“Itchy, Tasty: An Unofficial History of Resident Evil” is Alex Aniel’s debut book, chronicling the inception and subsequent success of the Resident Evil series. An extensive account documenting the long, sometimes storied history of one of Capcom’s most revered gaming franchises. Alex, a long time fan and industry expert, consulted many principle individuals privy to the development of these games, including creator Shinji Mikami. With each giving a personal insight into not just the adversity of creating Resident Evil, but establishing survival horror as the standard industry epithet.
Its clear from the offset that this has been compiled by someone passionate about the franchise, particularly its formative development. Someone gifted with a knowledge that can only be obtained having survived the enduring horrors depicted in the games. You have to commend Alex’s attention to detail and extensive research, as well as his dedication to the subject. The effortless way he formulates an overarching narrative, rather than just a fastening a series of anecdotes sequentially.
What strikes me most is his fluency with Japanese, that isn’t only utilised as a means of translating conversations with the native speaking designers he interviews, but also clarify spelling or punctuation differences that has influenced the Resident Evil verbiage. Such as H.U.N.K, the clandestine special operative, being all caps. Even the forward, written by Mark Julio, another revered industry expert, reflects my own nostalgic sentiments to the point that it almost feels plucked from my own memories.
One of the most interesting aspects that the book examines is the original games prominent facile dialogue. An eminent if much maligned dialogue, ridiculed for both its intent and delivery. Though oddly enough the simplicity of the efforts was at least a partially intentional decision. One influenced by the desire to make the game as linguistically accessible to a Japanese audience as possible, due to the absence of any native dubbing.
Reading “Itchy Tasty”, it’s remarkable the number of variables required to ensure the original Resident Evil was even released, let alone the commercial and critical success it eventually became. Capcom at that time was not the multifaceted company it is today. The proposal of a “Horror” focused game like Resident Evil was an inherent risk, one that threatened to escalate potential bankruptcy already looming over the developer. A property inspired by prior ventures that had failed to capitalise on their unique, if niche premise. Resident Evil was really the delayed result of Fujiwara’s patient resolve in waiting for the industry to catch up to his vision. As up until then hardware was lacking the necessary polygons to render the kind of gratuitous horror he had envisioned.
Some of the more obscure tangents in the book include a partially deaf composer, drafted to produce a soundtrack to the re-release of Resident Evil, that were not only universally derided, but also written by a man who had for many years been taking credit for somebody else’s work, whilst also not being as deaf as he appeared. Also some of the principal character’s names were actually inspired by those featured pornographic magazines.
Almost every game in the series suffered some kind of complication: Resident Evil 3 was initially intended to be a spin-off that was later expanded. The original Resident Evil 4 became Devil May Cry. With the subsequent version enduring several drastic revisions, that eventually led to the unceremonious departure of Shinji Mikami. Resident Evil 2, my favourite in the series, was well into development when the script was amended by an outside consultant, and swiftly cancelled. Leading to a complete overhaul of the existing game, resulting in a year long delay. Not to mention a technical accident that led to Resident Evil 2 being shipped with 2 disc’s, when it was quite possible to fit on one.
We also learn about Capcom as a conglomerate and how they collaborate with each platform. The publishers agnostic approach to game development. Their rather covert development of Resident Evil offshoots. The emphasis that if Resident Evil could have been developed for toaster, Capcom would have. Censorship by newly established rating organisations that would appraise the content of these games, certifying Resident Evil as, well, evil! How they never created games exclusivity for one preferred platform. The intervening year’s proved costly, as did their unwavering commitment to Nintendo’s Gamecube. Despite the quality and quantity of Resident Evil games being exclusively developed for the failing console, it was not enough to encourage consumers buy a console solely for Resident Evil.
There is so much history here, narrated with such personable affection that it feels more like a story than archival publication. Giving a broadening context to a nostalgia I can associate with, centred around Resident Evil. If you don’t share that same enthusiasm for this series, then there is probably little incentive to read this. But as a fan, Itchy, Tasty truly illustrates the considerable efforts and sacrifices made by the people that created this series. And just how thankful I am they did!