Resident Evil 4 centers on Leon’s mission to rescue Ashley Graham, daughter of the U.S. president. She’s been kidnapped by a mysterious cult and held captive in a rural Spanish village players must search and survive in. Once you find Ashley, you become both her protector and, sometimes, partner. Her mechanics and interactions with Leon have some big changes, so as part of our larger cover story, I asked directors Yasuhiro Ampo and Kazunori Kadoi to explain their reasons for making them.
By clicking the right analog stick, Leon can tell Ashley to keep close (yelling “come on!”) or to maintain some distance (“spread out”). You can no longer command her to stop; she follows no matter what. That means no more ditching her in a safe spot to clear out enemies lying ahead like in the original RE4. Capcom wants Ashley to stay by Leon’s side because, realistically, she would never want to be left alone in such a dangerous environment.
“As a character, we wanted to have her by your side so she left an impression,” says Ampo. “And as a game, having her hide while you went and fought in the original, that was fun in some ways. But having a character like Ashley and then having her basically disappear for a while felt like a waste. We wanted to avoid that in the remake.”
Kadoi then adds, “Making an A.I., you don’t want them getting in your way. But if you can just forget about them and they take care of themselves, then it doesn’t feel like you’re really protecting them. Finding a balance between those two is difficult.”
Ashley also lacks a health bar. Absorbing too many hits drops her in a downed state where players must revive her – if she’s struck while vulnerable, it’s Game Over. She can still be scooped up and carried away by enemies too, which also results in failure if they get too far from Leon. Thankfully, Leon can stop this by either shooting the abductor or, in a new twist, hitting a close-range execution like plunging his knife into the enemy’s neck, freeing Ashley.
Though this means you’ll have to keep a more constant eye on Ashley, she repays this by pulling her weight more. Resident Evil 4 features more tag-team-focused environmental obstacles, such as sending Ashley through crawlspaces to unlock doors from within. These co-op barriers can be found long before you rescue Ashley, giving players a reason to revisit areas now that they can access them with Ashley’s help.
“We wanted the game to change when Ashley is with you,” says Ampo.
Perhaps the best perk of Ashley’s newfound usefulness? She’s finally learned how to climb down ladders, meaning Leon won’t be spending a ton of time waiting to catch her. Well, save for one occasion when you first meet her, but that’s more of a callback to the original.
Ashley’s personality has also been tweaked. Don’t expect her to behave like an entirely different person, but rather a more believable and, hopefully, likable one.
“Her character is a little more serious than the original,” says Ampo. We put a lot of thought into how someone would realistically react when put in those situations. And in that context, we strengthened the reality of her interactions with Leon. That goes for the conversation she has with Leon as they travel.”
Ampo says that the team redesigned parts from the original that were “very game-like” to have more humanity. The directors even proposed an idea early in development to help reinforce this stronger bond.
“At one point, we even had it so that you could grab her hand and lead her, but this guy *points to Ampo* thought it looked like they were too close and didn’t like it,” says Kadoi. “So we didn’t end up doing that.”
Resident Evil 4 launches on March 24 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. Be sure to click the banner below to visit our online coverage hub to find more exclusive features and videos throughout the month.
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