Resident Evil is arguably the most iconic and certainly longest-lived survival horror franchise in video game history. Now three years away from being three decades old, the franchise has seen its fair share of spin-offs and adaptations. While people are familiar with the Alice fanfiction films, your Revelations, and Survivors, few seem to bring up the surprisingly extensive series of novels.
Boasting seven novels from 1998 to 2004, S.D. Perry adapted and expanded upon the earliest games of the franchise. Back in the day, novel adaptations of movies and video games were astoundingly common, likely owing to the fact that people didn’t have smartphones yet and wanted something nerdy to do when it was not playing video games.
While most novelizations tended to have minor elements changed here and there, S.D. Perry stands out for taking a lot of liberties with her interpretation of the franchise’s story. Back in those days, the concept of protecting a franchise’s narrative was practically nonexistent. There was no concern for continuity between games, no strict plans of what happens and when it would happen.
Through a combination of Capcom’s apathy and an editor telling her to just have fun with it, S.D. Perry had a veritable playground of zombie action and cheesy characters to weave into her own tale. Thus, the “Perryverse” was born, a non-canon saga of the Resident Evil franchise with a surprising cult following.
How Did The Perryverse Happen?
S.D. Perry is refreshingly honest about the process of writing for big corporations. She openly admits to being contracted to write for Resident Evil as a result of nepotism. Steve Perry, her father, was a respected write-for-hire guy in the industry. However, he was too busy for Capcom at the time. So, he gave the name of his daughter to editor Marco Palmieri, the man tasked with finding a writer for the franchise.
Despite seven novels officially approved by Capcom, S.D. Perry almost never contacted someone from Capcom directly. Everything she knew about the franchise came from her own playthroughs, her editor, and game manuals. The only input that she had was some concept art for the characters, and that was it.
Practically everything else was either her creation or her editor’s. Her workflow and strict deadlines also meant she only had a month to complete a novel. Nicotine and grape soda were fast friends during those hectic months. In fact, she’s not even much of a fan of the series nowadays. She hasn’t played any of the newer games and is amusingly unaware of what Capcom and the fandom have done with her work in recent years, such as official illustrations and her characters popping up in canon Resident Evil stories.
Perhaps it’s that casual approach to the franchise that made her novels so unique in the first place.
Trent Is The Key To All This
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. There is a very prominent character from the novels that literally doesn’t show up in the games, but is apparently the most important character of the entire franchise. Victor “Trent” Darius is the supposed mastermind behind everything that happens over the course of the series.
He was the son of the researchers responsible for the creation of the Tissue-Repairing Synthesis, a miracle solution that could cure the most grievous of wounds. After completion, they took their research to Umbrella Inc., who took one look at the amazing serum and realized it would put their pharmaceutical company out of business.
Thus, they took the research and bastardized it into what would become the infamous T-Virus. To tie up loose ends, Victor’s parents were killed in a fire, framed as an “unfortunate accident”. After that, Umbrella forgot about the Darius family. But Victor Darius didn’t forget about Umbrella. He changed his name to Trent and began infiltrating the company that destroyed his life.
While this is an exciting premise, Trent’s actual purpose was to become the glue that held the early days of the franchise’s story together. Hilariously, Trent was editor Marco Palmieri’s idea. Given his role in the story is to plug up any continuity snarls caused by the games, it makes perfect sense an editor came up with the idea.
Why does Umbrella keep making horrible decisions that tank their company? Trent. Who hired Ada Wong to be a spy in Resident Evil 2? Trent. How does Wesker manage to survive the events of the first Resident Evil? Oh, because Chris fell in love with Wesker at the last second and saved his life. Just kidding, it was Trent.
Trent also offered insight into the oddball characters somehow running Umbrella.
For example, it was established in the novels that Brian Irons, the corrupt Chief of Police working for Umbrella, was paranoid about being caught and so added those complex puzzle locks and passageways to hide his trail. While the game did tease this with minor details here and there, it was the novels that called it out directly.
Of course, because Capcom was still releasing games, Trent’s plans would inevitably be bulldozed over, leaving Perry to scramble over her drafts and put disclaimers regarding the canonicity of her novels. Not that she had to, of course, back in those days, canonicity wasn’t really regarded with much importance. That flexibility led to some interesting developments, to say the least.
Crass Yet Heartfelt
The Resident Evil franchise is no stranger to fanservice. After all, this was the era of Jill in a tube top fighting zombies. That said, intimacy and romance between characters were quite rare. Ada Wong at that point wasn’t the seductive spy she would end up becoming. In Leon’s eyes, she was just a woman way in over her head.
S.D. Perry is a lot more, let’s just say, honest about how she depicts characters in her novels.
The best way to showcase this drastic shift in tone is with a snippet from the novelization of Code: Veronica. A high-stakes confrontation between Albert Wesker and Chris Redfield ends up being a lot less menacing after Wesker opens his mouth to rant at the future boulder puncher.
Albert Wesker’s cool and sinister demeanor isn’t nearly as intimidating when he’s talking about his T-Virus-empowered boner.
In general, the writing for the characters was a lot more “relaxed”, for lack of a better term. The conversations weren’t just relegated to banter or mission objectives. They got to talk about things outside of Umbrella’s shenanigans. They hung out and enjoyed each other’s company, even as the threat of another virus looms ahead.
The novels also explore romance a bit deeper than the game allowed. In the novel Resident Evil: Underworld, which was the second story that was completely original, Leon and Claire are portrayed as incredibly close after escaping Raccoon City. Other characters pointed out how they would always be next to each other during rare moments of rest. Leon’s internal monologue often wrestled with the idea of whether she liked Claire for who she was, or because she lived through the same horrors that he had.
In contrast, Claire was a lot more open about her attraction to Leon. In the novelization of Code: Veronica, she immediately notices Steve’s advances and debates rejecting him right there. As Claire herself describes, she and Leon had gotten “pretty tight”, which is about as close to a confirmation that the two at least dipped their toes into dating, whatever that might look like with their hectic lives.
So yes, an official Capcom product has Chris succeed in his quest to continue the Redfield bloodline.
Making Mundane History
Why did I choose to talk about a bunch of Resident Evil novels from the 90s to the early 2000s that nobody even remembers anymore? Because the opportunity fell on my lap and I wanted to do it. Really, it’s that simplicity that I found so fascinating about the story of S.D. Perry. She was just a normal fan of the franchise like I was. When given a chance to write about a property she loved, she took the ball and ran with it. To her, writing is a job, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less passionate about it.
“I’m kind of a weird person, I write books and send them out and don’t usually think about them again, or read them, or watch the movies. I’m a fan of writing more than I am what I’m writing about if that makes sense. I mean, I get into whatever I’m working on, but that’s part of my job—embracing what the fans dig, to “get” it the way that they do.”S.D. Perry via Project Umbrella
There were a few stumbles here and there, but nobody could deny she was having fun doing it. Her attitude towards her own work, of seeing writing as more fun than the actual story itself, is something I find so deeply relatable. The weaving of in-jokes about the game’s ridiculous puzzles, the ship-teasing between Claire and Leon, the visceral fast-paced zombie action, and the frustration at Capcom’s reckless approach to canon, all of these feelings are perfectly printed onto the pages of S.D. Perry’s works.
Fans don’t often get to make those feelings a career, and even when they do, it’s usually not officially backed by Capcom. Perry manages to do just that, and she does so in a cool and professional manner. Her books can only exist in the uniquely apathetic circumstances she found herself in, and they turned out to be one of the more interesting stories in Resident Evil’s vast history.