The Resident Evil series has been around for twenty-five years and the story has gone down a long and winding road over the years. The series may ride the line between survival-horror and action-shooter but its story tapestry is as detailed and (at times) confusing as series like The Legend of Zelda.
In this guide I’m going to cover the big story beats and most important moments in the games but we will need to skip some stuff that isn’t as important in the interest of time. Some moments are super rad but don’t have a large impact on the overall story but Resident Evil lore is as deep as you’d like to go, like Halo and Zelda, so there’s plenty more if you’re still hungry for zombies, corporate espionage, and dark corridors after getting caught up with this guide.
I’m going to go in chronological order with each game as best as possible. We’re also skipping spinoffs and games outside the main series in the interest of keeping things as simple as possible but if you’re a big fan of the series then I’d absolutely recommend playing the Revelations games, which fill in some details throughout the franchise’s story and are incredible games.
It may get a little messy like a Resident Evil boss fight, but we’ll get through it in one piece while still looking good, just like Leon Kennedy.
What Happened Before Resident Evil Village?
Resident Evil 0
This title was released after the first three games and a few spin offs but it still takes place before the events of the first game.
Resident Evil 0 follows S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics And Rescue Service) officer Rebecca Chambers as she is on her way to investigate some cannibalistic murders in the Arklay Mountains. Rebecca and the rest of S.T.A.R.S Bravo Team are en route via helicopter before crashing in a nearby forest. She discovers the Ecliptic Express after waking up and finds the train’s passengers were attacked and turned into zombies.
She finds Billy Coen while exploring the train and looking for answers. She learns he’s a former Marine Recon officer who was to be executed for the killing of 23 people. The military police van he was in crashed nearby, which brought the two of them together.
They soon end up in a nearby building after stopping the train in a rough collision parking job after it suddenly starts moving again. They discover the facility they’ve arrived at is a discontinued Umbrella facility that was intended for the company’s executives.
They also learn the former director of the facility and the company’s co-founder, Dr. James Marcus, unearthed the Progenitor Virus in the 1960s and decided to explore its use as a biological weapon. Rebecca and Billy learn Marcus combined the Progenitor Virus with leech DNA to create the T-Virus, which transforms humans and animals into zombies.
We learn Wesker decided to leave Umbrella and join up with a competitor company with the intention to continue research on the T-Virus. We also learn he attempted to convince Dr. William Birkin to join him but was refused because Birkin wanted to keep researching the G-Virus at Umbrella. We will be revisiting Birkin and his role at Umbrella a little later.
Rebecca and Billy take out Queen Leech, which is actually Dr. Marcus … well, kind of. Dr. Marcus was assassinated after Umbrella’s other co-founder, Oswell Spencer, ordered it to get him out of the picture. The leech experiment from Dr. Marcus entered his corpse after it was disposed of, which transformed him into a creature capable of shapeshifting and monstrous powers. The creature also had the memories of Marcus and caused the T-Virus outbreak as revenge against Umbrella.
Billy and Rebecca defeat the creature and escape the facility as Dr. William Birkin destroys it with a self-destruct sequence. Rebecca sees the Spencer Mansion she learned about on her journey with Billy and decides to head toward it to help the rest of Bravo Team. She lets Billy go and says her report will list him as dead from the train crash and horrors in the forest.
This brings us into the first Resident Evil game’s story.
Resident Evil follows Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Barry Burton, and Albert Wesker as they investigate a series of murders at the Spencer Mansion, which is located at the edge of Raccoon City.
You can play as Chris or Jill as you explore the mansion. Regardless of who you play as, you learn about the horrific experiments that took place at the mansion under the leadership and control of Umbrella Corporation. You encounter zombies and other monsters in the mansion that were a result of the experiments and research.
You discover a secret underground laboratory (another series staple) under the mansion before learning Albert Wesker is a double-agent secretly working for Umbrella Corporation. He attacks the player character with a mutated monster known as a Tyrant while the other character is held in captivity. The player defeats the Tyrant, saves the other character, and appears to have killed Wesker as well. In the best and canon ending, the player escapes via helicopter and the mansion is destroyed.
This brings us into Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3, which is where things start to run together a bit.
Resident Evil 3
That’s not a typo. The events of Resident Evil 3 begin before Resident Evil 2. The games are kind of mashed together but it all makes sense when they’re finished.
The game opens with the T-Virus outbreak in Raccoon City. S.T.A.R.S. has broken up from Umbrella’s powerful and corrupt influence on the city and its police department. The special team has gotten too close to revealing the evil corporation’s secrets into the public spotlight. Their influence over the Racoon City Police Department will be more clear as the events from the next two games unfold.
Jill Valentine is on the run without much support or help since her team no longer exists. She attempts to escape the city as the virus is fully unleashed and zombies are everywhere. The police department and any hope for survival or help have been overwhelmed. The city is in darkness and on its own.
Bio Organic Weapons (known as B.O.W. in the series) have been set loose in the city for publicly questionable reasons but the actual reason is so Umbrella can use them to hunt down, kill, and silence former members of S.T.A.R.S, including Jill Valentine.
The BOW called Nemesis is hunting Jill Valentine and the BOW tyrant known as Mr. X is heading for the Raccoon City Police Department to hunt members of S.T.A.R.S, in addition to destroying evidence linking Umbrella to the virus outbreak and ensuing chaos.
Jill flees from Nemesis while also teaming up with Carlos Oliveria, Mikhail Victor, and Nikolai Zinoviev of the Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service (known as U.B.C.S.) to evacuate civilians that aren’t infected and to contain the outbreak as best as possible. Umbrella is making the classic mistake of trying to play both sides to come out on top.
Jill ends up infected with the G-Virus and Carlos decides to search for a cure to save her.
This brings us into Resident Evil 2 but we will be back to Resident Evil 3 soon.
Resident Evil 2
Series favorite Leon Kennedy is heading to Raccoon City for his first day as a police officer. Claire Redfield has been unable to reach her brother, Chris Redfield, and is also heading to the city to figure out what’s going on.
Leon and Claire bump into each other at a gas station on the edge of Raccoon City and are ambushed by zombies. They survive and head to the Raccoon City Police Department together. It’s a mutual destination and they want to help each other survive whatever is happening.
They’re quickly separated after arriving outside the RPD due to a car crash but still meet up on occasion throughout their separate but related missions at the police department. They both want answers and they both want to get the hell out of this city while saving as many people as possible.
Leon meets Ada Wong while investigating the RPD and learns she’s trying to secure a sample of the G-Virus. They’re attacked by Mr. X and escape by heading into the city’s sewer system.
The pair meet Annette Birkin, who works for Umbrella and is married to Dr. William Birkin, who tells Leon that Ada can’t be trusted and is simply going to sell the virus sample. Leon still agrees to help Ada and in the process ends up battling a very mutated version of Dr. William Birkin. He narrowly avoids his death at the ends of an even stronger Mr. X with a rocket launcher tossed to him from Ada, which will end up becoming another series staple. Rocket launchers are the only way to kill anything in this universe.
While this happens Claire finds Sherry Birkin, daughter of Annette and William, and saves her from the despicable police chief, Brian Irons. The player ends up learning through Claire and Leon that Irons was looking the other way and allowing Umbrella Corporation to pretty much do whatever they wanted in exchange for money and gifts.
We learn Dr. William Birkin planned to sell the G-Virus to the U.S. military but was stopped by an internal Umbrella security team. He injected himself with the G-Virus after being shot when he refused to surrender, which turned him into the monster that ends up attacking Leon and Claire while searching for his daughter, Sherry.
We also learn that Dr. William Birkin’s monstrous transformation led to lab damage and leaked the T-Virus into Raccoon City.
Claire finds a cure to save Sherry, who ended up getting infected during all of the chaos.
Leon, Claire, and Sherry escape together after destroying the horrific and mutated Dr. William Birkin for the last time.
Resident Evil 3 (again)
Carlos Oliveria finds a cure for Jill Valentine and saves her. They both resume trying to escape the city, which is now going to be destroyed by a missile strike to contain the virus.
Jill and Carlos destroy the B.O.W. Nemesis and escape the clutches of Nikolai, who was planning on killing Jill to collect a bounty placed on her head by Umbrella. As Jill and Carlos escape the city via helicopter, they witness the city being destroyed by a nuclear missile. Jill vows to get revenge against Umbrella.
This brings us into Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 4
The most popular game in the series stars Leon Kennedy who has been sent to an unnamed village in Spain to search for Ashely Graham, the U.S. president’s missing daughter. This release is very standalone and doesn’t have a lot of overall impact on the overall story of the series. All that you need to know here is Leon survives, rescues Ashely Graham, and discovers the plan of cult leader Osmund Saddler.
Saddler’s plan was to use an infected Ashely Graham to also infect the U.S. president with the same parasite to take over the world with America’s military force and global influence.
The game ends with Leon and Ashley escaping via jet ski and Ada Wong securing a sample of the parasite to sell to Albert Wesker. Leon working for the president and Ada securing a sample for Wesker are the most important parts for the series as whole.
This brings us into Resident Evil 5.
Resident Evil 5
Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine locate the remaining Umbrella co-founder at a secluded mansion in the ‘Lost in Nightmares’ DLC for Resident Evil 5, which functions as a fun throwback to classic Resident Evil at a time when the series was quickly becoming something that resembled Gears of War much more than its roots as a survival-horror franchise.
Albert Wesker is there and has killed the surviving Umbrella co-founder. Jill tackles Wesker through a window and they fall off the cliff together and presumably die except they don’t because almost no one dies in this series, unless they’re hit with a rocket launcher.
Resident Evil 5’s main campaign begins with Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar investigating a virus outbreak in Africa. Chris learns Jill is still alive and later learns she’s been under the control of Wesker since he last saw her and thought she died.
Chris and Sheva stumble upon a cave that contains the plants that gave life to the original virus from Umbrella, known as the Progenitor Virus.
They learn Tricell, the parent company of BSAA (which is who Sheva works for) has been continuing Umbrella’s nefarious goals.
Chris and Sheva save Jill from Wesker, freeing her from his mind control device, and defeat him in a volcano after Chris punches a giant boulder. Wesker’s plan to infect the world with a virus via missiles is stopped by Chris and Sheva firing a rocket launcher at him.
This brings us into Resident Evil 6.
Resident Evil 6
This is the most bloated entry in terms of characters, storylines, and unnecessary baggage. It’s more fun playing it now, after Capcom got it together and delivered worthwhile spinoffs and the critically acclaimed Resident Evil 7:Biohazard, but it was a hard sell at the time since it’s really only Resident Evil in name. The gameplay is very much Gears of War with virus-infected monsters instead of underground aliens.
Anyway, the short version of this game’s important events are Neo-Umbrella, which is basically just a sequel to the company without a creative name, is being led by Ada Wong who is actually a clone.
Leon and his partner Helena kill the US president because he was infected. This information isn’t widely known at the time so Leon and Helena are forced to flee, since it looks like the president’s bodyguard killed the president for no reason.
The president was targeted because he was going to spill Umbrella’s secrets and attempt to hold the corporation accountable. Another virus outbreak happens but it’s stopped with the help of Chris Redfield, Sherry Birkin, and Jake Wesker (Albert Wesker’s son). Ada Wong also destroys the laboratory that created the Ada clone. It’s a mess of a game but is very fun with a friend via local or online co-op.
This brings us into Resident Evil 7:Biohazard.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Ethan Winters is searching for his missing wife, Mia, at an old farmhouse in Louisiana. There’s a crazed and violent family there known as The Baker Family.
Ethan is captured by Jack Baker and has several terrifying encounters with the family members as he explores the house. Like most Resident Evil villians, they refuse to die and continue to regenerate.
Ethan eventually learns Mia brought a young girl named Eveline to the family after a tanker ship crashed near the Baker’s home. Eveline is a B.O.W. that basically took over the family after arriving with her powers since she was lonely and always wanted a family.
Ethan is eventually able to destroy Eveline and is saved by none other than Chris Redfield, who rescues Ethan and Mia with the true hero of the series: the helicopter.
This brings us to Resident Evil Village, the eighth main entry in the series, which has Ethan Winters facing a very tall vampire woman, werewolves, and more. We’re all looking forward to this entry and will have guides to help you get by with a little help from your friends at Prima Games.