Why Resident Evil: Code Veronica Should Have Been the “Real” Resident Evil 3

Over 20 years after its release, Resident Evil: Code Veronica feels closer to the "real" Resident Evil 3 than ever before.

Resident Evil
Photo: Capcom

Anyone who has tried to keep up with the Resident Evil timeline will tell you that the famous horror franchise ranks right up there with the Legend of Zelda franchise in terms of chronological confusion. However, Resident Evil‘s confusing timeline isn’t just limited to its lore. There have also been many times when trying to keep up with the logic of the Resident Evil games’ names and release order is as confusing as trying to understand what the hell is going on in Resident Evil 6.

There’s no better example of the Resident Evil franchise’s bizarre release timeline than the strange case of Resident Evil: Code Veronica. First released for the Dreamcast in February 2000, Code Veronica has long been seen as an anomaly in the RE franchise by many. It’s not hard to see why. Not only was it released for a console that would be discontinued about a year after its release, but it was released between the last mainline RE game (1999’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis) and several historically great, or simply noteworthy, future RE titles (2002’s Resident Evil remake and Resident Evil Zero, as well as 2005’s Resident Evil 4). Put it all together, and you’ve got a curious game with a strange name that has always been fairly easy to overlook in the grand scheme of gaming’s most successful horror franchise.

However, Code Veronica is really so much more than that. Not only is it a great game in its own right, but it’s arguably the game that should have been called Resident Evil 3. So why wasn’t it?

Resident Evil: Code Veronica “Started” As a Sega Saturn Port of Resident Evil 2

Before we talk about Code Veronica‘s odd place in Resident Evil history, it’s important to know a little more about the other RE game that Sega fans almost got.

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Yes, Capcom originally intended to port Resident Evil 2 to the Sega Saturn. To be more specific, they asked developer Nex Entertainment to pursue the development of the Sega Saturn port of Resident Evil 2. That was all part of Capcom’s bigger plan to bring the franchise to more consoles (more on that later).

However, despite the fact that Capcom was able to get an incredibly bizarre port of the original Resident Evil to run on the Sega Saturn, they quickly discovered that the Saturn was simply not capable of running Resident Evil 2. Instead of releasing a compromised port of the game, and potentially ruining their relationship with Sega and Sega fans in the process, Capcom instead elected to tell Sega that they would happily work on a new RE game for Sega’s upcoming next-gen console (the Sega Dreamcast).

While that was almost certainly the right move in retrospect, the decision to develop a new Resident Evil game for the Dreamcast did create some interesting problems at the time. To be more accurate, that decision really contributed to a number of problems Capcom was already facing regarding the future of the RE franchise at that time.

The Strange Story of Resident Evil Zero, Resident Evil Survivor, Resident Evil 3, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, and Resident Evil 1.9

Brace yourself, because this is where things start to get really weird.

Following the success of Resident Evil 2, Capcom decided to greenlight several Resident Evil titles that were seen more as side projects. Those side projects were once known as Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Resident Evil Survivor, Resident Evil 0, and Resident Evil 1.9. As for the mainline installment in the franchise, that was simply going to be called Resident Evil 3.

We’ll obviously have more to say about Resident Evil: Code Veronica, but for now, it’s enough to know that Code Veronica was meant to be a kind of “apology” to Sega fans for the canceled Saturn port of Resident Evil 2, and that’s pretty much what it ended up being. Some key elements of the game changed during the course of development, but again, we’ll get to the significance of those changes in a bit.

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Resident Evil Survivor was also a pretty straightforward game. It was a light-gun shooter spin-off that was seemingly released in its originally intended form and close to the originally intended timetable. While it’s possible that its presence may have impacted Resident Evil: Code Veronica’s name slightly (more on that later), it’s not especially important to this conversation.

Resident Evil Zero is a little more interesting. As you may know, Resident Evil Zero was initially supposed to be released for the N64. However, Capcom soon discovered that the N64’s cartridges just weren’t equipped to handle even their seemingly scaled-down version of that game. As such, they decided to port the project over to the GameCube.

Much like the canceled Sega Saturn port of Resident Evil 2, the decision to port Resident Evil Zero to the GameCube really highlighted the ways Capcom was struggling to juggle multiple Resident Evil projects intended for multiple generations of video game consoles. Their original plan to spread the RE love across multiple consoles in a relatively short amount of time was falling apart as the realities of the rapidly emerging next generation of console gaming (and the limitations of the previous generation) were becoming increasingly clear.

That brings us to Resident Evil 1.9. That was the one-time codename for a Resident Evil spin-off project that Capcom asked Kazuhiro Aoyama to direct. The idea was for Aoyama and his team to have 1.9 finished in time for its 1999 PS1 debut. In order to meet that tight deadline, Aoyama envisioned a relatively small project that would not only star an entirely new cast of characters but could theoretically be completed in a single sitting.

More importantly, those design decisions would help ensure that Resident Evil 1.9 didn’t creatively or narratively interfere with Hideki Kamiya’s big project, Resident Evil 3. That version of Resident Evil 3 was going to star HUNK, take place on a cruise ship, and essentially serve as the RE franchise’s PS1 swan song.

Got all of that? Good, because we’re about to throw it all out of the window

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Will The Real Resident Evil 3 Please Stand Up?

The very simple reason that you never got to play Kamiya’s original version of Resident Evil 3 is that Sony surprised Capcom (and a lot of other people) by announcing that they intended to release the PS2 in late 2000. Realizing that Resident Evil 3 wouldn’t be released for the PS1 until after the PS2’s debut, Capcom decided to scrap the existing version of that project and convert it into a new RE game built from the ground up for the PS2. That obviously didn’t go according to plan, but we’ll get to all that in a second.

The decision to move the Resident Evil 3 project to the PS2 left Capcom with a major gap in their originally intended release schedule. While Capcom could have let 1.9 and Survivor be the last PS1 Resident Evil games, it seems that some at the company were worried that releasing two larger RE games for “rival” platforms (the N64 and Dreamcast, at that time) while PS1 gamers got two RE spin-offs would potentially hurt their relationship with PlayStation gamers, PlayStation themselves, and the majority of the people who had played an RE game up until that point.

So, the decision was made to turn Resident Evil 1.9 (which was actually going by the name “Last Escape” in the latter stages of its development) into Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. That decision upset quite a few people within Capcom at the time. Kazuhiro Aoyama was suddenly faced with the prospect of turning his little weird RE spin-off into something closer to the size of a full RE game. Director and producer Shinji Mikami saw that decision as an example of Capcom executives trying to interfere with the creative direction of the franchise (he reportedly threatened to quit over the whole thing). Both men feared that the game was too small, too strange, and too different to be accepted at the third mainline entry in the franchise. Yes, it would be called Resident Evil 3, but would fans accept whatever game they could finish in such a short time as a proper new RE title? Would they do more damage to their relationship with PlayStation gamers than good?

That brings us back to Code Veronica. After all, if Capcom needed a third Resident Evil game, why didn’t they simply change Code Veronica‘s name to Resident Evil 3 rather than convert Resident Evil 1.9 into a much larger game? Wouldn’t that have been so much simpler?

Perhaps, but when it comes to this story, there’s really no such thing as simple answers.

Why Wasn’t Resident Evil: Code Veronica Called Resident Evil 3?

If you were the head of Capcom (let’s say your name was Bill Capcom) at the time the decision to delay Resident Evil 3 was made and you had to choose between Resident Evil 1.9 and Code Veronica to be the new Resident Evil 3, the choice would probably seem obvious.

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After all, Code Veronica not only directly continues the story of Resident Evil 2 but it was being developed for advanced next-gen hardware and in a timeframe that wouldn’t force its developers to make nearly as many changes as the Resident Evil 1.9 team would need to make. On top of that, Code Veronica even starred major RE characters (such as Claire and Chris Redfield as well as Albert Wesker) and was even designed to reveal elements of Umbrella’s history that would be referenced by pretty much every future RE game in some way. Code Veronica just felt like the obvious candidate for the Resident Evil 3 name.

However, there are a few things you need to realize about the state of Code Veronica and the Resident Evil franchise at the time the decision to turn the original version of Resident Evil 3 into a PS2 project was made.

First off, Code Veronica was initially meant to star Jill Valentine and follow her adventures throughout Europe as she uncovered the Nazi-related origins of the Umbrella Corporation. However, that scenario was eventually scrapped. Not only did Capcom fear that a plot point that revolved around Nazis would hurt the game’s sales in Europe but it was determined that the game should actually star Claire Redfield as the ending of Resident Evil 2 strongly hinted at her pending return. That same decision actually allowed the 1.9 team to add Jill Valentine to their game.

It’s also important to remember that Capcom genuinely seemed concerned about their relationship with PlayStation and PlayStation gamers. Yes, they could have released Resident Evil 3 as a Dreamcast exclusive (at least temporarily) but how would that look to PS1 gamers who were anticipating that the next “major” Resident Evil would be released for their console? The thought at that time seemed to be that it was better for PlayStation fans to be treated as the “core” fanbase while Dreamcast owners would be happy to receive such a substantial new RE game regardless of the name. From a business perspective, it made sense.

Indeed, one of the longest-running rumors regarding Code Veronica‘s name suggests that PlayStation actually worked out a deal with Capcom to ensure that Resident Evil 3 was released on their console and not the Dreamcast. However, Mikami and Flagship president Yoshiki Okamoto later stated that they actually just wanted to keep numbered Resident Evil games exclusive to PlayStation consoles and give subtitles to RE games released for other platforms.

That explanation makes sense…until you realize it doesn’t. After all, not only did Capcom eventually release Resident Evil 4 for the GameCube, but they originally planned to release Resident Evil Zero for the N64. Granted, you could argue that the Resident Evil 4 deal was worked out later and that they may not have seen Zero as a proper “numbered” Resident Evil game, but that explanation still seems to dismiss the fact that Code Veronica simply feels more like Resident Evil 3 than Resident Evil 3: Nemesis did. Why would Capcom let the Code Veronica team work on such a substantial new entry into the franchise’s timeline and lore if they ultimately saw it as the “other” RE game from a market perspective?

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While this is just speculation, I’ve always assumed that it all ultimately came down to release schedules and Capcom’s genuine desire to please PlayStation fans (regardless of whether or not PlayStation forced their hand in any way). Capcom was clearly determined to release Resident Evil 3 on the PS1, and they were more willing to completely overhaul 1.9 than they were to change Code Veronica‘s name, even if the latter option would have seemingly been easier and made more sense in terms of the game’s scope, timelines, and contributions to the franchise mythology. So far as anyone can tell, Resident Evil: Code Veronica was never meant to be Resident Evil 3. Furthermore, I can’t find any record of any official plans to convert Code Veronica into Resident Evil 3 once the original RE 3 project fell apart.

That’s a shame, because that game really could have used the name it was cruelly denied.

Resident Evil 4 and Code Veronica’s Unfair Legacy

If you accept the idea that Code Veronica was released a little too late and for the “wrong” console to be Resident Evil 3, then why wasn’t it simply converted into Resident Evil 4? Maybe Capcom felt they owed PS1 gamers a game called Resident Evil 3, but why couldn’t Code Veronica then be called Resident Evil 4? After all, Capcom could always port that game to the PS2 and other consoles down the line if they chose to do so. Actually, they ended up porting Code Veronica to the PS2 anyway.

Well, the simplest explanation goes back to the idea that Capcom was initially interested in only releasing numbered (or advancing numbered) entries in the Resident Evil franchise on PlayStation consoles. If that was the case at one time, then they probably never really had any serious conversation about Code Veronica being Resident Evil 3 or 4.

However, the bigger issue was probably the timing of Code Veronica‘s release. If you’ve never heard the full story of Resident Evil 4 (which started as the “original” version of Resident Evil 3), I highly recommend reading up on its fascinating and troubled development. What you really need to know, though, is that Capcom struggled to not figure out what kind of game Resident Evil 4 was going to be (an early version of the game was even spun off into the Devil May Cry series) but to develop the game for the notoriously difficult PS2 hardware. Actually, Mikami previously stated that he was so frustrated with the PS2 hardware that he even considered making RE 4 a timed Xbox exclusive before he eventually reached a similar deal with Nintendo.

That’s the strangest thing about this whole story. Even if you believe there was a time when Capcom genuinely intended to only release numbered Resident Evil games for PlayStation consoles, their eventual decision to release the revolutionary Resident Evil 4 for the GameCube recontextualizes their decision to deny Code Veronica the Resident Evil 3 name it honestly deserved.

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I love Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, and I will defend that game against any detractors to this day. Yet, if you ask me “Which Resident Evil game feels like the more logical follow-up to Resident Evil 2?” I would have to answer “Code Veronica.” If you ask me, “Which Resident Evil game contributed more to Resident Evil‘s lore?” I would have to answer “Code Veronica.” Even at the time of Nemesis’ release before the story of its development was widely known, fans said that it almost felt more like a spin-off. PS1 gamers like myself who couldn’t afford a Dreamcast saw Code Veronica as the next major Resident Evil game despite Capcom’s assertions that it was their duty to deliver a game called Resident Evil 3 to PS1 gamers.

To be fair, history would prove that they were probably wise to make the decision they made. Capcom knew that the Resident Evil 3 name was a big deal. That’s really why they went out of their way to turn RE 1.9 into RE 3 despite the fact that Code Veronica was better positioned to be the “real” RE 3 in almost every single way. Maybe they didn’t know that the Dreamcast would fail, but they did know the PlayStation was already a success. Maybe they didn’t know Code Veronica would be as great as it was, but there was probably no version of Code Veronica that would have been great enough to earn the RE 3 name. That would have been bad business.

As the years go on, it becomes harder to deny that Code Veronica’s legacy is marred somewhat by the decision to not grant it the Resident Evil 3 name it arguably deserved. To this day, there is still a sense that Code Veronica is the “other” Resident Evil game that Resident Evil 3: Nemesis actually started out as. Some even suggest that Capcom simply felt that Code Veronica wasn’t good enough to be Resident Evil 3, which doesn’t seem to be supported by any official information whatsoever. Besides, it was.

One day, we may be lucky enough to see Capcom give Code Veronica the proper remake that it deserves. On that day, a new generation of gamers who have never gotten to properly experience the game may appreciate the many reasons it remains the “real” version of Resident Evil 3 in the minds of many fans who are left to eternally explain why there is sometimes so much in a name.