Warning: There will be spoilers throughout.
I finally completed the original Resident Evil in the winter of 1999. It’d taken a long time, thanks in large part to getting stuck around the 2/3rds mark for around 4 months. Not having internet at the time, I couldn’t just look up the solution and as a result I sat there frustrated and desperate; I even began checking suspicious looking pixels on the walls of the mansion hoping I’d find my clue to advance…it was agony. Turns out, once you put the newly discovered battery in the outside elevator you were supposed to turn the water back on to reveal the secret entrance to the caves…who knew? It didn’t matter though, even that massive annoyance in the middle couldn’t ruin the game for me. If anything, it just made victory that much sweeter once it arrived. So my wait began for Resident Evil 2 and being a kid I had to rely on the ‘rents to deliver the goods.
For my 11th birthday in 2000 I received my copy of Resident Evil 2. Upon opening the case I was greeted with a wonderful and terrifying sight… 2 disks. I couldn’t comprehend it; did this mean the game was twice as long as the original? Of course once I checked them out it became apparent that each disk belonged to each of the playable characters: Claire Redfield and Leon S Kennedy. Like before I was faced with a choice and like before I went with the female character; maybe I thought they were attractive or maybe I assumed since Jill was the easier option in the original game, Claire’s would be the easier choice this time round (turns out this was totally wrong and Leon was the easier character to use, but this actually helped later…)
The game opened with some awesome CG cut scenes and threw me right into a batch of zombies (Arrgghh!) At first I was like “oh man! I get to explore all of Raccoon City?” Turned out that was a total cock tease and you spend the game inside the police station much like the mansion in the first game (not to worry though, Resident Evil 3 would bring the city loving goods.)
Wandering through the police station ended up working wonderfully. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t quite as scary as the mansion (not secluded for a start,) but for building the mythology of the series it was perfect. Finding out what happened when the surviving STARS members from part 1 tried to tell the authorities what they fought through and the result in Raccoon City was every bit as enthralling as discovering the tidbits of the Spencer Estate (yeah, the files were back!) Great feelings were had entering the STARS office and searching the desks of the various squad members; Barry’s was covered in guns of course.
The original game had excellent music, but 2 pushed it even further. Everyone who has played this game remembers that theme that plays when you take your first step into the Raccoon City Police Department. Save rooms are of course back and Resi’ 2’s save room music is probably the most iconic of the series. Resident Evil 2 Save Room
From a gameplay perspective things hadn’t changed much, but that was OK…it was more than OK. What had changed were half the monsters. We didn’t have any Hunters anymore, we had Lickers…the first of which is introduced shockingly early and echoes the introduction to the dogs in the hallway from the first game. Boss fights were suitably amped up too with William Birkin high on his G-Virus giving us trouble in 3 forms throughout the game.
Unlike the original game, each of the playable characters featured a different story. Claire’s story revolved around protecting the innocent daughter of William Birkin, but you’d occasionally meet up with Leon along the way, who seemed to have his own adventure going on.
It didn’t take me quite as long to beat Resident Evil 2 (I still managed to get stuck for a good month in the middle though,) I beat the final boss, giant alligators and super lickers (oh crap!) and watched the final cut scenes. As the credits played I lamented on the great gaming experience I’d just had and then…then something amazing happened.
Upon finishing the game I was greeted with a message, “Now play Leon’s side of the adventure to uncover more of the horror.” I’m paraphrasing from memory (I could look it up, but let’s not obsess over details in the face of my laziness.) but you get the gist. Having already popped in Leon’s disk to try a new game I thought to myself “but it was just the same as Claire’s with some minor differences,” but just as I was brushing off the message the game asked me to save one more time…the save file now read “Leon Scenario B 00.” I immediately threw in my Leon disk and chose the load game option. When the game loaded I got the same opening cut scenes, but afterwards Leon wasn’t in the same place he usually is at the start of a new game…
You see Resident Evil 2 begins with an explosion separating the 2 main characters and when you start a new game, regardless of which character you pick, you start on the left of said fire; when I loaded my saved game though, I started on the other side of the fire. Much like the first play through my goal was to reach the police station, but this time I had to take a different route. When I arrived I soon noticed that tougher enemies had already spawned (ones that didn’t appear till late on previously,) and items were in different locations…not just the ammo and health, every weapon and key too. It essentially gave me an entire second game to play and I couldn’t have been happier. I got to see Leon’s side of the story, including his sort-of-romance with a mysterious woman named Ada.
What also differed in this second scenario was vastly different boss fights; much like the first time, you fight William Birkin in 3 stages, but now the three fights were all different forms, tougher mutations than what I’d fought with Claire. It was genius, the idea that I’d fought type 1 William with Claire and then type 2 with Leon, then type 3 in Claire’s game and so on. But that wasn’t all… Early in this second scenario I was introduced to a new boss, a Tyrant called Mr X. I unloaded everything I had at him and he eventually went down. He was kind enough to drop me some ammunition, but not kind enough to stay down… Every so often as I progressed through the game Mr. X would appear and give me an extra fight, depleting my limited supplies. When you near the end of the game this time around you have to deal with final fights from both of these main bosses and damn it was tough. Mr X’s final fight was spectacular and hearkened back to the first game with the infamous rocket launcher drop (and the time limit, don’t forget the self-destruct system!)
The awesome-sauce that is Resident Evil 2 didn’t even stop there. When the game reaches where the first scenario ended it actually keeps going for one more fight, meaning you don’t actually witness the ending until beating it on the second scenario. Having 2 characters was actually utilised this time out and made for a longer, more rewarding experience. Once I’d finished with Claire I gotta do it again with another character who essentially had his own game with different weapons and enemies. Years later I played Leon A and Claire B, which flips the difficulties and item placement, but not the stories, meaning there’s at least 4 unique playthoughs to be had with the game. Amazing.
Having played the game a dozen times now I can say that I prefer the way I originally played it, starting with Claire and then finishing with Leon. His better weapons help in the harder scenario and his story plays better in scenario 2; if you chose to start with Leon you don’t really get the love story (Ada is still there, but it doesn’t reach the same level,) or the awesome scene where a Mr X encounter results in Ada’s death (or does it?) Ultimately the story is just more satisfying starting with Claire and moving on to Leon, but either way you’re in for a fantastic experience.
Damn, I love this series.
To be continued…
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