“I’m sure you boys didn’t just tag along so we could sing “Kumbaya” together at some Boy Scout bonfire. But then again, maybe you did”
Leon S Kennedy
I’ve held a certain, penchant for this game since my first experience upon the Gamecube, a departure from the fixed static backdrops and awkward controls of its predecessors, consequently one of the most well received titles of the series despite its divisive nature amongst the franchise dedicated fan base. Within the last decade, as an artistic medium in the West gaming has seen a wider acceptance within the Overton window of public discourse, once a past time confined to a largely solitary experience now more widely accepted into cultural norms and behaviours. Certainly you can draw some form of correlation between the evolution and progression of the aesthetic and the acceptance, with software producing imagery and sound akin to, if not superior in certain circumstances to more traditional media. Focusing specifically on the audio output and evolution of this genre of music, as we discussed in November over the past decade or two, as the format of software and the hardware supporting it has evolved, first through the use of CD technology then onto Blu-Ray discs and the progression of PC gaming, musical output is now treated as just as integral component of a softwares success, elevating certain titles beyond their financial means and scope as recently seen with niche titles such as Old Man’s Journey and FireWatch, both small studio releases but each with a distinctive sound and soundtrack that ensnared the user within their respective worlds and certainly were a notable and prominent feature.
The music of Resident Evil or Biohazard to give the games their native titles, was always a prominent component of the series, growing in stature and grandeur as the titles grew in strength and scope with some notable tracks featured over the years. Of all the music in the series, my personal favourite up until playing the fourth entry was the entry theme of Chris Redfield from Code Veronica which as a young impressionable gamer set a precedent for the adventure ahead. With the evolution of the series onto the Gamecube and stylistically a change in both location and tone from the earlier games when I first experienced this title it was a somewhat radical departure from what had come before, the pomp and bombastic tones and musical themes experienced in the earlier games replaced with a more subdued score that did in part allude to the work of its predecessors but almost an homage. The Soundtrack Book released in Japan as an accompanying piece of merchandise to the game was a surprising find, admittedly a somewhat mystery package in a store selling a wide variety of gaming memorabilia but one given its name was recognisable and the curiosity towards a Soundtrack Songbook was a strong one. In contrast to soundtrack releases in the UK such as the Life is Strange special edition which was in itself an exception to the rule and had an accompanying art book of sorts, this release was an impressive art book in itself with a series of character sketches and photos outside of the main game presentation, a few environmental shots of the locations featured, generally, a really in-depth visual booklet with the soundtrack included at the end of the book. In the absence of a supportive Art Book this was a great source of visual information to view, studying the various character models for example and elevating the humble soundtrack into something of a presentation.
One of my personal joys of reviewing the art books over the last six months has seen the development of character models from inception to final realisation. Certainly, with more recent titles that have granted access to their development cycle and allowed users a window inside the creative side you do perceive a greater resonance and connection to these games, observing the alternative pathways your central protagonist could have taken. With the central character of Resident Evil 4, certainly the evolution of Leon from his first appearance in the sequel title in the series to this appearance shows a somewhat disjointed evolution, the red haired young cop in his pixelated formed standing in stark contrast to the more defined and detailed blond haired hero featured in this game. Perhaps one of the dangers or weakness of the earlier 3D games, now unfortunately aged rather badly but in some exceptions such as the recent release of the remastered Resident Evil 2 which went someway to bridge the character model from the original release to the protagonist featured in Resident Evil 4. Released long before the remaster was being considered I would perhaps have enjoyed the chance to see the creative choices behind his design and evolution of the character model in these two game but alas you only have the option to view a series of images such as these. I did enjoy seeing the character panel pages in the book, the grid format showcasing the various character models a nice touch and with the exception perhaps of Ada who appeared somewhat repetitive in the various images featured everyone gets their own unique stance and appearance, the close up images of Leon and Ashley a sweet moment echoing the sentiment and closeness between these two strangers in the earlier stages of the game and narratively where they end as your journey concluded with your escape from the island. In contrast, the images of the villains and threats used in the game were an ‘enjoyable’ chance to view these individuals in greater detail. Like the Alien model or mutations featured in Dead Space whilst enjoying these games there is never really an opportunity to take in the macabre of the threat before you, and certainly once you defeated the various threats, due to system limitations they often melted or disappeared from the screen. Here, as presented are the various villains and monsters featured in the game, most notably the chainsaw wielding villain with the sack over his head who became notorious and repetitive in his appearances over the course of this game and returning to a degree in the fifth game. Certainly, there was never an explanation or reason why despite his death he returned on multiple occasions, perhaps a family of sack wearing monstrosities with a penchant for attacking and pursuing Americans, we can only speculate why these people pursued Leon to the extent they did. It’s only a decade later after finishing this game the absurdity of the multiple chainsaw wielding villains actually hits home, a menace certainly when playing the game and an absurd threat afterwards.
In contrast to the character imagery I did find the environment and location shots a joy to view and explore, I adore these sort of imagery showing the stages and levels rendered in more simplistic and artistic methodology. As with all digitally rendered art there often is a temptation to view them as substandard in contrast to more traditional orthodox methodologies, oil and water paints for instance but without a measure of doubt quite clearly there was a great level of skill in producing these environments, perhaps not the most scenic or welcoming in contrast to a Constable landscape for instance but they certainly capture the spirit and tone of the environment you were tasked to explore on your quest to rescue the President’s daughter. Are they a true and accurate reflection of the Spanish countryside? questionable perhaps but as with the discussion around the villains and enemies of the game, when your objective is to stay alive, taking a moment to stop and appreciate your surroundings is probably not your most pressing concern at that moment in time. One of the joys of having supportive art books such as these is the opportunity to explore these environments to such a degree, taking in the nuance and detail that in the moment you may have been tempted or driven to push past on your quest for survival. The graveyard close to the church where you encounter Ashley for the first time, a pivotal location on two separate occasions and when you first arrive, given the connotations and connections to the series past perhaps a certain level of dread as you walk amongst the gravestones. In truth, just a highly detailed and constructed area to explore with certain puzzle mechanics built into the carvings and dedications upon the graves whilst designed to avoid repetition that plagued earlier titles and gaming in general with a temptation to copy and repeat assets. The buildings have an almost colonial era finish, again within the confines of the game entering one of these houses or structures was a daunting prospect, especially with the prevalence of enemies hiding within or the menace of a chainsaw wielding villain bursting out to attack you on a whim. Looking at the imagery of the houses out of the digital realm and for what they are, you appreciate the attention to detail and the stylistic choice used in their creation, a world away and entirely different from the more modern and urban buildings as featured in the series earlier titles. You do feel as subjective as it seems, you are a world away from the streets of Raccoon City and the outbreak of the T-Virus. Whether intentional or not, I do have a great level of respect for opting for this type of wooded natural environment, not seen again to the same degree until the launch of the games 7th entry and certainly serves well to differentiate the game from the earlier entries and sets this title apart. The game, narratively does opt to return to more familiar paths as you progress as you encounter more urban locales and facilities culminating in a platform finale that seem’s immediately familiar to other games you’ve played and enjoyed. The most joy and respect I felt during this specific title occurred during the opening chapters and levels as you explored the rural environment, the opening village and the siege that occurs, the graveyard and tunnels, the strange pit where you encounter the cave troll that attacks and the wooded house where you are besieged by attacking enemies and threats. It felt like a consistent and believable world which certainly acts to draw you in and immerse you in your environment.
From a production standpoint a well presented and quality addition, have to say if this is the standard of all Japanese release gaming soundtracks or at the very least a normative standard I’d be very interested in picking up future releases going forward. Whilst digital is the growing trend, for those that opt to invest in physical media still, such an archaic notion certainly, it is satisfying to be presented with items such as these that recognise the audio experience works well accompanied by the visual media such as this art book. I’ve sat at home listening to these soundtracks visualising the imagery in my head as the tracks have played, having the means to view the corresponding imagery was certainly a treat. I loved the village imagery was printed on the discs, a high quality and detailed print, such a contrast to the rudimentary and basic print if any found on standard global releases. The binding quality was perhaps a degree questionable with a page or two now loose despite being relatively unused or unopened to any significant usage up until this point. Regardless, as a soundtrack it was certainly more subdued and reflective of the location, moments of tension and horror surrounded by a more mellow and almost cathartic tone, especially the subdued save room track as discussed previously. The problem, arguably whether such a problem exists is the lack of a central theme in contrast to an established movie series, no connecting bridge exists that permeates the franchise.
In that absence it’s difficult to sell a soundtrack on the back of nostalgia or sentimentality, the music in this release is unlike any other Biohazard game, there’s is no main theme that plays when Leon first appears for example but from a wider perspective narrative themes are represented, the ‘save room’ topic has always had its own music for instance. In this regard, the soundtrack works honouring the core narrative topics ever present in a Biohazard release. The imagery is fascinating to explore, I find the concept of a full size art book, effectively a deluxe picture sleeve accompaniment a fascinating inclusion and certainly setting a standard for future releases for me. With the prevalence of digital media, items such as these are an indulgence purchase, not the normative option and as such buyers should be celebrated and rewarded for option for this format. Clinging perhaps to the past and a way of retail that will diminish in the near future but I suppose my hope remains, Japan given its geographic restrictions and technological advancements should be at the forefront of digital purchases, items such as these should be redundant. But the prevalence and abundance of physical media releases such as these shows an understanding that fans such as us demand more than a streaming soundtrack or digital copy. And from observation where there is demand, there will be supply. I love this release because it bucks the trend and rewards the fan base with a physical item to view and enjoy not listen to and dismiss easily, as such, a worthwhile purchase.
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