Columns, Video Games, Zombies

Leon S. Kennedy: From Bland Trope to Wisecracking Hero

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I’m a longtime series fan of the Resident Evil game franchise. The combination of B-movie horror, shuffling undead, and shadowy conspiracy has always been a tasty mix. Throughout its iterations, Resident Evil has developed clumsy character tropes into likable personalities. None of these examples shine more than the curious case of Leon S. Kennedy.

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1996’s Resident Evil chronicled a special tactics team’s frantic journey through the mysterious Spencer mansion.

Resident Evil 2’s Reboot Looms Closer

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Series fans are drooling in anticipation over the upcoming January 25 release date.

I’m probably far from alone in my excitement now that the Resident Evil 2 remake looms closer on the horizon. Each promising teaser has shown a marriage of gameplay between the action-oriented and survival-heavy entries in the Resident Evil franchise. Trailers have confirmed that players will once again be peeking over the shoulder of Leon S. Kennedy, shining star of RE4 and a prominent player in Resident Evil 6. 

Leon’s Very Bad Day

Leon’s debut as a playable character in 1998’s Resident Evil 2 wasn’t anything groundbreaking: A rookie cop with a boy-band haircut is thrown into an extraordinary situation during his first day on the job… sound familiar?

Resident Evil 2 tended to paint Leon as a doe-eyed innocent. He shows up overly-prepared and already in uniform. Leon also seems shockingly trigger-happy here. Even the intro cinematic shows him willing to fire into an approaching mob with little discretion.

Overall, Leon lacks personality here. Most of his lines would make Captain Obvious blush. He mainly serves as a sounding board for the supporting characters, which all have healthy slices of trademark Resident Evil voice-acting cheese.

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“Who…Who are you? Oh, you must be the new guy, Leon. Sorry, but
it looks like your party… has been cancelled.”

Still, the allure of RE2 carries even to this day – the abundance of playable storylines, the secret endings, the huge cast of characters, and the heavy survival elements all burned themselves into gamers’ collective memories. It’s no small wonder that Capcom wishes to cash in on this glowing nostalgia.

A Game of His Own

resident-evil-4-first-enemy.jpg.optimal2005’s Resident Evil 4 dramatically changed the gameplay and tone into campy (yet charming) action-horror.

Leon finally came into his own during Capcom’s highly lauded Resident Evil 4, where he shows off some stylish spin kicks and tosses out flippant exchanges with the game’s antagonist, Salazar. While many fans were turned off by the over-the-top action sequences and frequent quicktime events, RE4 is largely recognized as the series entry that opened the floodgate of mainstream appeal. In the years following RE4’s release, the game was ported to nearly every system over the last three console generations – as well as Windows and Android.

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Salazar, the Napoleon complex bad guy, gets serious in RE4…

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…while our boy Leon brings the banter. (And fails at grammar.)

Minor Missteps

2012’s Resident Evil 6 is considered as a series misstep for many, and here we find Leon’s latest appearance. Saddled with a more serious “grimdark” tone, this divisive entry leaned hard into action-horror, ramped up the detail of setpieces, and sprinkled in many more QTEs. RE6 received middling reviews and a mid-sixties Metacritic score, but I found it undeserving of this reputation. The melee combat is much improved over the last two Resident Evil games, and the multiplayer is a pleasant surprise. Drop-in coop and the ability to invade other players as monsters were fun additions, and I was shocked to see that the game still has active players on Steam even to this day.

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From SteamDB: A thousand current players for a 7-year-old game? Not bad.

This game’s most egregious sin is the erasure of much of the personality Leon displayed in RE4. Much of Leon’s dialog, especially in the scenario’s first half, is gratingly cliche. An audible groan escaped my lips when Leon rolled out the tired “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…” line in the game’s first chapter, and the lumbering dialog scenes make another infamous return in the sixth mainline series entry.

Hints of charm are sparse in the initial few chapters, but still present.  For example, upon dropping into a manhole, Leon quips to his disgusted partner: “What’s wrong… not a fan of sewers?” Fortunately, the scenario’s second half brings back a lot of the dry signature wit Leon is known for. The flirtatious banter between Leon and series newcomer Helena Harper blossoms midway through Resident Evil 6 and keeps the game from being an entirely sordid affair.

It’s also hard to overlook the fact that Leon can spit some fire verses.

The Mysterious Ada Wong

Of course, it’s hard to talk about Leon without mentioning his relationship with Ada Wong. Introduced in Resident Evil 2 as a sensuous super-spy and all-around woman of mystery, Ada’s aloof veneer only softens when Leon is involved. She often goes out of her way to save or assist Leon, but usually hinders his final objectives. These actions may be interpreted as an attempt to protect Leon by keeping him from becoming too embroiled in the games’ labyrinth of conspiracies.

RE6 also makes a clumsy attempt to expose Leon’s feelings for her near the end of the main campaign. This feels very tone-deaf in comparison to the tenuous cat-and-mouse relationship hinted throughout the rest of the series. Gamers get a peek of Ada Wong in the trailers for the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake, so it remains to be seen whether the remake will attempt to redefine their relationship – or reinforce it.

A Taste of What’s To Come

The 30-minute demo of the upcoming RE2 reboot only dips a toe into the campaign. It’s hard to gauge whether the new iteration of Leon will retain sparks of his late-career banter, or retcon him back to a nervous rookie. Either way, I’m excited to find out.


 

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