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I’m being screamed at by a swirling puddle of flesh that used to be a Spanish aristocrat. A salamander is eating me. My old war buddy is trying to stab me through the chest with his bone scythes.

Leon S. Kennedy can handle all that. The opening moments of Resident Evil 4 Remake explicitly recount the horrors this man has been through in his short, pretty life; fighting through the zombie outbreak in Raccoon City, losing almost everything and seeing nightmares beyond imagination, coerced into military service for the United States government. Leon presents himself to us as a broken person, torn down by events outside of his control and never given the chance to recover.

Despite this self-assessment, he’s far from the most damaged individual in Valdelobos. In fact, the antagonistic forces behind the Los Illuminados cult are hiding more than just parasitic knife tentacles in their flowing robes. They’re miserable.

Up until Chapter 12, deep into the game’s story, the player’s view of the cult is likely informed mostly by how often they’ve buried axes in Leon’s shoulder blades, tried to ram a chainsaw through his stomach, bitten him, kidnapped the president’s daughter, or shot him with a cannon. Evil jerks, basically. Video game enemies at their most platonically ideal.

Ramón Salazar, 8th castellan of the Salazar family, isn’t an exception to this—he uses a Gundam-scale statue of himself to set Leon on fire—but his boss fight holds some curiosities. When you finally catch up to Ramón properly, Leon shoots him mid-monologue, sending him tumbling into the abyss; he quickly transforms into a horrific mass of flesh and teeth with the remains of his human body at the throat. As you dodge gushing sprays of black vomit and wet bodyslams, Ramón hurls typically villainous insults at Leon Kennedy, accusing him of being a bad dancer and calling him ugly. Not uncommon behaviour for a Resident Evil boss.

Except these insults aren’t for you. As the fight goes on, Salazar’s barbs go from loosely classist jabs about Leon being a piece of worthless filth to decidedly inaccurate mentions of various physical traits. At first these are played off as Salazar being Definitely Not Mad, calling Leon “precious” and a “small, small man”; but as the battle’s bolero continues it’s apparent Ramón is speaking more about himself than his opponent.

“You tiny, ugly, sickly half-wit!”

Salazar’s backstory is a tragedy. Players can learn from elective materials and some inference that he suffered from a terrible illness when he was very young, and wasn’t expected to survive into adulthood. His mother secretly contacted the Los Illuminados cult for help, and they implanted a Las Plagas parasite in the child, presumably saving his life in addition to yoking him to the religion’s whims. Some combination of this event and the illness it cured leads to Salazar’s stunted and deformed appearance, and a note found in the game suggests the servants at the castle and the villagers would whisper horrid insults related to his appearance. He is also said to have developed abusive and violent behaviours as a boy, although the exact cause and effect of the sociopathic tendencies and the child bullying is unclear.

Dialogue spoken during his battle certainly makes it clear that Salazar possesses a tremendous amount of self-loathing. He says that Leon is a “demon child” who “should never have been born,” while clearly speaking about himself, perhaps echoing words spoken by people in his youth.

The battle with Salazar is framed very deliberately as theatre. He says as much when the fight begins, stating that Leon is “nothing but an extra in my script”. Salazar’s musical theme—which bears more than a passing resemblance to Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre—supports the idea of this conflict as a carefully-orchestrated play fight, as the piece structurally resembles a tone poem. It invites the listener to imagine the scenes and narrative that accompany the music, a story of dark triumph over impossible odds. Ramón Salazar’s story. Salazar wants to take control of his own existence, as he takes control of his performance, and write himself in as the hero. As he tries to tell this new story, he mutates further from it.

Inflicting more damage on Salazar—and failing to succumb to his perceived power—sees the fallen noble slip into desperate lamentations, stripped of all their confidence and pretence. He imagines the player looking upon him with the same disgust that his family and servants once did, and it stings just as much, despite all of them being long dead. “You too, is that it?!” he shouts, “How DARE you look at me like that?!” By this point in the battle the presence of Leon is all but forgotten by the castellan; only the horrid memories of his own persecution remain.

Superficially, Major Jack Krauser and the small, deformed Ramón have little in common. Krauser is a military man at his physical peak, practically overflowing with genuine confidence, where Salazar merely took part in a stage play of self-esteem. But the events leading up to Krauser’s final battle, and the battle itself, are tinged with sadness, regret and jealousy.

Players initially get clued in about the ultimate confrontation with Krauser when they find a picture of Leon bearing an ominous—and somewhat romantic—message.

“I’m waiting.”

The surface intent is to spook us, and the multi-part boss encounter that follows provides all the expected bombastic thrills and explosions. Once again, though, your enemy seems a little distracted by their own problems.

Krauser begins the battle by slinging insults at Leon, just like Salazar, claiming that Leon hasn’t changed since their last meeting, that he will once again fail to save anyone, that he’s slow and weak. It lines up with some of the insecurities Leon himself voices at the beginning of the game. He calls Leon “too soft to do what’s necessary,” a direct dig at their history as student and teacher. But the emphasis on a failure to be a saviour bring to mind Krauser’s own feelings about his lost unit, and constant mentions of Leon “living in the past” don’t seem directed at Leon at all.

Krauser is haunted by Operation Javier, an event that is a little canonically wobbly in the Remake universe, but certainly involved the US government’s deliberate or negligent actions leading to the deaths of Krauser’s whole unit. This is what he fails to let go of in the past, the moment he was pushed over the edge.

Most of what Krauser says about freedom, morality and power is a projection as much as an attack. He truly seems to hate himself for not having the force of will to do something about his unit being killed, either during the event or in the aftermath. Krauser talks emphatically of being a free man, someone able to make the sort of choices he wasn’t able to make while leading his soldiers into a massacre. He repeatedly mentions the injustice of Operation Javier, but centres his own action and reaction rather than meaningfully holding the government to account.

Despite Leon’s own fears, it’s his mentor who failed to change. Krauser is the one afraid of being soft.

As the battle continues, the antagonistic nature of Krauser’s dialogue falls away and is replaced with something more like mutual respect. “You and I have chosen different paths,” he says to Leon, suggesting the battered soldier understands that his views aren’t based on a rational, unassailable fact, but just a result of different opinions. He even continues to refer to the whole battle as training, as if to acknowledge his victory as unnecessary. One of Krauser’s final lines says more than the others.

“Come at me, rookie! Show me what it is you’ve got that I don’t!”

What is Krauser referring to here? Leon S. Kennedy isn’t any sort of special chosen one for Los Illuminados, he was never a better soldier than Krauser, and he only ended up in the military because the government wanted to cover up the Raccoon City incident.

Instead of seeking the solution to some mystical, plot-centric puzzle, Krauser wants to understand how Leon suffered so much and stayed standing. He looks at this weak, emotional pretty-boy who has been dragged through the worst kind of hell, and he feels jealousy. Krauser is jealous that Leon remains unbroken despite all his trauma; that Leon is able to move forward, better himself, and continue to fight for himself and others.

It’s this jealousy that ties Ramón Salazar and Jack Krauser together. Each of these men, despite their recent evil deeds, were initially dealt a very poor hand by the world, and it warped them into something hideous. It made them hate the world, and hate themselves But Leon arrives on stage, having been through an equal share of terrible times, and maintains his humanity. Each of the villains hate Leon not because he came to foil their evil schemes, but because he represents a strength of character they don’t possess. How dare he be fine while they suffer.

Saddler, as the main antagonist, feeds of this bitterness in his followers. He speaks of ending the concepts of suffering and inequality, of wiping the world clean of everything that plagued the Krausers and Salazars of the world.

His path idolises transformation and the giving up of the self for the good of the many, ideals which encourage both lesser villains to view the discarding of their previous selves as the solution to their problems. Both transform into horrible yet powerful beasts in order to shed their insecurities, Krauser to gain the power to avoid future loss, and Salazar to disconnect from a body that only ever caused him pain. They hate themselves.

Saddler views this unhappiness, these struggles, as a burden to be cast off. He halfheartedly tries to convince Leon that he’s building a better world. But even Saddler himself doesn’t believe this is a path to salvation, his lines quickly shifting from healing the pain of the world to talk of creating a kingdom which he could rule over as a god.

While Leon would never suggest that he has any type of ideal to preach, his existence is a counterpoint to Saddler’s bleak view of humanity. Where the Los Illuminados see trauma as something to be minimised, ignored or forcibly removed, Leon is a clear example of how one might face their traumatic history and, as a result, not let it become how they define themselves. Leon has been through horrible things, but he continually looks for ways to grow beyond those experiences and become a better person.

The arrested development of Krauser and Salazar is never clearer than in the items Resident Evil 4 Remake provides after their respective defeats. Salazar drops a small container of makeup, a stark reminder of his inability to move beyond his maligned appearance, even at the height of his power. Krauser leaves Leon his knife, as if to concede that he only ever saw himself as a tool for the violence of others.

Leon picks them all up along the way, learning and growing from each experience; a bit broken, but always moving forward.


The cult of Mother Base

Andy AstrucAndy AstrucAugust 19, 2023

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