Although a perfectly valid criticism to make, it often seems like people hurl accusations of ‘’tonal inconsistency’’ at any piece of media that dares to experiment with more than one flavour. I cannot tally the number of reviews I’ve come across where a movie has been attacked for having a serious moment followed by a joke a few scenes later, as if that’s some kind of cardinal sin.
Granted, you don’t want your storytelling to be devoid of artistic unity (i.e., the original cut of Justice League). Yet, generally speaking, it’s healthy for an artist to mix different paints when they’re working. After all, it prevents their output from becoming too monotonous and – under the right circumstances – those contrasting elements can actually accentuate each other. For instance, The Walking Dead is so aggressively morose nowadays that you end up becoming desensitized to all its brutality, whereas a sprinkling of levity could (by juxtaposition) lend extra weight to those tragic parts.
It is surely a tough balancing act to pull off. Nevertheless, the point is – unless you’re tackling extremely heavy subject matter – you probably don’t want to rigidly adhere to a single tone. Otherwise, people will start to get bored. Lord of The Rings, Indiana Jones, Star Wars: each of these properties understands that audiences crave emotional journeys that will thrill, amuse, frighten, sadden, and uplift them. Hell, even the notoriously bleak The Last of Us series appreciates the value of light-hearted relief now and again, in order to break up the darkness.
With all that being said, there is nothing remotely dexterous or artful about the way Resident Evil Village clumsily lurches between its deranged ideas. Many have (justifiably) found fault with how it flits not only between opposing styles and moods but even conflicting genres that have no business coexisting. Indeed, the game is unquestionably a jumbled mishmash, even by the franchise’s own chaotic standards.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Village is following hot on the heels of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, a reboot that was by no means masterfully written, yet did manage to feel somewhat cohesive. For a title that lumped together J-Horror ghosts, Texas Chainsaw Massacre influenced Hillbilly horror and, of course, the titular biohazards, it did a pretty good job of tying those disparate threads. Everything was neatly linked through the character of Eveline, whose cloying need for affection led to her mutating the Bakers so that they would, in turn, spread the mold and grow her family unit. Even those creepy Blair Witch effigies you find near the beginning are a direct by-product of her yearning for companionship.
I’m sure this connective tissue was an afterthought for the developers (and that their main priority was loading the sequel with cool horror iconography) but, credit where credit is due, they almost nailed it. By contrast, the seams of Village are considerably more apparent, especially when it comes to the tenuously related set-pieces. One minute you’re sneaking through the dingy corridors of an eerie mansion (totally disempowered and stripped of weaponry), the next you’re piloting a fucking tank and blasting at a giant Decepticon made up of junkyard scrap.
Suffice it to say, these moments don’t really belong in the same universe as each other and the associated tonal shifts can make the whole thing feel a tad incongruous with itself. There are atmospheric walking-sim bits, recalling P.T. or the type of experience you’d normally associate with Bloober Team. There’s helpless horror in the vein of Amnesia, wherein you tiptoe through the halls of Castle Dimitrescu, evading unkillable stalkers. Later there’s a lengthy combat gauntlet with a cyborg army and, following that, a run-and-gun section that feels as though it’s been ripped wholesale from the latest Call of Duty. Elsewhere, there’s campy fun to be had in plundering booby-trapped caves for treasures, navigating those silly ball labyrinths, and incinerating the lake monster from Bong Joon-ho’s The Host.
The transitions aren’t particularly graceful either, considering that the polar extremes often occur barely 10 minutes apart. Capcom does try to hastily paper over the cracks with a late-game info dump, in which you come across a heap of documents that are somehow meant to explain the commonalities between a Lovecraftian merman, a 9-foot-tall vampire lady, and a guy with Magneto powers. It’s blatant that they didn’t fret over any of the details here and were simply unwilling to scrap incompatible ideas for the sake of a cleaner narrative.
So to clarify, I hardly disagree with those who claim Village is all over the place. Far from it, I think they are objectively right. Yet where I crucially differ is that they mean that as a criticism, whereas I take the view that it’s actually the game’s biggest strength. According to the detractors, this is a product that has been focus-tested within an inch of its life to appeal to the broadest possible market. However, I don’t detect a hint of cynicism. Rather, I think it more accurately resembles the outcome of cocaine-fueled mania, as if the developers were giddily trying to one-up each other in devising the most bat-shit concepts imaginable.
Resident Evil 8 is admittedly not a ‘’smart’’ outing, but it absolutely knows what it’s doing. Like the much-touted fourth entry, it is an unapologetic celebration of the ridiculous and it doesn’t care how its individual pieces fit together, so long as there’s plenty of eclectic monster designs, high-octane action sequences, larger-than-life villains, and ostentatious environments. This laissez-faire attitude towards theming is part of the charm and it’s honestly preferable to a more sober-minded approach. I mean, who wants coherence from a series that routinely culminates in a nuclear bomb obliterating the antagonist?
Of course, you do want some semblance of harmony and for that, there’s the ingenious hub-world structure. In our review of the game, we compared the level design to Ocarina of Time, whereby four ‘’dungeons’’ (the Reservoir, the Castle, The Factory, and the Beneviento Estate) are connected via a larger overworld. Likewise, in the Safe Room podcast episode, it was likened to the traditional Resi mansion layout, only this time each ‘’wing’’ of the hub is itself a mini-mansion.
Whilst those are both perfect descriptions of the segmented map, the thing that it weirdly reminded me of most was the spoke and wheel design over at The Magic Kingdom. I am serious: the village alcoves are basically the equivalent to Main Street, winding their way up to the Cinderella Castle (the ritual altar), which then, in turn, branches off into 4 discrete areas. But instead of transporting you to fairytale realms, high-seas adventures, or intergalactic escapades, these gates lead to decidedly blood-soaked attractions. Orlando’s delights are replaced here with the likes of gothic vampire-land, repulsive Fishman-land, steampunk Frankenstein-land, and ‘’Jesus Christ; what the hell is that ungodly abomination? I don’t want to go any closer. Please don’t make me look at it’’… land.
As with Disney’s theme park, progressing from zone to zone is incredibly exciting, as you set foot in brand new worlds with their own unique surroundings, character ‘’meet and greets’’ and different activities. From a story perspective, it’s obviously complete mayhem – and I don’t blame anyone for finding it jarring – yet I simultaneously don’t remember the last time I was so eager to discover what was around the next corner in a video game. It’s genuinely unpredictable in the best sense and very rarely disappoints with its schlocky surprises.
As much as I adore Resi 7, upon repeat playthroughs my interest starts to wane after the Marguerite encounter because I know that it devolves into a linear procession of Molded killing from there. Village on the other hand does not share this problem, as it goes nuts throwing in every genre archetype under the sun. As a consequence of this, there might be a little tonal whiplash but it means the title doesn’t have quite as pronounced a slump. You just have to ask yourself what’s most important: that the journey is tidy and orderly, or that you’re having a good time on a moment-to-moment basis.
For myself, it’s a no-brainer. When I had a backseat gamer watching along for the second run, I legitimately couldn’t wait for them to be caught off guard by the various twists and turns I knew were coming. Whenever they presumed to have a firm handle on how events were going to unfold, I alone harbored the secret knowledge of what was really in store. I’d be stealing sly glances at them throughout – looking for the moment where they realised this next location isn’t going to be anything like the previous one. And getting to vicariously relive the Beneviento house again through their eyes (as though it was the first time) was especially entertaining.
Which is why it’s difficult to get too hung up on that issue of consistency, given that the slapdash nature of the game engenders such wonderful variety. If Capcom were more laser-focused and streamlined in their vision, then we’d be deprived of a frankly insane cocktail of psychological dread, intense stand-offs, pulse-pounding action, and OTT boss battles. The climax may get a little carried away – with an extended shooting gallery sequence that overstays its welcome – but overall the messiness is an asset! In other words, I don’t enjoy it despite the fact that it’s nonsense. I enjoy it precisely because it’s nonsense!
Similarly, I love the greatest hits album vibe, as the devs cherry-picked highlights from the franchise’s illustrious past and remixed them in creative ways. In one consolidated package I can now experience an alternate version of RE:4’s opening siege, alongside the puzzle-box mysteries of the Spencer mansion and those suspenseful cat-and-mouse sections that distinguished the early hours of RE:7. Not to mention there are also original scenarios that belong entirely to this new release, including a freaky round of hide-and-seek against a possessed doll!
In short, Village does not represent the series in the throes of an identity crisis. If you want to see what that truly looks like, revisit the compromised and utterly soulless Resident Evil 6. This, meanwhile, is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. It’s the developers letting loose and indulging in the diverse pleasures that the horror genre has to offer. Liberally sampling from classic works of literature, popular films (to the point where it maybe plagiarizes some), and, yes, its own back catalog, this is Capcom taking a well-earned victory lap.
And even if the final result does occasionally induce an ice-cream headache sensation, I’d still take that any day over the formulaic or mundane.