Resident Evil is a series with some… interesting writing. It’s basically a B horror movie franchise made playable. Sure, those stories have their moments of brilliance. But none of them are especially ‘good’ stories.
That said, the characters within those stories have become some of the most beloved in video games. Chris and Claire Redfield, Jill Valentine, Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong, Wesker, the list goes on. It isn’t all that surprising, really; in a truly tense and engaging horror game, it’s surprisingly easy to get attached to the character you play.
Although this hasn’t exactly been the case with the franchise’s most recent protagonist: Ethan Winters.
When Resident Evil 7 dropped, people didn’t really pay that much attention to Ethan. They were more focused on the game itself and how it returned the series to its survival horror roots. But when he returned in Resident Evil 8, it became something of a source of contention for certain people.
Ethan isn’t a complicated person. He’s more or less a normal family man who ended up getting dragged into these nightmarish situations for his loved ones. First his wife, then his daughter. He isn’t all that bright; someone could explain something as clear as day and he’d still act like it didn’t make sense. Like I said: simple.
So why don’t people like him? What is Ethan missing that characters like Leon or Jill have? In all honesty, it’s pretty simple: he’s neither cool nor charming.
That explanation may sound brain-dead, but it’s true. People enjoy their RE protagonists being badass action heroes. It fits well with the B-horror vibe of the series. Why do you think so many of the early games ended with the characters shooting a big scary monster with a rocket launcher? Because it’s cool. When you spend a game being scared, it feels nice to feel badass afterward; it cements the feeling of having conquered your fears.
You know. Like RE1 literally tells you to do at the start.
Of course, ‘badass’ and ‘likable’ are too different things. That’s why so many RE protagonists are given charming personalities or quirks. RE4 Leon is basically an action movie star, dropping cheesy one-liners and always doing things in the coolest, most over-the-top way possible. Or RE3 Jill; the “You want stars? I’ll give you stars!” line is one of the most iconic moments for her character.
Ethan has neither of these things. He never gets to do anything exceptionally cool; since his games are first-person (at least until the third-person mode for Village drops), the designers are far more limited in what he could do, so he never gets to do anything especially cool or over-the-top. He has one-liners, just like any other RE protagonist, but none of them are all that charming or goofy. They make you sneer at the character rather than with him.
Is all of this to say that Ethan is a bad character? No, I wouldn’t say so. You have to remember, Ethan was written to be the star of a horror game.
That may sound like an obvious statement, but you’ve got to remember: Resident Evil stopped being a horror franchise after RE4. RE5 and RE6 were co-op action games; they didn’t even pretend to be scary because that’s not what the series was about anymore. RE7 was designed to be the return to the franchise’s roots in survival horror; it was meant to scare you.
For a game like that, they couldn’t write the protagonist as an unstoppable badass with cheesy one-liners. People had gotten plenty of that and they were sick of it. So Capcom tried something different; they made Ethan more or less an ordinary guy. Sure, he’s still capable of inhuman feets of survival; this is a video game, after all. But compared to characters like Chris, Jill, Claire, or Leon, he’s basically just a normal dude.
Even if RE’s version of normal is still absurd.
It’s pretty easy to see why people aren’t fond of Ethan. Compared to previous protagonists, he isn’t nearly as charismatic or charming. But is he a bad character? No, I don’t think so. He was meant to be an ordinary man in a frightening situation and in that regard, he did his job wonderfully.
Also, you have to remember that nostalgia is a big part of all this. People love previous RE heroes because they’ve been around for decades now. Ethan’s only been around since 2017. Who knows? Maybe people will warm up to him over the years.
God, I dread the day we start looking back on RE7 and RE8 like they’re ancient relics… Curse you, Father Time, and you’re endless forward march!