Remembering… Darkstalkers 3
Darkstalkers has always felt like the odd man out in the pantheon of fighting games, and not just because its cast is made up of homages to classic Universal Studios monsters. No, it’s because while it’s a recognizable franchise with characters that make their way into other Capcom titles, it has never reached the level of widespread popularity as the likes of Tekken or Street Fighter. Despite this, the series has managed to spawn several sequels.
Released in Japanese arcades as Vampire Savior in 1997, I got my first taste of it when it came to the PlayStation in 1998. Over in the US it went by the moniker Darkstalkers 3 and ran on Capcom’s CP System II, the standard for excellent 2D graphics back in the mid and late ’90s. This edition was more of a collection than it was just one game as it contained all the arcade updates from the Japanese version.
This version has everything a fan of the series could ask for, starting with every Darkstalker (including alternate versions and the handful that were omitted from the previous version. Most notable is a mode to ‘create’ a character and level them up after a series of battles. In reality, all this mode allowed for was creating a new name and changing the color palette for existing characters, but it’s fun to play around with and see what sort of new color scheme can be thought up. Beyond that, there’s the standard cadre of modes—arcade, versus, time trial, etc.
Fighting aficionados may argue that the defining characteristic of any fighting game, what separates or makes it blend with the pack, is in the actual fighting mechanics themselves, but for my money that’s not why Darkstalkers 3 shines. Though there is a solid fighting engine at work in Darkstalkers 3, it truly sets itself apart with its aesthetics. Darkstalkers as a series has always drawn on the horror genre and various folklore legends for its design.
How many games can brag about having a rock ‘n’ roll zombie, succubus, Chinese ghost, and a sasquatch all on the same roster? The answer is not nearly enough. Add onto that a possessed suit of samurai armor, a psychic little girl protected by a vampire hunter, an alien made of fire, and clearly riffs on Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, and you have one of the most bizarre rosters of characters ever to grace a fighting game.
New fighters also join the fray with the psychotic bounty hunter Baby Bonnie Hood, vampire-priest Jedah, and the demonic lolita named Lilith. The new-comer Jedah plays the largest part in the confusing storyline of the game. For the uninitiated, there exists a world parallel to our own, populated by every type of creature of the night called Makai. In Darkstalkers 3, Jedah has a plan to save Makai—to capture the dark souls of as many Darkstalkers as he can summon. Somehow this will save the demon dimension, and in typical fighting game fashion the overall plot collapses under the weight of its sheer convolution.
Besides, gamers would much rather pick apart the graphics and gameplay of Darkstalkers 3. There are no rounds, and instead each fighter is given two life bars. Another feature is the ability to use up one of the power bars that allows each character to enter a slightly power ed up mode called Dark Force where they have additional abilites, though the option to pull out yet another another super is always on the table. Every attack is animated beautifully with nice touches that emphasize the over-the-top aspects of each fighter. From Victor’s overgrown body parts to Baby Bonnie Hood’s inexhaustible supply of weapons, every fighter’s animations are incredibly detailed and a touch of unpredictability to the proceedings. There’s nothing more fun than only have a vague idea of what’s going to happen once you press a button.
Darkstalkers 3 has plenty of replay value from learning the mechanics to unlocking all the alternate options and numerous artwork, it’s a game stuffed with things to appreciate beyond the uniqueness of its cast and setting. Unfortunately, Darkstalkers as a whole was overshadowed by other Capcom fighters like Street Fighter III, Street Fighter Alpha, and the various versus titles, but with the announcement of Darkstalkers Resurrection there’s hope that this overlooked series might finally get another chance.