Grave of the Darkstalkers

With it being Halloween season and all that, I’ve been on a small Darkstalkers bend. Going back to my source books, playing the games, remembering there was a terrible television animation and somewhat decent OVA that looked pretty damn nice with plot being somewhat nonsensical. Darkstalkers is a fighting game series I used to play more than any other, despite starting with Street Fighter II. With the third game being the last in the series, and Guilty Gear X hitting the scene, Darkstalkers went into a limbo only pop up whenever I wanted to something gofast from a fighting game, or roll out Q-bee once more.

Perhaps the most atmospheric intro a fighting game to date, outside the first game’s

It’s no secret that Darkstalkers as a fighting game franchise never really hit through the masses. Morrigan may have eclipsed the franchise as a whole in popularity, and nowadays the franchise itself is probably known for her rather than for any other reason. It’s rather funny, perhaps even rather pathetic, to consider how the series’ main character, Demitri, was dropped to a second place by the time Darkstalkers 3 rolled around and was seemingly killed off in an audio drama. I remember some fanfare for the games when fighting game’s golden age was still going, but after that the only people who kept the franchise alive to any extent were the fans. Despite it being recognised as a watershed moment for fighting games in terms of visual design, animation, speed and gameplay, all those reasons probably were also the reason why the series is now in the grave.

The above tournament video shows off Darkstalkers 3 at a decently high level of play. The series was never a Street Fighter clone in itself, unlike some SNK creations. No, Darkstalkers was as high production fighting game you could have at the time. While the first game was more experimental than the its successor, being slower in pace speed and trying out to find its footsteps, the second game, Vampire Hunter, brought in the blazing speed. Third game would take this and make a game that ultimately hard to get a proper controlling feeling of. It’s one of those games when you learn to play it even to a small extent feels like a massive reward, as it feels like you’re in control of something wild and dangerous, something that any moment now could go out of control. Out of all fighting games, Darkstalkers has tight timings, unconventional projectile mechanics (you don’t even use the fireballs the same way to control space as you would in almost any other fighting game) and attacks that simply defy normal comprehension. All this is of course by design, which makes the series something an anomaly, especially the third game; you’ll find a lot players with low-skill or high-skill. There really aren’t all that much people in the mid-skill tier, because you either know how to play the game or not. Part of this is that it takes dedication of get good at Darkstalkers, and the second part is that the core fans have been playing these games since the late 90’s and never really stopped.

Darkstalkers had some of the best promotional and production artwork made for a fighting game to date

Then you have that the fact that Darkstalkers suffers the same fate as Street Fighter III; Third Strike – Fight for the Future; only the third game seems to matter. This is apparent how most fans treat the series, and how Capcom themselves pretty much ignored all other titles in their latest attempt to resurrect interest in the series with Darkstalkers Resurrection. It didn’t go so well, with low sales ultimately being the deciding factor. When it was heard that a new Darkstalkers game would be in the hands of sales numbers, I didn’t even bother. Seeing how the franchise’s history was of neglect to that point, there was not reason it to sell or Capcom to put the effort in. Both were the case. Resurrection is effectively a port of the third game for the PS3, which also means some of the cast members are missing. Darkstalkers 3 is a rather peculiar case, where characters from previous games had to be cut out because of memory limitations in Capcom arcade system of the time, CPS-2, and thus Capcom opted to make two further versions, Vampire Saviour 2 (Vampire Saviour being the Japanese title for Darkstalkers 3) and Vampire Hunter 2, both of which were remixes of their numberless predecessors with characters and mechanics switched about. You wouldn’t even know these existed outside Japan, and the game’s name change, as well as some of the characters, ultimately confused some for a long time. Sometimes you can see articles and videos discussing Darkstalkers 2 when it should be Vampire Saviour 2. There is no Darkstalkers 2 per se, that’s Vampire Hunter. Nevertheless, despite Capcom releasing a versions for the PlayStation, Dreamcast and PSP where you could play all the characters, and even systems and movesets in later games, Resurrection was aimed at the tournament scene players only and lacked all the cut characters. This was Capcom’s best chance and spot to rebalance the game, include all the characters into the game and effectively rework the title with old assets without losing anything. Of course they didn’t, that’d take time and money, and it wouldn’t be ‘arcade perfect.’

Despite Darkstalkers being largely designed around Western character archetype and animation was based on old Warner-Brothers and other cartoons, it mostly found its place with the Japanese audience, who embraced it fully. It doesn’t help that the game’s humour and core is still very much Japanese, and very 1990’s in a good way. I keep misspelling good ans goof, but maybe that works when talking how humorous Darkstalkers really is at face value. The sheer visual prowess may fit the 1990’s Capcom, with all jokes hidden in there, but if they were to make a new entry nowadays, Capcom would be royally screwed. None of the 3D models of the characters in Marvel Vs Capcom or Tatsunoko Vs Capcom had the same charm, the same level of care and animation, as the 2D sprites. 3D models simply can’t represent the 2D in the same manner, and Capcom argued so during Street Fighter IV’s releases, that the technology to warp 3D models on the fly the way Darkstalkers requires didn’t exist or was far too taxing and hard to do. The sheer amount of unique sprites and animations in Darkstalkers is insane and is probably the reason why the third game hit memory limitations so damn hard. Just take a look at the EX Special Moves collection and consider how so many sprites are just thrown around that don’t get used anywhere else. Lilith’s standing sprite is also a sight to behold.

This might be cartoony violence, but it wasn’t exactly accepted back in the 1990’s either. The blood effects were changed to white, which made it kind of worse. Lord Raptor, the rock zombie that quotes Michael Jackson, has a throwing move where he jabs his spiky ribs into the opponent before tossing away. The blood’s colour was changed to white, and now it looked like he’s cumming buckets while penetrating the opponent. Not only the animation is cartoony, exaggerated and over the top to the point of being incomprehensible to some, but it is also gruesome and violent. If we’re completely honest, the visuals of Darkstalkers does not fit with current Capcom. Capcom used to be 2D sprite king back int he day, but nowadays they are all about pushing the limits of realistic 3D. Resident Evil 2 Remake, Devio May Cry 5 and Monster Hunter World are the trifecta of modern Capcom style, and Street Fighter V fits that look perfectly. The company culture of mid-90’s Capcom doesn’t exist, and Darkstalkers probably embodies that era of Capcom the best. We can entertain the idea that Capcom would put the money and effort into making a whole new 2D fighting game, seeing Skullgirls was heavily inspired by Darkstalkers in style; characters have unconventional ways of attacking, body morphing all around the place and excessive animation wherever wanted. Capcom could showcase that they could put the effort and money into making 2D game to beat all 2D games in terms of animation and visuals. They wouldn’t want to do that, mostly because it wouldn’t sell the amounts modern Capcom expects their highest-end titles to sell, and they wouldn’t want to dethrone Street Fighter III from the animation throne… despite Skullgirls already done did it. There are even Motion Collections on Youtube just to see what sort of bullshit is hidden in Skullgirls animations. The same can’t be said of most other fighting games.

Then you have the point of Darkstalkers isn’t really fit for what the eSports scene likes at the moment. Some character designs are intentionally risque and sexual undertones are as intended. Be it the flat-chested Lilith trying to be playful, Morrigan rather direct with her nightly pleasures of Felicia having her tits bounce, some of the characters probably would need to be redesigned in order to appease a minority. If Rainbow Mika’s standard costume is too sexy for ESPN, so would be Morrigan’s and Felicia’s. Not only that, but in terms how Darkstalkers is all about that uninterrupted play, it makes a poor spectator’s sport in the modern era. Most modern fighting games have that element of visual splash, the Cinematic Moment where audiences and players are intended to be hyped. When you pull off a super move in any of the current fighting games, the screen freezes, you get a huge ass close-up and camera going every which way. You get those slo-mo effects in Tekken and Soul Calibur too. Darkstalkers is very much the opposite, where the only times there is any pause is during throws is very rare special move, like with one of Jedah’s.

For an outsider there’s not much on the offer here. It’s extremely heart-pounding for the player, asks a lot of concentration, but the general audience who isn’t into this particular game, it doesn’t offer the same Cinematic hype Moments. The speed also probably also means people will miss numerous points of attacks and reversals, meaning some can’t keep up with what’s happening on the screen. At least on the surface and at face value. If we’d take the series and fit it to the current mould, it would need to be slowed down a bit with more planned Moments. Not to say Darkstalkers couldn’t be that, though that frantic pace has always been part of its soul. When you see a Darkstalkers represented in a VS game, it always plays a bit flaccid. There’s none of that heart in there, as the characters have fit some other, foreign mould. It’s like shaving a square peg down to fit a round hole. Sure it goes in there after that, but the nice parts are gone. A new Darkstalkers would be like modern F-1, where all the things that would make the cars go faster are banned. Capcom’s current concentration on eSports would make Darkstalkers dull and generic.

Perhaps it is Darkstalkers’ uniqueness that doomed in the first place. It’s not historically a lucrative IP, and despite Capcom saying they want to revive old IPs, they’re looking into something that doesn’t take whole sections of their budget, like Mega Man 11Capcom released their business-year end of reports, and I’m intending to cover this year’s Integrated Report like I did last year. Part of the report is about Capcom having a hold on eSports via Street Fighter V, and another title from them might sway that boat. Spectators are made a big point, and as we’ve discussed, Darkstalkers isn’t the best spectators’ game.

I would still recommend you to fire up a Darkstalkers game, be it via emulation or that Resurrection pack. It might feel weird at first, but after you’ve gotten used to the game system and get things roll, you’re ending up with an enjoyable game that won’t take too much of your time, but to which you want to return again and again from time to time.

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