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.

A year in development? Really?

So, Sven shared with us that the Darkstalkers Resurrection has been in development for a year. What have they done during that time? What we know of CAPCOM’s policy in game development, it’s most likely that the “planning cycles” Sven mentioned are nothing less than pitches to the company execs since Street Fighter IV.

We know that once CAPCOM deems a series dead (ie. unprofitable)making a comeback with the said series is a more than a bit difficult. We all remember how hard Ono had to fight to get Street Fighter IV to get through, and what a fiasco Mega Man Legends 3 was. Ono himself admitted that the DARKSTALKERS ARE NOT DEAD was a pitch to the execs to get a new game to the series. We safely assume that the “planning cycles” Sven mentioned are nothing more than numerous pitches that the developers made. In the end, the execs went with the cheapest option in comparison to the expenses.

We know that CAPCOM hated Street Fighter IV, and that it became a success. Ono can be credited for this. If we had someone with the same level of love and care during the pitches, I’m sure we would’ve actually had a new and proper Darkstalkers game.

From Legends 3 fiasco we know that CAPCOM doesn’t greenlight games directly. They’ve gone through many steps and they’ve been presented to the execs, who then decide whether or not a game should be allowed to continue to be in development or not. I’m sure cheap and fast as well as cheap were the words that the execs liked a lot when Resurrection went up to them. Did I mentioned that CAPCOM execs like to produce games the cheapest way possible? This is unless they’re greenlighting a game they want to promote.

So, what have they done within this year? Most likely the devs have worked in porting the game code to the HD Twins (which should be easy as PS3 is nothing more than loads of PSP tech on top of each other) and adding tutorial modes and all that kind of stuff.

In all seriousness, what we’ve seen tells a lot. DS Resurrection is most likely very, very similar to all other HD releases. As such, there’s very little value in Resurrection to the customer. CAPCOM recycled Morrigan’s sprite until they had to give her a 3D model. Now it seems they managed to weasel out on of making any new content once more with Resurrection.

Is CAPCOM’s new plan to make ports of their old games to new systems and let the industry dry?

Resurrecting Vampire is a tricky business (that CAPCOM can’t do right)

 

Make me a favor. No, make yourself a favor as well as to the franchise and do not purchase this product.

This is not a new game. This is just another repacked Darkstalkers compilation similar to the one we had on PSP, which was basically just a port of the Dreamcast compilation with added stuff. This is the problem; we’re getting exactly the same  games over and over again with new modes. But Aalt, Guilty Gear XX got shitloads of rereleases and they added nothing new. No. Guilty Gear XX series saw tweaks, updates, fixes and characteradditions with every new game. These Darkstalkers compilations do not rebalance anything, they add no characters, they do no changes tothe games we got in the 90’s. They’re just repacking them into new wraps and adding shiny bling to attract few new flies to this dung pile they’ve made. I’m more than 100% sure that they won’t even fix the damn YouTube: pushback bug.

Darkstalkers is a difficult series to get into, especially Vampire Saviour. The reason for thisthat the game speed is faster than what people are used to, but for different reasons. The recovery time in VS is very short, and it’s not uncommon to get milled through series of well placed hits and ES moves if you’re not familiar with the system. VS works with very quick and short rounds, rushed based mix-ups that rely on momentum and with unorthodox round system. Even fireballs and dragon punches work differently here; they’re not tools to put pressure on your opponent, but defensive maneuvers that can change the situation for your favor, but only if you manage to time them right and anticipate your opponent’s intents. They also either throw your opponent to the ground, or cause an elongated stun that you may need to continue on.

As such, Darkstalkers is pretty hard to get into if you’ve well into Street Fighter, King of Fighters or the like. May God help you if you come from Tekken or any other 3D fighting game, as you’ll be massacred faster than you can plea for help. Because of this there really isn’t mid-level players in VS. Personally I do regard myself as a rare case of mid-level player, and I’ve only played against people who know nothing about the series and people who handed my ass down faster than a falling meteor. For me it’s a very rare situation to meet a person with the same level of skill. This most likely doesn’t apply for me anymore thou, as it’s been some time since I played VS with my Saturn.

If modern CAPCOM was to make Darkstalkers 4, it would most likely either be complete and utter garbage, or if they manage to get someone like Ono working on it, it just might be pretty damn good. However, the time of fast and complex fighters is over. The special attention Darkstalkers requires is rather large for its weird and complex mechanics. Making a Street Fighter game is relatively easy due to the fundamentally easy core of the series. The same can be said about the King of Fighters and all the derivatives they’ve had. Darkstalkers at its core, especially Vampire Saviour, is not simple at its core, and modern CAPCOM doesn’t have any clue what to do with games that require some actual effort from the game design department outside killing your workers’ health and life. Such a simple thing as inputs need special attention. Darkstalkers have always had rather peculiar inputs that were adopted into other games and have becomemore famous in those circles, like LP-LP-F-LK-HP, which most of you will recognize as Gouki’s/Akuma’s Shun Goku Satsu, but for me it will always be Morrigan’s own EX move.

Guilty Gear is the closest relative to Darkstalkers we have now, and ArcSys has basically abandoned the series. I don’t see anything for GG beyond GGAC+R unless they actually decide to make a completely new installation to of the series.

If you’re adamant on purchasing Darkstalkers Resurrection, I wish that you get the best product possible. Personally I won’t purchase this simply because this offers nothing new. Now if they had made a complete HD remaster as they did with Street Fighter II, I’d be there in a heartbeat. The Darkstalkers series (I really would love to call it the Vampire series) is very pretty series with colourful graphics, great character designs and fluid animation that really deserves to see proper sprite based update, like most CAPCOM fighters. Yet, we all know that if we are to get a new Darkstalkers game, it’ll be either by reusing the existing sprites (AGAIN) or in 3D with very few characters. CAPCOM has stated that because of the nature of the characters, or rather the very weird way they move, attack and overall difficulty in the animations, creating these characters in 3D format is very hard. It’s the transforming parts and all that. Then make it a sprite based game. I’m sure that there would be companies that would be willing to create new sprite sets for the characters loosely based on the VS sprites and you’d be all set.

This rehash won’t uplift Darkstalkers’ status in the eyes of modern gamers. It will stay as that weird fighting game with that one hot vampire chick. Seeing the footage from that one trailer already tells more than enough; they’re just ports. They won’tadd any new content, they won’t add any new characters (actually, most likely they will remove the SoulCopy characters, which would be stupid) and they most certainly won’t fix the broken parts. It’s a sad thing to see series that was once very high profile franchise go down the toilet like this.

I’ve said thisonce before and I’m going to say it again; the Darkstalkers series has gallons of untapped potential. CAPCOM just needs to stop being a stingy bitch about it and let some blood be drawn out, so that this series could reach new heights with a purified soul. Now it’sis not the time to play with cats and dolls, now would be the time search for the saviour that would return all to what once was.

Christ that was bunch of bad jokes. Now excuse me, I need to get the Vampire Hunter LDs.

I never mentioned that the Darkstalkers series also has one of the best ambient soundtracks out there. Tower of Arrogance pops into my head from the bunch. Damn, you really don’t hear this kind of sounds anymore anywhere.