In both of Capcom’s video games Resident Evil Village and its 2017 predecessor Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, you play as Ethan Winters, a man desperately fighting through terrifying, monster-filled locales in search of his family whose lives are in danger. But the story behind both games presents an intriguing idea that the franchise could carry on with down the road.
Unlike many of the Resident Evil franchise’s other primary protagonists who have had different skill sets ideal for surviving hordes of ghouls — primarily zombies but they’ve branched out — Ethan’s introduced as a relatively ordinary man. Before his life was turned upside down, he worked as a systems engineer, and being an unskilled combatant in Biohazard served to bring the game back to the franchise’s focus on survival and stealth over direct combat. But this part of Ethan’s character also introduced a strange, unexpected element of humour when it came to the game’s way of showing you how he dealt with the monsters.
Not long after Ethan first arrives in Dulvey, Louisiana, he locates his long-presumed dead wife Mia trapped in a decrepit farmhouse on a plantation. While Ethan’s initially overjoyed to see her, their reunion turns sour as she begins to attack him in a fit of wild rage, forcing Ethan to kill her in a way that sets the tone for much of what’s to come as the game unfolds. Before Biohazard’s story kicks in, though, Ethan encounters a very alive Mia once again who this time manages to cut Ethan’s left hand off with a chainsaw before he kills her for a second time. Stranger still is that, despite losing an unimaginable amount of blood and his hand being detached with the farthest thing from proper surgical tools, just a few moments afterward, Zoe, another character he encounters, is able to reattach it as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. As you continue on in the game, one of the more curious things that becomes apparent is just how much traumatic abuse Ethan’s body is able to withstand. As he battles through a swamp filled with creatures infected by a mysterious black mould that serves as the game’s answer to the T-Virus from other Resident Evil games, he’s stabbed, maimed, and gored in a variety of ways, but he’s able to push through all of it both because of his will, and the many precious bottles of healing chemical fluid and herbs he comes across that refill his health gauge.
When Biohazard was first released, the game’s way of depicting Ethan healing himself came across as comical given how much detail went into other elements of the first-person game in order to make it feel “realistic.” It was easy to write off his hand-washing-as-healing quirk as a weird design choice on Capcom’s part. But Village’s story reveals a number of new details about Ethan, the mould from Louisiana, and the Umbrella Corporation that makes many of the odd things about the previous game make much more sense, and suggests interesting developments for the franchise’s future. Though Village opens in a way that makes it seem as if Ethan and Mia managed to escape Dulvey and finally begin their lives together as a growing family, the story quickly takes a turn as Mia — once again — dies violently, an event that sets Ethan on a path to an Eastern European village hiding a dark and ancient secret. Much like what happened in Louisiana, Resident Evil Village’s titular hamlet is home to a wide variety of human creatures transformed by their exposure to a mutagen. Here, though, many of the monsters take on lupine attributes, playing with the fairytale/storybook framing that shapes Village’s story. As was the case in Biohazard, Ethan once again heals himself from all manner of maimings that should kill a person, and all it appears to take is splashing a bit of clear liquid on himself.
Village takes care to delve much deeper into the lore connecting it to its predecessor with a series of revelations about the origins of the village’s creatures, its four powerful lords, and a woman known as Mother Miranda who rules over them all as an almost deific being. Different as the village’s monsters are, their mutations all stem from coming in contact with an ancient fungus dubbed “the Mould” by Mother Miranda, who’s revealed to a be an inhumanly long-lived biologist who spent decades experimenting with the organism after losing her daughter to the Spanish flu in 1919. In addition to allowing Miranda to live well into the present day, her experiments with the Mould are explained as the origins of the village’s creatures, and the cause of the events in Biohazard.
As straightforward as much of Village’s story is to play through, the moment when Ethan himself is revealed to be a manifestation of the Mould does introduce an interesting twist that adds important context to Biohazard. Ethan learns that, while he’s able to recall the events from Lousiana and how he fought his way out with Mia all those years ago, in reality, he died for the first time not long after he first arrived on the plantation. Because of the Mould’s ability to imbue people with regenerative abilities, however, Ethan was able to heal from his wounds, albeit unaware of the reason for his resurrection. More important than this tidbit, though, is the way Village connects Mother Miranda’s origins to those of the Umbrella Corporation, the pharmaceutical and bio-weapon company founded by Oswell E. Spencer. Toward the end of Village, you learn that at some point before founding Umbrella, Spencer spent time researching along with Miranda in her remote village where she worked to figure out a way to use the Mould to resurrect her daughter. The knowledge Spencer took away from his time in Europe with Miranda is explained to have played a crucial role in how he first came to conceive of Umbrella, which of course went on to do very similar research resulting in the earlier games’ monsters.
Initially, both Biohazard and Village appeared to be Capcom’s attempt at putting some distance between Resident Evil and its zombie roots. But Village’s plot turns weave the game into Resident Evil’s lore in a way that deepens the franchise’s meta-history, and sets up some interesting things for the future. It’s fascinating to know how far back Umbrella as a concept extends, and how the fruits of Miranda and Spencer’s research come to butt heads decades after the pair first meet. Though Ethan ultimately sacrifices himself in order to save Mia, their daughter Rosemary, and Chris Redfield, Village’s mid-credits scene makes clear that Rosemary grows up to be no ordinary teenager, something that will most likely be explored in later installments.
By the time you finish playing through Resident Evil Village, it feels very much like the definitive end of a particular chunk of one chapter in a much longer story that has even more potential to get wilder and weirder going forward. Disturbing as the game might be, all things considered, it’s exactly the kind of convoluted madness that Resident Evil needed to make itself feel fresh, and it’s going to be fascinating to see what comes next.