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A Tall Order | What Resident Evil: Village Can Teach Writers About Reader Expectations

Disclaimer | This post contains major spoilers for Resident Evil: Village. Reader discretion is advised. This is not a review of the game, but rather my thoughts on it as a writer.

Like many gamers out there, I was excited to learn the next release from the Resident Evil franchise would not be a previous title revamped for modern consoles but a brand-new adventure—and additionally so when I found out it would revolve around an old European castle and village. I was curious to know how the story would shift from the likes of Raccoon City and the Bakers' derelict home in Dulvey, Louisiana to this gothic glitz and glam.

And then we were introduced to Lady Dimistrescu, pop culture's newest MILF.

Seemingly overnight, the internet was abuzz with swarms of folks wanting the nine-foot-tall vampire lady to step all over them, among other acts.

I had a fascination with Lady Dimitrescu early on. She possesses the grace and elegance one would expect in the demeanor of a noblewoman that draws you in while simultaneously intimidating you. And Resident Evil appearing to step away from its history of zombies and mutating viruses to vampires, Lycans, and other supernatural beings added to my interest in the upcoming installment.

Resident Evil VII: Biohazard made it clear the series was undergoing significant changes, introducing first-person POV through the eyes of protagonist Ethan Winters and slowly creeping away from the zombies infesting Raccoon City. At the same time, it indicated we weren't finished with the Umbrella Corporation and faces of the past, notably that of Chris Redfield.

Resident Evil was experiencing a renaissance.

Lady Dimitrescu set the proverbial bar nine feet higher.

With so much promotional material revolving around Lady Dimitrescu, her daughters, and her castle, I anticipated the game would be similar.

However, that was not exactly the case.

This is the part of the post where I'll be diving into spoilers for Resident Evil: Village.

If you would rather be kept in the dark about the game's story, this is your final warning to bookmark this post (or, hey, follow the blog) and come back later.

Otherwise, scroll past the GIF.

Although a lot of the promotional material leading up to the release of Resident Evil: Village indicated Lady Dimitrescu would be the central antagonist, she is actually one of five main villains Ethan encounters—and the first he kills.

After picking off each of the three Dimitrescu daughters, Ethan makes his way to the castle's newly unlocked exit, only to be prevented by the matriarch. Following a confrontation with her mutated form and a quick boss fight, Lady Dimitrescu is no more. With the Crystal Dimitrescu and a peculiar flask in his inventory, Ethan leaves the grounds of Castle Dimitrescu. The player is never allowed to return.

From there, Ethan has to track down and face the remaining Lords while continuing the search for his stolen daughter.

Plot twists are nothing new to Resident Evil.

However, there is a difference between defying the expectations of your audience with an exciting plot twist and going in a direction that leaves them scratching their heads or, worse yet, disappointed in the story.

Overall, I enjoyed Resident Evil: Village. The settings were fun to explore, especially Castle Dimitrescu and the titular village. My main issue was that so much of what the game promoted as being at its core was over and done with so soon, it made the rest of my time with it seem like a completely different experience than what I anticipated when purchasing the game. Though not necessarily a bad thing, it just happened too quickly.

Narrative shifts mid-game are par for the course when it comes to Resident Evil.

Take Biohazard, for example. After defeating Jack Baker in his final form, the player is left with one serum and the choice between two victims: Ethan's wife, Mia, and Zoey, Jack's daughter who has been guiding Ethan through the estate. Regardless of your decision, Ethan comes across an abandoned ship. The boat capsizes, and he washes ashore. The player then takes control of Mia (no matter if you took her with you or left her on the dock), in a section that provides some backstory regarding the virus which infected the Baker family, Eveline, and the truth behind the "babysitting" job mentioned in the game's opening cinematic.

The problem for me as a player is that the shift in Village came almost too early. While the final battle against Jack happens later in the story, Lady Dimitrescu is dealt with by the end of the first act.

With so much of the game's promotional materials, from trailers to demos, being based around Lady Dimitrescu and her domain, I expected her to have more of a presence.

Lady Dimitrescu is introduced in a meeting with the other Lords overseen by Mother Miranda. Ethan had been captured by Heisenberg and dragged in like roadkill. At this point, I assumed Lady Dimitrescu would be a looming threat popping in occasionally amid Heisenberg and the other Lords. Mother Miranda giving Heisenberg ownership of Ethan, vexing Lady Dimitrescu, furthered this suspicion.

Ethan has to navigate a series of Heisenberg's death traps and Lycans. From there, he winds up at Castle Dimitrescu.

After dealing with the three daughters and the towering matriarch, that's basically it as far as anything Dimitrescu is concerned, save for a few files you can stumble across later in the game providing a bit of history.

The following segments, in which Ethan proceeds to locate and do away with the remaining Lords, were fine.

House Beneviento's combination of my already-existing dislike of ventriloquist dummies and any non-Muppet puppets with a horrific mutant slug fetus abomination made for a legitimately tense and unsettling experience. But the hide-and-seek style of the boss battle against Donna Beneviento didn't feel as intense compared to evading that creature or dealing with Lady Dimitrescu's final form. Just as I had following the defeat of the first boss, I found myself sitting there asking, "You mean that's it?"

As for the remaining Lords, I genuinely felt bad for Moreau and hardly threatened by him. Yes, he's a bit gross, but spewing slime doesn't compare to a nine-foot-tall noblewoman who can send Ethan crashing through several stories after slamming him against the floor in a fit of rage and slices his hand off at one point, thereby making it so the player cannot heal themselves until they've escaped her and have a chance to reattach the severed limb.

Then, there's Heisenberg. As a character, he's cool, and his proposing to team up with Ethan to take down Mother Miranda was something I wish had been explored more because teaming up with an antagonist would have been an intriguing turn of events. But the section of the game set in his factory felt so removed from the titular village and Castle Dimitrescu that it felt almost out of place. On its own, it would have been an interesting experience, and even felt a bit reminiscent of past Resident Evil locations in both aesthetic and how the Heisenberg's creations pursue the player similarly to the zombies in Raccoon City.

However, I felt it didn't mesh as well with the old, rustic European village that the game had been mostly centered around. It was too great of a departure.

This is where the importance of balancing audience expectations with needing to keep them on their toes comes into play.

Writers are often advised to throw their readers through a loop by doing the unexpected. Predictability can negatively impact one's enjoyment of a work because having a sense of how the story will end takes the fun out of unraveling its mysteries. This can make it harder to engage with the work because we're not looking for answers and may instead wonder why the character took so long to draw conclusions we made early on.

To avoid this, writers sometimes go in a direction that makes the story almost unrecognizable because they've strayed too far from what they initially offered the reader.

Imagine a novel is described as a romance. This implies several things, namely that the central plot will revolve around people falling in love and entering into a relationship.

However, let's say that about a third of the way into what appears to be a traditional romance novel, after the reader has had a chance to orient themselves in the setting and has gotten to know these characters, things do a complete 180. One love interest turns up dead. Now, his significant other discovers she has the ability to rewind time and reverses the clock to prevent the murder. With each jump, she becomes weaker due to the toll it takes on her body. She's faced with the crushing choice of letting go of the past and letting him die or sacrificing herself with one last effort to bring her lover's killer to justice.

The problem is, as cool as that sounds, that's not what was initially promised to the reader.

Had this book been pitched as something like Life is Strange meets Happy Death Day, the reader would have anticipated this would involve time manipulation powers and a murder to be solved.

Instead, this book was marketed to an audience of romance readers who expect to have the warm and fuzzies as they watch a budding relationship blossom, not the chills and suspense of a murder mystery in which the relationship cannot survive because one of the two lovers will end up dead.

You can likely imagine how this twist may confuse readers because it doesn't live up to their expectations. They may even regret devoting time to it because it's not what they signed up for.

The last thing any writer wants is for readers to pick up their book only to put it down for good.

Everyone has a list of books they didn't finish, also lovingly called a DNF pile, and the reasons books land there varies, but a common cause likely relates to expectation versus reality.

As far as Resident Evil: Village is concerned, much of my disappointment stemmed from the role of Lady Dimitrescu being so small compared to the promotional material lauding her, and shifting from the village setting and gothic setting I had been most excited about to areas like Heisenberg's factory added to my feelings towards the experience.

This is not to say Resident Evil: Village is bad or not worth one's time.

As a horror game, it hits a lot of the notes aligning with the genre's conventions and keeps with the tradition of past Resident Evil games while continuing to branch out into this new territory established by Biohazard. Lycans prowling the village, later joined by moroaica, enhanced the overall eeriness of dilapidated homes. Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters stalking the player creates a feeling of dread that can make it a challenge to roam around the castle's halls because you don't know if one of them is right around the corner ready to give chase and do harm.

And, as I've mentioned above, House Beneviento managed to deliver the creepiest escape room I have ever encountered and proudly presented the utter nightmare fuel that is that godforsaken mutant slug baby from Hell on top of catering to my longstanding hatred for ventriloquist dummies.

My main criticism is how abruptly it shifted from what was promised leading up to the game's release—especially in regard to Lady Dimitrescu.

Her being touted as a significant threat only to turn out to be the first boss fight somewhat diminished the rest of the game and made its shortcomings more apparent to me. Though it was fine enough, it didn't measure up to the expectations Lady Dimitrescu had set.

Personally, I'm hoping we get some DLC as we did for Resident Evil: Biohazard. I would love something that expands on the Lady Dimitrescu Lore, perhaps from the view of the maid who wrote the diary entries found within the castle, in which the player has to escape before their blood can be drained.

Whatever the case may be, Resident Evil: Village has made it pretty clear that we should be expecting another installment in the coming years. All I can do for the moment is hope it continues on the trend of introducing interesting antagonists—ones that will hopefully stick around a little longer next time we see the Winters family.



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