the fourth part is raised regularly, but so far its future is not clear.
The Thing (2002)
The Thing has become not only a great horror, but also an example of how to adapt films in the world of video games. The open ending to John Carpenter’s The Thing seemed to urge publisher Universal Interactive to show horror fans how Childs and Macready’s story ended.
The publisher offered Computer Artworks to take over as developer. The studio took a level from their game Evolva, covered it in ice, and added a boss in the spirit of the movie. Universal approved.
Computer Artworks were very pleased with the freedom of action they received. They decided that the game would not be a direct adaptation, but a sequel. According to The Thing, the player takes on the role of John Blake, the captain of the Beta group, who is trying to figure out what happened to the lab from the movie.
The developers immediately decided not to put the game on the rails of Resident Evil and other slow horror games, but instead add more action. Either roaming the frozen locations alone or leading a classic squad of Medic, Engineer and Soldier, Blake reconstructs the story of the film’s events while slaying mutating monsters along the way.
At the same time, as in the original, it is not clear until the last moment which of the characters is infected and which is not. In addition, do not forget that this is taking place in Antarctica, so that a long stay in the cold is not the best way for Blake’s health.
The reviews for the game have been excellent. After it became clear that The Thing was a success, Computer Artworks began work on a sequel, but, unfortunately, things did not go beyond concept art and a couple of short demos.
Those who especially miss the atmosphere of the first Silent Hill should pay attention to the Forbidden Siren series. Over time, Akira Yamaoka became the only person who worked on both the first part of Silent Hill and the last one (before Silent Hill: Downpour). What happened to the rest of Team Silent?
Several key contributors to the development of the first Silent Hill didn’t get along with Konami and left to work for Sony. Keiichiro Toyama, the director of the first SH, has spearheaded the development of the new Forbidden Siren horror series. Naoko Sato and Isao Takahashi, monster designer and SH level designer respectively, happily joined the project. As a result, it is not surprising that parallels were often drawn between Siren and SH. But the Japanese developers were not going to copy the successful formula, they wanted to move on. Toyama and his colleagues have already managed to set a new standard in the horror genre once. Now they have decided to do it again.
Siren consists of ten mini stories set in the village of Hanuda. Thanks to the occult inclinations of the locals, almost every NPC you meet at some point turns into a «shibito», some kind of zombie. You play ten characters in turn, many of which are not related to each other in any way, but the actions of some influence the plot of others in subsequent chapters.
Traditionally for the genre, the entire plot of Siren can only be understood by studying all sorts of diaries and letters scattered throughout the game. The health of the characters is restored automatically, but the game is incredibly difficult. It is almost impossible to impose your own rules on Siren. If the game says that you need to hide, you will have to obey, because the enemies here are incredibly tenacious and smart. The player needs to patiently study their routes and it is desirable not to catch their eye at all.
However, it is the need to progress through the game through trial and error that has been criticized the most. Otherwise, the game received fairly positive reviews. Many fans of the genre wanted to see it that way — complex, slow, but interesting and rich.
In the future, the series was developed in the form of two sequels: Forbidden Siren 2 and Siren: Blood Curse. Also, based on the second part, the film «Siren» was filmed in Japan.
During this period, the Japanese line Fatal Frame or the Canadian line Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem also made a great statement.
As you can see, a significant role in the development of the genre was played by Shinji Mikami, who continues to work in the same direction to this day. In 2017, a sequel to his latest project, The Evil Within, is planned to be released. His revolutionary brainchild Resident Evil also delights fans with new experiments.
I would like Silent Hill to return to the game. When Konami commissioned the creator of the Metal Gear series to take over the reboot, for a second the industry thought that a new era in survival horror was approaching, so compelling was his work. Unfortunately, Kojima’s departure from Konami put an end to the project. It remains to be hoped that his ideas will be embodied in his next mystical project Death Stranding.