header is screenshot from Resident Evil 4 (2023)
Political Monsters
Kazuma Hashimoto

The Resident Evil series has, since its inception, been extremely overt in its messaging. It's impossible to miss, as characters often share their motivations in long-winded monologues, laying out their personal objectives with sweeping statements like, “It’s up to us to stop Umbrella!” The Umbrella Corporation itself serves as a stand-in for subjects such as exploitation under capitalism, eugenics, and government corruption. But as the series has continued on, pivoting in a tonally grittier and more “realistic” direction with its remakes, Capcom has chosen to forgo this method of storytelling for something that feels toothless by comparison to its once brazen heroes—characters who mocked fascists or vowed to take down a corporation producing bioweapons for global imperial powers.

This was felt keenly in Resident Evil 3 remake’s resolution. In it, Jill’s final monologue attributes the events of the game and the destruction of the vaccine for the T-Virus (and T-Nemesis virus) to human greed. It places the onus on Nikolai’s selfish, monetary driven, motivation for the destruction of the vaccine. This story choice removes the culpability of a corporation founded on eugenics, flourishing under capitalism, and instead distills it to something more broad in an attempt to humanize the underlying issue—which is corporate greed. And corporations aren’t people. Corporations are corporations. And corporations will take any opportunity to make profit off of human suffering, especially global pandemics as we have seen in our very own society. It muddles the message of an otherwise extremely straightforward narrative that has been transmitted so clearly in previous installments, or in this case, the original games.

The Resident Evil 4 remake is no exception. Instead of Osmund Saddler being a bioterrorist with the intention to infect the world with a parasite-based virus, he is instead posited as the holy leader of a cult, which is a far cry from the character’s original political roots. At the time of its release, much in media reflected a post-9/11 landscape, with counter-terrorist narratives and American ultranationalism embedded in just about anything. Capcom’s own Resident Evil series was not immune to this influence.

Resident Evil, while having a very simple plot and underlying message, has always been overtly political. Even from its earliest entries, the series criticized corporate overreach, government culpability in creating biological weapons for the sake of capital, and eugenics. Resident Evil 4 was perhaps the most overt of the series to that point, with Saddler delivering a speech about American interference in other countries, or Jack Krauser accusing Leon of the same nationalism (“Just like you, I’m an American.”) he once held for his own country. The original game was abound with evidence of having been developed in a post-9/11 landscape. With American hero Leon S. Kennedy heading into a foreign country to rescue the President’s daughter from a foreign “evil religious” cult and later destroying Saddler’s ambitions to infiltrate the United States through the use of bioweapons, it plays freely with jingoistic tropes. It feels in line with Resident Evil 0, which had been released just a few years earlier and featured a key plot point about the United States government covering up a covert operation in Africa. Like most things in Resident Evil, once you know it’s there, it’s hard to ignore—almost impossible to look away at the hard truths the game presents, even if it doesn’t always stick the landing.

Capcom then went on to elaborate on Leon and Krauser’s involvement in a mission for the in-universe CIA which saw them travel to the global south in an attempt to locate and destroy bioweapons that were rumored to have appeared in the region. This was the Operation Javier mentioned in Resident Evil 4, and was a playable scenario in Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. As Capcom elaborated more on Krauser’s character through this side scenario and extra materials, like “perfect guides” that were exclusively released in Japan, the intentionality behind his character became clear. He’s ex-military, and participated in Operation Desert Storm; he’s an ensemble of '80’s action hero cliches turned into a power hungry man who follows the ideals of fascism to compensate for his own insecurities about playing second-fiddle to Leon, and is further elaborated on in a chapter where players assume his perspective. Despite Resident Evil’s larger than life scenario, it feels tangible, and if it wasn’t for Jack Krauser mutating and getting claws for hands he could be just about any white, ex-military type.

But the Resident Evil 4 remake has distilled Krauser’s characterization, making it more palatable to a general audience. Instead of Krauser following the whims of Albert Wesker with the promise of absolute power, borne out of his own insecurities and failures, he is distrustful of the government that sent him and his platoon out to die. There is a lot to be said about how the United States military neglects its soldiers, but without clear elaboration and the more sympathetic angle directed towards Krauser, it falls flat. Leon killing Krauser as an act of mercy, framing his demise as something tragic, and ending the scene with Leon taking his knife out of respect for his former captain feels out of place. As Capcom has strived for nuanced takes on its villains, it distorts what not only made them iconic but imperative to the overall theme of the series.

Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, and Claire Redfield fight fascists. The protagonists of Resident Evil fight the physical embodiments of capitalism fueled by eugenics and white supremacy. This is embodied in the creation of the Wesker Project, with the only surviving members being white, blonde superhumans like Albert and Alex, or through the Ashfords in Resident Evil: Code Veronica X, who were originally meant to be German, but were changed for sensitivity reasons. It may not have been the most elegant in its presentation of these themes, but it’s disheartening to see Resident Evil declawed by its developers. It feels indicative of the state of AAA games, which so often sand complex, real-world topics down in order to present  "apolitical"  stories to  a general consumer audience. Every point must be nuanced—shown from multiple angles—because that’s taken to be a measure of narrative depth or worthwhile engagement from an audience. In doing so, updates like the Resident Evil 4 remake forget that sometimes the most evocative thing you can do is shoot a neo-nazi in the face with a rocket launcher.


Kazuma Hashimoto is a half-Japanese trans man and translator who sometimes moonlights as a media critic. You can find him on his Twitter at JusticeKazzy_ where he uses his platform to talk about LGBT+ rights in Japan and Japanese politics.