Development of Resident Evil 2 began one month after the completion of its predecessor in early 1996, and the first footage of the game was shown at the V Jump Festival '96 in July. This early build, later dubbed Resident Evil 1.5 by producer Shinji Mikami, differed drastically from the released version in its scenario, presentation and gameplay mechanics. Its plot followed the same basic outline as that of Resident Evil 2, and featured a zombie outbreak in Raccoon City two months after the events of the first game. In this version of the story, however, Umbrella had already been closed down as a consequence of their illegal experiments. The development team sought to retain the level of fear from the original game, and thus introduced to the narrative two new characters who lacked experience with terrifying situations: Leon S. Kennedy, largely identical to his persona in the final build, and Elza Walker, a college student and motorcycle racer vacationing in Raccoon City, her hometown. Unlike the final version, the story paths of Leon and Elza did not cross, and each playable character had two support partners instead of just one. Leon received help from fellow police officer Marvin Branagh and a researcher named Linda – an early version of Ada – while Elza was aided by Sherry Birkin and a man named John, who appeared in Resident Evil 2 as gun shop owner Robert Kendo.
Real-world influences had an impact on several character designs by artists Isao Ohishi and Ryoji Shimogama. For example, Ohishi based Leon on his bloodhound, and Annette Birkin was modeled after actress Jodie Foster. The police department in which Resident Evil 1.5 began had a more modern and realistic design, and was smaller than the final building seen in Resident Evil 2. There were more encounters with surviving policemen, such as a superior officer of Leon called Roy. The number of polygons used for enemy models was far lower than in the released version. This allowed many zombies to appear on the screen, a method of invoking fear in the player that recurred throughout Resident Evil 1.5. Furthermore, the game employed dynamic music, and frequently applied alterations to the pre-rendered backgrounds in response to events during the gameplay. The playable characters could be equipped with gear, such as protective clothes that enhanced their defense and enabled them to carry more items. The characters' polygonal models were altered by costume changes and by damage received from enemies.
The development was carried out by a 40- to 50-person group that would later be part of Capcom Production Studio 4. Director Hideki Kamiya led the team, which was composed of newer Capcom employees and over half of the staff from the original Resident Evil. In the initial stages of development, producer Mikami often had creative disagreements with Kamiya, and tried to influence the team with his own direction. He eventually stepped back to an overseeing role as producer, and only demanded to be shown the current build once a month. Believing the game's assets to be good individually, but not yet satisfactory as a whole, Mikami expected that everything would coalesce in the three months leading up to the projected May 1997 release date. Shortly thereafter, however, Resident Evil 1.5 was scrapped at a development stage of 60–80 percent. Mikami later explained that the game would not have reached the desired quality in the aforementioned period, and especially frowned upon the gameplay and locations for being "dull and boring".
The story of Resident Evil 1.5, with which Mikami planned to end the series, was criticized by supervisor Yoshiki Okamoto, who found it to be too conclusive to allow for future installments. Instead, Okamoto proposed the creation of a fictional universe that would turn Resident Evil into a metaseries – similar to the Gundam and James Bond franchises – in which self-contained stories with common elements could be told. During a period in which the team made no progress rewriting the scenario, Okamoto was introduced to professional screenwriter Noboru Sugimura, who was enthusiastic about the first game's story. Sugimura was initially consulted on a trial basis, but Okamoto was impressed by the ease with which the writer came up with solutions to the problems that plagued the script, and soon asked him to compose the entire scenario for Resident Evil 2. One fundamental modification to the story was the reworking of Elza Walker into Claire Redfield, in order to introduce a connection to the plot of the first game. To fulfill Capcom's sales plan of two million copies, director Kamiya tried to attract new customers with a more ostentatious and Hollywood-like story presentation. As Okamoto did not want to simply enforce the new direction, he had Sugimura discuss the plot revisions with Mikami and the development staff. The planners redesigned the game from the ground up to fit the changes, and the programmers and other remaining members of the team were sent to work on Resident Evil: Director's Cut, which was shipped with a playable preview disc of the new Resident Evil 2 version in order to promote the sequel and to apologize to the players for its belated release.
Only a few assets from Resident Evil 1.5 could be recycled, as the principal locations in the final build were made to look more extravagant and artistic, based on photographs taken of the interiors of Western-style buildings in Japanese cities. These environments were created with a software program called O2, and each background took two to three weeks to render. The maximum number of zombies displayed on the screen at one time was limited to seven, making it possible to use 450 polygons for the comparatively detailed models of Leon and Claire. The protagonists, instead of being given visible wounds, were made to limp slowly upon receiving heavy damage. Apart from the graphics, one of the most important new features was the "Zapping System", which was partly inspired by Back to the Future Part II, a time travel-themed film sequel that offers a different perspective on the story of the original film. The voice-overs by the all-Canadian cast of Resident Evil 2 were recorded before the actual cutscenes were completed, with each of the actors selected from a roster of ten people per role. Thereafter, the full-motion videos (FMVs) were created by filming stop motion animations of action figures, which were then rendered to completed pictures with computer graphics (CG) tools. Ada's movie model could not be finished in time. Thus, she is the only main character not to appear in a pre-rendered cutscene.
Several changes had to be made between the regional releases of Resident Evil 2. The North American version contains more violent "game over" screens, which were removed from the Japanese Biohazard 2. Resident Evil 2 was also made more difficult than its Japanese equivalent to prevent rentals from affecting U.S. sales.
After its initial release for the PlayStation in January 1998, Resident Evil 2 was reissued and ported to other systems, often gaining new features in the process. The first re-release was the Dual Shock Ver., which incorporated support for the vibration and analog control functions of the PlayStation's DualShock controller. Other additions include a new unlockable minigame called "Extreme Battle", and a "Rookie" mode that enables the player to start the main story with a powerful weapon that features infinite ammunition. The Japanese release of the Dual Shock Ver. contained a "U.S.A. Version" mode based on the difficulty level of Resident Evil 2's Western versions.
The Dual Shock Ver. served as the basis for the majority of ports, such as the Windows 9x-based PC-CD release, which was titled Resident Evil 2 Platinum in North America. Aside from retaining all previously added features, the PC version can be run in higher resolutions. A "Data Gallery" was added to the main menu, allowing the player to view movies, rough sketches, illustrations and 3D models. In February 2006, a Japan-exclusive, Windows XP-compatible PC-DVD re-release was published. Developed by Sourcenext, it included high-quality FMVs encoded at a resolution of 640×480 pixels. The Dreamcast version keeps the additions from the original PC release, runs at 60 frames per second during gameplay, and incorporates real-time display of the character's condition on the Visual Memory Unit peripheral. The Japanese edition of the Dreamcast port was given the subtitle Value Plus and came with a playable demo of Resident Evil Code: Veronica. An unmodified port of the Dual Shock Ver. was released for the Nintendo GameCube. The initial PlayStation version was re-released on the Japanese PlayStation Network in 2007, while the service's North American counterpart received the Dual Shock Ver. two years later.
The Nintendo 64 version of Resident Evil 2 differs most from the other releases. Over the course of twelve months and with a budget of $1 million, Resident Evil 2 was ported to the console by a staff of about 20 employees from Capcom Production Studio 3, Angel Studios and Factor 5. This version offers features that were not included on any other system, such as alternate costumes, the ability to adjust the degree of violence and to change the blood color, a randomizer to place items differently during each playthrough, and a more responsive first-person control scheme. Additionally, the port features 16 new in-game documents known as the "Ex Files", written by Tetsuro Oyama. Hidden throughout the four scenarios, they reveal new information about the series' lore and connect the story of Resident Evil 2 to those of the other installments. The Nintendo 64 version adjusts its display resolution depending on the number of polygonal models currently on screen, and supports the console's Expansion Pak accessory for a maximum resolution of 640×480 during gameplay. Other visual enhancements include smoother character animations and sharper, perspective-corrected textures for the 3D models. The music of the Nintendo 64 version utilizes Dolby Surround, and was converted by Chris Hülsbeck, Rudolf Stember and Thomas Engel. The team reworked the sound set from the ground up to provide each instrument with a higher sample rate than on the PlayStation, thus resulting in higher-quality music. Some features from the other enhanced ports based on the Dual Shock Ver. do not appear in the Nintendo 64 version, such as the "Extreme Battle" minigame.
A port of Resident Evil 2 for the Sega Saturn was developed internally at Capcom for a time, but technical difficulties led to its cancellation in October 1998. Tiger Electronics released a sprite-based 2.5D version for their Game.com handheld in late 1998. It included only Leon's story path, and removed several of the original game's core features.
Many fans of the Resident Evil series have asked Capcom to create a remake of Resident Evil 2 similar to the one they had done with the original Resident Evil. Capcom producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi told Gamestop that the studio is not working on a Resident Evil 2 Remake but are open to creating it if there is enough interest from the fans. This resulted in many petitions being created by the fans of the series who are collecting signatures hoping to show Capcom that the fans of the series are open to the Remake.
The music for Resident Evil 2 was composed by Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama and Shun Nishigaki. The compositions were meant to convey "desperation" as their underlying theme. In his role as lead composer, Ueda provided the motifs, while Uchiyama was responsible for the horror-themed music used for the investigation and movie scenes. The main theme of the score, a versatile three-note motif, is utilized several times throughout the course of the story, being included in compositions such as "Prologue", "Raccoon City" and "The Third Malformation Of G". Various musical styles, ranging from ambient horror music to industrial pieces, are used to represent the different environments of the game. For example, the streets of Raccoon City are emphasized with militaristic percussion-based music, while the police department features ominous piano underscores. Key events of the story are supported with orchestral and cinematic compositions – a move that was inspired by blockbuster films.
Two albums containing music from the game were released in January and August 1998, respectively. The first, Biohazard 2 Original Soundtrack, is the main release and includes most of the significant compositions. The second, Biohazard 2 Complete Track, largely encompasses less prevalent themes, but offers an orchestral medley and a second CD with sound effects and voice collections, as well as an interview with the sound staff. Biohazard 2 Original Soundtrack received an identical European CD titled Resident Evil 2 Original Soundtrack. In the North American album of the same name, the opening theme "The Beginning Of Story" is split up into four individual tracks. Five orchestral arrangements of the game's music were included on the Bio Hazard Orchestra Album, a recording of a live concert performed by the New Japan Philharmonic. Disc jockey Piston Nishizawa created electronic remixes for several of the compositions, which were later released as the album Biohazard 2 Remix: Metamorphoses.
The story of Resident Evil 2 was the basis for several licensed works and later games. Ted Adams and Kris Oprisko loosely adapted it into the comics "Raccoon City – R.I.P." and "A New Chapter of Evil", which were released in the first and second issues of Resident Evil: The Official Comic Magazine in March and June 1998. The 60-issue Cantonese manhua Shēnghuà Wēijī 2 (lit. "Biological Crisis 2") was published weekly from February 1998 to April 1999. A romantic comedy retelling of the game's story, centered on Leon, Claire and Ada, was released as the Taiwanese two-issue comic Èlíng Gǔbǎo II (lit. "Demon Castle II"). Resident Evil: City of the Dead, a 1999 book written by author S. D. Perry, is a more direct adaptation of the narrative, and was the third release in her series of Resident Evil novelizations.
The mobile game Resident Evil: Uprising contains a condensed version of the Resident Evil 2 story, adapted by Megan Swaine. Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, an on-rails shooter released for the Wii in 2009, includes a scenario named "Memories of a Lost City", which reimagines the original Resident Evil 2 plot while retaining key scenes from the game's four scenarios. Resident Evil 5 producer Jun Takeuchi, who had previously worked on the series as weapons designer and graphics animator, alluded to the possibility of a full-fledged remake of Resident Evil 2.
The story arcs introduced in Resident Evil 2 were continued in drama albums and later game releases. Kyoko Sagiyama, Junichi Miyashita, Yasuyuki Suzuki, Noboru Sugimura, Hirohisa Soda and Kishiko Miyagi – screenwriters employed by Capcom's former scenario subsidiary Flagship – created two radio dramas called Chiisana Tōbōsha Sherry (lit. "Sherry, the Little Runaway") and Ikiteita Onna Spy Ada (lit. "Ada, the Female Spy, is Alive"). The dramas were broadcast on Radio Osaka in early 1999, and later released by publisher Suleputer as two separate CDs with the common title Biohazard 2 Drama Album. Chiisana Tōbōsha Sherry begins shortly after the events of the game. Sherry is separated from Claire while fleeing from Umbrella soldiers sent to kill all witnesses of the viral outbreak. Raccoon City is burned down by the U.S. Government and Umbrella in an attempt to cover up the disaster. Sherry seeks refuge in the neighboring town of Stone Ville, and later escapes to Canada with the help of a girl named Meg, who vows to help her reunite with Claire.
Ikiteita Onna Spy Ada is set a few days after Resident Evil 2, and deals with Ada's mission to retrieve Sherry's pendant with the G-virus sample, which is said to be in the possession of HUNK in the backstory of the drama album. Ada intercepts the delivery of the locket in France, and kills HUNK and his men. As a consequence of an accidental t-Virus leak in Loire Village, the destination of the delivery, Ada is forced to retreat to an old castle. Along with a unit of the French Air Force sent to burn down the village, she encounters Christine Henry, the Umbrella facility director who gave HUNK the order to deliver the G-virus to France. Jacob, the leader of the airborne unit, is revealed to be Christine's co-conspirator. However, he plans to keep the G-virus sample for himself, and shoots her. Philippe, another member of the unit, convinces Ada to give him the pendant, after which he injects himself with the G-virus to give himself the power to stop Jacob. Ada escapes and realizes her feelings for Leon, deciding to quit the spy business and return to him. The two drama albums are not acknowledged in later series releases. The characters' story arcs are continued differently: Sherry is taken into custody by the U.S. Government immediately after the events of Resident Evil 2, and Ada keeps the pendant with the G-virus and resumes her activities as a spy. HUNK successfully delivers a separate G-virus sample to Umbrella.