Resident Evil: Code Veronica as a Bildungsroman

Monday 2 October 2017

Resident Evil: Code Veronica may be a video game (albeit an amazing one) but it has a peculiar literary value: its plot is so complex and genial that it can easily be viewed as a novel. S. D. Perry provided a novelization in 2001, but in this article I am referring strictly to the original story by Shinji Mikami and how it functions both as a game and a novel-like plot.

Although Claire Redfield made her first appearance in Resident Evil 2 and was already popular, it was not until Code Veronica that her character gained more substance and depth, setting the ground for further development of her personality. This was also aided by the progress on the technical and graphical field, which favoured the realistic design of movements and expressions, as well as the creation of the necessary atmosphere thanks to the better environments and visual effects.

These were the ideal conditions for Claire to live one of the most fascinating and unforgettable adventures in gaming history. Code Veronica takes place shortly after the events of Resident Evil 2. Claire had been to Raccoon City looking for her brother Chris, and as soon as she arrived there she found the whole area inhabited by zombies. While struggling to make it out of the nightmare alive, she met Leon Kennedy, who was a rookie then, and later little Sherry Birkin. By the end of the game, Claire left Leon and Sherry and continued her quest for Chris.

Putting several puzzle pieces together, she arrived in Paris and infiltrated the local Umbrella headquarters. Her presence is noticed soon, and she gets arrested and sent in a solitary prison, on the Rockfort Island, somewhere in the Northern Atlantic. Upon waking up in her cell, she realizes that nearly all the humans on the island (prisoners and guards) have become zombies. This is quite familiar to her, however she soon finds out that she hasn't seen anything yet.

Code Veronica has more common elements with the very first Resident Evil, but goes one step further, adding in its cast enemies with deranged psyche who are unable to explain or rationalize their obsessions. If Albert Wesker in the first Resident Evil was a conceited power-hungry man with a twisted Messiah syndrome and William Birkin in Resident Evil 2 was a deluded scientist who became the victim of his own research, Alfred Ashford in Code Veronica is a half-crazy obsessive officer who lives with the ghost of his beloved dead sister and goes to such extremes as to impersonate her from time to time. So Claire has to face a rather complicated enemy, who may not be famous for his intelligence but has such an unstable and perplexed character that he can become dangerous before you can blink an eye.

Throughout her development in the game, Claire carries the characteristics of a Bildungsroman heroine. A Bildungsroman, aka a 'coming-of-age story', is a a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood in which character change is extremely important. Its basic characteristics are the following:

  • A search for meaning for the young hero
  • An inciting incident puts the young hero into the journey
  • The journey won't be an easy one
  • There is an epiphany that changes everything
  • The young hero finds his/her place into society.

Claire, who is 19 years old at the time of the Code Veronica events, has a warm and loving relationship with her brother, and the two are very close. She is proud of him and he has taught her several combat moves and how to use weapons. However her essential role in life starts as soon as she is urged to go looking for him after he disappears. Chris's disappearance is the inciting incident that marks the beginning of Claire's journey.

It is notable that said journey is both literal and metaphorical. It is literal because she is actually travelling to France but it is mainly metaphorical as she is transported to a different world, where fear and horror dominate, a world where she will have to battle all sorts of obstacles and face insane enemies in order to make it through.

Claire's coming-of-age journey is far from being easy. Alfred Ashford, who is the prison supervisor on the island, sees her as an enemy from the start and is determined to make her suffer and eventually kill her. Luckily for Claire, however, he is quite timid and cowardish, which keeps him hidden in the shadows and he resorts to setting traps in his attempts to discourage her. The several zombies that emerge from all sides are his unintentional allies. However Claire is not alone in this nightmarish journey. Early on in the game, she meets Steve Burnside, a young boy who was a prisoner as well, but for some reason wasn't affected by the biohazard attack and is still human. Steve becomes her ally and friend and it's not long before he falls in love with her (the Redfields are irresistible); and although the main concern of them both is to escape, later Steve's feelings will be responsible for their adventure taking a rather fatal turn later on.

After passing through Alfred's painful trials, they manage to get on a plane and leave the island. However the plane crashes and they find themselves in another Umbrella facility somewhere in Antarctica. There, among frozen rooms, poisonous moths and zombies coming to life, they struggle to find a way to escape once again. Eventually they come up with a plan, which involves operating a crane carrying a mining drill which will break open a wall of ice, creating an exit. While at it, Steve is distracted gazing at Claire, the mining drill gets momentarily out of control and crashes on a pipe, breaking it in half and releasing toxic gas in the room. As a result of this complication, Claire and Steve's escape gets postponed for a short time, during which however not only Alfred is able to catch up with them and they are forced to fight with him face to face, but moreover Alexia awakens from her slumber and attacks them, trapping them in the facility.

Meanwhile Chris arrives at Rockfort Island looking for Claire and finds the prison grounds almost completely destroyed. Chris has his fair share of the Bildungsroman hero in his part, although his story is not a coming-of-age one. Chris is already an experienced officer and is totally conscious and aware of the situations he is called to face. But as far as he is concerned, he witnesses a revelation when he discovers that Wesker, his former captain in S.T.A.R.S., is the evil mastermind behind the destruction of the Rockfort Island and the events that followed as inevitable consequences.

Eventually he flies to Antarctica where he finds Claire trapped in a coccoon inside a construction which looks like a replica of the Spencer Mansion. Chris frees Claire like a proper knight would do, and the two siblings finally reunite. Still, their problems are not over; now they have to face Alexia and they also need to locate Steve.

Claire goes searching for him and when she finds him, it's the last thing she wanted to witness. Alexia has injected Steve with the Veronica virus and now he is infected, which causes him to mutate and attack Claire against his will. This is the epiphany in Claire's story: her former friend becomes an enemy who wants to kill her, but because his love for her is very strong, he manages to control himself and refuses to do it at just the last minute. This causes Alexia's rage, and she hits him lethally. Steve manages to express his feelings to Claire just before he dies.

Considering Claire's later life choices, we can safely say that the events in Rockfort Island and Antarctica formed her personality, boosted up her perception and awareness and were significantly responsible for her decision to enroll in Terra Save, the organization that offered help and support to victims of bioterrorism. Thus Claire found both a meaning and her place in society, completing her role as a Bildungsroman heroine.

But it's not only in the major points that Claire's story has the features of a Bildungsoman. Several of Claire's in-game decisions and actions may affect the way things turn out both for her and her co-protagonists.

At the start of the story, while she is in her cell, her guard Rodrigo is seriously wounded and is losing blood. This is a minor plot point which the player can either ignore or take into account. While looking for clues in Alfred's Training Facility, Claire finds a bottle of hemostatic. It's up to her (and the player) to decide whether or not she is willing to take a detour at that point and go back to Rodrigo to give him the hemostatic. If she does go back, Rodrigo will use the hemostatic and he will be cured, and to show her his gratitude, he will give her his lockpick - an item which is not necessary for the completion of the game, but which opens several briefcases and lockers that contain very useful items. Claire then will give him her lighter, as a thank-you gift. When Chris arrives on the island, he will meet Rodrigo, but soon after the poor guy will be attacked by the Gulp Worm, Alfred's mutated pet. There is no cure for Rodrigo this time, but before he dies he will give Chris the lighter that Claire had offered him. With the lighter in his inventory, Chris will gain access to a couple of very rewarding spots.

If however Claire decides to not go back to Rodrigo with the hemostatic, the man will die, she will never get the lockpick and thus Chris won't be able to receive the lighter, automatically losing his chance to fill his inventory with extra guns and ammo.

Another example of the bildungsromanesque character of secondary events is the boss fight with Nosferatru in Antarctica. Nosferatu, who is in fact the mutated father of Alfred and Alexia, is not a tough boss, but he is very toxic (literally) and if Claire doesn't kill him quickly, he may be able to poison her. His poison is not like the standard one from the spiders and moths, so, unlike that one, it can't be cured with a blue/green herb mix. If Nosferatu succeeds in poisoning Claire, when Chris arrives in Antarctica and frees his sister from the cocoon trap, she won't be able to go on and the game won't progress unless he goes back to the Armory room and finds the Serum that is needed for her to be cured.

Most Bildungsroman stories have a happy ending; even if there is loss and death connected to it. Reaching the conclusion, the young hero/heroine has learned a life lesson and has become mature enough and ready to follow his/her own path. Code Veronica has a generally good finale, with Chris and Claire flying away from Antarctica towards freedom. Both of them, however, have a thorn in their side. Chris, after his confrontation wih Wesker minutes before, knows that his former chief will be his sworn enemy from now on and that he won't give up until he manages to realise his evil plans. And as for Claire, she won't be able to forget Steve so easily; the life lesson she learned was a tough one and affected her completely, leaving several marks on her, both physical and emotional.

1 comment:

mikegfy said...

I love this game. You plot breakdown was very enjoyable.
Although I don't completely agree that the Redfields are irresistible. Leon wasn't the least bit interested in Claire and Chris had no love interest in RE1.