Ashley Makes Resident Evil 4's Remake Even Better

Ashley Makes Resident Evil 4's Remake Even Better

From damsel in distress to heroine, Ashley Graham is Resident Evil 4 remake's standout character, and the one most in need of a makeover from the original.

David Craddock

As the dust settles on 2023’s cornucopia of instant classics, players, journalists, and developers are breaking down what they loved about this year’s video games and why they worked so well. Resident Evil 4 remake (RE4R) is Capcom’s fourth reimagined RE title. None have missed the mark (although there’s some debate about Resident Evil 3's remake, which I loved), but RE4R is arguably the best of the bunch.

The original RE4 was more than a fantastic game. It was one of the most important games ever made, setting a template for third-person followed by countless games. RE4R improved on the original in virtually every way by tapping into the spirit of original while allowing Capcom to take creative license with its own beloved classic, reimagining and reconfiguring environments, enemies, and more. Perhaps the most surprising overhaul was the story, both in terms of plot execution and, most vitally, character development.

RE4’s characters were personifications of game systems that dropped some of the best one-liners in gaming history, but they weren’t really characters. They didn’t grow. Luis was a scientist, apparently, and a lothario fond of misogynistic quips. Salazar was short and lived in a castle. Leon was baked in the action hero mold: He’s handsome, athletic in ways that defy the laws of physics, and unflappable in even the tensest situations.

Of all RE4 characters, Ashley was the most in need of rehabilitation. It was easy to add dimension to his character because there were little to no expectations for him. He’s a three-dimensional character in the remake who’s much more endearing, but the point remains that rethinking Luis was less important than rethinking Ashley. In the original, she was a chess piece that was whiny and frustrating to move. Hearing her call for help was almost as grating as baby Mario’s grating wails in Super Mario World 2. You saved him so he’d shut up, not because you cared about him as a character. Your motivation for saving Ashley was much the same in RE4. Many times, you could leave her in a room by herself (or tell her to hide in a dumpster). That was good for gameplay, but not so good for developing a character you’re supposed to care about.

Ashley and Leon admit their shared fear during one of RE4's quiet moments.

Ashely’s characterization as a whiny, terrified teen was fair in some ways. Ashley was a 20-year-old kid who was abducted, flown across an ocean, and dropped  into a village where everyone is dead and many of those waking corpses sprout giant tentacles from their necks. Being frightened is understandable, but she never developed beyond that. From the time you met her until the end, her personality was fixed, and her character development was nonexistent.

The remake’s version of Ashley is nothing short of transcendent. She’s in her early 20s and looks like it without being hypersexualized. Unlike her counterpart, she’s not crushing on Leon the whole time. She makes a move at the end of the game by telling him she’d like to see more of him under the guise of installing him as one of her personal guards, but 1) her flirtation never goes beyond that; 2) it’s understandable that she’d fall for him because of the psychology of their shared situation (there are countless real-world stories of people falling in love in life-or-death scenarios, such as war, because emotions are so heightened and life is so precarious); and 3) Leon is a stud with moves straight out of an action movie who swooped in to rescue her. What’s not to like?!

And that’s the key to Ashley’s growth. She starts off as a damsel in distress quietly whispering “I just want to go home” as they race through a village of the dead while a thunderstorm rages around them—a totally understandable sentiment given their circumstances—to a heroine who turns the tables by saving Leon not once, but on multiple occasions. Near the end of the game, she tells Leon she wants to help people the way he has helped her.

Character progression means more than moving at an upward trajectory. There’s a point in the story where the Las Plagas infecting Ashley compels her to attempt to kill Leon. When she breaks out of it, she runs off blindly. This, too, makes sense. The realization that the creature inside of her can hijack her mind and body rockets her fear to new heights. When Leon catches up with her, they share a quiet moment where Leon admits that he’s afraid, too, and they have two choices. They can give up, or they can keep moving. Movement plays into the story. You can no longer clear a room of enemies and stick Ashley there until you’re ready to move on. Instead, she can trail further or closer behind you. That constant proximity is a reminder that Leon and Ashley are in this together.

Resident Evil 4 Remake: Leon and Ashley work together to open doors and cross chasms.

There’s a point where you can command Ashley to hide in a locker or dumpster, prompting her to look at you skeptically and say, “Seriously?” It’s a nice nod to Capcom’s hide-her-and-forget-her gameplay system from the original that only shows up once or twice in the remake. Leon and Ashley can’t leave everything up to each other; they must work together to survive.

Over time, Ashely takes pride in doing her part. She pulls levers, has Leon boost her over a door so she can unlock it from the other side, and finds her way out of a labyrinth crawling with possessed suits of armor. On the surface, these actions might seem trivial. Wow, Ashley, thanks so much for turning a wheel to raise that bridge! Couldn’t have done it without ya!

The thing is, that’s true. There are points in the story where Leon cannot move forward and without someone to raise a bridge or unlock a door. Those parts evolve Ashley, progressing her from damsel to a heroine who finds the courage to stop cowering and help Leon, the man who’s supposed to be rescuing her, in any way she can. She’s not an action hero. That’s Leon’s thing. Someone’s gotta unlock those doors, and she’s happy (and needed) to help.

Leon Kennedy is who we all want to be. Ashley Graham is who we are. She’s inspired by Leon to help people in some way. Maybe she’ll never flip through windows and stand toe to toe with giants, but she’ll do her part to make the world better.

Resident Evil 4 Remake: Leon and Ashley ride a lift to the next area of the game.

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