I can still remember walking into my usual haunt, the Pocket Change arcade in the Fox River Mall in Appleton, Wisconsin, expecting my usual rounds of Street Fighter II, when I saw a new fighting game from Capcom. It was like SF2, but faster, funnier, and…it was full of monsters. Darkstalkers had arrived, and unbeknownst to me, it was about to rocket up my personal favorite game chart with a silver bullet, and stay there to this day.
I like fighting games — as I mentioned, I was a Street Fighter II player, and I also liked Virtua Fighter and dabbled in Mortal Kombat a bit. But I also happen to LOVE monsters — especially the classic monster movie archetypes of the vampires, mummies, reanimated corpses, fish-men, werewolves, zombies, and ghosts. Add in the over-the-top cartoon graphics and wacky humor, laid over the solid groundwork of Capcom’s continually-refined 2D fighting game style, and Darkstalkers was an easy sell to me in 1994.
At some point, I suddenly recalled that my buddy Howie had gone to Japan as a foreign exchange student, and he had told me about this monster fighting game he got hooked on over there called Vampire. It dawned on me that this was the same game, and I was crazy about it too.
There didn’t seem to be a lot of other Darkstalkers players at the arcade, though — everybody continued to gravitate toward the other, more popular fighting games, even though, in my mind, Darkstalkers was far and away the best of them. But that was fine with me, because I got the game to myself quite often. Probably because of that, the arcade never did get Night Warriors (Vampire Hunter in Japan), the follow-up to Darkstalkers, so I didn’t get to play it right away — but that would soon change.
A bit of panic set in when it was announced that Darkstalkers was coming home on the PlayStation, because I didn’t have one yet — however, I did own the Sega Saturn, and quickly found out that Night Warriors was heading to that console. As it turned out, the PS version of Darkstalkers was a bit sub-par, but Night Warriors on the Saturn was nearly arcade-perfect, so the Saturn ended up being the winning bet in the Darkstalkers race. And man, did I play that into the ground when that came out! My friend Dave and I used to fire it up and play for hours, and our sessions always started off with the same two matches: First was my Rikuo vs his Talbain, and second was my Felicia vs his Lord Raptor. After that, it was anything goes, as we switched up characters constantly until we had each played every character several times, and we were actually fairly good with most of them. We were very evenly matched, but it really didn’t matter who won. To outside watchers, our matches were lightning-fast blurs of incomprehensible chaos, and we laughed hysterically the whole time.
Then, Vampire Savior (aka Darkstalkers: Jedah’s Damnation, aka Darkstalkers 3) came to my attention via a copy of Gamest magazine I picked up from the bookstore at Yaohan (now Mitsuwa) in the Chicago area. Not only that, I also learned about Vampire Hunter 2 and Vampire Savior 2 — and it took me a little while to learn exactly what that was all about. So naturally, when I found out that Vampire Savior was coming to the Saturn in Japan, I practically threw my money at NCS (where I got all my imports).
When Vampire Savior finally arrived, it really took the series to the next level. I loved everything about it — the new characters of Q.Bee, B.B.Hood, Lilith, and Jedah, and most of all, the “Down” system, where instead of resetting both characters’ health meters at the end of each match, the next round just starts instantly with the loser’s health regenerated and the winners’ health remaining where it is. This made for faster matches, and more bragging rights if you can defeat your opponent without a loss.
One of the things I love about Darkstalkers is the fact that it seems so much faster than any other fighting game. In other fighting games, if I whiff a move or my opponent blocks and retaliates, I don’t have a lot of patience for the time it takes for my character to recover. With Darkstalkers, it’s almost an instantaneous stream of consciousness: if you get hit or comboed on, yeah, you take the damage and hit the ground, but you’re right back up with a fighting chance in an instant. No time to reflect on your mistake or even get mad about it, just keep fighting.
And speaking of combos, I’ve personally always found it much easier and more satisfying to string together multi-hit combos in Darkstalkers than any other Capcom fighting game. For a genre that eventually became all about combos, Darkstalkers made me feel like I finally “got it.” Of course, I’ve also studied Darkstalkers strategy more than any other fighting game.
After Vampire Savior, unfortunately, the Darkstalkers game series went nowhere. Although there have been a few re-releases and compilations, such as Vampire Collection on PS2 (JP only), Vampire Chronicle on Dreamcast and PSP, and Darkstalkers Resurrection on PS3 and X360, the last new game in the series was technically Vampire Savior in 1997.
I and the rest of the Darkstalkers cult obviously feel that this is a travesty. Capcom has released other 2D fighters that never became franchises, such as Cyberbots and Red Earth, but Darkstalkers is still very popular among fans. Its characters appeared in all of the Marvel vs Capcom and Capcom vs SNK games, as well as Puzzle Fighter and Tatsunoko vs Capcom, and Street Fighter V features some alternate Darkstalkers costumes as DLC. There were comic books, art books, a terrible American animated cartoon, and a great 4-part anime OAV.
Morrigan, in particular, contintues to be an extremely popular character when it comes to fan art, collectible figures, and cosplay.
So why not a new game, Capcom? Rumors of a Darkstalkers 4 come and go over the years, so who knows if they’ll ever amount to anything. (Don’t be fooled by the many fan-fictional descriptions of a D4 that can be found online.) I’m not sure that the current 2.5D style of Street Fighter IV and V would work for the frenetic pace of Darkstalkers, though — it might, but I would actually love to see it in a high-resolution 2D anime style, similar to Guilty Gear or BlazBlue, with gorgeously illustrated backgrounds. But honestly, at this point, I would take just about anything Capcom wanted to give us.
While that’s my basic history with Darkstalkers, it’s almost impossible to talk about the series without delving a little bit into its famous cast of characters. So out of them all, who’s my favorite? While Morrigan is the most well-known of the Darkstalkers and the waifu of many a ronery gamer nerd, the considerably less popular Rikuo/Aulbath is my main when it comes to actually playing the game.
I feel like I’ve mastered him quite well, while Felicia and Lord Raptor are probably tied for the characters I’m second-best with.
But when I decided to add a Darkstalkers tattoo to my videogame-themed right leg, I ultimately went with Morrigan, as she is unquestionably the most iconic representative of the Darkstalkers franchise — plus, she just makes a super cool tattoo. (Besides, I already had plans for a Creature from the Black Lagoon tattoo — which I eventually got — and I didn’t want Rikuo confused for the original Gillman.)
While I am a decent Morrigan player, I feel like I never fully got a good handle on her more complex maneuvers. But overall, Darkstalkers is the one fighting game where I actually feel fairly competent with most of the characters, and maybe that’s another reason why it’s my favorite.
For some crazy high-level play, here’s the Vampire Savior Top 4 from EVO 2019:
That’s it for this year’s October 31st post — hope you have a happy and safe Halloween, and may Capcom drop Darkstalkers 4 in our trick-or-treat bag one of these days!