Resident Evil Village (or Resident Evil 8) has taken the world by storm thanks to tall-vampire-lady its stunning world and intriguing characters. While the game borrows some elements from previous entries in the franchise (like Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 7), the secret ingredient is definitely the gothic horror genre.
The gothic horror genre is a particular genre of fiction that focuses on terror, beauty, and survival. The first gothic horror novel is said to be The Castle of Otranto (by Horace Walpole), but there are also more well-known novels like Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Videogame storytelling is the perfect medium for the gothic horror genre because it compliments the emphasis on “strong emotions” that the genre focuses on.
Just like the book “Horror Video Games” says:
“Game storytelling works best when the plot is fairly simple. Lots of nuances can be worked into the environment and the characters the player meets but the plot is something that is immediately understood and which propels the player through the whole game experience, motivating the actions and choices they’re making. Since horror works best the less that is explained and the more that is left up to the imagination, it maps well with game storytelling.”– Horror Video Games
“Horror is also ideal for games because it presents a familiar world but with enough of a twist to make it seem fantastic and special. Horror stories are typically set in highly recognizable locations that the player can identify but which have been invaded by some evil force.”– Horror Video Games
Resident Evil Village follows the story of Ethan Winters, a man who ends up stranded inside a strange, abandoned village after his wife is killed and his daughter disappears.
On arrival, our protagonist is greeted by horrible monsters called Lycans that have ravaged the village and murdered all its inhabitants. The first part of the game shows us a cutscene where Ethan and the few villagers who survived take shelter in a house only to be attacked by an old man who turns into a Lycan and attacks his own daughter. A broken lantern starts a fire that spreads all over the house and kills everyone except our protagonist who miraculously manages to escape.
If this last part doesn’t sound like the plot of a gothic horror novel, I don’t know what does.
An essential part of the gothic horror genre is the mystery element. A protagonist “ordinary” enough that the audience can see themselves in is thrown into a strange and uncanny world where he has to solve a mystery at the center of the plot.
The first part of Resident Evil Village leaves the player with more questions than answers.
Why did Chris kill Mia? What are the monsters that devastated the village? Who are the seemingly supernatural characters that tried to kill Ethan? Who is Mother Miranda and what does she want with baby Rose?
All those questions will be answered in the end, but it’s important that the story, at least in the beginning, remains vague enough to poke the player’s curiosity.
The gothic horror genre is famous for its use of allegory and symbolism and Resident Evil Village, being a gothic horror game is no stranger to that.
Ethan might not be a well-rounded compelling character and his motivation might be pretty simple, but this didn’t stop the developers from adding nuance to the story through the villains.
Some of the most iconic gothic horror novels like Frankenstein use their antagonists as an allegory.
The monster represents Doctor Frankenstein’s mistakes coming back to haunt him, but also the danger of his ambition, which took physical form and harmed the people around him.
Sure… Resident Evil Village is not as deep as Frankenstein, but it does a good job at using Ethan’s worst fears to scare the player.
The best example of this is in the House Beneviento section. The house is basically a giant puzzle that the player has to solve by finding objects and following clues. However, Donna Beneviento isn’t going to let Ethan take what he wants and leave.
As the player begins to explore, the layouts of the rooms start changing, strange visions appear, Ethan finds tapes of Mia crying out in desperation, and finally, a horrifying baby-like creature stalks Ethan through the hallways.
Every creepy, gross, and weird element of House Beneviento represents an aspect of fatherhood. This means that, just like many other protagonists of the gothic horror genre, Ethan Winters has to (literally) fight his demons in order to achieve his goals.
Setting as a character
“A popular game device is to give the players some information about their surroundings while leaving a lot out. […] Being completely blindsided isn’t a lot of fun though, so a number of horror games have used limited information techniques to keep the player apprised that danger is imminent without “giving away” too much.”– Horror Video Games
In a lot of stories that fall into the gothic horror genre, the mystery is directly tied to the setting.
A creepy castle, a foggy forest, a deserted Victorian household, they’re all pretty but also filled with secrets.
The settings are the true strength of Resident Evil Village, each one has its own set of enemies, atmosphere, and secrets to discover.
There are 5 villains in the game and each one of them resides in a different area that can be explored by the player.
Since I’ve already talked about House Beneviento, let’s move to the most famous (and probably the best) location in the game: Castle Dimitrescu.
The castle is the first location that the player can explore after the village. It’s a massive location filled with corridors, hidden passages, different areas (like the dungeon and the roof), and secret rooms.
It provides a challenge for the player who has to sneak around this confined space avoiding the gaze of
tall-vampire-lady Lady Dimitrescu who is constantly pacing around the main hall.
The castle also creates some interesting environmental challenges during the fights with Alcina Dimitrescu’s daughters (Bela, Cassandra, Daniela). Each one of them has to be weakened by the cold air coming from outside and then killed.
When one of them appears, the player has to figure out a way to open or break a window and then attack them until they freeze and die.
But how do you know that cold air can defeat those creatures?
Thanks to the information provided by the castle itself. Scattered throughout the halls and the rooms there are diaries, notebooks, recordings, and pictures that will explain the history of the land and of the characters.
The player is incentivized to explore and snoop around in order to find, not only items but also lore that will help him exploit the weakness of the enemies.
So just like any other story in the gothic horror genre, in Resident Evil Village the locations are just as important as the characters themselves. They can be claustrophobic, dark, nightmares that terrify the player, or breath-taking environments filled with helpful resources.
The gothic horror genre gravitates around one concept: death. It could be death in the physical sense (someone actually died), or a psychological version of it (someone being obsessed with the idea of death), or even a supernatural force that brings death.
Resident Evil Village follows the tradition of keeping death as a core element of the story. In fact, for a good portion of the game, everything we see in the game is dead: the Lycans, the plants, the monsters, Ethan…
Even Ethan’s daughter Rose (Rosemary Winters) is technically “dead” for most of the game.
Just like other famous stories from the gothic horror genre, Resident Evil Village isn’t simply content with death but wants to explore the idea of resurrection.
Most of the monsters the player encounters have been given a Cadou, an organism that can keep a being alive even after death, and gift to that being incredible powers.
Heisenberg uses the Cadou to keep dead soldiers alive and make them fight for him in his factory. Just like a snobby and stylish Doctor Frankenstein, he uses science to conquer death and strives to sever his connection to Mother Miranda. The person who gave him eternal life.
“A horror game can introduce a supernatural element which justifies why the player has unique abilities”– Horror Video Games
Resident Evil Village presents the player with characters and events that seem supernatural but actually have a scientific explanation.
Tall-vampire-lady, I mean Lady Dimitrescu isn’t actually a vampire. Her body mutated after receiving a Cadou from Mother Miranda and now she needs to consume human flesh and human blood to survive.
Her daughters aren’t supernatural creatures, they’re made of a particular species of flies that can imitate the human form.
Salvatore Moreau isn’t actually a fish but a man that mutated after the Cadou was implanted in his body.
Basically, Resident Evil Village pulls a Scooby-Doo and reveals that the terrifying monster was actually a biologist all along.
The “twist” in this case would be the revelation that Ethan Winters himself is not a regular human being either. Even though things like reattaching his lost hand or healing bullet wounds like it’s nothing might tip off the player to the final revelation.
The sublime is the concept of greatness, something so incredible that can’t be put into words. This concept can apply to anything in life, an object, a setting, a person, or even an emotion.
The purpose of the sublime in the gothic horror genre is to make the audience feel something greater than words, something that can’t be accomplished by reality.
Resident Evil Village takes this concept typical of the gothic horror genre and uses it to create breath-taking landscapes and jaw-dropping action scenes.
After all just because something is creepy doesn’t mean that it can’t also be beautiful. The snowy village, the disgusting swamp, and the incredible factory are all incredibly detailed and gorgeous to look at.
The concept of the sublime is even present in the lore of the game. The sheer number of enemies that the player has to defeat implies that Mother Miranda and her “family” have transformed thousands and thousands of innocent people into bloodthirsty monsters.
Each one of the bosses is also implied to be venerated by the people of the village like a religious figure, with Mother Miranda at the center of it all occupying the role of “protector”.