Darkstalkers: The History of Capcom’s Monster Fighting Game
Capcom's monster-based fighting game franchise rose up in the 90s, but a lack of hustle forced Darkstalkers into obscurity.
It’s hard to be the less successful brother, and that’s pretty much what Capcom’s Darkstalkers series is. The series will always live in the shadow of the Street Fighter franchise…which is pretty appropriate because, you know, it’s all about darkness and shadows and stuff. Despite never getting a next-gen remake or real update, it’s still pretty impressive for completely overachieving more than any other video game that I can think of.
The series was created in the mid-90s as Capcom’s next step in fighting game domination. They had Street Fighter II making them all the money in the world, but they beat that horse to death. The constant and seemingly endless updates of the same game had become a tired running gag amongst the video game community and they certainly didn’t have any plans to make the sensible jump to Street Fighter III just yet. Meanwhile, rival company SNK had a handful of different fighting game properties and cast a wide net with the likes of Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, and King of Fighters.
You can still find Darkstalkers games to play!
At first, Capcom wanted to make a game based on the Universal Monsters, but the licensing fell through, so they just used more anime-style archetypes. Dracula became Demitri Maximoff, the Frankenstein Monster became Victor von Gerdenheim, the Creature from the Black Lagoon became Rikuo, and so on. Considering the play these characters would get as part of Capcom’s menagerie, it was definitely for the better.
Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors hit the arcades in 1994 and it kicked so much ass. On the surface, it was a Street Fighter clone, but it was different enough to stand on its own. It introduced air-blocking and EX attacks. The animation made Street Fighter II look stiff in comparison and everything was beaming with personality. Each character was distinct and popped with their mannerisms and unique animations.
Part of it came from the freakshow novelty of the early fighting games. Each game seemed to have a weirdo that stuck out and made you want to play them because of how different they appeared. Street Fighter had Blanka. Mortal Kombat had Baraka. Samurai Shodown had Gen-An. But Darkstalkers? Hell, almost the entire cast is made up of those kinds of characters. The most normal guys are a vampire and a succubus. And the succubus has literal batwings growing out of her back and head.
The game featured ten playable characters and two unplayable bosses. They included:
Demitri Maximoff: A vampire lord and outright villain who was banished to Earth. He’s mostly remembered for his super attack, the Midnight Bliss, where he bows before his enemy, transforms into his true, demonic form, and strangles them while sucking out their blood. For some reason, Demitri’s only into doing that to women so the move magically transforms his male opponents into female versions of themselves. Female opponents simply change outfits.
The fanart community loves this guy.
Morrigan Aensland: A succubus and daughter of Belial, ruler of the Demon World. The anti-hero of the series, she’s constantly sneaking out of her castle home to spend time in Earth for the sake of adventure…and also stealing souls through sex. She is a monster, after all.
Felicia: A catwoman raised in a nunnery, Felicia desires to become world famous and star in musicals. Due to being half-woman/half-cat, she suffers from prejudice, but is still overwhelmingly optimistic.
Jon Talbain: A werewolf who’s trained in the martial arts, meaning we get to see a wolfman wielding goddamn nunchucks. He fights to remove the curse and knows that if he were to exert himself to his limits, he’ll succeed. Hence, he looks to take out the other Darkstalkers.
Anakaris: A resurrected pharaoh from 5,000 years ago. This bulky mummy wants to bring his people back to prosperity, as it’s been foretold.
Bishamon: A good man possessed by a cursed body of samurai armor, which causes him to slaughter anyone in his way.
Rikuo: A merman whose entire race was wiped out due to the coming of Pyron. He hopes to find some sign of survivors and rebuild his people. Is curiously attractive for a fish-man.
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Sasquatch: Part of a race of yetis that live in the Canadian wilderness, he goes off to investigate the coming of Pyron. Dude loves himself some bananas.
Victor von Gerdenheim: A patchwork creation of a mad scientist who died of a heart attack immediately after his creation came to life. Victor doesn’t truly understand that the doctor is dead and is basically a big dummy.
Lord Raptor: A speed metal guitarist from Australia resurrected as a zombie. Can turn his limbs into chainsaws and transform his enemies into basketballs. Somehow didn’t become Capcom’s most popular character. Seriously, he’s a rock ‘n’ roll zombie. And he’s named after a dinosaur! Come on!
Huitzil: The penultimate boss. One of a series of ancient robots that protected the Mayans many years ago and have been reactivated with the coming of Pyron.
Pyron: A Galactus-like being, Pyron is an alien made of cosmic energy who comes to Earth to conquer/destroy/devour/whatever it.
Despite the awesome cast of characters, the story is incredibly lacking. Basically, it’s about all the Darkstalkers fighting each other for dominance while Pyron shows up and now they have to deal with him. It’s about as shallow as Street Fighter’s “there’s a big tournament held by a terrorist,” but at least that one felt better knit together. There were relationships in there. With Darkstalkers, you have Demitri and Morrigan with something resembling a rivalry and Rikuo being the only guy with an actual axe to grind with the main villain. It’s nothing you can hang a coat on.
That may seem like a dumb thing to criticize, but when your fighting game is made up of colorful character designs and has such a great atmosphere, you kind of need a good storyline to give it all context and hold it in place. Darkstalkers never really had that and it’ll suffer for it down the line.
Less than a year later, Capcom came out with Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge. Oddly enough, they treated the release like it was a sequel when really it was an upgrade. It was no different than Street Fighter II: Championship Edition or Super Street Fighter II. While they fiddled with the way the supers worked, all they did was make Huitzil and Pyron playable while adding two more new characters. Hell, even the endings are all the same.
The new characters include Hsien-Ko and Donovan Baine. Hsien-Ko is a Chinese ghost accompanied by her sister while Donovan is a half-man/half-vampire with a bigass-floating sword. Donovan is accompanied by Anita, a young girl with zero emotion and dark powers within. As a vampire hunter (coincidentally, the Japanese title for the game is “Vampire Hunter,” making him the title character), Donovan appears to be an attempt to introduce a hero character into the franchise, although it doesn’t really take.
But hey, it’s still an awesome game, so the series has a perfect batting average. While Japan has been able to release various manga stories on their side of the world, the US gave Darkstalkers their own animated series.
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Produced by Graz Entertainment, Darkstalkers debuted in September of 1995, just months before the Street Fighter cartoon started. To add to that, Darkstalkers was still an arcade-only series and was just 15-months-old. It wouldn’t hit PlayStation until months later. That’s insane.
The show was…er…hoo boy. You know what? I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen a lot worse. On the surface, it wasn’t that bad in terms of giving an existing property the same treatment we got for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It felt very Ninja Turtles in ways. It was just incredibly half-baked and the bad outweighed the good.
Plus it featured way too many tractor beams for my liking. So many, man. So many tractor beams.
The story is that Pyron – who has an English accent and a sassy computer sidekick – returns to Earth after many years to discover that it’s overwhelmed with humans. In a plot that’s never well-explained, he recruits Darkstalkers onto his side so he can conquer the planet (while being very specific about not causing genocide for some reason). Demitri and Morrigan are his top officers and spend the series bickering and fighting each other. Bishamon is brought in, but eventually turns against them. Anakaris is resurrected to join his cause, but he’s been locked in his sarcophagus for so long that he’s become completely insane and rambles about random shit.
“All hail the imperial pudding! There are lizards in my pants!”
Then there’s Lord Raptor, who is either the worst thing or best thing on the show depending on your mood. He’s introduced by being resurrected from his crashed tour plane’s wreckage (which is kind of grim for a children’s cartoon) in the middle of nowhere and responds to his zombie form by checking the back of his wrist as if he had a watch and remarking that he’s decades late from playing Woodstock.
Various Darkstalkers refuse the call to help Pyron, such as Victor, Rikuo, Bigfoot (Sasquatch renamed), Talbain, and Felicia. The good monsters vs. bad monsters plot is actually a decent enough way to translate the game’s plot into a full-on series, but unfortunately, in the minds of the people behind it, there was one thing missing.
We need the annoying kid.
Felicia ends up accompanying Harry Grimoire, a Mighty Max knockoff character who turns out to be a descendant of Merlin. He weighs the series down because we’d rather follow literally anyone else, but it is kind of a neat coincidence that we end up with a glasses-wearing kid named Harry who finds out that he’s a wizard.
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Rather than a hero team, the good Darkstalkers do their own thing. Felicia and Harry just bump into them randomly over the course of the 13 episodes, causing some to get far less time than others.
Outside of Pyron having a neat visual effect on his skin, the series has some really iffy animation. Like many series at the time, there were weird errors here and there, such as this miscoloring of Felicia’s fur and the bizarre placement of her tail.
Yikes. Am…I even allowed to show this?
Anyway, the show wasn’t good and it only lasted a single 13-episode season. But hey, it wasn’t all bad. It did give us this completely badass end credits theme.
“Trouble Man” would be the ending theme used for the 1997 anime, titled Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge. Running for four episodes, the OVA scratched the itch of those mortified by the American cartoon. It mainly follows around the likes of Donovan, Anita, Hsien-Ko, Demitri, and Morrigan as they go around doing Darkstalker things while fighting Huitzils and awaiting Pyron’s invasion.
It’s fitting that Capcom had been doing X-Men games because in this anime, Darkstalkers are basically treated the same as mutants. The whole social discrimination thing doesn’t work that well for anyone outside of Felicia and Hsien-Ko because, you know, they are literally monsters who feast upon humans in various ways.
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Cool little fact about the miniseries: Scott McNeil voices Lord Raptor in the English version. He also plays Raptor in the US cartoon series. It’s pretty great to see him go from one to the other. You can watch Raptor dance with a shark and bikini girls or you can watch him play anti-hero by rescuing Felicia and viciously slaughtering a couple dozen religious monster hunters.
Definitely a good watch with excellent animation, even if it means having to put up with way too much Donovan sulking in the latter half. He does surf through space on his giant sword, so there’s that.
In 1996, one of the real secrets to the series’ fandom longevity came to play when Capcom released the competitive puzzle game Super Puzzle Fighter II: Turbo. Featuring super-deformed versions of various Capcom characters, the series brought together the cast of Street Fighter and Darkstalkers. Characters like Felicia, Morrigan, Donovan, Hsien-Ko, and later Anita were playable.
Speaking of Anita, the Japanese port of Capcom’s fighter Marvel Super Heroes included her as a hidden character. Yes, her one and only appearance as an actual fighting game character is in a comic book adaptation that she has nothing to do with. She psychically carried Donovan’s sword and had the ability to summon Akuma from Street Fighter for an attack. Weird.
1997 brought the release of Vampire Savior, otherwise known as Darkstalkers 3. It was fresh enough to qualify as a sequel, but not completely. They added some differences in the gameplay, such as changing the best-2-out-of-3 rounds structure with a setup where each character has two life bars. In other words, if you win the first round and have half of your health left, you’ll remain that way for round two. Characters got special Dark Force abilities, where their attacks would be enhanced in some unique way for a very limited time. The gameplay was faster overall. And yes, this time they actually changed up the story, unlike Night Warriors.
It’s just that they were still using the same sprites and resources from the first game. It still felt more like another upgrade than a real sequel. Even while the second game added characters, this one adds four and then removes three (Pyron, Huitzil, and Donovan were later re-added to the console version). It’s JUST different enough to be considered a real sequel, but retrospect hurts its reputation a bit.
The game is based around the resurrection of Jedah the Vampire Savior, who is this Grim Reaper/Satan hybrid figure. He plots to destroy the universe and start over by awakening a rather horrific, gigantic demon fetus thing. He has two main henchmen with him. One is Q-Bee, a half-woman/half-bee creature, and the other is Lilith. Lilith is a piece of Morrigan’s soul and power that had been removed when she was a child and kept away so that when the time was right, Morrigan could merge with it and take her rightful place as ruler of the Demon World.
Rather than be a simple palette/head swap of Morrigan, they actually went and gave Lilith a different and far-less-voluptuous body (though just as sexualized). Despite being tricked into going after her “sister,” Lilith would merge with Morrigan by the end of the story, as shown in various crossover games made after Vampire Savior.
But really, the true star of the game is Baby Bonnie Hood, otherwise known as BB Hood. Looking like Little Red Riding Hood, the young woman is really a sadistic and psychotic bounty hunter with a hate-on for all monsters. Not only is she an amazing design who is fun as hell to play as, but she exists as the best punchline for Darkstalkers. With all the different monsters involved in the games, BB Hood represents the monster that is man. She’s the only full human in the series and she’s depicted as having some of man’s worst qualities.
Right around the time of Vampire Savior’s release, Capcom started a practice of, well, being up their own ass a little too much. It started innocently enough. Super Puzzle Fighter II: Turbo spun off into Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix (also known as Pocket Fighter), where they took the puzzle game’s graphical style and made it into a fighting game that included super-deformed characters from Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, and an appearance by Tessa from the obscure Red Earth.
Instead of building on their franchises, Capcom started throwing them together in fighting game form. It certainly worked and even graphically, there weren’t any problems. The sprites from Street Fighter Alpha, Marvel Super Heroes, and Darkstalkers were similar enough that they meshed well when matched together. X-Men vs. Street Fighter beget Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, which beget Marvel vs. Capcom.
Marvel vs. Capcom threw in Capcom characters from all over, which included Morrigan. Lilith was playable as well…sort of. Rather than just use the sprites from Vampire Savior, they just changed Morrigan’s color scheme and altered some of her moves while coming up with a story explanation. It was weird. Then again, there was a lot of weirdness with the secret character designs in this game.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 featured a massive cast and with it came more Darkstalkers. Morrigan was joined by Felicia, Anakaris, and BB Hood. Still no love for Lord Raptor. The jerks.
Keeping the crossover thing going, Capcom started doing games with SNK. This included Capcom releasing Capcom vs. SNK and its sequel. Capcom created some wonderful sprites for the SNK side of the roster, but they were a little too good. To catch up, guys like Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, M. Bison, Akuma, and Dan were all rebuilt from the ground up with more detailed appearances. Great for them. But for Morrigan? They were still using her sprites from the first Darkstalkers game, all the way from 1994. It didn’t look good.
On the other hand, SNK got to make SNK vs. Capcom and included Demitri as the Darkstalkers representative. Not only did he have a nice, new look that fit in with SNK’s style, but he also brought in his Midnight Bliss attack, giving us creative female transformations for fighters from both companies.
The moment Capcom’s laziness hit critical was 2004’s Capcom Fighting Evolution. It featured fighters who mainly came from Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, and Red Earth and rather than stick them all into the same engine and give them a streamlined set of mechanics, they instead decided that everyone was stuck playing the way they did in their original games. Darkstalkers was represented with Demitri, Anakaris, Felicia, Jedah, and Pyron. Shockingly, no Morrigan this time around.
Probably for the better, considering how lame she would look next to anyone from Street Fighter III.
The game was a broken mess that had a single new character made for it named Ingrid. And Ingrid is just terrible.
On the upside, Capcom released an obscure gun-shooting game for Dreamcast called Cannon Spike, which featured a random assortment of Capcom heroes and villains as playable characters. This included BB Hood, who proved that she’s not exactly a team player.
Also in 2004, Udon started a Darkstalkers comic in America to go with their relatively successful Street Fighter series. Ken Siu-Chong wrote the series with art by Alvin Lee, Kevin Lau, and Joe Vriens. The first volume lasted six issues and didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Despite some wonderful art and style, there was nothing to hook you in other than the reminder that this is based on a really fun game from ten years earlier. The first six issues acted as an exercise of world-building for a world that wasn’t exactly all that exciting. Pyron’s coming to Earth and monsters are doing stuff. How engaging!
It didn’t help that the first issue is mostly about Morrigan – who is basically our protagonist – raping and murdering an innocent man. Like, that’s who we’re supposed to be rooting for. The lady who forces herself on a good man and eats his soul because she’s bored.
By the sixth issue, there was no real closure to anything and nothing of note has really happened. It just built up Morrigan, Demitri, Donovan, Anita, Bishamon, Felicia, Talbain, and Victor in different ways.
Still barely anything with Lord Raptor. It’s bullshit!
Darkstalkers #6 came out in 2005 and the comic appeared to be dead in the water after that. Finally, Ken Siu-Chong got to wrap things up to an extent in 2010 with a three-issue miniseries Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors. While it introduced Huitzil and Anakaris, while giving us a rather pointless scene with Sasquatch, it was mainly about getting the whole Pyron plot over with.
By that I mean Pyron shows up in the final issue and fights Morrigan, Demitri, Donovan, and Anita. Demitiri drains Pyron of his energies, gets defeated himself, and the “good” guys win. Only the last page is a cliffhanger to build towards a Vampire Savior-based sequel that we’d seemingly never see. Not for another seven years.
Coincidentally, despite Lilith only appearing on the final page, she still ends up on about half of the series’ covers.
Capcom would go back to making crossover fighting games, but with 2D sprites being a thing of the past, that meant getting to see a more modern, 3D look at Morrigan and friends. Morrigan showed up in 2008’s Tatsunoko vs. Capcom as the only Darkstalkers representative yet again.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 featured Morrigan, Felicia, and Hsien-Ko. In the promotional trailers and prologue comic, Morrigan was shown to be rivals with Iron Man, which made all the sense in the world. Not just for the amorality factor or the whole science vs. magic thing, but Tony Stark is the only one with a libido on Morrigan’s level.
Hell, the trailer still holds up as badass. Check it out and watch Morrigan feel really bad about accidentally sodomizing Deadpool.
And now Deadpool is married to a Morrigan stand-in in the comics. Funny how that works.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and its upgrade Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 gave the mainstream a rare reminder that Darkstalkers is a franchise that exists. Fighting games had been making a comeback with even the likes of Killer Instinct and Guilty Gear making returns from obscurity.
At the 2012 New York Comic Con panel for Street Fighter, Capcom executive producer Yoshinori Ono appeared and let loose with a new trailer. A very promising trailer. The CGI animated video showed Lord Raptor rise from his grave and rock out on his guitar while Demitri looked on from the skies. The ending of the teaser claimed, “DARKSTALKERS ARE NOT DEAD!”
Much like the Ermahgerd girl, I had goosebumps.
But it was just a trailer for Darkstalkers Resurrection, an HD release of Night Warriors and Vampire Savior for modern consoles. The idea was that if they sold well enough, they would make a new Darkstalkers game.
Few people bought it. You know why? Because they’ve been reselling the same games to us for two decades! Damn it, this was the third time they’ve released a compilation set and they acted surprised that it underperformed. Darkstalkers is good, but it’s not the freaking White Album, you know?
It’s such a fitting fate that Capcom’s forced upon themselves. They played with the copy and paste functions so many times that they shot themselves in the foot. They took a dynamic game that had enough spunk to get cartoons and a pretty big fan following and merely added new coats of paint instead of doing something new with it. Then after all the diminishing returns, they asked us to pony up more cash for the tired product to prove our loyalty and maybe get a new installment.
Now a once-thriving video game franchise is buried away in the graveyard and it may never rise. The horror… The horror…
But not all is lost! Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite brought back Morrigan (given some sexual tension with Ghost Rider) and Jedah (given some sexual tension with Marvel’s Death). I will say that Jedah’s inclusion does lead to one of the most ridiculous moments in the game.
Then there’s the more recent comic. Despite coming out at a glacier’s pace, UDON ended up running out of Street Fighter stories to adapt. They did everything from Ryu scarring Sagat to Gill’s tournament and hit the end of the line. Rather than simply call it a day, they’ve decided to continue the path by doing Street Fighter vs. Darkstalkers. As a follow-up to both comics, it finally tackles Jedah’s plot from the forgotten cliffhanger by teaming him up with the soul of Gill. We get such matchups as Rashid vs. Anakaris, Necalli vs. Morrigan, Akuma vs. Donovan, Blanka vs. BB Hood, Oro vs. Lilith, and so on.
Huh. Usually when Akuma’s “unleashing his Raging Demon” it means something completely different.
While not the most memorable comic, it does feature the ghost of Gen making an appearance to mentor Chun-Li against the undead, Akuma wielding Donovan’s gigantic, holy blade, and Laura Matsuda remarking how handsome Rikuo is for a fish-man. This miniseries is currently being followed up with a Street Fighter comic called Akuma vs. Hell.
Gavin Jasper writes for Den of Geek and would like to remind you that he had to sit through the Darkstalkers cartoon for this article. So if you have something negative and mean to say about him in the comments, he’s already suffered enough, thank you. Read more of his articles here and follow him on Twitter @Gavin4L