Pretty much the first sentence you hear in Resident Evil 3 has the word “pandemic” in it. The full-motion video intro in the brand new remake shows a world that has devolved more than our own one has as of yet—fortunately COVID-19 hasn’t brought zombies with it, or much in the way of rioting, violence, and widespread societal collapse—but it’s impossible to watch it and not think about our current state. Of course the game and its designers had no idea it would be coming out in a climate like this—its development started in 2016, and is a direct remake of a game that originally came out in 1999. Despite its age, Resident Evil 3 feels like it’s in direct conversation with what’s happening today, with its focus on trauma and the ways a pandemic can undermine society; curiously, this conversation makes the game seem less significant and less powerful than it might have otherwise been. Horror games already do very little for me, and now here’s one that’s trying to scare me with a cartoonish reflection of what has kept me legitimately scared and anxious in real for the last month, with no end in sight.
More interesting than Resident Evil 3 itself is its similarities to Final Fantasy VII Remake, another brand new remake of a late ‘90s Japanese game, and which I’ve been playing simultaneously. Final Fantasy VII came out in 1997, two years before Resident Evil 3. They could not have known about the coronavirus, but there’s another real-life tragedy that both are clearly aware of. Both have scenes early on where the player has to escape from a collapsing city by journeying into a subway train full of frightened citizens. These games were made in the wake of a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995; the terrorist cult Aum Shinrikyo injured over 1000 people and killed 13 in hopes of bringing about the apocalypse. It might seem paradoxical to portray the subway system as an escape from danger just a few years later, but the subway doesn’t feel safe or peaceful in either game. These trains are full of anxious, frightened, shell-shocked people who are unsure of what’s happening to their world and at a loss of what to do next. The subway becomes a vessel for fear and confusion, as it must have felt long after the Aum Shinrikyo attacks. Resident Evil 3 further echoes that cult with its apocalyptic setting—the Umbrella Corporation manifested in Raccoon City the doomsday that Aum Shinrikyo were trying to instigate in real life. And although we’re mostly interested in Resident Evil 3 here, I’ve got to mention Final Fantasy VII’s group of heroic terrorists, whose goal is the exact opposite of Aum Shinrikyo’s—not to destroy the world, but save it from the exploitation of a villainous, all-consuming corporation. (Yes, both games are deeply cynical about the power wielded by business, coming during the recession-plagued decade that was essentially the hangover to Japan’s 1980s economic euphoria.)
This is what you should keep in mind while playing Resident Evil 3—and while watching my commentary on the game’s first 20 minutes. I’ve never played the game before, and recorded this live, so these are my unfiltered, immediately reactions to the beginning of a game that many might think echoes real life a little too closely.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.