How Capcom Became the Masters of Gaming Horror

Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, Dead Rising, Devil May Cry.

When it comes to games that take inspiration from the world of horror it’s likely you’ve heard of at least one of them. All of them have one important thing in common. Capcom.

The Japanese company have made a lot of games over the years across a variety of genres. From iconic fighting games like Street Fighter to hard as nails platformers like Mega Man. But what led Capcom down the path of becoming the masters of horror?

Although many will look at Resident Evil as the start of Capcom’s success in the world of horror, it’s important to understand how Resident Evil came to be. It wasn’t their first foray in the genre by a longshot.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins, the tough as nails arcade platform game, released in 1985. It was full of zombies, demons and more and was directed by Tokuro Fujiwara. Fujiwara-san joined Capcom in 1983 and has played a part in so many gaming classics. He is a figure that definitely deserves a place on the gaming walk of fame. It is one of his less popular games that proves to be an important part of Capcom’s journey to horror masters though.

Credit: Capcom

In 1989 Capcom were tasked with making a movie tie-in for a Japanese horror film called Sweet Home. At the time there was no way of knowing how important this game would be to horror gaming history. Fujiwara-san served as director and created a wonderful 8-bit RPG survival horror. At the time though horror and gore were not an easy sell in the world of gaming and neither were RPGs. So Sweet Home saw its release in Japan, and Japan only.

Fujiwara-san went back to working on Capcom classics like Breath of Fire and Mega Man and even their Disney tie-ins like Aladdin and Goof Troop. Another key figure of Capcom’s horror history worked on those Disney tie-ins too. A young and eager Shinji Mikami.

Fujiwara had mentored Mikami and had been tasked to make a horror game that would share similar elements to the previously mentioned Sweet Home. The game was set in a haunted mansion, had limited inventory, puzzles and more. Fujiwara stated he was “confident that horror games could become a genre in themselves.” He was right.

The game Mikami and the team at Capcom created released in Japan on March 22nd 1996 on the Sony PlayStation. Its name was Biohazard. 8 days later on March 30th it released in North America. Its name? Resident Evil.

Credit: Capcom

It was a critical and commercial success for Capcom, selling millions. In 1998 we saw a sequel released and in 99 we saw a third main story entry in the franchise. Resident Evil was on fire and it seemed there was no slowing it down, nor was there any slowing Shinji Mikami down. As he found the time in 99 to also direct and produce the cult dinosaur horror game Dino Crisis.

With the end of a millenium looming so too was a new console generation. Resident Evil 4 began development but there would be a fair few hiccups on the way, with various versions scrapped.

But striving for Resident Evil perfection would lead Capcom to the birth of another iconic franchise that has its roots in horror. Hideki Kamiya had directed Resident Evil 2 and was trying to make Resident Evil 4 when he accidentally stumbled across something. A cool and stylish action game that Mikami-san had to convince him and the team didn’t quite work for the world of Resident Evil.

Instead they made it its own game. Devil May Cry, which released in August 2001 on the PlayStation 2. During this time Capcom signed an exclusivity deal with Nintendo, which would see a remake of the first Resident Evil and a prequel, Resident Evil Zero, make their way to the GameCube. 

Credit: Capcom

Resident Evil 4 stayed in development hell. The game finally saw progress when Shinji Mikami took over as director. It released in 2004 to critical acclaim and was one of the best selling games on the Nintendo GameCube.

It would also be the last horror game that Shinji Mikami worked on for Capcom before he left in 2007. Resident Evil 4 set the bar for third person shooter action games and action horror. It’s a bar that many would argue has rarely been hit since.

The work of Mikami and the team he worked with at Capcom laid the wonderful foundation for the company to become the masters of gaming horror. They’ve never been scared to try new things. Whether it’s populating an entire shopping mall with zombies like in Dead Rising or creating an entire new engine and making a VR game to relaunch a franchise, like we saw with Resident Evil 7.

Capcom deserve their place among gaming royalty for various reasons, but one of them should definitely be for how well they’ve terrified us for more than three decades.

Featured Image Credit: Capcom

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