Jill Valentine in Resident Evil
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Credit: Capcom

The powerhouse women of Resident Evil

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Aug 20, 2020, 6:00 PM EDT

Zombies. They're a pop culture institution. We're always a stone's throw away from some form of media featuring these undead creatures of the night.

Back in the '90s, Capcom debuted their horror series Resident Evil to the masses with a unique feature — the game was playable from two different perspectives. Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine were the player's choices, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. But this title would also cement something else: the franchise's noteworthy trademark of featuring women in leading roles.

In 2002, the series' first installment, Resident Evil, was remade, featuring updated graphics, new puzzles, and a complete overhaul of its voice acting — and players were introduced to the definitive version of Jill Valentine. Part of the Special Tactics and Rescue Squad (S.T.A.R.S.) Alpha team, she and the rest of her squad are sent to search for the missing Bravo team as they travel into the Arklay mountains of the nearby Raccoon City to investigate cannibalistic killings. What follows is a night of terror that would destroy most unfortunate souls, but not Jill. She puts her intellect to work and begins to unravel the mystery surrounding the situation, fighting for survival along the way.

Ultimately, she uncovers the true culprit behind the T-virus that causes humans to turn into zombies: the pharmaceutical corporation Umbrella. Destroying their ultimate weapon, known as the Tyrant, Jill manages to escape the nightmare and begin the fight to take down Umbrella. This game subverted expectations for the zombie genre and featured a capable female lead who survived the grueling experience — something very uncommon at the time.

Claire Redfield and Sherry Birkin in the higly regarded Resident Evil 2 remake. (Credit: Capcom)

In 2019, Capcom debuted the long-awaited remake of Resident Evil 2. Changing the setting from the Arklay mountains to the urban landscape of Raccoon City, the second installment follows Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, the sister of Chris from the first game. Claire is a young and ambitious college student who heads to the infamous city in search of her brother, who has gone missing. What she doesn't anticipate is the outbreak that has transformed the city into a hellish landscape. Taking refuge in the Raccoon Police Department building, she's committed to find the answers she's looking for and escape the city before it's too late.

Claire smashed the mold for young female video game protagonists. With virtually no training of any kind, she's forced to fight for her life from the horrors that Jill faced in the first installment but remains entirely capable in the process — even facing much worse monstrosities, one of them the form of a high mutated William Birkin infected with the new G-virus.

Jill Valentine returns in the reamake of Resident Evil 3. (Credit: Capcom)

This year saw a remake of Resident Evil 3. Set around the events of Resident Evil 2, the story returns to a familiar face: Jill Valentine. After resigning from the Raccoon Police Department for throwing out her reports of the events in the first game, she's looking to escape the city at the start of the outbreak. There are just a few problems: the city has been quarantined, and Umbrella has dropped a new prototype Tyrant into the city to hunt down the remaining members of S.T.A.R.S. This new Nemesis-Tyrant proves to be a monstrous challenge, as it relentlessly hunts down Jill and seems to be virtually unkillable.

Ever the frontwoman, Resident Evil 3 sees our protagonist transform into a full-blown action hero. Jill uses her skill set to survive the various challenges the city throws at her to escape the city and take out Nemesis. I personally believe this framing of our hero is what ended up inspiring the character of Alice in the Resident Evil film series, known for its kickass women and action that remains constantly cranked up to 11.

Alice in the first Resident Evil film. (Credit: Sony Pictures)

The Resident Evil remake trilogy revitalized the tradition of having badass women in starring roles. While most zombie media depicts women protagonists as weak or incapable, Resident Evil puts its female characters front and center, not just in its video games but an entire theatrical film series, which features multiple appearances from both Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield in unique reimaginings.

Through the Resident Evil remakes and beyond, this series has only scratched the surface in highlighting powerful women who survive unspeakable horror to become the heroes they were always meant to be.

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