Monday, October 5, 2015

Forgotten Gems: Darkstalkers

The Halloween season is in full effect, and what better time for an injection of monsters....

Last year, I talked about the Ghosts n Goblins video game spin-off series, Gargoyle's Quest, and more specifically, the third game in that series, Demon's Crest. Well, talking about a game series full of ghouls and ghosts and demons is certainly fitting of the Halloween theme. But what could be even more fitting, would be a game that actually featured incarnations of the classic monster archetypes. And that game series, also made by Capcom, was called Darkstalkers. Capcom as a company became well known in the 90s for fighting games, most especially the one that is still to this day their most famous, Street Fighter II. Now Street Fighter was and is probably my favorite fighting game of all time, but when I first saw Darkstalkers in the arcade, it was amazing to me, because it was the same basic brand of awesome gameplay, but with MONSTERS in it! That meant, of course, that it instantly won me over.

Colorful cast of monster characters? Check.

So about the monsters, the cast of characters in the game is truly unique, at least among fighting games, and it happens to cover a lot of those monster archetypes I mentioned as well. You have parallels to the four major classic Universal Studios monsters, in the form of Dimitri Maximoff the vampire, Victor von Gerdenheim the Frankenstein's monster type creation, Anakaris the undead mummy, and Jon Talbain the werewolf. Hell, the name Jon Talbain is even a direct homage to the original 1940s classic The Wolf Man, whose main character (played by Lon Chaney Jr.) was Larry Talbot, son of Sir John Talbot. Other characters include the zombie punk rocker Lord Raptor, the gillman Rikuo, the ghost samurai Bishimon, the succubus Morrigan Aensland, a magical cat who can turn into a human-ish woman Felicia, and a sasquatch appropriately named....Sasquatch.

Tell me that doesn't look bad ass.

While I like most of the original cast of the first game, my favorite character by far, is the "wolf man", British werewolf character Jon Talbain. Not only do I like the concept of werewolves in general, but as you can see above, I've always personally really liked his specific werewolf design. I think it's arguably the best and coolest looking that I've ever seen. But the thing is, Talbain isn't JUST a werewolf, even though that would be enough. No, he's a werewolf, who also happens to be a good guy, and a bad ass martial artist who uses nunchaku, or "nunchucks" as a weapon.  Oh, and he also happens to have one of the coolest moves in fighting game history, on TOP of the nunchaku flurry attack he uses, appropriately called the "Beast Cannon", wherein he hurls himself like a flaming comet at his opponent, and this can be done both horizontally, as well as diagonally, even crashing down from above.

"Beast Cannon" in action.

I also happened to really like Rikuo the merman, and Felicia the cat-woman, early on as a young teen. AS a young teen boy, I suppose part of Felicia's appeal would be obvious: that being the fact that she pretty much goes down in history as THE single most "scantily clad" female character in gaming history (just about anyway). In all fairness, while she IS very scantily clad, she's also a cat....who has no use for clothes, who can turn into a girl.....and has strips of fur that conveniently cover up all of her "sensitive spots". Ok so I thought she was hot...who can blame me? But she also happens to be an awesome character just the same, and in a game full of several aggressive or even outright evil monsters, she happens to be the genuinely nicest of the bunch. Plus one of her moves is literally kicking up dirt/kitty litter at people, and she chases balls of yarn. I mean c'mon. Her character is cool as a hot chick, granted, but in all honesty she would have been even more awesome/hilarious if they had just left her as a cat. A playable cat in a fighting game, would have been classic. But I digress.

Pretty much my two fav. characters in the series.

The two "main characters" of the game are actually, more or less, supposed to be Demitri and Morrigan, as they are the two leading members of noble families of an alternate monster realm, who are basically in it fighting for control of said realm. The basic plot of the series in general, deals with that realm, called "Makai", which basically just means "Demon World". Though (presumably) unrelated, this also carries over to the original Japanese name for Capcom's own Ghosts n Goblins series, which is "Makaimaru", which apparently roughly means "Demon World Village". Yeah....Ghosts n Goblins does have a nicer ring to it. But regardless, this demon world exists parallel to our own, and certain characters, such as Demitri for example, live instead in our world, Earth. Though in Demitri's case, he was apparently banished, and so instead lives as basically a Count Dracula type of figure on Earth. In the events of Darkstalkers, he has his chance to not only return to his homeworld, but to rule it if he wins the tournament. Meanwhile Morrigan, as the adopted daughter of the deceased demon lord Belial, is fighting to retain her father's former throne.

The main boss of the first two games, is a giant fire demon named Pyron, who just so happens to return to earth after eons of absence right at the time of the tournament, and himself wishes to control the Darkstalkers as well as finish what he apparently started thousands of years ago, which was to destroy the human world. In general, the plot isn't super great, certainly not as interesting (at least in my opinion), as the original Mortal Kombat games. But it still suffices, and is certainly more creative than the generic "lets fight to see who's the best" fighting game plot-line (even though, admittedly, that's kind of still what they're doing).

Sasquatch is also a pretty cool character..... Get it?

So the original game, Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors, released in 1994. It would go on to have two sequels, completing a kind of "trilogy" I suppose, in 1995's Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge (known in Japan as Vampire Hunter) and 1997's Darkstalkers 3 (known in Japan as Vampire Savior). The sequels are good games, and add little wrinkles to the gameplay itself, though much like Street Fighter II, the additions to the roster never quite match up to the original game's cast. In Night Warriors, pretty much the entire cast from the first game returns, along with two newcomers: a Chinese undead demon hunter named Hsien-Ko, who hops around like old-school Asian style vampires/zombies, and Donovan Baine, a long-haired fighting Buddhist monk, who also happens to be a "dhampir" (a half-vampire). He also happens to wield a giant possessed blade that he uses to destroy monsters, and he is the guardian of a young psychic girl named Anita, who assists him in his quest. The third game also introduced four more new characters, while omitting poor Donovan: a weird hybrid bee-woman named Q-Bee, the clone/twin/whatever of Morrigan named Lilith, a little girl who fights monsters and sports an machine gun named B. B. Hood, and a resurrected evil demon/vampire lord named Jedah. In all honesty, Donovan is the best and only truly interesting character, at least in my opinion, out of all those new additions.

From a gameplay standpoint, Darkstalkers is nothing truly unique or special, though it does provide a step in the evolution of old school Capcom fighting games. It was preceded by 1993's Super Street Fighter II, and in early 1994 the "Turbo" edition of that game also came before it. Where those games introduced nuances like the existence of "super moves", moves that you can only perform once a special bar is full, Darkstalkers certainly refined that, and also added a somewhat more intricate combo move system and more sophisticated graphics, elements which in turn were carried on into other 1994/1995 Capcom games such as Street Fighter Alpha and X-Men: Children of the Atom. While a minor quibble, I would have to say that I think Capcom really missed out on an opportunity with the series, however. That being the aforementioned very loose connection to their Ghosts n Goblins series of games. Both games share the "Makai" Demon World, and it would have been great for them to just go ahead and make the connection explicit, and even including the characters of the knight Arthur and the demon Firebrand (or if you prefer, "Red Arrimer") in the games as playable characters. Not only would that have been a perfect fit, but it also would have been an awesome thing for the fans. But, even though that is an opportunity I really feel Capcom should have thought of, the series still stands on it's own, especially the original game.

Donovan seriously deserves his own action game. Then does Jon Talbain.

I clearly remember walking into what I'm pretty sure was a Roundtable Pizza when I was about 12 or 13 years old, and first seeing the original game, thinking to myself "holy shit, this actually exists!" Already being a fighting game nut (even though I rarely got to play them at that know...quarters), I was instantly smitten. I couldn't believe a game looked that good, or could have such an awesome cast of monsters. They are interesting and unique, and I feel like they've kind of fallen by the wayside, while other creations Capcom has made get overexposed. Along with the awesome GnG crossover idea, I also think that Capcom really should have made a 2D beat 'em up starring some of the characters and set in that world, in the style of older games like Final Fight or Knights of the Round. It also wouldn't kill them, even though Capcom really kind of sucks nowadays, to make some sort of 3D action game starring a few of the characters. It would be cool anyway, that is so long as they didn't find a way to mess it up.

 If you've never played these games, you can probably find the first and third entries on Playstation 1 for cheap (and can download Darkstalkers 3 on PSN). For some reason the second game was only ever ported to the Sega Saturn. However, you can also download Darkstalkers Resurrection on both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, which is a compilation that includes the original arcade editions of both the second and third games (though oddly not the original, which would have made the package complete). Either way, it's the perfect type of game to play during this time of year. 

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