A Look Back at Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

In this age of photo-realistic 3D graphics in video gaming, I sure miss the days when 2D gaming and highly detailed pixel art were the standard. I’m referring to the so-called 16-bit era of the Super NES/SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) back in the 1990s.

In 1991, Super Star Wars was released on the Super NES and it became a big hit with the gamers, the critics and fans. That game was heralded as one of the best video game adaptations of movies.

Naturally, a follow-up to that game was released in 1993 – Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

That being said, here is my retro gaming review of Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

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The experience of using a Rebel speeder to bring down an AT-AT walker with the cable remains awesome.

Developed by Sculptured Software and LucasArts and published in America by JVC, this game is based on The Empire Strikes Back which today has been considered to be the greatest Star Wars movie ever. Of course, in order to make a cohesive video game adaptation out of the classic movie, a lot of liberties were taken when it comes to following the story. This was inevitable as the game developers needed a lot of creative freedom to make a cohesive video game.

Early story (and some notable differences from the movie)

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back begins with Luke Skywalker riding a Tauntaun. Unlike the movie, Luke (controlled by players) visits some places of the wasteland of Hoth, notably caverns and hills fighting several forms of wild life (including wampa beasts), and even some probe droids.

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Luke jumping on to a wampa beast.

Unlike the movie, Luke does not get rescued by Han Solo in the wilderness. Instead he defeats a giant-sized probe droid and a giant-sized wampa beast (as in-game bosses) and make his way back to Echo Base to rejoin the rebels. Upon returning at the base, he finds it filled with Imperial troopers and their machines (where are Luke’s fellow rebels?) and fights his way through to fly a rebel speeder (note: without the movie co-pilot Dak) and proceed in the Battle of Hoth.

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This never happened in the movie.
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Luke jumping into a snow speeder without a co-pilot.

Back at Echo Base, Han Solo (player-controlled) has to make his way through a wave of Imperial enemies and machines to meet Princess Leia, secure her and ride away on the Millenium Falcon. The Falcon (player-controlled) enters the asteroid field being attacked gradually by over twenty TIE Fighters. Once all of them have been eliminated, the Falcon jumps into light speed (which contradicts the movie).

Gameplay

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is composed mostly of 2D, side-scrolling action sequences in which players control their characters moving from left to right in order to make the game progress. The sequences are filled with lots of action-packed moments mainly due to the MANY enemies challenging the players plus sequences of shooting, jumping and using special weapons (note: the thermal detonator was awesome to use). When it comes to filling up the health meter of your character, defeating enemies result random releases of hearts (symbolizing health) which you need to pick up. Key side-scrolling segments of the game will have players facing off with in-game bosses or enemies that are large, intimidating and have their own health meters for players to reduce to zero.

As typical with most 2D side-scrolling games of the era, this game is really tough and will take gamers some patience and perseverance to complete.

What really stood out in this game are the makeshift 3D segments (made possible by Mode 7) which were pretty extensive and really interactive. The Battle of Hoth in Mode 7 was pretty engaging as players get to fly a rebel speeder over a snowy field complete with lots of Imperial enemies (including the AT-ST walkers and the AT-AT walkers) and each of them is composed of multiple 2D sprites making them look 3D as the speeder moves around. Apart from simply shooting, the interactive sequence of tagging an AT-AT walker with a cable, flying around it and wrapping it with the cable, and then watching it fall to the ground really is an awesome gaming experience which really showed how hard the game developers pushed 2D visuals and pixel art.

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A Mode 7 sequence late in the game had players using an X-Wing fighter.
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The Battle of Hoth was a great and lengthy use of Mode 7.

Apart from the Battle of Hoth, there was also another Mode 7 sequence involving the X-Wing Fighter approaching Cloud City. That particular sequence was noticeably shorter and did not have a standout action sequence as it was limited to the X-Wing Fighter simply shooting Bespin fighters. Another non-2D segment was the Millenium Falcon’s flight through the asteroid field which was done with the cockpit view (first-person view exactly) in which you move a cursor for targeting and moving the ship to. This segment was pretty tough because players were not only required to eliminate more than 20 TIE Fighters but also avoid incoming asteroids and maintaining the Falcon’s energy shields (which serves as a health meter)

Going back to the 2D side-scrolling segments, the use of the lightsaber by Luke remains a lot of fun to do. Not only could he slash bad guys, he could use the lightsaber defensively protecting himself from incoming energy blasts (which get deflected by the lightsaber). On the offense, Luke can jump into the air and spin with the lightsaber turned on making him an aerial slasher over the bad guys.

In keeping with the theme of the movie showing Luke Skywalker learning to be a Jedi, the Dagobah segment in the game has Luke gaining varied Force powers and he also has a separate Force energy meter. The Force powers can be used in subsequent segments of the game and they are quite useful when Luke encounters Darth Vader as the final boss in Cloud City.

The fights with Darth Vader were nicely designed. With creative freedom, the game developers expanded on Darth Vader’s use of the Force to move several pieces of debris and machines towards Luke who has to defend himself from all sides. Fighting Darth Vader with the lightsaber was tricky and for the most part, I had Luke slashing on villain with just enough space between them and many times I had Luke use the lightsaber on him while jumping and spinning in the air. Defeating Vader was a requirement to complete the game.

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Very nice artwork made for the storytelling cut scenes.

Finally, like in Super Star Wars, players can also play as Han Solo (special attack: grenade throw) and Chewbacca (special attack: offensive spin) but only in specific segments of the game supposedly to keep in line with its story.

Conclusion

Even by today’s standards, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is still a high-quality video game that is a lot of fun to play with even though it is tough (a password system is used for in-game progress so that gamers can come back to continue) all throughout. Gameplay aside, the presentation of visuals and audio is also very solid. The sprites for the in-game characters, enemies, machines and animal were detailed to look at while the background art were immersive (like in the movies, Cloud City, Hoth and Dagobah had their distinctive visuals). The Super NES audio chip was greatly used on recreating 16-bit sound from the movies, especially John Williams’ movie scores and lightsaber sound effects.

Take note that this game was released in 1993 which is significant in the sense that people had moved on since the release of the movie Return of the Jedi (1983) and the Star Wars prequel trilogy did not begin until 1999 with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This game was released at a time when 2D gaming was still in strong demand and most gamers did not expect that 3D polygonal graphics would reshape video gaming eventually. In retrospect, the polygon-focused gaming consoles Sega Saturn and the original Sony PlayStation launched in late 1994 or more than a year after Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

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The inevitable battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

I myself had lots of fond memories playing this game back in the mid-1990s. I simply endured the many challenges of it and ultimately had a lot of enjoyment completing it. I even replayed the game from the start even though I knew how the game presented the ending and key story elements of the movie. I also got to replay The Empire Strikes Back on home video around the time I played this game.

Believe it or not, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was the first of the Super Star Wars trilogy on the Super NES that I actually played. After completing it, I borrowed the Super Star Wars cartridge from a friend and later bought a copy of Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. I completed those two other games and I can clearly say that Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back remains the best in game design, the best in terms of fun factor and the most memorable of them all.

If you love Star Wars and you want the best 16-bit era video game (note: you’ll need a working Super NES console or Nintendo’s Virtual Console for any Super Star Wars game) experience of it, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is highly recommended.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

Macross at Toycon 2019

Sorry for this late feature but I wish to share to you geeks and hobbyists that during the 2019 edition of the Toycon held this past June at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City, I spotted the display of Macross.

I’m a Macross fan and I always make it a point to find stuff related to my favorite anime franchise whenever a convention happens. Here are some that I spotted during the Toycon.

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The YF-19 from Macross Plus and its weapons on display. Behind it are varied video games and manuals.
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A close look at these mean machines. The one on the right reflects the model of used by Hikaru in the first few episodes of the 1980s Macross anime TV series complete with holding Lynn Minmay for safety.

At the 2nd level of the convention center was a function hall which has a large display of collected items of varied entertainment franchises. The one showcasing Macross had toys, action figures, plastic models, video games, music CDs and some printed materials.

What caught my attention was the display of the YF-19 from Macross Plus complete with its weapons in full view.

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Memories of the 1980s anime TV series as well as the 1984 classic movie Macross: Do You Remember Love? entered my mind.

Also seeing an original copy of the 1990s Sega Saturn video game adaptation of Macross: Do You Remember Love? instantly made me remember playing and enjoying the PlayStation version of that game. The Sega Saturn game can be seen in the picture below.

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Art, books, soundtracks and the Sega Saturn video game.

As much as I enjoyed the display of Macross memorabilia, I regret to say that I was unable to find any more related collectibles or products for sale among the many vendors at the lower level during the Toycon. I searched for whatever Macross stuff I could find (t-shirts, comic books, action figures, models, cards and others) but ended up with nothing.

Then again, it should be surprising at all. Macross as an entertainment franchise is not exactly popular here in the Philippines and Macross Mania in the country has ended long ago. To say the least, the popularity of Macross here in the Philippines is limited to older fans and collectors. Anime is a lot more popular among Filipinos in this modern age but that does not mean Macross found a new nor large audience.

If ever the legendary Shoji Kawamori (whom I met at AsiaPOP Comicon Manila in 2017) or any notable Macross-related talent comes here in the Philippines, only then will the Macross brand gain attention.

 

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Another close look.

If you love anime or Macross, then I invite you to read my retro movie review of Macross: Do You Remember Love? right here. I also wrote about the famous Lynn Minmay here.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

Final Fantasy Bonanza for Xbox Fans!

When rumors floated online in 2005 that Square Enix was being attracted by Microsoft to release games on what was back then their upcoming game console the Xbox 360, there were some gamers who just dismissed those rumors claiming that the Japanese company would NEVER release its role-playing games (RPGs) – specifically Final Fantasy games – on a console of an American company.

It was a different time back then for console gaming. Square Enix released Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII plus some Dragon Quest and Front Mission games on Sony’s highly successful PlayStation 2 (PS2) console. The company even developed a Final Fantasy spin-off for the GameCube with Nintendo as publisher.

For the original Xbox console, Square Enix made no games for it at all.

Things turned during the time of the Xbox 360. Square Enix published several games for it and to the delight of Xbox fans who love Final Fantasy, the company released Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Final Fantasy XI and other games.

This year Square Enix released several of their classic Final Fantasy games released for Xbox One gamers via Xbox LIVE – Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X and X-2 and a few others.

The other announced game, Final Fantasy XII (The Zodiac Age), will be released on April 30.

Among these games, I’m currently playing Final Fantasy IX on my Xbox One and even though it has been almost twenty years since I last played it, I can say that I am enjoying it again. The game is technically a port of the PC version (which comes with cleaned-up graphics most evident on the character and creature models) and not a remastered version. More importantly, the gameplay is still fun (even though it has those random battles) and the story has a lot of heart.

With the classic Final Fantasy games available via Xbox LIVE, now is the time for Xbox fans (who love Final Fantasy or those who are very interested in Japanese role-playing games) to acquire them while they can. We should be very thankful to Square Enix (and surely to Microsoft’s Xbox team led by Phil Spencer) for those games.

Final Fantasy X and X-2 were remastered for Xbox One while the upcoming Final Fantasy XII has already been confirmed to run at a super smooth 60-frames-per-second on the premium Xbox One X console.

What is missing from the FF classics is Final Fantasy VIII which continues to puzzle gamers to this day.

If more Xbox gamers buy these classic FF games, then perhaps Square Enix will be convinced to release more of their past hits of their other franchises like Front Mission and Dragon Quest. Perhaps they will consider releasing the older, 2D FF games like Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI.

Apart from enjoying the varied stories, characters and gameplay styles, gamers will also enjoy the music of Nobuo Uematsu.

For your enjoyment, I embedded below Xbox channel videos of Final Fantasy.

 

“Spider-Man” Biking In The Philippines

Imagine yourself driving down the road in your car until you see a famous pop culture icon also moving along by biking.

In the City of Valenzuela in the Philippines, an unidentified person wearing a Spider-Man costume was seen biking along the road and his presence became viral on social media according to this Tagalog-language news video below.

Watch and see more.

I wonder if that costumed biker was a cosplayer heading to some sort of a superhero or geek event. Perhaps he was a hired entertainer heading towards a party with guests.

Speaking of Spider-Man, are you looking forward to the next movie starring Tom Holland? Did you read any good Spider-Man comic books lately?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A look back at Resident Evil 3: Nemesis

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First released in late 1999 on the PlayStation console in America, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (Japan title: Biohazard: Last Escape) was a notable game of the Resident Evil franchise that not only proved to be a lot of fun but also a memorable experience for fans. To this day the game is fondly remembered.

In recent times, the Resident Evil franchise made waves with gamers worldwide with Resident Evil 7 (which came with a very daring change of style and gameplay) and the Resident Evil 2 remake demo (which I played the full 30 minutes of). The RE2 demo instantly brought back my own memories of enjoying the PlayStation version of early 1998. Granted, Resident Evil 2 in 1998 was truly a great sequel and its concept was epic compared to its predecessor’s. Because that game was a major blockbuster, Capcom had to come up with worthy follow-ups.

Then something happened over at Capcom in Japan. The initial concept for a sequel to RE2 was in the form of a story set on a luxury cruise liner but the company decided it lacked the time to produce a game out of it and this was related to Sony’s unveiling of the PlayStation 2 console.

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After some shuffling of executives and creative people, a team composed of not-so-experienced talents led by game director Kazuhiro Aoyama was formed to produce a spin-off  with a plot penned by company writer Yasuhisa Kawamura. The story was reviewed and approved by Flagship (an internal team that led the creative charge of Resident Evil projects) and RE creator Shinji Mikami worked as producer on the project.

Regarding its status, Resident Evil 3 was developed in tandem with the Sega Dreamcast-bound game that became Resident Evil: Code Veronica which was a bigger project and was the true sequel to RE2. The tricky part was that Capcom decided that its RE games released on PlayStation will carry a number on the title for “consistency” while RE games released on other platforms would carry subtitles.

RE3 followed the exploits of Jill Valentine, who was a protagonist in the 1996 original Resident Evil game. The story begins with her stuck in the middle of Raccoon City surrounded by flesh-eating zombies and she has no choice but to fight, run and escape to survive. Along the way, she discovers that what she learned from Umbrella in the first game was nothing compared to the more sinister intentions of the company she discovers in RE3. Making matters even harder for her was Nemesis, a large walking bio-weapon whose purpose is to destroy members of the city’s police unit S.T.A.R.S. (which Jill belongs to).

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For what started as a spin-off, Resident Evil 3’s gameplay showed notable improvements over that of Resident Evil 2. As a survival horror game, it has the awkward tank-like controls, the static pre-rendered environments with fixed camera angles and challenges of moving from one place to another while dealing with zombies or monsters.

The most notable improvement made was the addition of the ability for players to do 180-degree quick turn-around movements when controlling the character. Not only does this make moving the character easier, it also adds more speed and strategy into the game itself especially when the protagonist is surrounded by many zombies or monsters. The pace of gameplay also quickened with the quick turn-around.

Another addition is the ammunition crafting system that allows you to make more ammo for your weapons by combining the raw material (example: gun powder) into the in-game ammo-making device. This results making different types of ammunition for different weapons. By the time you reached deeper into the game, more powerful ammunition for newer weapons can be made and used.

Meanwhile the game had key moments that compel players to make a decision as that the narrative and gameplay would move forward. The element of choice is a nice gameplay addition and each choice made showed different results as to what happened next. When Nemesis appears, the game’s movement slows down presenting choices for gamers to make. The good news here is the decision making affects the quality of the story’s ending.

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The one addition I find questionable in the game is the dodge which works rather unpredictably in terms of response. There are times it worked and there are times it failed. No matter how you use the controls and time them with the action, the results are always inconsistent.

The biggest addition, not to mention the biggest impact, made in the game is Nemesis himself. Unlike Mr. X in Resident Evil 2, Nemesis is the unrelenting stalker whose presence and action deepened the gaming experience. Not only was Nemesis tough to fight with, he also appeared when gamers least expected and he runs a lot to get to Jill (or the mercenary Carlos who was also controlled temporarily by players). The music accompanying Nemesis’ presence also heightened the fear factor. It is argued that Nemesis himself is the most defining feature of Resident Evil 3 and deserved to have the game’s subtitle made after him.

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In my honest opinion, Nemesis reminds me a lot of the horror icon Jason Voorhees from the Friday The 13th slasher horror movie franchise. Like Jason, Nemesis is heavily disfigured (horrific to look at), stalks his prey relentlessly and does a lot (and anything) to kill his prey. Nemesis’ killing of Brad only shows how deadly he is. Like Jason, Nemesis cannot be reasoned with nor does he feel any pity. He simply won’t stop until he kills you in the game.

In terms of technology, RE3 used the same game engine as RE and RE2. By this time, the technology experts at Capcom improved the visual quality and the 2D pre-rendered backgrounds always felt convincing to me each time I played. Rare are the times when I noticed the 3D polygonal characters or monsters stood out from the 2D environments. With regards to the anti-hero elements, the zombies are more varied and most of all the monsters are creepier to look at. The Hunters made a nice return as well.

In terms of exploration, Resident Evil 3 makes heavy use of the city environment complete with many varied interiors mixed with believable exteriors. There were these alleys, streets (with some stores to enter) and more. The many puzzles as well as machines that required key items to be retrieved provide a good challenge although some may find the backtracking a bit tedious.

The return of Jill

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Jill Valentine made a nice return as the protagonist of the game. Right from the start, it was explained that she had resigned from the police force. Regarding her skimpy appearance (the blue tube top she wore with short skirt and boots), it turned out she was on her way out of town when the zombie infestation of Raccoon City begins in RE3.

More on Jill’s sexy default appearance in the game, I believe that Capcom’s creative team designed her like that in response to the sexy, armed woman charm popularized by Lara Croft of the best-selling Tomb Raider game franchise.

Take note of this. The first Resident Evil was released in 1996 many months before the first Tomb Raider came out. By the time Resident Evil 3 was released, the Tomb Raider franchise already had three games (note: there was a 12-month cycle for releasing sequels back then) that each sold in the millions and Lara Croft was quickly established as not only as a pop culture icon but also as a digital sex symbol idolized by millions of guys worldwide. I have this theory that some members of the Resident Evil 3 team subconsciously came up with the tube top look for Jill Valentine with Lara Croft as an influence. To say the least, both Jill and Lara are brave women capable of fighting with varied types of guns.

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Sex appeal aside, Resident Evil 3’s story is truly a defining tale of Jill Valentine as a character. By connecting her RE3 tale with that of the events of the first game from 1996, I come to realize that her stories made sense. Her becoming disillusioned with the failure of the city police department to go against Umbrella and eventual quitting from the police force was believable. In addition, Nemesis proved to be the ultimate monster she ever faced and all the monsters she encountered in the first game paled in comparison to him.

Alone and without having access to police resources, Jill’s struggle in Resident Evil 3 is a story that won’t be forgotten and the game’s fun and engaging gameplay only made her story even more memorable.

The cinematic “adaptation”

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Sienna Guillory as the cinematic Jill Valentine at the left. With her were Sophie Vavasseur as Angela Ashford and director Alexander Witt. (credit: Screen Gems, Inc.)

In 2004, the second Resident Evil live-action movie Resident Evil: Apocalypse was released in cinemas starring Milla Jovovich. The concepts of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis were carelessly adapted by the movie showing a Raccoon City filled with zombies and a live-action Jill Valentine played by Sienna Guillory who appeared with the tube top, short skirt and boots. In a sequence in the movie, Guillory even tried moving like her character’s video game counterpart.

While attention was paid on Jill’s Resident Evil 3 look, Guillory’s portrayal of her was nothing special and this has a lot to do with the screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson, the directing by Alexander Witt (not really a prolific director) and notably Milla Jovovich’s dominance of the spotlight.

Whenever I watch Guilloy’s Jill in the movie, I really never felt like watching RE3’s Jill at all. Also the film had Jill being inferior to Alice (Milla Jovovich) on screen. There are two scenes in the movie wherein Jill does something to solve the problem, Alice comes in to do it better than her.

Having seen all Resident Evil live-action movies, which I regret for the most part, it is no secret that the filmmakers treated the concepts, characters and other elements from the RE video games with no real respect and certainly with no care about the concerns of Resident Evil game fans.

If you have not seen Resident Evil: Apocalypse and have been interested to see it for the RE3 elements, better not waste your time. Better play the video game instead.

Conclusion

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Ultimately Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is a classic even though it was never meant to be the big budget sequel to the classic Resident Evil 2. The game deservedly got released on the Sega Dreamcast, the Nintendo GameCube and Windows PC.

Now that Resident Evil mania is back in gamers’ minds right now, I should say that Capcom should consider re-releasing digitally RE3 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Windows 10 if ever possible. Even though its tank-like controls are very outdated by today’s standards, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is a classic that gamers of different ages must enjoy without having to go through the hassle of acquiring old existing copies of it (not to mention having an existing old console to play it). I myself am willing to pay for RE3 to be re-released and play it on my Xbox One. Very recently an enhanced re-release of Onimusha: Warlords was done by Capcom. Making the same treatment with RE3 only makes sense.

Who knows what impact a re-released RE3 would create? Such a re-release could lead to a popular demand for Capcom to make a big budget remake of Resident Evil 3 similar to what they have done with RE2. This will also give today’s gamers an opportunity to experience the one defining story of Jill Valentine.

In ending this article, I posted some YouTube videos of RE3 for your enjoyment.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article to be engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco.