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Resident Evil Village Makes Me Appreciate Games With Good Journals

Ethan can catch these hands.

I finished Resident Evil Village (or Resident Evil 8, whatever you prefer) yesterday. I liked it well enough! It was fun to watch unfold, even if it fell apart in the last quarter and never reached the highs of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard for me. It has an exquisite art direction, an utterly fantastic second section (if you know, you know), and an intriguing theme-park structure that Resident Evil hasn’t had before. But something it gravely lacks, apart from an even remotely tolerable protagonist, is good journal entries. In fact, it has generally pretty terrible journal entries.

Let’s take a look at some of Ethan Winters’ journal entries (which are very light on spoilers since these screenshots are early in the game). There are several immediately noticeable issues.

For one, the handwriting. This isn’t handwriting; it’s text that has been copy-pasted onto pages that have been altered to resemble journal pages. Ethan is constantly having… problems with his hands, so there’s no way he writes like this. And, even if he didn’t, nobody’s handwriting looks like this. Nobody’s handwriting is as artificially neat as this. Especially on paper that isn’t college ruled.

There’s the matter of the content, too. The journal fails in giving Ethan any character. This is a problem that not even a whole second game dedicated to making you play as Ethan manages to fix, but you get what I mean. The journal serves as a plot summary, but not an avenue for characterization or convincing worldbuilding. It provides no additional insight, like the levels of Ethan’s fear or how much he misses his daughter. How distraught he is over the events at the beginning of the game. How awfully cold it is in the village. How he’s scared by how attractive he thinks Lady Dimitrescu is despite how badly she wants to kill him. Literally anything.

It’s also very clear through these diary entries that nobody actually writes like how Resident Evil Village thinks — not just Ethan. You’ll often find other lab reports or diary entries scattered throughout the several distinct — and terrifically crafted — locations you’ll explore. One of them, a diary entry belonging to someone named Eugen, made me realize why the journal entries in this game felt so off to me in the first place. On the second page of one entry, Eugen writes:

I couldn’t help but speak up and I asked her why she did such a thing.

Mother Miranda just smiled at me. “This is the chosen child. She will return to her original form no matter what befalls her.”

Then she gave each lord a part of the crystal in a flask and they left.

Who writes full quotes in a diary entry? A diary is lucky if I can even remember to write in it. It’s funny and sticks out like a sore thumb. Maybe you can remember pieces of what someone said, but many of these diary entries contain full sentences. Rather than develop into things that you can imagine someone in this universe said, they remain mechanical lines of dialogue. Overall, it could all be worse; they’re short sentences rather than blocks of text, at least. But they’re still pretty bad!

And, finally, there is the artistry that the illustrations in that first screenshot demand. In a game in which literally every character accurately points out how stupid Ethan is, there is no way you can convince me that he can draw stuff like this. Firstly, that context does not exist within Resident Evil Village. Secondly, this requires some real talent — something in shorter supply for him than his hopes for finding his daughter. You especially cannot convince me that he whips out this journal and sketches this while getting chased by an enormous vampire lady. You cannot convince me he does this even if he were to stand in place and be fed, washed, and clothed so that he never has to leave the spot. This just isn’t Ethan.

So what’s the purpose if it isn’t?

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Resident Evil isn’t particularly known for its riveting story or the depth of its characters. But, as the series continues to evolve in exciting directions and gain more popularity than it has ever before, these aspects of its worldbuilding threaten its immersion efforts. Journals are supposed to provide additional information that can’t otherwise be seamlessly integrated into a game’s world. When crafted and used well, they are an invaluable and substantial look into not just the humanity of its author, but also a game’s universe.

One series that does this consistently and brilliantly is Life is Strange — specifically the first and second mainline entries. Max Caulfield and Sean Diaz, the protagonists of the two main games respectively, are both introverts with an artistic side.

Max loves photography, but she struggles to be open about her emotions like her best friend. It’s part of what makes her one of my favorite characters, for I didn’t know many characters like her (and subsequently, me) when I first played Life is Strange. Her colorful journal, filled with diary entries, scribbles, watercolor illustrations, stickers, and many other things, is a constantly evolving centerpiece for her characterization. It’s where you get insight into her most intimate thoughts, like her fears about her newfound powers and her growing feelings for Chloe.

Sean uses his own similarly, though he’s more of a comic book artist. This manifests in his journal entries using much fewer words but having much more elaborate and beautiful drawings that reflect your choices and the circumstances. In this way, it also serves as another layer of the game acknowledging your choices — something that Life is Strange 2 excels in to a degree no other choice-based narrative I know has accomplished.

While Resident Evil Village doesn’t need to worry about honoring choices in its narrative, it could’ve certainly used its journal entries more impressively. Instead, it shows how distracting poorly crafted journal entries can be. Every time I saw one, I thought about how these aren’t in-universe vehicles through which I can learn more about the world; they’re codex entries a development team has included to convince me of its worldbuilding. Resident Evil Village succeeds in its worldbuilding in several ways, but its diary entries are certainly not included among them.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably playing or watching people play Resident Evil Village. You should! It’s no Resident Evil 2: Remake, but it’s a likable new chapter in the creepy and often cheesy Resident Evil universe. For literally anything you could want help with for this game, be sure to check out our very extensive guide hub! I even bolded it for emphasis. How can I not? Our wonderful Collin MacGregor worked hard to bring you 30 guides that culminate in over 25,000 words. It’s a big and beautiful work of art, just like Lady Dimitrescu. So, much as you’ve done with her, dear reader: be sure to check it out.

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Natalie Flores

Natalie is Fanbyte's Featured Contributor, with bylines at places like VICE, Polygon, PC Gamer, Paste Magazine, and more.

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