Sum of Its Parts: Shantae 5

Last year, I made a big point to revive older series when writing new articles for Retronaissance and I’d like to think that, for the most part, I was pretty successful. Yet there was always one that eluded me. What better way to renew my vow to revitalize old ideas than to finally bring back one of my oldest concepts?  If the title hasn’t already given it away, after a three-and-a-half-year hiatus, Sum of Its Parts lives once more. I’ll be honest, I wish I could’ve thought up a new topic in this series much sooner than I had, but I’m proud that I’m finally revisiting the concept: if you couldn’t tell, it’s always been one of my favorite concepts.

Since it’s been so long since I’ve written one of these, explaining the concept behind it feels necessary. There’s one word that I would often use to describe just what Sum of Its Parts is all about: “Frankensequel”. Existence of the word in question notwithstanding, I reminisce on a series that has more than a few titles under its belt – especially ones where gameplay tends to evolve or vary between games – and try to hack off the best parts of many (if not all) those previous games and cobble them together into what I’d consider the ideal sequel. Hopefully, this will end up with something that serves to develop a game that exceeds the series’ reputation while feeling like a legitimate successor.

With almost all its post-launch content released – we’re still waiting on the Costume Packs as I’m writing this – Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is pretty much complete at this point. While the game was a bit on the short side (though the bonus modes helped to offset that) I still enjoyed it, despite making various departures from the series’ tried-and-true formula. As such, I’ve seen many reactions online compare it unfavorably to its predecessor, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. Pirate’s Curse seemed to deliver on the previous games’ potential, perhaps delivering what WayForward had envisioned since the first game was released on the Game Boy Color back in 2002.


Shouldn’t be too much longer.

So why have I decided to take the Sum of Its Parts approach with a potential Shantae 5? While I did enjoy Half-Genie Hero, the game itself seemed to be an attempt at a soft reboot: early impressions of the Kickstarter seemed to imply that it was going to be a remake of the first game. HGH was clearly intended to introduce Shantae to a much wider audience compared to previous games. After all, the game launched on almost every platform available at the time (and was recently ported to the Nintendo Switch), while the first three games in the series made their debuts on whatever Nintendo handheld was out at the time – the second and third games would eventually get ported to other platforms as well. Shantae still seems to be popular, but to please fans both new and old, the next game in the series should definitely reintroduce elements from previous titles, while maintaining HGH’s modern sensibilities.

Of course, the logical first step when designing a new video game would be to determine the base engine. I think Half-Genie Hero’s engine worked out well, as most of the complaints about the game stemmed from design issues rather than the game’s mechanics. Shantae is at least as responsive in HGH as she was in Pirate’s Curse, and both of those games far exceed their predecessors on the Game Boy Color and DSi. It seems like when they were creating the fourth Shantae game, WayForward put most of their resources into building a quality engine – likely using the one from the similarly 2.5D Ducktales Remastered as a base – which would hopefully be used in future games in the series. They did a good job with that, so they’re no reason to drop it in the next game.

Level design, on the other hand, was a major point of contention. It seems like most fans of Shantae want a return to Pirate’s Curse’s Metroidvania stage layouts. It makes sense, considering that the fourth game in the series is the only one that goes for more linear stage designs. Personally, I say why not do both? While HGH’s stages deviated from what the Shantae series is known for, they weren’t bad. I’m sure that if they were offset with more traditional non-linear “dungeon” areas, they wouldn’t have been nearly as controversial. Originally, I considered having one of each in each “chapter” of Shantae 5, but frankly, I think it would be cooler if they just alternated between the two between chapters – it would break up the monotony of exclusively using either one, which is a plus in my book.


Even the map looks like it came out of Symphony of the Night.

The overworld, on the other hand, is an element of the game that I felt both Half-Genie Hero and Pirate’s Curse failed to deliver on. For the most part, both games relied on a singular hub area for the trappings commonly associated with Shantae – the shop, the bath house and various NPCs – but honestly, both games relied on a menu-based approach when it came to choosing stages. Quite the departure from the first two games which both utilized an overworld between areas, like Simon’s Quest, Faxanadu and The Battle of Olympus. I’m not quite sure why, but I think I preferred the older method overall: it wasn’t perfect by any means, but it made the world feel interconnected and served to accentuate the exploration themes present in the dungeons themselves.

The only problem with it is that neither the original Shantae nor Risky’s Revenge quite perfected the concept. Both games had a lot of brilliant ideas behind them, but neither game really explored some of their more intriguing gimmicks. For example, the original Shantae took Simon’s Quest’s day/night cycle mechanic and essentially perfected it, replacing the stilted text-based transitions with a silky-smooth palette swap. Shantae 1 also had a much less linear overworld, with branching paths that would lead to completely different areas and even a few dead ends to keep players on their toes.


Seriously, this was gorgeous back in 2002.

The second game eschewed these features but brought in some interesting concepts of its own. The original Shantae’s Warp Dances were replaced with various warp statues strewn throughout the overworld, rewarding exploration without focusing on unnecessary collectables. The game also included a map, which made navigation easier in the long run: one of the major issues with the first game’s overworld design was just how similar many of the screens in each area looked, making it difficult to navigate the various paths to specific areas. My favorite feature from Risky’s Revenge was Shantae’s ability to jump into the foreground and background. This was only used in the first two areas in the game – Scuttle Town and Tangle Forest – but I think the mechanic had a lot of potential. Honestly, I think it would even be an interesting gimmick for a level, whether it’s linear or a Metroidvania-style dungeon.


Kind of difficult to get a still shot showcasing the plane jumping.

There’s also the question of Shantae’s abilities. Obviously, she should retain her trademark hair whip and crawl. There’s also no question that her transformation dances should return, but which input method should they use? The first game’s button and direction combinations were impractical and cycling through every dance one-by-one like in Risky’s Revenge just doesn’t seem viable anymore. HGH’s method of cycling through four directional seems like the best existing method, but I’d also consider taking inspiration from the MegaMan series. I liked how MegaMan ZX Advent allowed players to sift through its transformations in a menu brought up in-game, but honestly, the upcoming MegaMan 11 seems to have an even better concept: switching between weapons on the fly using all 8 directions on the right analog stick. Obviously, keeping Shantae’s dancing animation is crucial, but the ability to choose between eight dances at once is tempting. As for the transformations themselves, Half-Genie Hero already contained all the dances from the first two games – Monkey, Elephant, Spider, Harpy and Mermaid – and Pirate’s Curse didn’t use that mechanic at all, so the onus should be on coming up with entirely new transformations in a fifth Shantae game.


Slightly off-topic: I love how they turned the spider into a drider for this game.

Ever since Risky’s Revenge, the Shantae games have included some form of post-game content, usually in the form of a “new game+” that either modifies Shantae’s stats to change up the game itself or a mode specifically built for speedrunning that give Shantae all of her abilities from the beginning of the game. Half-Genie Hero managed to go above and beyond with this, ushering in new modes on top of existing content. “Hero Mode” gives Shantae access to every mandatory transformation (specifically the ones received after clearing a chapter) from the beginning of the game. The game also includes a second difficulty setting, “Hard Core Mode”, a first for the series.

Then there’s the DLC – free to backers and people who decided to buy one of the later physical versions of the game – which offers three new scenarios. “Pirate Queen’s Quest” puts players in the role of antagonist Risky Boots, who informs us of what really happened while Shantae was under the spell of dark magic. Risky plays similarly to how Shantae did in Pirate’s Curse (which makes sense, because Shantae relied on Risky’s gear after losing her magic in that game) but adds in unique abilities of her own. There’s also “Friends to the End”, a Trine-like puzzle platformer with Bolo, Sky and Rottytops working together to navigate Shantae’s memories and save their friend from her dark side. Finally, the “Costume Pack” DLC is set to include 3 separate “arcade-style” adventures with Shantae donning one of three costumes: a stealthy ninja outfit, a summery beach bikini and even a reference to Patricia Wagon from Mighty Switch Force. That last one isn’t out as I’m writing this, but it sounds like a vast improvement over the original concept – allowing for replaying the main campaign with different stat boosts, much like the “Magic Mode” in Risky’s Revenge.


No seriously: I love Pirate Queen’s Quest more than you can possibly understand.

In Shantae 5, WayForward should recycle at least the PQQ and FttE concepts at bare minimum. While both modes recycled a lot of the main story’s art assets, they created entirely original stage layouts which felt like brand-new adventures. Pirate Queen’s Quest even managed to add new enemies – mostly from previous games, but there were also a few entirely original ones – to the game. Friends to the End, on the other hand, used all of the existing assets to create something that felt entirely different, despite reusing a lot of the design elements from the other two campaigns. While Costume Mode still hasn’t been released, it does seem like an interesting choice for inclusion in future titles as well, though WayForward would probably have to draw up some new costumes just to keep things interesting. The sheer amount of remixed content has definitely endeared HGH to me in a way that the original stretch goal pitches – replaying the main campaign with 4 new characters and 3 extra costumes – never could have, so hopefully that will become more prominent in future Shantae titles, if not WayForward’s entire library moving forward. Hero Mode and Hard Core Mode also seem like they’d be cost-effective ways to extend a new Shantae game’s replay value.

This brings us to the game’s story. Generally, I don’t offer any advice when it comes to a game’s storyline in any of these sequel proposals – I would rather not write anything that borders on fanfiction – but in the case of a fifth Shantae game, I have some advice that would prove essential with regards to the game’s writing. Half-Genie Hero felt disconnected from the rest of the series in a lot of ways: honestly, the best way I can describe it is that it felt like “Shantae: The Motion Picture”. Now, considering that back when the game was first pitched, all previous games were limited to Nintendo handhelds and so a self-contained story was probably the smartest way to approach what could very well be someone’s first Shantae game. However, by now, far more people are familiar with the series: the second and third games are available on practically everything Half-Genie Hero is, so a lot of people have become familiar with the various plotlines that were explored and teased in those games. So, the fifth game should reintroduce some of the unresolved plot threads from the previous games. Pirate’s Curse especially seemed to be hinting at some important aspects of the series’ lore – Shantae’s parentage, Rottytops’ former life and even that Risky Boots personally knew Shantae’s mother – and a lot of long-time fans (myself included) were disappointed that most of these weren’t even touched upon in HGH, let alone resolved. Even worse, what HGH managed to achieve, our first look at the Genie Realm, ended up being more of a tease than anything. WayForward should definitely look to the past when writing the next Shantae installment.

On the other hand, Half-Genie Hero’s art style is perfect for the series moving forward. I’m under the impression that a big part of the reason why WayForward had to crowdfund the game and why it was so short is because shifting from their traditional pixelated sprites to high-definition hand-drawn artwork took up a majority of the game’s budget. In the end, I’d say it was worth it: HGH is a gorgeous game. Considering the fact that Pirate’s Curse recycled several art assets from Risky’s Revenge, it seems likely that Shantae 5 would do the same with its predecessor. The 2.5D aesthetic – 2D hand-drawn characters against colorful 3D backgrounds – has become an almost iconic look for WayForward on high-definition platforms by this point. Best of all, if they don’t have to redraw everything from scratch again, Shantae 5 would most likely be much larger than Half-Genie Hero: after all, Pirate’s Curse was at least twice the size of Risky’s Revenge. Likewise, I’d love to hear the voice cast from HGH return, even the additional cast from the Friends to the End DLC. More importantly, Jake “virt” Kaufman should return for the fifth entry. Though he’s since founded his own music production studio and no longer works as a WayForward employee, he’s been the series’ composer since the very first game back in 2002. virt and Shantae are intertwined at this point.


This image speaks for itself.

Part of the reason I decided to write this article is that the most recent project we’ve seen from WayForward – aside from Half-Genie Hero’s post-launch content – was The Mummy Demastered, which came out late last year. Granted, even Half-Genie Hero’s development was delayed, and by Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (its predecessor) no less. Regardless, the radio silence about future WayForward projects – Shantae or otherwise – is unnerving. Still, I’m sure that WayForward is planning on another entry in the series: I doubt they would’ve ported a failed game to the Switch. I’m almost certain that it won’t be their next project (even omitting licensed games) but I’m also certain that we’ll see Shantae 5 in the next few years. Whether WayForward decides to build it based on any of the advice that I’ve written in this article remains to be seen, but I’m sure that if they somehow manage to come to the same conclusions I have, the fifth Shantae will be the best game in the entire series.


Turn Based #5: Losing Steam with Console Woes

Professor Icepick: Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Turn Based. Considering that this is our fifth article in this series, it seems only fitting that we tackle a topic of the utmost importance. For years, a war has been brewing within the medium of video games as a whole. One that goes well above and beyond the petty console wars of our childhood. One which both KI and I actually have personal stakes in. I speak, of course, about the schism between PC and console gaming.

Can one of our classic arguments finally settle which platform is superior once and for all? …I wouldn’t count on it, we’ll probably just end with another stalemate. Regardless, it’s a topic that is still worth exploring. With that being said, KI will start arguing his preference for console gaming.

SNES Master KI: Consoles simply work better for gaming, their dedication to gaming (yes, I know they can do other things now, but those are afterthoughts and things that take less effort than running games) results in many direct and indirect benefits. These range from the simplicity and guaranteed function of standardized hardware to the motivation for companies like Nintendo to make so many great games to support their consoles. The game library and quality of life advantages of consoles are completely overwhelming from my perspective.

Icepick: The problem with that is that the advantages that consoles once held over PCs have begun to fade with time. During the seventh generation of video game consoles — the days of the Wii, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 — consoles have become less and less “plug-and-play” devices, relying on internet connections to patch firmware and software regularly. Unfortunately, the process is hampered by the traditional “walled garden” approach that consoles have adopted since their inception.

With the current generation of consoles doubling-down on constant updates and upgrades that no longer work right out of the box, you’re probably expecting me to argue that the PC is a much more stable platform. You would be wrong. In fact, this has been how the PC gaming landscape has looked for nearly 2 decades now. The major difference lies in the more open source nature of PC gaming. Updates to games that would take weeks or even months for companies like Sony and Nintendo to approve and implement can literally be in gamers’ hands within minutes. Steam upgrades games automatically — both games that are already installed and those that have yet to be downloaded — and most other services (even GOG via their Galaxy client) offer similar user-friendly services. The PlayStation 3 and 4, at least in my experience, relied on gamers to open games before it would even consider updating them.


Plus we don’t have to pay for cloud saves.

KI: The pick up and play potential may have been diminished, but that doesn’t change that the standardization of consoles means that playing the games once everything is set comes with far fewer issues. It’s also not all bad, although games shipping in a perfect state would be ideal, patches can often be very useful for removing glitches or fixing stupid, simple design issues in otherwise great games. If I start a new console game, there may be a wait for something to download, but once it does I know it will run and my controller will work for it as intended. And for the record, PlayStation 4 and Switch will download patches for games you have installed/in your play history even if you don’t start the game or have the physical disc/cart inserted. Xbox One may do the same, but I can’t confirm that from experience.

Icepick: The point is that consoles have moved onto providing non-gaming experiences as well as traditional gaming, and in that regard, consoles are definitely outgunned, due to their reliance on the walled garden.

Having said that, I guess it’s time to discuss some of the more objective advantages that PC gaming has over home consoles: library size. For the sake of discussion, I’ll stick to “legitimate” games — so no talk of emulators and whatnot — but even in that case, the sheer amount of content available on PC is staggering. Best of all is the sheer amount of old content available. While many consoles have essentially given up on the concept of backwards compatibility, services like Good Old Games and DOSbox allow gamers to play their favorite games of yesteryear with very little hassle. This makes the PC the ideal platform for retro gaming in general.


Eat your heart out, Virtual Console.

We’ve also seen the rising popularity of indie games on consoles, but PC is where that revolution started and there are still many hidden gems exclusive to the platform. The sheer amount of content available on PC absolutely dwarfs all current consoles (even handhelds) combined. Gamers of all stripes can find something to enjoy on PC, which isn’t always the case on each console.

KI: Well, lots to address. Consoles are certainly outgunned in non-gaming purposes, but that’s completely expected, the non-gaming functions of consoles are a bonus. Although I’ll point out that if I actually did intend to use PC as a gaming platform, that multi-functionality would create complications since I need a PC for work/communication/general internet functions. I can’t just leave it hooked up to a TV in an area where I would want to game.

For backwards compatibility, it comes down to what you prioritize in convenience. Consoles don’t disappear when their generation is over, as my name attests you can keep and continue playing old consoles for decades, and there’s no need to mess with DOSbox to make the game run correctly. Backwards compatibility may also very well be about to make steps forward/recover for consoles, Sony and Microsoft’s more standardized system architecture could make PlayStation 5 and Xbox 2001 or whatever confusing name they give it easily backwards compatible. Nintendo was great with backwards compatibility until Switch’s hardware made it physically impossible (no dual screen set up or disc drive), I think it will come back when Switch gets a successor.


25+ years and still working.

For sheer amount of games, PC of course wins, but when both sides number in the thousands total quantity isn’t that important, no one could possibly play everything and the vast majority of games on both sides aren’t worth playing. Consoles have made great strides in picking up the prominent indie games that were once PC’s exclusive domain, and while PC has certainly made a lot of progress in getting the big budget third-party games that used to stick to consoles, it seems to have come at the expense of PC exclusive big budget releases. And of course, there’s the old quantity versus quality argument. I think Nintendo alone more than makes up for the quality indie games that fall through the cracks and don’t make it to consoles.

Icepick: Fair point. Nintendo consoles are worth buying for their first-party games alone.

Another advantage I’d claim that PC has is a much more balanced relationship between consumers and content providers. On consoles, players have to essentially accept whatever terms first-party publishers set without question. On PC, everything’s a lot more open to discussion. While Steam controls a majority of the modern PC market, there are alternatives that offer exclusive titles (Origin, Windows Store) or other features (GOG, Humble).

This also applies to online gaming. While even Nintendo is preparing to succumb to charging for online play this year, the entire prospect of charging PC gamers for online play is genuinely considered a fool’s errand. When Microsoft launched Games for Windows Live — a sister service to Xbox Live — they intended to charge players the same price for online play. PC gamers protested that and Microsoft dropped the paid component, while keeping every other feature, including crossplay with Xbox 360.

Then you’ve got the modding community. While many of them are associated with various cosmetic mods, they also have a tendency of fixing games that are either broken at launch or incompatible with newer systems. It’s gotten to the point where fan-programmed patches have even been implemented into official releases of games. Content is much more community driven on PC and that works to the advantage of everyone. While Xbox One and PS4 has begun to experiment with the ability to download mods, it just pales in comparison: they’re strictly limited to cosmetic stuff, meaning that console gamers are generally reliant on official patches, which as I said earlier, tend to be released slower than molasses in January.


One of my favorite mods of all time.

KI: I interpret the relationship between the platform and gamers differently. You can view consoles manufacturers as having more control over gamers, but they also have more obligation to us. One of the core reasons I don’t game on PC is because I can’t stand paying for something and then basically being told I’m on my own to make it work. If I buy a console game and it for some reason doesn’t work, that’s on the company and they have to fix it, and it very rarely comes to that. Aside from making sure I’m not putting an Xbox One disc into my PS4, I don’t have to think about whether I will be able to play the game that I buy, there’s no fear that I’ll come up short in a spec related area and not be able to play the game with no solution besides spending more money and putting in the effort to upgrade my computer. I view the “control” console manufactuers have over me as more of a contract, and it’s one I’d much rather sign than be on my own and have more control.


The most complicated system requirements I have to deal with.

As for paying for online, I acknowledge that probably isn’t necessary and it would be better if it wasn’t required, but I will say that the perks that come with PSN+ do a good job of mitigating it for me. The amount of (conditionally) free games I get for $60 a year usually satisfies me, and with Nintendo’s much cheaper price I don’t think they’ll have any issues making me feel okay paying $20 a year.

Icepick: Yeah, but the PS+ games on offer generally lean more on the lame side most of the time. This month had some good stuff, but I think they only did that to cushion the blow of retiring PS3 and Vita games next year.

KI: Well, if they were all great, it would be way too fantastic a value for any company to agree to, I’d be saving around $1,000 a year if I actually intended to buy every game they offered. But I think it’s time for me to go on the offensive. One of my first points was that consoles cultivated an ecosystem where exclusives from the first parties are highly valued. For some reason, PC did the exact opposite. When Valve rose to become basically the first party leader of PC gaming, they all but gave up on making their own games. Jokes about Gabe being afraid of the number 3 aside, it’s more that they just make barely any new games. Steam seems to have drained Valve as a developer, while companies like Nintendo and formerly Sega put way more effort into making games when they have their own console, and Sony and Microsoft at least fund a large amount of games (well, you can argue about Microsoft, but that’s literally a topic for another time).


Even the less supported ones made it to three games.

So my main point in this is that the state of PC exclusives is not good. In the fourth and fifth generations, PCs weren’t making the types of games I personally wanted, but there were genres PC dominated and PC exclusives that were beloved classics. This seems to have all but died off, the best PC exclusive games seem almost accidental at this point, an indie developer makes a hidden gem that never quite gets the attention and funding needed to bring it to console. In the 90s Doom 1 and 2 were out on PC first and the console versions were vastly inferior, while Doom 2016 came out on consoles the same day as PC. For all the strides PC has made in getting console games, I feel like it traded its exclusives to do so, and ultimately it’s all about the games.

Icepick: I’ll admit, Valve has definitely fallen down as an actual game developer. While they’ve recently claimed that they’re still making new games, no one believes them. At this point, they’ve transitioned into more of a PC gaming advocate, cultivating an environment that will allow for more games to reach the platform. While there are still those clamoring for new Valve games — I personally want a third Left 4 Dead or Portal much more than Half-Life 3 — most PC gamers have accepted that Valve’s days as a developer are… numbered?

I understand your concern about PC exclusives and while content in that field is clearly limited compared to the 90s and even the early 2000s, there are still PC exclusive games in the pipeline. For example, I remember you being quite distraught that Quake Champions, a class-based FPS, was going to be a PC exclusive. The Total War series offers solid real-time strategy combat. Divinity: Original Sin II is a turn-based RPG that is both critically acclaimed and massively popular, which is currently only available on PC.

Original Sin II relied on crowdfunding, which is a pretty big source of modern PC games, both exclusive and otherwise. I remember your general apprehension towards the concept, but many crowdfunded games list PC as their sole initial platform and many more list it among multiple launch platforms. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that the platform still holds weight with developers of all sizes. A Hat in Time was originally intended to be a PC-exclusive — launching on the platform first — before PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions were added due to the game’s popularity. It wasn’t the first crowdfunder that got released on other platforms after being pitched as a PC exclusive and it certainly won’t be the last. You’ve made the claim that PC relies on consoles for new games, but I’d argue that it goes both ways.

KI: For Quake Champions, I was mainly upset by their hypocritical reasoning for it not being on consoles (claiming it needed to be 120 FPS to be playable, but then assuring PC gamers with less powerful rigs that it would play fine on their systems). Honestly, id making a multiplayer focused game after Doom 2016 made such strides for single-player focused FPSes probably would have annoyed me even if it was on consoles. I know there are still some quality PC exclusives (although still in genres I don’t personally play), but I think consoles are still demonstrating a pretty massive advantage in that area.


As for which system relies on which for games, I don’t really care that much. Indie games need PC’s lower entry fee, big budget games need sales from console gamers to survive, what ultimately matters is what games your platform of choice gets. The issue is that consoles have games made specifically to be exclusives, and I think those give it a very clear edge in library.

Icepick: I guess that’s all there is to it. We’ve got different priorities. You tend to prefer the simplicity of a console — an advantage which I’d argue is slowly but surely eroding with each generation — while I prefer the freedom offered by PC. Still, with many more companies beginning to embrace PC, the future seems bright.

KI: Well, I’d generally say that my arguments for consoles have two main points, the functionality guarantee and the much larger number of exclusive games on them that appeal to me. After several years of pessimism applied to console gaming, I think Nintendo’s resurgence, the other consoles exiting the growing pains of the early eighth generation, and the ever-growing indie presence on consoles (“Perfect for Switch” may be a meme, but indie games really do sell amazingly on it) that the sun has risen for console gaming.

And as expected, the discussion has once again ended in a stalemate. But the arguments were elaborated on, and no one was called an elitist, peasant, Nazi, or iOS supporter. What about you, are you changing chairs to play something after this, or just switching windows? Tell us in the comments, and remember that no matter how much you disagree on a topic, you can always fake civility in text form.

The Top Ten Most Overrated Games of All Time and What You Should Play Instead (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting to do this article for a long time. Over a year and a half ago, I made a ranked list of what I consider the ten most overrated video games of all time. Due to having limited freedom in what my articles could be about at the time and then constantly feeling like I was doing too many lists after returning to Retronaissance, it has taken until now to finally give this list the articles I always wanted to. But the waiting hasn’t been for nothing, I recently (well, it was recently when I started this article, then I got sidetracked yet again) came up with a gimmick for this list: in addition to listing overrated games, I will also be including an antidote, a game that is similar to the game on the list but fixes my issues with it. So, with 20 games to cover, let’s get right to it!

Number 10: Super Mario 64


As controversial as this choice is, I can’t help but feel that it also acts as a personal safeguard. Starting with an entry from my favorite publisher in my favorite series (on my least favorite console they made, but let’s save that for another time) seems like a pretty good shield against accusations of bias when we get to non-Nintendo choices on my list (although I promise this isn’t a token Nintendo entry, more are coming…). But while this is easily my favorite game on the list, hence it being number 10, it’s still a genuine pick. Super Mario 64 may have been a gigantic leap forward for 3D games, but damn it, it is not retroactively the sole arbiter of a “true” Mario game. It does not get to make linear Mario games a bad thing or deviation. It also isn’t an avant-garde work of horror that later Mario games ruined with their “kiddiness.” The eel isn’t trying to scare you, it just doesn’t have a lot of polygons to work with. And this isn’t even getting into the control and camera improvements that later 3D Marios made. It may sound like I hate this game, but I really don’t, it has just been given a sacred status that went way too far, even if a lot of it is earned. It’s overrated mainly in comparison to other Mario games, which is why it’s only number 10.

Instead You Should Play: Super Mario Odyssey


While I may prefer linear style Mario games, I’m not going to use this category as a bludgeon against non-linear ones. After a decade of complaining, Nintendo made another sandbox style Mario game (sandbox Mario games coming from the timeline initiated in the Autumn World ending from Super Mario World, while the linear ones came from its normal overworld palette) and while it wasn’t my first choice, they did such a good job with Super Mario Odyssey that it was the first game I felt my old level of hype and excitement for in years. Super Mario Odyssey improves on Super Mario 64 in every conceivable way, with more jumping tricks to exploit, more actual platforming, and way, way more to do and find in its levels. 120 stars? Odyssey has 880 moons. No, not every moon matches the main stars, but SMO is still going to take much, much longer to fully complete. Super Mario Odyssey also makes exploring more pleasant by not forcing you back to the start of the level after almost every star/moon, and it is filled with the brilliant platforming that Super Mario 64 often came up short in. Odyssey may not quite be my favorite Mario, but it gives me hope that an even better direct sequel could make a style of Mario game that fully satisfies fans of both linear and sandbox style, which is not a hope that Super Mario 64 ever gave me.

Number 9: Final Fight


I don’t really have as much to say about this as the previous entry, although I’m just now realizing it could be considered something of an inverse. While Super Mario 64’s status as the supposed unquestioned best 3D platformer of all time leads to an absurd level of worship for it, Final Fight’s status as the most iconic beat-‘em-up of all time leads to the genre as a whole being thrown under the bus. Brave journalists who want a controversial opinion that no one will get mad at them for often announce that they consider the entire beat-‘em-up genre an outdated relic that was never that good in the first place. The claims that go with this, that they are repetitive button mashers, do apply fairly well to Final Fight in my opinion. Overly large, not very mobile characters fighting a few main enemy types over and over again in levels that are mostly window dressing without much technique in combat. Final Fight isn’t a terrible game, but it just doesn’t hold my interest very well and doesn’t deserve to be considered the main representative of its genre. Sure, some people would say the Genesis’s Streets of Rage series deserves that title, but I have a different choice for the SNES’s champion in that contest…

Instead You Should Play: TMNT IV: Turtles in Time


Now take every complaint I had about Final Fight and reverse it. Reasonably sized, fast characters with jumps that could handle most Mario levels and lots of moves which almost all have their own purpose. Tons of enemy types and level obstacles. And instead of having a watered down SNES version, the home version obliterates the arcade game with more levels, bosses, and greatly improved controls. Turtles in Time is what a classic style beat-‘em-up has the potential to be, and the greatest argument for their value. I’ve loved this game for almost all of my life, but it was relatively recently that I realized just how much it excelled compared to other beat-‘em-ups even if you completely ignore TMNT nostalgia. Turtles in Time will be just as fun as it ever was in 2020: Neon Night-Riders and beyond.

Number 8: Bioshock


This is the game on the list that I made the least progress in. While I beat most of the overrated category games on this list and made a lot of progress in the couple others I didn’t, I just couldn’t make myself keep playing Bioshock. Yes, the story and atmosphere are good, but it had been generations since I played an FPS with such clunky control and poor hit detection. I felt like I was playing one of those action-RPGs I can’t stand where you essentially have to trade hits (yeah, stay tuned, we’ll get to one of those later). Regardless, I’m sure I could have beaten it if I really wanted to, thanks to its checkpoint system. Really, if it wasn’t for that checkpoint system, I’d almost file this game under “just not my thing” and leave it off the list. But that checkpoint system, not only do I hate it with a burning passion, it spread into and poisoned other FPSes. In its default mode (turning off this feature will result in unfairly huge gaps between checkpoints) dying in Bioshock will make you spawn at a checkpoint equivalent. However, everything except your health meter will be exactly as it was when you died. Enemies stay dead/injured, ammo and consumables you used are still gone, you just have to walk back to where you were. So, the penalty for dying is now tedium, solely tedium. Sorry, no amount of men, oceans, and lighthouses can make up for that.

Instead You Should Play: Metroid Prime


This is probably the antidote game that’s the most different from its counterpart, but I think there are still enough similarities to justify my choice. Metroid Prime is an atmospheric, lore heavy, varied mix of weapons and abilities sort of-FPS, like Bioshock. While it trades an emphasis on direct story for puzzles and platforming, Metroid Prime shows that gameplay doesn’t have to be sacrificed for atmosphere, and that’s why I picked it as the antidote. Metroid Prime is a faithful recreation of Super Metroid’s formula in 3D, and it pulls off everything it tries expertly. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it since, again, this is more different than its counterpart than would be ideal, but if I get an itch for the type of experience everyone describes Bioshock as, Metroid Prime is my first choice for scratching it.

Number 7: Strider


Now what could I dislike about this legendary action game with great, buttery smooth control and a high but always fair difficulty level? I guess the biggest issue would be the fact that I have no idea what game everyone praising it is playing. I’ve played both the arcade and very faithful Genesis versions of Strider, and neither one matches the game everyone else apparently played. Strider’s controls are as stiff as the original Castlevania, and the level design is definitely not built around them to the extent that it is in that game. Strider is also among the most prominent examples of one of my biggest gaming pet peeves, your character is way too big and it makes dodging even more difficult. I can’t make any progress in the game without tedious memorization to compensate for how big, slow, and clunky the title character is. That is not my idea of a well-designed action platformer, and unlike with Bioshock, this is a genre I definitely have enough familiarity with to judge. I genuinely don’t understand the disconnect I have with everyone else when it comes to this game, but it’s huge and I have to put Strider on this list.

Instead You Should Play: Hagane: The Final Conflict


This is the most obscure antidote game on the list, but it’s also one of the most perfectly fitting. Hagane was released late in the Super Nintendo’s life, and sadly it is currently only available in that form and at an absurdly high price. Regardless, it is the game everyone seems to be describing when they talk about Strider. A very hard but always fair melee-focused action platformer, Hagane is everything you could want from this type of game. I feel like the agile ninja that everyone says Strider is when I’m slashing through enemies and dodging projectiles in Hagane. This is one of the best hidden gems of the 4th generation, and it deserves the praise and great 2014 revival game that Strider got.

Number 6: Sonic Adventure 2


There’s a third of a good game in here. The Sonic and Shadow levels are some of the best examples of 3D Sonic platforming even to this day, but they are only a third of the game. For the other two-thirds, you get two play styles from the original Sonic Adventure, but for some mind-baffling reason they’ve been made worse. The shooter levels have become mindless and tedious thanks to your reasonably agile robot from Sonic Adventure being replaced by clunky, slow walkers. And the treasure hunting levels… someday I’m going to play Sonic 2006 just so I can justify saying they are the worst thing ever in a 3D Sonic game. Wandering around levels with a horrific camera that was not designed for any kind of backtracking, possibly walking right by a buried master emerald shard because the radar will only track one shard at a time for absolutely no reason. I don’t care how much you love the music or how you think this is the only game ever made where Shadow is cool instead of an edgelord, two-thirds of this game ranging from boring to atrocious means it doesn’t deserve to have praise heaped on it. Also, I hate the Chao Garden with a burning passion.

Instead You Should Play: Sonic Adventure


As I mentioned, the worst crime Sonic Adventure 2 committed was making two of the gameplay styles from the original Sonic Adventure worse in every way. So it’s pretty easy to see why I’d recommend just playing the original. Sonic Adventure has the same amount of Sonic style levels, much more enjoyable versions of the other level types from Sonic Adventure 2, two other styles that are pretty fun, and one level type that is poorly executed but represents a much smaller portion of the game and can be breezed through instead of the drawn-out torture of the SA2 hunting levels. The open adventure fields aren’t great, but they’re mostly simple and painless, much better than what Sonic Adventure 2 makes you go through for the majority of its duration. The music is at least as good as SA2 and the story is similar in quality, just make sure to pick up the DX version so that you don’t have to deal with unskippable cinemas showing the same scenes in different characters’ stories. I still hate the Chao Garden, however.

Well, I finally did it, halfway there and ready to post the first part of this article. Writing about games higher up on my lists is usually easier for me, so hopefully it won’t be that long until we get to Part 2, stay tuned!

Retrospective: Street Fighter – Round 1, Fight!


I’ll be honest: I did originally dismiss the idea of doing a Retrospective on the Street Fighter series back when I looked over Tekken last year. The thing is, after the Classic MegaMan article ended up being split into multiple parts, any excuse I had for not writing about Street Fighter evaporated. This series isn’t necessarily going to be as prominent as the other Retrospectives have been. I plan to mainly just write these whenever I’m not writing something else, so they’ll trickle out infrequently. Still, considering the fact that Capcom will be releasing a Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection this May – featuring a whopping 12 games – now seems as good a time as any to do a wistful look back at one of Capcom’s most enduring franchises. The only limits I’m putting on this series of retrospective articles is that I will be sticking mostly to Street Fighter games that managed to see Western release. Granted, most games in the series came out here, but there are a few rarities that were Japan-exclusive.

The thing is, I owe a lot of my interest in video games to Street Fighter. The 2D fighting game genre is among my favorites across the entirety of mass media, and like a majority of the children of the ‘90s, that love stemmed from the first time I played a Street Fighter game. In my case, the first game I played was the original version of Street Fighter II for the Super NES at my cousin’s house when I was around 5 or 6 years old. Another cousin had the Special Champion Edition on the Sega Genesis and eventually, that first cousin would obtain a copy of Street Fighter II Turbo for the SNES as well. I became enamored with the game, almost to the point of obsession and I was incredibly happy when I was finally able to own a version of the game of my very own. Of course, that was the IBM-PC version, which was a complete train wreck, but you try telling that to a happy child. Not long after, I finally had a legitimate home version of my very own: Super Street Fighter II for the Sega Genesis. While Street Fighter is probably no longer one of my favorite fighting game series, it still occupies a special place in my heart. As such, I’ve got a fair amount of the games in various forms in my collection as it is: the 30th Anniversary Collection just affords me the opportunity to own several older titles on the PC, my platform of choice.

Street Fighter II is probably one of the most important video games of all-time. It popularized the fighting game genre in a way that no previous game had and managed to extend the life of arcades in the West. Back in my childhood, we just thought of it as “Street Fighter”: even though the “II” was omnipresent, none of us had ever really experienced a “Street Fighter 1”. As naïve as we were back then, the mystery was nothing we really pursued at the time, but SF2 actually owes its existence to multiple titles. What better place to start than by taking a look at some of the earlier titles that preceded, inspired or even simply shared the name of one of Capcom’s greatest all-time hits?


On February 1st, 1987, Hissatsu Buraiken – which roughly translates to “Deadly Ruffian Fist” – was released in Japanese arcades to relatively little fanfare. It would be released in the West sometime that year as either “Avengers” or “Avenger”: the game’s title screen and many of the arcade cabinets themselves use the former title, but some promotional material uses the alternate title. I would argue that this is the earliest ancestor of the Street Fighter line, despite lacking any obvious connection to the franchise in general. Of course, at this point in time, Capcom had a minute fraction of the acclaim they currently enjoy in the West. Their most popular games by this point were Ghosts ‘n Goblins and 1942, which were respectively an arcade platformer about fighting occult creatures in a medieval fantasy setting and a shoot-‘em-up taking place during World War II. While both of these titles were fairly popular in their heyday, they would be completely eclipsed by future Capcom titles.


Not the most unique concept, but hey, it was the 80s.

Avengers actually shares a fair amount of staff with the original Street Fighter. Most notably, the games shared a producer: “Piston Takashi” Nishiyama. Nishiyama actually started his career at Irem, working on some of their early hits like 1982’s Moon Patrol and 1984’s Kung-Fu Master. Likewise, two of Avengers’ character designers – “Short Arm Seigo” Ito and “Puttun Midori” were listed in Street Fighter’s credits, under Special Thanks. One of Avengers’ composers, Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (better known as “Yuukichan’s Papa”) would also go on to work on both the original Street Fighter and the first MegaMan game.

Of course, Avengers ran on one of Capcom’s proprietary arcade boards, generally referred to as the “Section Z Hardware”, as 1985’s Section Z was the first Capcom game that used this particular hardware. Avengers was apparently the last of four games made to run on it, with Legendary Wings and Trojan – both released in 1986 – rounding out the set. Like most of Capcom’s early arcade hardware, this board utilized a 6 MHz Zilog Z80 processor as its main CPU as well as 2 4MHz Z80 chips for its sound CPU. The hardware was rounded out with two YM2003s acting as the sound chip.

As with many arcade games from this era, Avengers’ storyline was simple but got the job done. It’s a two-player game, but both characters – Ryu (hey, another Street Fighter connection!) and Ko – are essentially palette swaps of each other. The game’s villain, known simply as “Geshita” has taken over Paradise City and kidnapped six girls, handing off five of them to his henchmen. It’s up to Ryu and Ko to “banish” Geshita from their city. The game’s English translation leaves a lot to be desired, but it doesn’t seem like too much was lost in translation.


The most interesting part of the game’s intro.

“Beat-‘em-up” is probably the best way to describe Avengers’ gameplay, but it approaches the genre from a totally unorthodox style. Unlike many beat-‘em-ups of this period (or in general), Avengers is a top-down game, in a similar vein to games like Ikari Warriors or Capcom’s own Commando. As such, players are able to move around freely in 8 directions. There are also two attack buttons, punch (fast, but short range) and kick (long range, but slower). Honestly, the best description I really have for the base mechanics of the game would be Irem’s Kung-Fu Master (known as Spartan X in Japan) meets Commando. There are also a variety of bonus items that can be found hidden in objects like trash cans and clay pots scattered throughout each stage. These can replenish health, increase the character’s speed or just act as bonus points. There are also various weapons that can be found, like the “Super Punch” which increases overall damage temporarily and nunchaku, as well as grenades and shuriken, which can be thrown. These weapons are generally found in bonus rooms, hidden across the game’s 6 stages. These rooms contain an assortment of enemies that have to be defeated in a set time limit in order to free hostages that give out a reward upon being rescued.


One of Capcom’s all-time grates. …get it?

This is one of those situations where obscurity has generally helped a game. Most of the reactions I’ve seen to Avengers online have been negative at best, with a few declaring it to be “Capcom’s worst beat-‘em-up ever”. To be honest, I can’t really argue against this statement. While Avengers’ concepts were unique and interesting, the execution was severely lacking. Commando’s overhead view and playstyle just didn’t lend itself all that well to a fist-fight. The bosses themselves are particularly difficult, as many of them boast long-range weapons, making it impossible to deal damage against them. Granted, that’s a pretty common criticism of the beat-‘em-up genre as a whole, but when the game’s first boss attacks by swinging around a giant spiked ball on a chain that deals damage in an area that takes up over half the screen, you know that this was one of those arcade games designed to get as much money out of a paying customer as possible.


Oh, I’m sorry: did you think I was joking?

With that being said, there are a few other Street Fighter connections aside from the shared staff members and the name of the main characters. For starters, some of the sound effects from Avengers – most notably various character grunts – were completely recycled in the original Street Fighter. There’s also a reference found in one of Street Fighter’s humblest characters, Dan Hibiki. One of Dan’s super combos is named the Hisshou Buraiken. Sound familiar? That’s right: this move was named as a parody and reference to Avengers’ Japanese title, Hissatsu Buraiken. If that doesn’t confirm that Avengers is a truly obscure progenitor to the Street Fighter line, I don’t know what could.


It was even a piece of graffiti on Street Fighter’s title screen. What more could you ask for?

I have to assume that Avengers wasn’t a particularly popular game upon its release, because as far as I can tell, there were no home conversions made for the game around the time of its release. The first home release I’ve been able to find for the game was on the second volume of the Capcom Classics Collection, found on the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. It was also present on the PSP via the Capcom Classics Collection Remixed, the first of two collections that just rearranged games from the previous console-based collections. Since then, the game has only appeared as one of the games on the Capcom Arcade Cabinet, a digital-only compilation of Capcom’s early pre-CPS arcade games, released in both multiple packs consisting of three games each – Avengers was in the first pack – and a full set on both Xbox 360 and PS3. Aside from that, the game’s been pretty much forgotten, which may honestly be for the best. Avengers isn’t a particularly impressive game by any means and it’s a fairly rough product, even compared to some of Capcom’s earlier arcade games.

Street Fighter

With that out of the way, let’s get to the true beginning of the Street Fighter franchise. Released in Japan on August 30th, 1987 – with releases in North America and Europe that same year – Street Fighter was the first fighting game Capcom ever developed, though not the first game in the genre to have ever existed. Many cite 1984’s Karate Champ as the first true 1-on-1 fighting game – with head-to-head combat included in a unique revision, subtitled “Player vs Player” – and introduced the concept of bonus training stages, which would be prevalent in the early days of the genre. Konami’s Yie Ar Kung Fu (released the following year) introduced the concept of fighting multiple unique opponents in succession, another trademark associated with the genre. Street Fighter took inspiration from both of these games and expanded upon them, acting as another stepping stone in the genre’s development, while adding new concepts that would shape fighting games to this day.

Before we get into discussing the game itself, we’ve finally reached the point where I’ve actually got some childhood memories attached to this game. Of course, the memories aren’t associated with the original arcade release, but rather one of the home ports. I already discussed these in-depth in one of my Repressious Memories videos from a few years back, so I’ll just summarize by saying that it’s colored my perceptions of the game in a much more positive light than many of my contemporaries. Put simply, the Hi-Tech version was so terrible, it made the admittedly-flawed arcade version seem like manna from heaven.  Few people I’ve encountered around my age actually managed to find the arcade version of Street Fighter in the wild back when it was brand-new, so most of them only experienced it well after the much more popular second game. Obviously, Street Fighter pales in comparison to its vastly superior sequel, but I’d say it’s still an interesting curiosity all the same.


Admittedly, shirtless men in red jeans weren’t the most dynamic of opponents, even in 1987.

The two major players in the development of the original Street Fighter were “Piston Takashi” Nishiyama and “Finish Hiroshi” Matsumoto, the game’s director and planner respectively. It’s claimed that both of them also worked on Avengers, but as of right now, I can’t really find any information about Matsumoto’s involvement in that project. Likewise, it’s also said that this was the first project for Keiji Inafune (of MegaMan fame), who claims to have designed Adon, but again, this hasn’t really been confirmed anywhere else, especially not in the game’s credits. Street Fighter was developed on another of Capcom’s early arcade hardware systems, christened the “68000 Based”, due to the fact that it used a Motorola M68000 as its main processor. Capcom started using this hardware in 1987, and quite a few of their arcade games used this setup, including Tiger Road, Mad Gear, Last Duel and most notably, Bionic Commando.

Of course, the most fascinating thing about Street Fighter would be the fact that it had two completely different arcade cabinets. While the version commonly seen today used the traditional six-button/joystick layout generally associated with Capcom fighters, there was also an alternate model with a different control scheme. This model had two large buttons, associated with punch and kick respectively, and depending on how hard the button was pushed, a different strength of each attack would occur in-game. Not exactly the most precise method of control, but an interesting gimmick nonetheless.


Seriously, playing Street Fighter on one of those machines with the giant buttons is on my bucket list.

Street Fighter offered players two characters to choose from: Player 1 was Ryu, while Player 2 was Ken. At this point, the characters played identically, the only real difference between them being their colors and Ken’s head being redesigned – in fact, early prototypes just made Ken a complete recolor of Ryu, with no other modifications. Instead of selecting one’s character, players were given the chance to choose from 4 countries – although some versions only offered 2 countries (Japan and U.S.A.) at the start – each boasting two opponents. Japan was home to Retsu, a monk excommunicated from his temple for using forbidden techniques and Geki, a master ninja wielding a claw, shuriken and the ability to teleport; the U.S.A. gave us the incredibly generic kickboxer Joe and bare-knuckle boxer Mike; martial artist Lee and the aged but deadly assassin Gen represented China; and the massive punk rock hooligan Birdie and staff-wielding bouncer Eagle are the fighters from England. Beating both representatives of a country allows Ryu to partake in a bonus stage, either breaking bricks by building power or cracking boards within a time limit. Only after all of the first eight opponents are defeated does Ryu (or Ken) gain access to Thailand, the fifth and final country. There, players are forced to defeat Adon, the champion’s top disciple, before taking on the King of Muay Thai and Street Fighter champion Sagat himself. After that, Ryu (or Ken) is treated to a montage of all of the fighters he defeated on his way to the top and declared “King of the Hill”, but also told that they have no time to rest on their glory, warning that there will always be new challengers.

Compared to later games in the series, the original Street Fighter’s controls are incredibly clunky. The physics are floaty, the controls not nearly as responsive as one might expect, and the CPU-controlled opponents are able to deal way more damage than the player. Having said that, the game came out back in 1987 and considering that the game took inspiration from Karate Champ and Yie Ar Kung Fu in a genre that was barely fledgling, Street Fighter could have only have been primitive. It seems unfair to judge the game against its own legacy, as opposed to its contemporaries, but alas, that’s how most people view it.

Having said that, Street Fighter did introduce a feature that would become synonymous with the genre: the special move. Of course, back then, the “special move” lived up to its name – because it was nearly impossible to pull off consistently. While the motions for the Hadouken, Shoryuken and Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku – referred to as the “Fire Ball”, “Dragon Punch” and “Hurricane Kick” respectively in the English versions of the game – are common knowledge to anyone who paid attention during Street Fighter II’s prime, but back in 1987, they were secrets. Of course, to perform these moves in the first SF, one needed to be precise. In fact, the motions themselves worked differently: instead of hitting the button after completing the corresponding joystick motion, players needed to release it at that point. Quite the change from how special moves were performed back in 1991, let alone today.


We did 20 takes and that was the best one.


The bonus stages may not have been a genre first, but they don’t really resemble those found in future games very much. There are two types of bonus stages found in Street Fighter, with two version of each, for a grand total of four. The stages themselves alternate after completing each country. First, there’s a segment where Ryu is tasked with breaking a stack of bricks (replaced with cinder blocks on the second attempt) in front of an audience that cheers or boos, depending on the results. This mini-game resembles the “Test Your Might” mini-games found in the original Mortal Kombat, except it relies on timing instead of button mashing. The other mini-game involves splitting wooden boards that are held in various positions by men dressed in fighting attire. In this mini-game, precision is key: some boards can only be struck with specific attacks. These bonus stages have very little impact on the game itself, only adding to the player’s score, but they are a well-deserved break from the action.


This might actually be my favorite part of the entire game.

The art is pretty standard for a late-80’s arcade game. The graphics are advanced far beyond what most home platforms at the time were capable of displaying, but on reflection, are kind of ugly. The character sprites themselves showcase the growing pains present in arcades at the time, adapting to wider color palettes and larger resolutions. The final product is something that is inarguably ugly yet endearing in the same way one would look at a gangly, awkward teenager. The backgrounds, on the other hand, are actually pretty breathtaking for the time. My personal favorites are the cliffside adjacent to Mount Rushmore where Mike is fought, Gen’s Chinatown-inspired setting, the forest with the castle in the background associated with Eagle, and Geki’s locale, which appears to be a river near Mount Fuji at sunset. While nothing special compared to future games, they are pretty impressive for their time.

The sound design doesn’t fare much better. Don’t get me wrong: there are actually quite a few good compositions present in Street Fighter’s soundtrack, but the odd instrumentation has a tendency of masking their quality. Fortunately, one home port – more on that later – has a rearranged soundtrack that reimagines these songs using Redbook CD audio, making them much easier to enjoy. The sound effects, on the other hand, are just silly. The real star here are the voice samples. They were generally the same in the Japanese and English versions, with the only exception being Ryu’s attacks. At their best, they’re extremely garbled: people still argue to this day whether Ryu is saying “Dragon Fire”, “Psycho Fire”, “Hell Fire” and probably several other things whenever he fires off a Hadouken in the English version. However, the Engrish present in this game, particularly on the win screens is downright amazing.


I still quote this to this day. (Hey look, it’s white Birdie!)

Surprisingly, Street Fighter actually had several home ports. Growing up, the only version of the game I knew about was the IBM-PC version, published by Hi-Tech Expressions, but it actually also managed to come out on several computer systems throughout North America and particularly Europe, namely the Commodore 64, Amiga, ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC. The version that was the best received was the game’s sole console port – available for the TurboGrafx-CD. Retitled “Fighting Street”, it was released in 1988 in Japan and 1989 in North America. This was the version that included the rearranged soundtrack I mentioned earlier. The only real flaw in this version stemmed from the TG-16’s controller: two buttons limited the ability to perform attacks of different strengths, but this was a common flaw in most home versions. Arcade-perfect ports would eventually surface on the second volume of the Capcom Classics Collection for the PS2 and original Xbox, as well as Capcom Classics Collection Remixed for the PSP. It’s also planned to be included on the upcoming Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, being released on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC later this year. Sadly, this isn’t one of the games with online play.

I think the most impressive thing about the original Street Fighter is the legacy it left behind. Believe it or not, it inspired more than just Street Fighter II and the rest of its series. Aside from the two games I’ll be discussing below, it also managed to get an unofficial sequel. One that predates SF2 by quite some time – it was released in Europe back in March 1989. Many of the computer ports I mentioned earlier were developed by a company called Tiertex and published by U.S. Gold – the same companies behind the infamous Strider Returns. Their ports of Street Fighter ended up being so popular that they made a spiritual successor for the European PC market. Simply titled “Human Killing Machine”, the game holds the distinction of being even worse than the already poor ports of the original Street Fighter. The game was also incredibly bizarre. I mean, the main character was a Korean martial artist named Kwon – normal enough – but his opponents included a dog, two prostitutes, a waiter, a bull and even some terrorists. It really defies all description. While I’ve never played HKM myself, all the information I was able to find on it declared the game outright terrible. It’s really no surprise was promptly forgotten to the sands of time, to an even greater extent than its inspiration.

Final Fight

One of the most unique things about video games as a medium is just how quickly people will accept a spin-off of an existing franchise. Case in point, there are almost as many flavors of Mario as there are of ice cream at Baskin Robbins. However, there are few that can compare to Street Fighter, which managed to receive a spin-off merely two years after its very first game… and nothing else. Let that sink in: the original Street Fighter, itself only a relative hit in Capcom’s eyes, managed to receive a full-blown spin-off with only a moderate amount of ports (ranging from mediocre to terrible) to back up the moderate success of the original arcade release. Of course, considering just how trigger-happy Capcom eventually became with spin-offs – particularly in the 90s – maybe it was just a sign of things to come.

In 1988, both Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto had left Capcom and started their careers at SNK – going on to develop such franchises as Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. However, Capcom wanted a sequel to the original Street Fighter and tapped Yoshiki Okamoto to produce this new sequel. Okamoto cites the arcade version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge as his basis for developing the next Street Fighter title, eschewing the 1-on-1 fighting genre and focusing on the beat-‘em-up style of gameplay pioneered by Technos Japan. The game was originally shown off at trade shows under various working titles, most notably “Street Fighter ‘89” and “Street Fighter: The Final Fight”, but due to feedback from various operators, the game was rechristened simply as “Final Fight”.


Pretty surprising, right? I especially like how they’ve practically finalized the SF2 logo there.

The game was also heavily inspired by Western culture, particularly the 1984 film Streets of Fire. In fact, one of the main characters, Cody Travers, was inspired by the film’s hero, Tom Cody. Likewise, various enemies found throughout the game were named after 1980s rock musicians, bands and albums: most notably Poison, Abigail (named after King Diamond’s second album), Axl (Rose) and Roxy (Music). Likewise, the boss character Andore was heavily inspired by professional wrestler, Andre the Giant.

Final Fight was the first game in the Street Fighter line to be designed on the Capcom Play System, a proprietary arcade system developed by Capcom. Unlike most arcade boards at this time, the CP System ran games on removable ROM cartridges, similar to SNK’s NeoGeo MVS. The CPS was developed in order to reduce hardware costs and to appeal to arcade operators, as it was often easier and cheaper to sell modification kits for existing cabinets – allowing arcade owners to provide their customers with the latest games at a much cheaper price, maximizing profits. The CPS (retroactively called the CPS-1) was fairly successful, but also plagued by bootleg versions of Capcom titles.

The game’s storyline is pretty basic when compared to the games from today, but for an arcade game released in the late 80s, it’s pretty fleshed out. A cutscene that plays in the game’s attract mode sets the stage: Metro City – clearly a fictionalized version of New York City – is ridden with crime and violence. Newly-elected Mayor Mike Haggar decides to clean up the city, making it safe for its citizens. However, the Mad Gear gang, the most powerful crime syndicate in the city, decides to take matters into their own hands. After a failed attempt at bribing Haggar, they kidnap his daughter Jessica, demanding that the mayor comply with their demands or else. Haggar decides to call Jessica’s boyfriend Cody and their mutual friend Guy, asking them for help to save his daughter. Of course, considering the fact that Haggar is a former professional wrestler, Guy a master of ninjitsu and Cody an accomplished street fighter in his own right, the three decide to bust some heads and save Jessica from the clutches of the Mad Gear Gang.


I mean, it’s already on. How else could there be static on the screen?

Final Fight is one of the earliest games in the beat-‘em-up genre to offer multiple playable characters with different abilities and mechanics, as opposed to the identical palette swaps common in the early days of the genre. Cody is a well-rounded fighter, Haggar is the strongest but slowest of the three, and while Guy is the weakest character, he’s also the fastest. The game also has three weapons spread across its stages and each character gains special abilities with their corresponding weapon. The knife can only be thrown by Guy and Haggar, while Cody can choose to hold onto it, stabbing enemies. The lead pipe is the strongest weapon in the game, but its weight slows down both Cody and Guy, so only Haggar can use it to its full potential. The katana’s a good weapon for all three characters, but Guy’s speed allows him to use it to its full potential.


Stabby stabby! No wonder Cody ended up in jail.

The gameplay is highly reminiscent to other games in the genre like Renegade and the Double Dragon games, but there’s also been some streamlining involved. The controls feel silky smooth and responsive, even by today’s standards, with characters gliding across the screen effortlessly and attacks coming out with lightning speed. Final Fight is a free-roaming multi-plane beat-‘em-up, meaning that the player characters and enemies can walk in 8 directions at will, meaning that characters have to be lined up to attack one another. The game has the standard joystick and buttons layout, with one button dedicated to attacks and the other allowing the character to jump. Pressing these two buttons at the same time allows the character to do a special move – Cody has a jump kick, Guy does a spinning kick not unlike the Lee Brothers in Double Dragon and Haggar does a spinning lariat – at the cost of some health.

The game has six stages, each taking place in some segment of Metro City. The game starts in the Slums, before moving onto the Subway, followed by the West Side, Industrial Area, the Bay Area, with the final showdown taking place in Uptown. Each level is capped off with a unique boss character that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game. There are also two bonus stages, taking place after the second and fourth levels respectively. After defeating Sodom at the end of the Subway level, players are given the chance to destroy a random thug’s car in a time limit. The other, taking place after the Industrial Area and the fight with Rolento, involves walking on a conveyor belt and breaking panes of glass.



By the time Final Fight had been released, Capcom was beginning to settle into the CP System’s capabilities, cultivating a look that would persist in many future titles, especially later Street Fighter games. The coloring is a bit dull compared to later games on the CPS, but everything else is top-notch for the time. Considering the fact that this game was originally released in 1989, it’s simply amazing that this game manages to sidestep the various aesthetical pitfalls that several arcade games from this era fell into. The soundtrack is also pretty good for its time, my favorite songs include the Stage 1-1 theme, the music that plays in Stage 5-1 and the second theme from the Industrial Area. It doesn’t necessarily hurt that these three themes would eventually resurface in later Street Fighter games, but those are my personal favorites. While Yoshihiro Sakaguchi was the only composer credited in the Final Fight’s credits, six more people worked on the game’s soundtrack. You probably recognize Harumi Fujita, Manami Matsumae and Yasuaki Fujita from the Classic MegaMan retrospective, but Junko Tamiya (who worked on the Strider arcade games, as well as 1943 and 1943 Kai) and Hiromitsu Takaoka (1941, Sweet Home) also contributed to the soundtrack. Yoko Shimomura also composed a couple of songs, but we’ll discuss her more later.

The game was unquestionably a smash hit in arcades. In fact, in the February 1991 issue of Gamest, a Japanese magazine dedicated to arcade games, Final Fight was named the number one game of 1990. It took home several other awards, taking home “Best Action Game” and ranking in fourth place on Best Video Game Music, ninth place on Best Graphics, second place in Best Direction and fifth Best Album of the same year. Final Fight’s popularity also extended to its characters, with Mike Haggar being named the most popular character of the year. Guy took second place, Cody was number seven, the sultry and mysterious Poison at #26, the massive weeaboo Japanophile Sodom took the #33 slot and damsel-in-distress Jessica ranking in at 40th place.


I’m shocked that Rolento didn’t even place.

Western reactions are a little harder to gauge, but considering the sheer amount of home conversions, I think it’s safe to say that Final Fight was a hit in all regions. As with the original Street Fighter, several home computer ports were released across Europe on the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. As with the Street Fighter ports, these were handled by U.S. Gold and aren’t particularly impressive. Granted, how much of this was due to the limitations of the computers in question and how much was due to U.S. Gold’s lax quality control often varies and is debatable. However, unlike Street Fighter, there were actually several home ports worth talking about, as opposed to one. For starters, there was a port on the Sharp X68000, a Japanese home computer. The interesting thing about this version is the fact that because this was the hardware that the game was developed on, the game is essentially near-arcade perfect, a true rarity at this point. Then there was the Sega CD version, which traded vibrant colors for a Redbook CD soundtrack and voice acting, as well as a new Time Attack Mode. Time Attack Mode isn’t what one might expect: they’re essentially three arenas (one per playable character) with endless waves of enemies that need to be defeated within a time limit. On the plus side, the Western release had far less censorship than other console versions.

On that note, I couldn’t do a round-up of Final Fight’s home ports without the most well-known version of them all. The Super Nintendo release of Final Fight hit Japanese store shelves on December 21st, 1990, with North American and PAL region releases on November 10, 1991 and December 10, 1992 respectively. While the game itself wasn’t a launch title, it did release within the same year the system launched in these three regions. Unfortunately, this version did come with a fair amount of limitations. Perhaps the most important omission was the loss of multiplayer: Final Fight SNES was a strictly single-player affair. Likewise, both Guy and the fourth stage were removed. There was also a ton of censorship, at least in the Western home releases. Damnd was renamed “Thrasher”, Sodom was renamed “Katana”. One change that was exclusive to the Western SNES versions was that Poison and Roxy were replaced with two scrawny guys named Billy and Sid. Even with all of these cuts, the SNES version is brutal to play: in fact, for many years I hated Final Fight, simply because the SNES version was the only one I’d played. Capcom did attempt to rectify this in a roundabout way years later, with the release of “Final Fight Guy”. Despite being released a whopping two years after the original Japanese version, the only difference in this version is that Cody has been replaced with Guy. The game did see limited release in the USA as well, but only as a Blockbuster exclusive in 1994.

There were a few other modern home ports of Final Fight. SNES ports were all the rage on the Game Boy Advance and Final Fight was no exception. Fittingly named “Final Fight One”, this version of the game is pretty much arcade perfect, not only restoring the content cut from the SNES release, but even adding new content, like alternate versions of Guy and Cody. Arcade-perfect ports were also made available on the first volume of the Capcom Classics Collection for the PS2 and Xbox, as well as Capcom Classics Collection Remixed on the PSP. The most recent release was Final Fight: Double Impact, a digital release bundled with a new remixed soundtrack, online play, graphic filters as well as a bonus game, Magic Sword. This was exclusive to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, though the latter was marred with a controversial always-online DRM protection which prevented the game to be shared with other PSN users. The 360 version of Double Impact also saw a physical release in the form of the Capcom Digital Collection alongside various other Capcom digital titles in March 2012.

Thus concludes my piece on Final Fight. Final Fight did manage to earn 2 direct sequels on the SNES – which are fortunately much better than its ports of the first game – as well as three spinoffs: a super-deformed parody game on the NES, a Saturn-only fighting game that was developed by Capcom USA despite only releasing in Japan and a gritty reboot on the PS2 and Xbox that is so bad, that it killed the studio that developed it. That being said, the most lasting contributions Final Fight has made to video games in general have been through the Street Fighter franchise. Even to this day, new references to the original Final Fight have surfaced in Street Fighter games, ranging from characters and settings to subtle Easter eggs. While we haven’t seen a new Final Fight game since 2006 (and believe me, Streetwise may have salted the Earth on that one for generations), the franchise remains relevant to this day.

Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight

I wasn’t originally planning on doing a write-up for this game. Doing a write-up on Street Fighter 2010 was actually suggested to me by one of my editors, and once I found out that the game actually predated Street Fighter II – something which only raised further questions – I didn’t have a compelling argument against doing one. This game does have a pretty weird history behind it, so it would at least be interesting to explore.

There’s actually a pretty unique backstory with regards to this game’s release in North America. The original rumors were that the game was originally known simply as “2010” when released in Japan and the Street Fighter branding was a decision made by Capcom USA to increase the game’s visibility. As it turns out, this simply isn’t the case. The game was always meant to be a Street Fighter spin-off: the game’s full Japanese title is “2010 Street Fighter”. That’s not to say that Capcom USA didn’t modify the game. They changed the game’s protagonist – originally a cyborg interplanetary police officer by the name of Kevin Straker – into Ken (not yet given the surname “Masters”) from the original Street Fighter. They also completely changed the game’s storyline (more on that later) and added “The Final Fight” as a subtitle to both drive home the Street Fighter connection, as well as piggyback on the success of that arcade smash. In other words, Capcom Japan always intended 2010 as a Street Fighter spin-off, the USA branch just boosted its relevance to “sequel” and added a Final Fight reference to boot. Eat your heart out, U.S. Gold: Capcom USA managed to find an even cheaper way to make a contested sequel for one of their hottest franchises.


I guess we owe Capcom USA an apology.

The game’s backstory actually varies a fair amount between the Japanese and Western release. I’ll start with the original plotline from 2010 Street Fighter. Humanity had grown far beyond the confines of the Earth and sought out new worlds. In this new interplanetary society, crime is rampant. Many criminals are powerful cyborgs, but they became even more powerful in the year 2010 AD, after the discovery of “parasites”: armored insects that merged with their hosts, causing them to sprout a beetle-like shell of armor and boosting their strength significantly. To combat this new threat, the Galaxy Police sends out Kevin Straker, a cyborg officer, His orders are to apprehend the parasites’ creator Dr. Jose, destroy the parasites and absorb their power, which opens a dimensional gate to the next outbreak area. However, Kevin has a mere 10 seconds to pass through the gate and if it should close, Kevin would die. With these limitations in mind, he sets out to combat the parasitic scourge.


He even showed up on the Street Fighter V site. Dr. Jose too!

The English localization took things in a very different direction. The game’s main character was Ken, who retired from street fighting after winning the tournament and returned to college, eventually becoming a brilliant scientist. He ends up developing a new substance known as “Cyboplasm” which grants superhuman strength to any living organism. Unfortunately, soon after this breakthrough, Ken’s lab partner Troy is left murdered and the Cyboplasm stolen. Ken decides to upgrade his body with bionics and, using the martial arts mastery he developed in his street fighting days, tries to track down Troy’s killer. Following the trace amounts of Cyboplasm left behind in each planet in the “Frontier”, Ken eventually discovers that the culprit is Troy himself (replacing Dr. Jose from the Japanese version), who faked his death and is going to use the Cyboplasm to create a race of superhuman warriors loyal to him. Honestly, if you discount the Street Fighter connections, I think I prefer some of the plot points from this version – particularly the expanded relationship between the main character and the antagonist.


I still think we got the better box art for once.

Street Fighter 2010 is a difficult game to describe. It plays like a weird mishmash of Ninja Gaiden and MegaMan, but never really reaches the quality of either game. Kevin is armed with a short-range projectile which can be rapid-fired on the ground but fired off only once in the air. While grounded, the projectile can be fired straight-forward, straight-up by holding up on the D-Pad, diagonally-up (with a weird kicking animation) by holding down on the D-Pad and straight down when somersaulting in the air. The range and power of this attack can be upgraded by collecting power-up capsules that are strewn throughout most stages. Collecting two capsules powers up Kevin’s attack one level and it can be boosted five levels. Another power-up gives Kevin an orb that follows him around that damages any enemy that comes into contact with it. The Flip Shield turns Kevin’s somersault into an attack that kind of resembles a Flash Kick, damaging enemies that come into contact with it. He can also scale walls by pressing the jump button against them and scale through platforms.


Ah yes, the far-flung year 2010.

Levels vary from full-on platforming segments with bosses at the end to enclosed boss arenas. Most levels are timed and when the boss of each segment (referred to as “Target”) is defeated, a warp portal to the next area opens up. Kevin only has ten seconds to enter the portal before dying. The game offers unlimited continues – never a guarantee on the NES – but considering the fact that stages consist of multiple segments and health doesn’t replenish until an entire world is beaten, this game still offers a daunting challenge. Weapon power-ups remain constant between levels but revert to nothing when Kevin dies.


Purple robo-gorillas are way more interesting than some shirtless guy!

The game’s graphics look pretty good for an NES game, especially considering the fact that the game came out roughly halfway through the system’s lifespan. The environments are colorful, character sprites are detailed and everything’s clear and visible. It’s probably not the most impressive-looking NES game in the system’s existence, but it was an early taste of what the console could do when pushed to its technical limitations. The game’s soundtrack is also top-notch, composed by Junko Tamiya – remember her from Final Fight? The tracks are energetic and manage to have a sound that’s much edgier than most of Capcom’s NES games.

The game feels like a lot of wasted potential. With unique stage layouts, beautiful sprite art and a good soundtrack, the game should be good. Unfortunately, the controls are too clunky at times and while infinite continues may seem like it would make the game easier, it just ends up feeling like more of a punishment considering how weak Kevin’s base stats are. Honestly, the game might be better if it only gave players one life, just because losing power-ups makes Kevin useless in combat and while some stages offer a lot of items, there are some with absolutely nothing. Worse yet, making a tie-in to the Street Fighter series that wasn’t a fighting game, even before SFII hit arcades, rubbed a lot of gamers the wrong way – a choice that got exponentially worse in hindsight. SF 2010 isn’t a particularly terrible game – for most companies at the time, it might be considered among the best – but Capcom’s pedigree at the time made for a hard act to follow. SF 2010 was released in August 1990 in Japan and a month later in North America. By that point, Capcom had released the first two MegaMan games, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Codename Viper, Ducktales, Bionic Commando and Strider on the NES in North America. It’s just a shame that they never decided to revisit and refine the concepts present in this game, because there’s clearly a lot of untapped potential here.


This deserved a 7th-gen sequel way more than Mercs.

One final thought occurs to me: was Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in production while Street Fighter 2010 was being made? I mean, the game did come out the following year, so I think it’s safe to assume that it was. However, if that were the case, I have to wonder why Capcom continued with 2010’s development if SFII had been conceived. Given how much of a departure 2010 was from the original, both in terms of setting and gameplay, it just seems unusual. Chances are the game was already so far into development that it would’ve been a waste of resources to not complete it, but I wonder what could have happened if 2010 ended up becoming a huge success like Final Fight before it. Would 2010 have had sequels and the traditional 1-on-1 fighting game formula have been abandoned? Or would the mainline Street Fighter games have run in tandem with a series based around the 2010 continuity, sort of like the various iterations of MegaMan that coexisted? We’ll never know, especially given how little information there is about Street Fighter 2010’s development, but it’s interesting to consider.

That seems like the perfect place to cap off this section of my retrospective: a nice little appetizer before we get into the real meat of the series. Next time, I’ll be taking a look at the worldwide phenomenon that was Street Fighter II, in all of its various incarnations. I’m not sure exactly when the next article in this series will surface – like I said, I’m only planning on doing these when I have a gap in my schedule – but right now, I’m planning on doing Part 2 sometime this April.

Of Axioms and Idioms: Best but Not Least

Well, it certainly has been awhile since I’ve written in this series. The funny thing about this article is that the concept behind it was originally completely different from what I’ll be writing about today: in fact, the original concept was going to be the third article in this series, but eventually, I just ended up discussing the bulk of the content in other articles. There was still some facet of the earlier iteration that I hadn’t explored, so I decided to change my approach to this whole concept and workshopped it into an entirely new direction. Unfortunately, my brain waits for no idea – I was originally going to write this up back in November but came up with an entirely new topic instead – so it just ended up sitting in my drafts folder, as I was working on other projects up until now. I just hope it was worth the wait.

It’s still difficult to articulate my thought process here, but I’ll try to summarize.  Put simply, this article’s topic is about how my favorite games in a particular series generally aren’t the ones I would consider the best. I think the most prominent example I have of this is the comparison between the second and third MegaMan games. For years, I’ve had difficulty explaining my exact feelings on the subject: the most accurate take I’d been able to articulate is that “while MM2 was a better NES game, MM3 was a better ‘MegaMan’ game”. A bold, ham-fisted statement, yes, but still the best I could do until recently. These days, I’ve got a much better handle on my thought process – my favorite game in a series and the “best” game are two distinct concepts that have been intertwined for far too long, so it’s just better to handle both of these indicators separately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always held preferences that aren’t particularly mainstream. When asked if I wanted Coke or Pepsi, I asked for Sprite – or more accurately, Lemon-Lime Slice. When it came to pizza toppings, I generally shied away from the standards of cheese, pepperoni and sausage. I’m not sure if it stemmed from a need to be different, rebel against the status quo or what have you, but I’d always pick things I enjoyed – even if it wasn’t on the menu. The thing is, this wasn’t just limited to food choices: I felt the same way about media. If there was ever anything resembling a consensus about the best entry in any fictional series I enjoy, chances are I’ll end up disagreeing. I never liked the seventh Friday the 13th film; my take on The Simpsons’ “dark age” is totally out-of-whack with the general consensus and I think Sonic Lost World may have been the best 3D Sonic since the first Sonic Adventure. At the same time, I’ve always acknowledged any widespread agreement on any such topic, albeit with varying levels of contempt. If I’m going to be honest, agreeing with it has always been something of an uncomfortable realization – even when default opinions shift with time – to this day, I feel strange whenever my personal favorite ends up being “the best”.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this distinction is by defining both terms I’ve been using so far. Let’s start with the simpler of the two: “favorite”. It’s the pinnacle of subjectivity: my personal choice for what I like the most. Given the fact that what I personally consider best can vary based on anything from my mood to seemingly random criteria at any moment – if you could see how many drafts any top ten list I’ve written has gone through, your head would spin – in my case, the concept’s far more nebulous than subjective most of the time. As such, “favorite” lives and dies by personal preference. It’s strictly a personal opinion, one that varies from person to person, one that shouldn’t need to be defended or even explained (but this world is far from perfect). In the end, it’s useless with regards to objectivity – but that’s not the point.

Conversely, the concept of being the “best game” is much harder to define. It’s safe to say that it’s a much more objective concept than being a mere favorite, but that’s a gross oversimplification. In my eyes, the title of best game doesn’t depend on things like personal preference or any sort of quality that can be concretely proven. Instead, it relies on a general consensus – and one that is outright agreed upon by those familiar with the series at large. Going beyond that, this opinion must be stated out loud, repeatedly to the extent that it essentially becomes a “meme” – of course, I’m referring to the original definition (a cultural item transmitted repeated, similar to the biological transmission of one’s genetic code) as opposed to the more commonly-known one (running jokes on the internet). For all I know, there could be a widespread silent minority that considered the second Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy VIII or even (God forbid) MegaMan X6 to be the most beloved games in their respective series, but the deafening silence surrounding such opinions disqualifies them from being considered the “best game” of their franchises.

Of course, I personally disagree with this concept, but this is my gut reaction when describing a “best game”. However, this isn’t the only way to characterize this idea. In fact, there is a much more simplistic way to look at things that doesn’t revolve around the mob mentality of my original definition, but in most cases would lead to the same results, if not choices that are much more representative of each intellectual property in question. At this point in time, the most accurate definition I have for describing the “best game” in a series would the one that you would recommend to a complete newcomer that would give them the best representation of the series as a whole. But more specifically, they serve as the best example of what you – or I or anyone, for that matter – like about the games in question regarding their core concepts. Once again, this isn’t a perfect answer to the question at hand, but it’s the best that I’ve been able to come up with when properly defining the concept at large. At this point, that’s good enough for me.

Of course, the best way to define this entire concept is by, as usual, going through various examples from my own questions. When it comes to the Ys series, the fanbase generally recognizes three distinct “flavors” – Classic (the games that use the bump mechanic, along with black sheep Wanderers from Ys); the “3D” games (utilizing the hack-and-slash Napishtim engine with pre-rendered sprites on fully 3D backgrounds) and “modern” (which utilize a party system – switching between up to 3 characters on the fly – and incorporate 3D models into the game’s themselves). While there’s a recurring joke about “every Ys game being the best game of the series”, the most vocal segments of the fanbase swear by those Napishtim engine games, specifically the second game: The Oath in Felghana, a remake of the third game. Personally? I prefer Ys Origin, a far-flung prequel to the first two games and the last game to make use of the engine. That being said, due to the sheer amount of references to the first two games in Origin, I’d generally recommend Felghana to people interested in finding out about the series. There are other cases that just boil down to preference. For example, while it’s safe to argue that both Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are among the best representations for 2D Mario games as a whole, I always find myself gravitating more towards SMB2 (or Super Mario USA, as the Japanese know it). The unique game mechanics just make it that much more enjoyable for me, but it’s probably the worst representation of the Mario series as a whole. This also manages to skew my views on even the most niche titles. Of the Darkstalkers games, I will always prefer playing Night Warriors over its more-lauded sequel, Vampire Savior – even while acknowledging that the latter has some much more interesting game mechanics.

The weird thing about this entire concept is just how much it ends up helping me understand some of my own opinions and biases. Separating my personal favorites from a much more objective ranking of things has been pretty helpful in the long run, keeping me from twisting myself into intellectual knots in order to just why I’d acknowledge other things as being better than my personal favorites. Having struggled with articulating the concept for well over a decade, it’s honestly relaxing to be done with the mental gymnastics I’d often associated with trying to justify why I liked certain games more than ones that were often considered “the best”, but the added benefits of being able to apply this to other opinions I’ve had that are out of the ordinary is a significant bonus. Thanks to this new perspective – that personal preference and widespread consensus can exist separately and simultaneously – I’ve honestly become a bit less defensive about my own opinions. Who knows, maybe the same could be true of anyone who shares this perspective. If this article causes anyone to reconsider these two concepts as being separate rather than identical, then I think it was worth the wait.

An Odyssey That Will Take Your Breath Away

Ever since those six seconds of footage in the Switch reveal trailer, I was incredibly hyped for Super Mario Odyssey (and endlessly gloated about how “Super Mario Switch” was a real game and not a tech demo as Nintendo tried to claim). I’ve wanted to write an article entirely dedicated to it for a while now, but ended up waiting until my second playthrough so that I could have maximum clarity on my feelings for it. It’s not like I could have had a review of it ready for launch day. Of course, after waiting this long and having already said that it lived up to my hype in the most anticipated games of 2018 article, I can’t just spend a few thousand words raving about it. I need a hook for this article. And during my second playthrough, it came to me. Last year there were two extraordinarily well-received games released in my two favorite game series, both of which weren’t my first choice for the series’ direction. And while I loved one of these games, the other left me very conflicted. These games are, of course, Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Why did two games that seemed so similar in basic concept, both in series I adore, turn out so differently for me? Well, that’s what this article will attempt to answer.


Spoilers: Mario wins this time.

Let’s start with Breath of the Wild, since as always, I like getting the negative out of the way first. Now despite me labeling this “the negative,” I’d like to clarify that I absolutely do not think BotW is a bad game. Putting all fears and associations aside, I’d have to say the Breath of the Wild is my pick for the second-best game of 2017, and that was a very, very good year. If it had actually made either its 2015 or 2016 release targets, it would have deserved to be my game of the year. There are things BotW does better than any other game I’ve played, the absolutely massive open world is better and more intricately designed than I would have thought something that big could ever be. Being able to climb almost any surface and safely jump/glide from any height in a game of this scale feels incredible and earns the game the “open air” label Nintendo gave it. Tricks with game mechanics that you should logically be able to do almost always worked, even when they wouldn’t in most games. The rune powers are used to great effect in the many, many, many micro-dungeons, and the game is gigantic. It took me over 100 hours to do everything in the game I felt was worth doing.

So why am I conflicted? There are two major issues. One is that for everything the game did better than I thought possible, there was a design choice I hated and felt almost betrayed by the inclusion of. Breakable weapons are the biggest factor, I really, really hate excessive resource management. How the game can give you infinite quickly regenerating bombs, but no truly permanent melee weapon boggles my mind, and it added a constant, unnecessary level of stress. This made the somewhat clunky menu worse, since you are forced to constantly switch weapons. Climbing was much slower than it needed to be and rain disabling it was ridiculous. It felt like there was a civil war going on during the game’s development over whether to make quality of life the goal or the mortal enemy, and neither side decisively won.


Why why why why why WHY!?

My other issue is a more subjective one, or at least it counting as a negative is. Even with all the problems I mentioned above, Breath of the Wild is probably the best open world game I have ever played. But that isn’t what it should be, or at least not the only thing. It is a Zelda game, and as a Zelda game it fell short in many areas. I don’t want 50 different equippable weapons that have nearly identical functions, I want 10 unique items used in countless ways for puzzles and combat. Breath of the Wild only had five or so things that felt like genuine Zelda items. I want full dungeons, 120 tiny ones is a nice bonus, but it isn’t worth the five “real” ones being so short and de-emphasized. I don’t want to worry about collectables and stats and weapon durability, Zelda should be about level design. I should never dread having to explore a new town or area because I’m already overwhelmed. Breath of the Wild is clearly an exceptional game, but I feel it is noticeably lacking as a Zelda game, and games of that type are much rarer than the open world games BotW takes inspiration from. Until the next Zelda is announced and fixes my major issues, there is a cloud of fear hanging over this exceptional game.

I realize that my opinion is not a divine proclamation, and clearly many people really, really liked having such a non-linear and exploration-focused Zelda. I know that pleasing every fan every time is an impossible request, but I feel Breath of the Wild went too far in one direction. I’m not asking for every Zelda to be 90% dungeon style gameplay like Skyward Sword, but there has to be a compromise, right? Could a game find a balance where even if it wasn’t my very first choice, it left me feeling fully satisfied and secure about the franchise’s future, while still giving people with different priorities than me what they wanted? Is that even possible?


Mario can do anything.

Yep, it absolutely is. Super Mario Odyssey is the first sandbox-style Mario game since 2002, as opposed to the linear platformers that are my preference. At its official reveal during the Switch’s formal debut, the trailer made it clear that the game would be far more focused on exploration than the recent 3D Mario platformers. While this somewhat disappointed me, it wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy the previous sandbox Mario games, and there was no indication that Mario’s ability to jump could break. I decided to have faith in the game, even with my conflicted response to Breath of the Wild when it was finally released. I eagerly awaited seeing more of Super Mario Odyssey, and counted the days until E3 when we were certain to get one of Mario’s signature greatly improved second trailers.

Would posting the entirety of Jump Up, Super Star!’s lyrics be excessive padding? Yeah, probably. But suffice to say, Super Mario Odyssey’s E3 2017 trailer was one of the best video game trailers I have ever seen. The game’s main new feature was revealed, Mario’s ability to possess enemies and objects ranging from goombas to a hyper-realistic T-rex that I’ve dubbed “Yoshi Senior”. And seeing extended gameplay demonstrations revealed that the non-linear levels were full of small sections containing classic style linear Mario platforming. My hype skyrocketed, I felt a sense of wonderful anticipation for a game that I hadn’t felt in years.


And this isn’t even Yoshi’s final form!

I won’t go into too much detail about how fantastic Super Mario Odyssey is, there are plenty of reviews that will do that for me and you’ve had months to experience it for yourself. A colossal amount of content, constant variety with new things to possess in each level, 50+ mini-stages that play in my preferred Mario format, creative and beautiful settings with a huge amount of aesthetic variety, a staggering amount of things you can do with Mario’s partner Cappy even without possessing anything, and of course Mario’s signature perfect control and exceptional level design. But what I want to really praise Super Mario Odyssey for in this article is how it managed to balance two styles of Mario game and please everyone (well, every sane person).

Super Mario Odyssey has fully explorable levels, with secrets literally everywhere (they actually put in invisible coins to let you know when you had reached an area that didn’t have a moon hidden somewhere in it). Mastering the jumping system gives you an incredible amount of freedom and makes exploring every corner of every level enjoyable. A fast travel system and levels that put more of an emphasis on being deep than being sprawling means you never feel like you’re wasting time walking to a different area. The many forms Mario must take to find every Power Moon means your generous jumping abilities don’t make platforming challenges trivial. Levels have story missions that make them play out like the linear 3D Mario games, before opening up the entire level for exploration. And your reward for exploration may be a linear platforming mini-level. Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t feel lacking regardless of whether your prefer linear or sandbox style platformers.

Now despite this, Super Mario Odyssey isn’t my favorite Mario game and wouldn’t have been my very first choice. But that leads to another thing it does much better than Breath of the Wild. While Breath of the Wild’s decisions have me holding my breath for the next Zelda to address my issues and assure me that the series hasn’t been harmed in the long term, Super Mario Odyssey does the opposite and fills me with hope. Mario games often come in pairs, and with how successful SMO was, I’m expecting the next 3D Mario to essentially be Odyssey 2. Now Super Mario Galaxy 3 would probably be my preference if I was given the choice, but… there’s a possibility. The second Mario game in a pair is usually better, and if Super Mario Odyssey 2 is a better game and improves in the right ways, it just may manage to make a Mario formula I like better than the SMG games. Maybe if we cut down the number of worlds but made the linear platforming areas you found longer, long enough to pass for Super Mario 3D Land stages, we could actually have a hybrid that I like better than the linear Mario formula. It’s not guaranteed, but I never would have even contemplated it before Super Mario Odyssey. A game giving me that kind of hope, having that kind of potential, is something truly special, and a sign of just how masterfully designed Super Mario Odyssey is.


Mario has the whole world open to him.

So, despite how similar Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seem in many ways, they also gave me an almost opposite reaction. Again, I’m not saying BotW is a bad game, in fact with a few changes (full dungeons in exchange for the map being Skyrim sized instead of double Skyrim sized, no more breakable weapons) a direct sequel could be one of my favorite Zeldas. The game was great and could provide a great foundation, but there is also a risk of there being long term damage. Super Mario Odyssey, however, is both an exceptional game and something that made me optimistic and excited about the influence it could have on my favorite gaming series of all time, and that’s something that truly deserves to be described as taking my breath away.

Turn Based #4: Focus Group Fantasy

SNES Master KI: Hello, and welcome to another Turn Based!  We’ll be trying something new this time, this will be a three-player round.  Increasingly prominent contributor Dari will be joining us for a discussion on how to design the ideal JRPG.  All three of us have our own ideas on how to do this, so hopefully we’ll end up with lots of bloody conflict and furious verbal combat.  Or hopefully we won’t, I forget which one we want.  Icepick is the least enthusiastic about the genre, so we’re making him go first.

Professor Icepick: I guess it could be argued that one of the most important aspects on a Japanese turn-based RPG is its setting. Due to the genre’s increased emphasis on storyline, a proper setting can create an engrossing world to explore for the 40-400 hours players can look forward to spending in the game itself. Yet roughly half of all JRPGs in existence will go for a cliched fantasy setting, taking place in a fictionalized version of medieval Europe. More recently, we’ve seen post-apocalyptic steampunk future go from a breath of fresh air to yet another one of those standard set pieces. Yet, very rarely, we’ll actually get something unique. I think the best example of this would have to be the Mother trilogy, released in the West as “Earthbound”.


Long ago, in the far off ancient land of New York City circa 1993…

Taking place in what is essentially a contemporary setting driven more by off-the-wall humor than trying to ape the entire of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Earthbound managed to garner a cult following in the West due to its irreverent sense of humor and a setting that was, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air within the genre. As such, my ideal JRPG setting would be anything besides those two clichés that feel omnipresent within the genre. That’s not to say that it’s not possible to escape the bland nature associated with traditional fantasy or sci-fi tropes. It just takes some kind of a gimmick, like a fantasy game basing itself more on the folklore of a non-European region, perhaps a more mundane future with less obvious flaws or being developed by Nihon Falcom.

Dari, your thoughts?

Dariwan: I’d have to agree. Most of the time it takes something drastically changing in the middle of the story to make the setting be anything more than just the same old thing. Earthbound was definitely a different beast, kind of feeling like it’s in “America” which makes you feel like the game could be in your hometown or somewhere close by.

I feel like my ideal JRPG would be something like a mix of Japan or something like Earthbound mixed in with the tropes. I think that Tokyo Mirage Sessions mixed in eccentric Japanese settings and the cliché stuff pretty well, but I think we can go a bit farther than that. Not that we’re going in that far, but MMOs have the same problem as JRPGs with their settings being a bit blasé. but I feel as I said before my ideal setting is one that “lives” and changes as the game goes on, instead of being the same thing throughout.

KI, do you agree?

KI: My main criteria for a setting is that it’s different enough from reality to accommodate the variety needed for a 40+ hour game.  This seems easier to do in fantasy settings, which may be a reason why they’re such a common choice, but it isn’t necessary.  As mentioned, the Mother series was able to take neighboring towns in contemporary America and make one feel completely different from the next.  The key is that the setting can’t get caught up on feeling realistic.  You shouldn’t be confined by real life settings, or an obsessively “believable” medieval Europe expy, or rock-hard science fiction.  I want imagination and variety, and you can do that in any setting as long as you have the creativity and don’t chain it to realism, even realism attached to a fantasy setting.

I do like it when games change tone midway through as well, games like Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2 and Final Fantasy IX introduce settings late in the story that you see no indication of at the start of the game.  And Chrono Trigger of course has every world setting you can think of thanks to time travel.  With how huge the scale of JRPGs should be, one setting often isn’t enough for an entire game.

Icepick: Of course, JRPGs aren’t the only genre that relies heavily on story. Visual Novels are quite similar to JRPGs in terms of storyline, but the main that differentiates the two is the emphasis on gameplay. In my honest opinion, the main gameplay aspect related to JRPGs is the battle system present in each game. Unfortunately, in most cases, I’m left underwhelmed. I’ll break it down as simply as I possibly can: if the game’s concept for a battle system starts with “Attack”, ends with “Run” and can only manage to shove “Magic” and “Items” in between them, then chances are I consider you a cancer to the video game medium as a whole.

There have been a lot of games that have had interesting takes on the JRPG battle system that manage to set themselves apart from that mediocre stereotype. Games like Lunar and some of the Legend of Heroes games have turned their battles into almost miniature “turn-based strategy” segments, relying significantly on character placement to allow for more thoughtful combat. The aforementioned Earthbound sticks to a Dragon Quest-inspired battle system with one very unique (and game-making) alteration: when party members take damage, their health gradually decreases, allowing a knowledgeable player the chance to heal them before they get knocked out. I’d also be in remiss if I didn’t mention Undertale, an American indie game that was clearly inspired by Earthbound, but took its battle system in a different direction. Players can choose to attack enemy monsters, using an accuracy bar or simply interact with them to settle their conflict peacefully. But when the enemy attacks, the game turns into a sort of shoot-’em-up style game, representing the player with a heart icon, forcing them to escape injury in various ways.

Of course, my personal favorite battle system would have to be the ones found in the early Paper Marios, and to a lesser extent, the Mario & Luigi games. Relying on button presses to increase damage, extend attacks and even defend and counter enemy attacks with proper timing. There’s just something so captivating about this simple gimmick: it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to really being in control of my character in a turn-based RPG. It’s a shame that few other games have attempted to lift this system, going instead for the more traditional Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest-style of combat. The only game that really comes to mind for me is South Park: The Stick of Truth. The fact that the game is only referred to as being “inspired” by Paper Mario, rather than a “Paper Mario clone” or even its own sub-genre is perhaps one of the greatest crimes that JRPGs have yet to answer for.

Dari: I personally like turn-based RPGs simply because they allow you to strategize instead of getting hit every 2 seconds with no real chance to defend. Also, the turn-based system allows you to exploit weaknesses and keep going. I do agree that “Attack Run Magic Item” gets boring at times. That’s why games like Persona (Especially 5) and games like the Tales series definitely are different beasts of turn based games. The Tales series in particular feels like an action RPG as most of the games are open field actions in battle. You can jump and do combos almost like a fighting game and even do certain mystic arts by chaining certain moves together. I like those different atmospheres that can generate difference in the game itself. But as I said I like the standard JRPG experience except when they do it wrong.


This is very different than the “Attack Magic Item Run” system. and that’s why I like it.


The game I’m currently playing is Blue Reflection it’s kind of like Persona but backwards. The battle system is…interesting to say the least. they have systems that don’t really matter until boss battles happen, and the basic gameplay is kind of easy. You also auto heal after every battle, which takes away any urgency in any battle, since you know you won’t die. It bothers me, but the story is decent enough to keep me playing. That’s another argument for another time though.

KI: I’ve recently had trouble getting into turn based games, so my ideal JRPG battle system has become the Nier/Ys style where basic combat feels like a character action game, but you still have stats and items and an MP equivalent.  As long as I’m not being harshly punished for CPU controlled characters getting themselves killed or spammed with unavoidable spells, I generally prefer action-JRPGs at this point, and my ideal one would definitely have a real-time combat system.

If the battle system is turn based, it’s important there be something to prevent it from being tedious or feel like you don’t have to really be engaged.  Semi-turn based battle systems like the Mario and Luigi games or Xenoblade games can work very well for alleviating this, with timing being a constant part of every battle.  Even something as simple as the rhythm-based damage bonuses in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 adds a lot to the battle system for me.


This is way more like a rhythm game than it looks.

Icepick: The role-playing game designation in video games generally feels like a catch-all term: there is little in common between games like Final Fantasy, Fallout and Ys, yet no one would argue that they are not all “RPGs”. One common element all of these games share is the concept of “character progression” — simply put, as battles and other quest elements are completed, the player character becomes stronger and gains access to new abilities, much like how studying or exercising increases people’s mental and physical prowess in real-life.

I’m honestly kind of torn about this one. Generally, I like mostly random stat boosts with experience, with a handful of points for the player to assign themselves, in order to further customize their character to suit their playstyle. That’s generally what I would consider the standard, but it’s just how much control one has over these stats that I feel conflicted. I’ve played games where stat changes are considered permanent, which forces players to make their choices wisely, which I like. On the other hand, I’ve also played games that have allowed for a constant “experience pool”, which can allow stats and abilities to be changed at will, depending on the situation. For example, if one focuses on the “strength” stat in a game, to deal big damage, but eventually finds themselves in a position where an ability only accessible to characters with a high “wisdom” stat becomes necessary, the ability to shift those points around saves the player from pointless grinding — but also sort of destroys any stakes in making those decisions in the first place.

Dari: It’s a mixed bag for me– I like the usual “Level up assign stats and go” which is kind of like Dungeons & Dragons, but I like JRPGs that buck that trend. Games like Fire Emblem that just give random stats that you don’t have control over, but offer different classes at max level give you more customization than other RPGs regardless of how it looks in the start. I’m a fan of flashy attacks and big damage so character progression is really big for me. The thing that irks me more than anything is when your characters are starting, and they really don’t have much to do, so you’re sitting there attacking and praying you don’t die every battle. This goes into ‘grindin6g’ which is another thing that i actually hate about JRPGs. JRPGs that “hide the grind” are the games that I enjoy a lot more than ones where you literally have to find in a area, sit there and fight for your life until you level enough to easily beat them then move on. (FFVII, I’m lookin’ at you…damn Worm area.)

KI: I generally don’t like being overwhelmed by choosing stat placement, especially early in a game when I may not know what exactly stats do or how important they are to the battle system.  I like getting a boost in every stat when I level up, I’d rather have customization be separated from that base stat increase.  Systems like the Abilities in Final Fantasy IX or the badges in the first two Paper Mario games are my preferred way to customize characters, you have more understanding of exactly what you’re choosing and how it will affect the game.  I’d prefer that the customization system not be overly buerocratic, a skill tree where I have to essentially grind level ups to get an ability I want is very annoying.  I also like a balance between whether stats/abilities can be reassigned or not.  Permanent choices made before you understand the game should never ruin a save file, but if everything can be changed at any time I don’t want constant micromanagement required because the game didn’t bother to balance areas so multiple play styles would work.  So having experience and ability point equivalents separated is my preference.

Icepick: Another common trait among RPGs in general is that they have a tendency of adding side content in an effort to flesh out the game world and make it feel more like an organic, real place, as opposed to, well, a video game. Secret bosses or dungeons, sidequests, card games, collectables, it must be required by Japanese law for every single RPG in existence to have at least one of these tacked on.

I honestly can’t think of an example of side content that actually managed to elevate an otherwise mediocre game. I guess there’s really only one bit of non-story related content that I actually found memorable and those were the bromides in Lunar 2 on the original PlayStation. Maybe it was due to the inclusion of characters from the previous game — or perhaps it was the lewdness of a few choice images chosen — but that’s probably the only piece of optional content in an RPG that’s actually stuck with me.


Expecting me to use one of the sexy ones? Shame on you.

Dari: I don’t think they’re exactly NEEDED but in grindy games, I think side content is good as a “rest” from the game and doing something different, keeping the game fun and not tedious and making the player hate them. One of these “side content” things I like, again from the Tales series, they have “skits” which is side stories and sometimes just random conversations that add to character development and sometimes elaborate on story. It’s really helpful to have small cute offside stuff like that to help an RPG shine and show out as a better game in general.

Stuff like sidequests can help or hinder a JRPG. They can be good for a refreshing side story or they could just open a new time hole that you want to get out of because you want to access the story. this happened to me in Final Fantasy Crisis Core. I didn’t get past chapter 2 of the story because the side quests never ended. But things like the card games in the Final Fantasy Games are nice diversions that are optional that you don’t have to put time into unless you want to. I think that’s the ideal “Side content” in a JRPG. optional stuff that has enjoyment in putting in effort, but it’s not pertinent to the story or plot of the game, just something to break the monotony of the grind or the game in general.

KI: For side content, my general feeling is that RPGs should heavily lean towards quality over quantity.  Tons of trivial (or would be trivial if they didn’t involve luck based grinding/trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do) sidequests are a very bad thing, they are tedious and overwhelming.  Sidequests should never end up being the majority of a JRPG.  It gets even worse when those sidequests are practically mandatory, meaning that you will be severely underleveled if you skip sidequests and don’t do an absurd amount of grinding.  Xenoblade Chronicles X was really bad about that, if you somehow had high enough levels doing just main story missions would take around five hours.  As it is, I spent 60 hours and gave up on the final boss because I STILL wasn’t strong enough to win.  There’s a reason I usually specific Xenoblade 1 and 2 when I praise the series.  Chrono Trigger is probably the best handling of sidequests I’ve seen in a JRPG, the sidequests at the end of the game felt as polished as the main story, they weren’t overwhelmingly difficult to track down, and they added to the characters, basically being the end of their individual story arcs.  We need more RPGs with 5 great sidequests instead of 500 mindless/frustrating ones.

Icepick: Of course, what good is world-building when the world itself is lackluster? Map design is an important aspect of any RPG, regardless of sub-genre. In the 8-bit and 16-bit era, games relied on an overhead view to create truly labyrinthine dungeons and vast overworlds, but these days they can exist at any angle. It’s tough to really quantify my ideal world in general — I think my favorite maps of all time have been in the Ys series — but rather, it’s better to define a key component: variety. Each area on a world map should feel different from other areas, both in terms of aesthetic and in terms of design. If the layout of a volcano area matches the tundra, which matches the desert, which matches your character’s hometown where your adventure begins, which matches the villain’s fortress where the game comes to its conclusion, then what’s the point of changing the setting in the first place?


Ice slopes in a desert area, Falcom is truly brilliant.

Likewise, the setting of each area should inform the designs of the dungeons themselves. You wouldn’t expect to sink in quicksand in a volcano area, deal with water puzzles in a forest and frankly, I think Ys Origin is the only game that could reasonably work slippery terrains into a desert setting. Granted, it’s interesting to experiment with that sort of thing, but recasting existing hazards to match their new biomes is a must.

Dari: I don’t have much to add to that. except in the realm of randomized worlds. The world has to be unique each time. it can’t be the same thing with a color or tint change and pretend it’s different. There needs to be some kind of radical change for it to make sense. The Persona games do this well – at least 1 and 2 and on for sure – 3 and partially 4 kind of slipped up by having pretty much the same layout for each dungeon but just had different randomized maps each time you enter.

Stage hazards are also an interesting thing i don’t see many games pick up on. You may be in a volcano area, but the lava rarely affects you. The Desert doesn’t really do much but make you hot (Golden Sun actually made you drink water in the desert and your temperature went up the more you stayed in it which I liked) We need a sense of danger otherwise we’re just walking around through a nice-looking setting with really nothing to fear or worry about. Except the monsters/enemies which get kinda stale when they’re the only threat.


Speaks for itself more ways than one.

KI: When it comes to world design in JRPGs, there is a gold standard that isn’t even technically a JRPG.  If asked about level design in my ideal JRPG, there’s pretty much one word I would use to communicate what I want: Zelda.  Dungeons should be intricate and filled with puzzles and obstacles.  The overworld should never have generic empty space in it, for all my issues with it, even Breath of the Wild knocked it out of the park when it came to avoiding that.  The dungeons don’t have to be exactly like Zelda, but I want something in them besides combat.  Puzzle solving, platforming, shmup sections, just anything but flat halls or mazes.

Being able to interact with the world beyond a generic talk/inspect button and fighting enemies is important to me in a JRPG.  Again, the gold standard is Zelda’s palette of unique items that can be used for both combat and puzzle solving, but anything that makes the levels more than a hall/maze/field with a graphical theme (as Icepick alluded to) will satisfy me.  If I’m going to be playing a role in a world, let me truly interact with that world.


Just because it isn’t an RPG doesn’t mean it can’t be the gold standard for them.

Icepick: Well, I’ve got to say, we’ve had a pretty fruitful discussion about what each of our ideal JRPGs would look like. I guess, the best way to finish would be to do a quick summary of everything we like to see in the genre. I love unique settings that avoid cliches that are synonymous with the genre. Engaging battle systems that go beyond simple menu-based random number generation are a must. I’m open to either permanent stat boosts or a pool of experience that can be readjusted on the fly, but not that big on sidequests in general and love it when an area’s themes are taken into account when designing dungeons.

Dari: I love JRPGs that don’t rely on side-quests but make wholesome side content that help the monotony. Games that “hide the grind” or even change up the battle system entirely to make a change. I like “Living” worlds that change and evolve as I go through them and I like when the character progression isn’t exactly the same as D&D and can do its own thing and still be interesting and fun. Also having the world fight you too is good as well. Have something besides the big bad and his/her cronies to want me dead.

KI: So, my ideal JRPG would basically be Zelda, Nier Automata, and Xenoblade being mixed together.  Varied settings with lots of surprises as you go through the game, action game style combat, intricate, puzzle heavy dungeons.  Simple upgrade system with a separate ability customization system, a few major sidequests that aren’t forced on you under threat of grinding.  A world that’s big enough to make exploration feel significant, but not so big it all blurs together.  Put gameplay and variety over realism.

Icepick: Well, that was a successful experiment. Hopefully Dari decides to join us in more Turn Baseds in the future. (We’ve actually already got a topic picked out, just in case he does.) So, who do you think has the best concepts for the perfect RPG? Dari, who is a die-hard fan of the genre; KI who is neutral, or the radical rebel that is Professor Icepick? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Armchair Dev: Darkstalkers 4

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a tendency of coming up with ideas for sequels to some of my favorite video games. I’m pretty sure that some of my previous works have made that pretty clear, but it goes back even further than that. I mentioned in the final part of my Retrospective on the Classic MegaMan series that I’d come up with a few concepts for titles in that series when I was younger. It goes back even further than that, though: when I was barely in grade school, I was already coming up with ideas for new characters in games like Sonic the Hedgehog or Mortal Kombat. These days, terms like “OC” would be thrown around, but my reasoning back then was a lot more innocent: it was just a way to entertain myself.

As such, I’ve always had something of an itch to come back to some of these ideas. Even before the beginning of Retronaissance, I’d written a few random blog posts on the subject of various sequels I’d like to see and how I’d like to see them done. More recently, we’ve got the examples of such series I’ve done like “Retro or Reboot?” and “Sum of Its Parts”, though each of these series would often add their own unique spins to the concept, rather than just being a straight design document. The closest I came to the original concept was my first “Under Reconstruction” article, detailing a potential remake of Ys V. Still, none of these quite sated my almost gnawing need to do a straight write-up for a sequel. So, here we are – with absolutely no experience in the video game industry, I’m nothing more than an “armchair developer”, so I welcome you to Armchair Dev.

In Armchair Dev, I’m effectively setting out to produce my own takes on sequels to games I like in the form of design documents. Don’t expect any sort of consistent length between entries in this series: some games are just more likely to invoke a much broader reaction out of me than others. These documents will be a bit more segmented than other articles, with various headings and subheadings relating to whatever categories I consider necessary when discussing each concept

And what better way to kick off this series than with a game I’ve been craving for roughly two decades now: a fourth entry in the Darkstalkers series. If we discount Capcom’s various fighting game crossovers, Darkstalkers is clearly their second most popular fighting game franchise: a distant second to Street Fighter, but still relevant enough to see references even to this day, in games like Project X Zone and even Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Capcom did attempt to revitalize the series last-gen by way of a compilation two-pack, Darkstalkers Resurrection. The title’s irony was only visible in hindsight. Coupling Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (my personal favorite) with the more popular Vampire Savior (or Darkstalkers 3, as most people call it), Capcom was obviously trying to recreate the magic of such re-releases as Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, trying to feel out the potential audience for a new game in the franchise, but sales were disappointing.


While Capcom has merely said that their plans have been shelved, it’s safe to say that the Darkstalkers are likely dead and the most we’ll see of them are cameos from Morrigan and a handful of others in the occasional crossover title, leaving the vast majority of the game’s lore and universe lost to us even beyond the foreseeable future. I see things differently. With Capcom focusing more on the eSports side of fighting games, it’s clear that they need to be a little less conservative when it comes to experimenting with new forms of monetizing some of their titles. As Street Fighter is their key fighting brand, it would be nearly suicidal to take unnecessary risks and poison the brand’s reputation – after all, it could be argued that games like Street Fighter EX3 and the earlier iterations of Street Fighter III impacted the brand negatively in the long run, leading to its hiatus, which Street Fighter IV reversed with its safer return to form. On that note, however, the monetization of Street Fighter V was healthier even during its dry period than the more traditional Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, which appears at this point to be on death’s door. Therein lies the rub: Darkstalkers has a dedicated fanbase that hungers so much for a new game that they outright rejected Capcom’s attempt at gauging interest with re-releases. We’re left with a simple juxtaposition: a small, but rabid fanbase that desires a new game and a company that appears to be experimenting with new ways to prop up a genre that saw its heyday in the long-dead arcade scene.

All that being said, I present my take on a fourth Darkstalkers game.

Core Concept

My core idea behind Darkstalkers 4 can be summarized in a phrase: Capcom’s answer to Killer Instinct. While Capcom has a tendency to prefer being innovators in their own rights rather than simply mimicking their competitors, Killer Instinct’s unorthodox success is one that I’d hold up as an example for the future of the fighting game genre. While being one of the greatest success stories on what is either a distant second or even a third-place platform in a console generation isn’t a shining recommendation, it was KI’s sheer longevity that I find so inspiring: a free-to-play fighting game that literally launched with the Xbox One itself managed to survive with new content and balance patches well into 2017. The 2013 reboot of KI managed four years of support, despite the game’s original developer being bought out by Amazon. I can’t help but be impressed.

I’m honestly convinced that some of the decisions made regarding Street Fighter V were inspired by Killer Instinct 2013. The only problem is that they handled things backwards: instead of offering a free “base game” with various levels of transactions for content, SFV went for a base $60 cost while giving players the potential to earn important content with in-game currency. No doubt a bold move, but considering how lackluster SFV was at launch, it definitely led to the game suffering from some major growing pains for the first couple of years. With the advent of Arcade Edition, Capcom’s premier fighter is finally well worth its initial $60 price tag, but considering how many people were turned off when the game launched in 2016 and throughout 2017 – especially when compared to KI’s solid four years of growth – it was an obvious misstep in hindsight.

As such, I suggest that Darkstalkers 4 be Capcom’s first attempt at a true free-to-play console (and ideally, PC) fighting game. Of course, given the fact that Capcom required partnerships to develop their last two fighting games – with Sony providing major funding for SFV and Disney effectively taking control of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite – it would still be imperative for Capcom to both get this game on as many systems as possible and avoid fracturing the userbase by implementing crossplay between systems, just like they did in SFV. With Sony as the lone hold-out in terms of console cross-play, it becomes difficult to determine whether a PS4/PC or XBO/Switch/PC roll-out would be more beneficial.

Price Point

In terms of the game’s price point, I’d suggest outright stealing Killer Instinct’s system. The “base game” of Darkstalkers 4 would be a free downloadable demo, with only 1 rotating playable character available. The free character would be playable for a period between 1-2 months, before a different character is selected. In retrospect, I assume that when Capcom was marketing SFV, the major selling point was less the game itself and more the sheer number of online opponents made available to their customers. This would explain why Capcom gave users the option to unlock future characters for free – an option MvCI lacked. Offering a free, stripped-down version of Darkstalkers 4 would do a much better job of capitalizing on that strategy. Obviously, characters would have to be purchased one way or another – more on that soon – and in cases where a player already owns that month’s free character, they’ll receive another random choice from the remainder of the roster.

On that note, I’d love to see a return of the Fight Money concept from Street Fighter V. Obviously it should be rebranded to something more fitting for the Darkstalkers universe, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll just stick to the existing “Fight Money” term. Of course, I do think it needs a bit of an overhaul, particularly in the way it’s earned. The online component should revert to the way it was during SFV’s beta: at least a small amount of FM should be earned when fighting online, even when losing a match. Even a miniscule amount like 5FM would do a lot to motivate less-skilled players to continue playing online matches and contributing to the health of the community. I’d also take inspiration from Netherrealm Studios’ mobile card fighting games and allow a compromise for earning Fight Money through single-player content: the first completion would pay out a very large amount, but future attempts would pay out at a severely reduced rate.

Likewise, I’d also suggest expanding on the amount of content that can be purchased with fight money. Individual characters can still be purchased with Fight Money, but attempting to do so from the free version alone would be extremely difficult, though not impossible. That or perhaps earning Fight Money would be suspended while playing the free version, with any amount earned deposited as a massive lump sum once a character is purchased.

Purchasing the core content of characters would take on three forms, not unlike what Killer Instinct did in its first two seasons. Individual characters could be purchased for $5 apiece, perhaps with the inclusion of a single extra premium costume. The medium price point – between $20-30 – would nab the entire season of characters in a bare-bones fashion, just the characters and nothing else. Then, there would be a premium package: all of the characters, with an extra premium costume per character, plus some additional features. Maybe a free copy of Darkstalkers Resurrection – or perhaps an even more significant re-release – maybe a large lump sum of in-game currency. Just some bonuses that would cost Capcom very little, while enticing consumers to purchase it due to its perceived value. Obviously, that last package would ideally cost somewhere in the $40-50 range. Future installments of content would offer similar price points: effectively selling season passes without the typical initial $60 investment, an idea I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing attempted in a fighting game.


Of course, the most important part of any video game is easily the gameplay itself. With regards to fighting games, I’d break it down into two equally important core components: mechanics and roster. I’ll be handling both of these in their own respective sections.


Mechanically, I’d draw a lot from the latest game in the series, Vampire Savior (aka Darkstalkers 3). While Night Warriors is my personal preference, it’s clear that VSav is a superior game from a purely mechanical standpoint. For example, DS3 went from the standard rounds system used in Capcom fighting games to using downs: effectively a lives system where players had two whole lifebars to burn through and health isn’t replenished after one player is defeated. I’d love to see a return of the Downs system in a fourth Darkstalkers game (or any new Capcom fighting game, for that matter), but I am a bit concerned: after all, Killer Instinct has used the exact same system in all three of its games. Still, considering the novelty of such a system in Japanese fighting games, I’d definitely keep it.



Likewise, there’s the recoverable damage system, where permanent damage is colored red and white damage can be recovered after a short period of time. Again, a similar system has appeared in Killer Instinct 2013, but considering how similar it is to similar systems found in tag team fighters, I’m sure that mechanic will have an easier time avoiding direct comparisons.


I love that little flame movement when characters take damage.

Likewise, you’ve got to deal with the various uses of the meter. In Darkstalkers 3, 1 bar of meter can be used to perform Enhanced Special (ES) Moves, Extra Special (EX) Moves and the Dark Force mechanic. I’ll try to cut through the confusing terminology as painlessly as I possibly can, by comparing each of these to relative counterparts found in Street Fighter games. VSav’s EX Moves, despite their name, are effectively like Street Fighter’s Super Moves (Critical Arts, Super Arts, etc.). ES Moves, on the other hand, are equal to the EX Moves found in Street Fighters III, IV and V. Dark Force, on the other hand, is a completely different beast, with no real equivalent until SFV’s V-Trigger: a power-up activated via a button combination that grants each character a unique ability for a brief period of time.

In the past, I considered tying Dark Force to a “Revenge Meter” mechanic, not unlike the Ultra Combos in SF4. Half a bar could perform the traditional power-up, while saving an entire bar would allow for a much more powerful “Dark Force” attack, not unlike those aforementioned Ultra Combos. Since then, I’ve changed my mind – adding new meters would simply drag down the importance of the standard meter. Also, keeping all of the gameplay mechanics tied to a single bar would make a new Darkstalkers game pretty unique compared to other modern Capcom fighters. As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that ES Moves and Dark Force activations should cost 1 bar apiece, while EX Moves would cost anywhere from 2 to 3 bars, depending on the amount of damage they deal.


Street Fighter V, eat your heart out.

The game utilizes a more flexible combo system, opting for chain combos over links. It only makes sense, the original Darkstalkers is considered one of the ancestors of what would eventually become the Marvel vs. Capcom series of games, and it’s shown in every iteration of the franchise. Frankly, I’d just keep that as-is – the 1-on-1 nature of the Darkstalkers games allow these mechanics to differentiate themselves from the more chaotic Marvel titles.

There are a few other mechanics present in VSav that feel worth salvaging. First and foremost, is how the series has generally handled projectile collisions. While most fighting games have the two fireballs cancel one another on impact, Darkstalkers goes for a more momentum-based system: whichever projectile has more momentum behind it – usually the more recent of the two projectiles – pushes the other out of its way, at the cost of some of its own force. “Pursuits” are a common technique that allow players to attack downed opponents. As such, downed characters can wake up straight up, forward or backwards – though this isn’t particularly uncommon, especially in modern fighting games. Pushblocks, a hallmark of the defensive options in the Marvel games, were also present in Vampire Savior; as well as Guard Cancelling, which is functionally identical to Street Fighter’s Alpha Counters and more recently, V-Reversals.

Of course, then there are old trappings common in Capcom fighting games of the era that have been ditched in modern games. For example, the entire Darkstalkers series had the option to choose between multiple game speeds, a feature that was discontinued even before Capcom revitalized their stake in the genre with the original Street Fighter IV. As much as I loved this functionality back in the day, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if it didn’t return. The generally accepted rules for VSav in a tournament setting is to use the “Turbo 3” setting, so that seems like the ideal speed to try to match in a new iteration of the series. Likewise, many iterations of Darkstalkers 3 included the option to enable Auto-Block (exactly what it sounds like), another hallmark of Capcom fighters from the mid-90s. Considering the fact that Capcom seems to be attempting to court a more casual audience, I feel like bringing back auto-block would be a good idea when it comes to teaching new players the ropes. Ideally, this could also be accompanied by some form of Simple Mode, like those found in some of the early Marvel games. To make up for these advantages, I’d suggest dampening the player’s health (for Auto-Block) and/or damage (Simple Mode) by anywhere from 5-10%, just to make things even. Capcom tried something similar in Street Fighter x Tekken, but unfortunately, they tied it to the unpopular “Gems” mechanic. I’d simply go for a traditional menu on the character select in the case of a Darkstalkers 4. Also, differentiate players who are and aren’t using these mechanics. Maybe change the tint of characters using either mode, just to serve as a visual cue for players or force these settings to be set beforehand in online matches and allow players the option to filter them out.

In general, I think that many of the elements from previous games in the series like Night Warriors and especially Vampire Savior should be retained, but also streamlined and modernized. One particular oddity in the classic Darkstalkers titles were their tendency toward, shall we say, “unique” inputs for special moves. Nothing exactly on par with some of the most infamous fighting game inputs, but in the early games especially, there was an odd tendency toward “down-to-up half-circles” (that’s the best way I can describe them) and other motions that just felt awkward in practice. I’m not asking for the game to be dumbed down to say, Marvel levels, but keep it within the realm of the Street Fighter games this time around.


I’ve always argued that a fighting game is only as good as its roster – and Darkstalkers 4 should be no exception. Looking at the launch line-ups for games like Killer Instinct 2013 and Street Fighter V, I’ve decided to go with a more classic number. At launch, I’d expect DS4 to have a total of 10 playable characters: the same number available in the original Darkstalkers from 1994. Not particularly a huge number, but it should allow for a diverse assortment of characters and considering my take on DS4 has been conceived as something of a budget title with lots of support in mind, I’d rather have a smaller and more polished base roster to work with from the beginning.


Still one of my favorite designs for a character select.

The roster breakdown, on the other hand, is something I’ve dreaded coming up with. When it comes to fighting games, my tastes tend to deviate from the norm, even in the most niche of titles. Instead, I’ll merely start with a breakdown of how I feel the roster should be situated: a majority of old characters, with a few new original characters to add new life to this undead franchise. Originally, I’d settled on a “9 old to 1 new” ratio, but I think that “8 old to 2 new” would also be a feasible choice. My preference still lies with the former, however. After all, most of the appeal of the Darkstalkers series comes from the universe itself, and by extension, the existing cast.

With that being said, I do have some picks for who I’d consider viable choices for returning characters, which I’ve ranked in order from what I’d consider most to least likely. Many of the characters in the earlier Darkstalkers games had a tendency towards versatile movesets that diminished each character’s identity. As such, I’ve got suggestions for how to reimagine characters in order to give their playstyles unique and cohesive identities – not unlike how Street Fighter V handled many of the returning characters in its own base roster. That being said, I’ve left some popular choices off my list and I’ll explain my omissions after I’ve gone through the ten characters I’d expect to see in a new Darkstalkers game. I’ve also come up with an idea for a “new” playable character I could see as a viable choice among even the most purist of Darkstalkers fans.

Morrigan Aensland

My first character is clearly the most obvious choice possible. It’s to the point where most people don’t think of Morrigan as a Darkstalkers character, but rather “Darkstalkers is the series where Morrigan came from”. Appearing in more crossover games than I can count – though strangely not every single one –  Morrigan is the de facto mascot of the series and has been for quite some time. It just wouldn’t be a Darkstalkers game without her.

Archetype: Honestly, I’d keep her as-is. Considering the sheer amount of experience people have had with Morrigan in recent releases compared to other characters in the series, she already has a modern iteration to use as an effective template in Darkstalkers 4. Give her the same treatment Street Fighter V gave Ryu – she’s equally as iconic in her respective series. As such, Morrigan makes sense as a character meant to ease newcomers into the Darkstalkers series as a whole: easy to learn, but with plenty of depth when mastered. Her moveset is varied, boasting a projectile, “Shoryuken” anti-air and even a command grab. Bring back Valkyrie Turn as an EX move, alongside Darkness Illusion and Finishing Shower (with new, manageable inputs, of course) and for the love of God, just bring back Lilith as her shadow clone. She showed up in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, for crying out loud!

Demitri Maximoff

Character number two seems a bit like a weird choice: bringing in Darkstalkers’ other resident “shoto-like” character so quickly may feel a bit premature. Fun fact – Demitri was originally the main character of the series. In fact, he was the title character in Japan: the titular “Vampire”. There’s also the fact that he’s one of the most prominent characters in the series – sharing the spotlight with only one other in that “Darkstalkers Are Not Dead” trailer from what feels like a lifetime ago – yet never appeared in a Marvel game. Still, cameos in Project X Zone and Capcom Fighting Jam have kept Maximoff relevant to at least some extent, so he’s no wild card.

Archetype: There’s really very little I’d change. His stats were already different from Morrigan, effectively making him the stronger Ryu to her faster Ken. Drop his “Negative Stolen” command grab, to further differentiate himself from Morrigan, but give him a new special move to compensate.  Also, definitely include the Midnight Bliss: it’s a divisive element of the character, but it seems to have more fans than detractors. Just include the Midnight Pleasure – the version where he just eats his opponent without turning them into a sexy lady – to please everyone.


Perhaps the second most prolific character in the series, Felicia has gotten a bad rap as of late, but still manages to consistently show up in various crossovers. She hasn’t appeared in quite as many as Morrigan, but actually managed to appear in one that the succubus was left out of. As such, it would just feel wrong to leave her out of a new game in her series of origin. Her costume may raise a few issues – some have even speculated that this is why she was left out of the latest Marvel vs. Capcom – so a more eSports-friendly redesign may be in order, but as long as her original outfit is made available as an alternative costume, everything should be fine.

Archetype: Felicia’s movelist varies from game-to-game, so trying to create a complete version of her fighting techniques seems like a good place to start. Many of her techniques over the years have cemented her position as a rushdown “pixie” character, relying on close-range combos as her best avenue for damage. As such, I’d mix-and-match my favorite moves from her various iterations to create a fleshed-out, cohesive character concept. Take the Rolling Buckler from MvC3 – where it had numerous follow-up techniques, as opposed to just the uppercut; bring back the Rolling Scratch (follow-up and all) and Sand Splash from Night Warriors and keep the VSav iterations of Delta Kick, EX Charge and Cat Spike. Felicia’s Hellcat technique should also return but heavily modified: rather than an up-close command grab, I picture it starting from a pounce. The medium iteration would act like a command grab from the pounce with a short hop – best example I can think of is Hakan’s Oil Dive from Super Street Fighter 4 – while the heavy iteration would be a strike, with better range but the potential to be blocked. Keep her standard EX Moves and she should be good to go.

Lord Raptor

Demitri’s co-star in the aforementioned “Darkstalkers Are Not Dead” concept trailer, this ghoulish Australian death metal rocking zombie is among the most popular characters in the series, despite his lack of appearances in any Capcom-developed crossovers. Of course, that’s likely just due to the animated nature of the character: when rumors swirled of a Capcom character in MvCI so impressive, “the animators deserve a raise for getting this character into the game”, Lord Raptor (going by the moniker of “Zabel Zarock” in Japan) was one of the most common guesses for the character’s identity. After all, Raptor’s animations are among the most impressive in the series’ history.

Archetype: Another high-speed character, Raptor has traditionally had high attack strength, but ended up with below-average health. As such, I’d probably exaggerate this in a new Darkstalkers game and turn him into a glass cannon-type character: high offense, but low defense. With this in mind, I’d keep Raptor’s moveset similar, though with modified inputs – Raptor’s one of the most prominent examples of those weird inputs I mentioned earlier.


I’d argue that Hsien-Ko (or Lei-Lei, if you’re Japanese) is probably the third most popular Darkstalker character, but that’s mainly based on her appearance record in crossovers. Appearing in games like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Pocket Fighter and more recently, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Project X Zone, a lot of people clearly have a soft spot for this Jiang Shi. She’s also my first character choice that didn’t appear in the original Darkstalkers, making her debut in Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge.

Archetype: Unfortunately, the love for Hsien-Ko has never really translated to her playability in fighting games. Generally ranked as a low-tier character in most of her appearances (and merely mid-tier at her best), Hsien-Ko is among the slowest characters in the series with low health and defense and decent attack. As such, I’d simply keep her low speed, but boost her attack and defense substantially, effectively making her a heavy-hitter, keeping her utility at both close- and far-range. Keep her motions from VSav, and she should be good to go.

Jon Talbain

In my experience, Jon Talbain (alias Gallon) was among the most highly-requested Darkstalker characters to appear in the recent batch of Marvel games. Considering the fact that Infinite added MegaMan X – by far, the most rabidly requested character for MvC3 – it stands to reason that Capcom would be likely to include the kung-fu werewolf in a new Darkstalkers character.

Archetype: Much like Felicia and Lord Raptor, Talbain is a rushdown-heavy character, relying on a balance of strength and speed. Generally considered a top-tier character in Night Warriors and Vampire Savior, it seems fair to retain the character’s abilities. While Felicia and Lord Raptor would represent specific sub-types of the rushdown archetype, Jon would end up being a more balanced, standard variant, with equal emphasis placed on combos and strong attacks.


My reasoning for including Anakaris is sound but unorthodox. Anakaris appeared in both Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Capcom Fighting Evolution – and was even a high-tier character in the latter – giving him more exposure when compared to the rest of the series’ cast. There’s also the worry of including too many female characters, given Darkstalkers’ reputation as a “waifu fighter”, so adding a little testosterone in the form of a dried-out, yet somehow bulked-out mummy doesn’t hurt.

Archetype: Anakaris has generally filled the role of zoner in most of his appearances, it feels fitting to keep him in this role. Most of his attacks are long-range, meant to keep his opponents away from him, meaning that he fits in with the trapper archetype, meaning that he works best when pinning his opponents out from close-range. He can curse enemies, rendering them helpless but small; inhale enemy projectiles and cough them up ad nauseum (pun intended) and even perform a mid-range grab, wrapping his opponent in bandages and swinging them back and forth before slamming them into the ground. Many versions of Anakaris had some decent rushdown capabilities – he even has a divekick – but I’d downplay those elements to emphasise his ranged capabilities.

B.B. Hood

The fourth and final Darkstalkers character that appeared in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, B.B. Hood (or Bulleta, as she’s known in Japan) made her debut in Vampire Savior and has been a cult-favorite ever since. She’s appeared in SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium on the NeoGeo Pocket Color and more recently, as a boss character in Project X Zone. She even managed to appear in Cannon Spike, a free roaming shoot-‘em-up game featuring a variety of Capcom characters.

Archetype: B.B. Hood’s standard moveset appears to have a little bit of everything: projectile attacks, a powerful strike and even a command grab. It leads to an interesting array of attacks, but little cohesion when it comes to strategy. However, her normals are where an identity can be surmised. Firing uzis and tossing and dropping landmines juxtaposed with her missile-heavy moveset and Dark Force implies that B.B. Hood would be best considered as a zoner, but I’d keep her other attacks for the sake of flavor. Her speed and mobility has always been important, making up for the short range of some of her normal attacks. Focusing on the zoning aspects of B.B. Hood would provide an interesting contrast to Anakaris, who has the longest-ranged normals out of the entire cast, while being among the slowest characters in the game.


At this point, my choices become a little more esoteric. Sasquatch is probably no more popular than most of Darkstalker’s remaining cast, in terms of the fandom. However, when it comes to the tournament scene, the character’s considered top-tier in both Vampire Savior and Night Warriors to this day, so there is clearly at least some kind of love for the character, even if it’s strictly functional.

Archetype: Of course, the real reason I’m choosing Sasquatch is due to what he represents. The Darkstalkers games never really had any pure grapplers – likely because almost every character had at least one common grab – Sasquatch generally has at least two such moves in his repertoire, making him a prime candidate. Coupling that with the fact that his Big Snow projectile was replaced with a shorter-range (but otherwise functionally identical) Big Breath in Vampire Savior, along with his other moves make him perfect as a close-range fighter. I’d simply take his moveset from VSav and give him back his Big Cyclone from NW, to give him more tools to get close the distance between him and his opponent.


By this point, the last three characters I’d even consider for the game are about equally likely in my eyes: after all, I’d shoot for a ten-character base roster, with at least one original character, so this is honestly more about covering every character I’d personally consider for an initial slot. Q-Bee is, by no means, a popular character, even in the context of a niche series like Darkstalkers. This isn’t really helped by the fact that she was only playable in Vampire Savior (and technically, Vampire Savior 2, but that doesn’t really count as a new game), though she did made appearances in the Card Fighters games, Namco x Capcom and both Project X Zone games. However, she was considered a top-tier character in VSav, which is why I’d consider her worthy of inclusion.

Archetype: As with B.B. Hood, Q-Bee’s moveset is kind of…all over the place. She’s got two command grabs, an aerial assault and even an attack similar to Chun-Li’s Lightning Legs. Her EX moves are a giant ball of honey that immobilizes her opponent and an attack that allows her to summon her hive to attack. I’m tempted to reimagine Q-Bee as a puppet character, simply due to the legions of soul bees at her disposal, but they’d clearly be support rather than Q-Bee’s main source of damage, and I worry about attempting to add a puppet character to any game with Morrigan in it, considering her use of Astral Vision. Still, I’m confident that the concept can be differentiated enough. Perhaps the P-Bee drones can appear in new special and EX moves added to Q-Bee’s current repertoire.


Rikuo’s been a mainstay of the Darkstalkers series from the very beginning, only sitting out in Vampire Savior 2. On the other hand, his appearances outside the series have been pretty sparse. Still, this curiously attractive fishman (better known as Aulbath in Japan) has been mid-to-high-tier for the entirety of the series. Perhaps that’s a poor justification for including him, but it seems valid to me.

Archetype: Rikuo suffers from the same “jack-of-all-trades” movesets that many Darkstalkers characters have, but in this case, I feel it may be a strength. Make him an all-around character: shotos typically fulfill that archetype, but having a non-shoto variant would add some depth to the roster. Keep his moveset from VSav, but bring back Screw Shot from Night Warriors. Rikuo’s generally been a character that generally uses his projectiles to disable opponents, allowing him to get in close to deal major damage, that seems like a pretty good basis for the character.

Those ten characters are the ones I’d consider the most likely. Admittedly, anyone of them that didn’t make it would be a shoe-in for Season 2, along with Huitzil – I just can’t justify him being in the base roster, no matter how much I love him – and Bishamon – probably my least favorite character in the franchise.

Darkstalkers fans have probably noticed a host of omissions regarding my potential roster. Compared to many fighting games, especially Capcom’s, the Darkstalkers series has a pretty big emphasis on storyline. By the end of Vampire Savior, quite a few characters’ futures can be called into question. Pyron is generally assumed to have been killed and absorbed by Demitri at the end of Night Warriors. Lilith has clearly been absorbed into Morrigan – a fact that would hopefully be represented in a fourth Darkstalkers game, unlike the latest Marvel vs. Capcom games. Thus, Pyron and Lilith are off-the-table, at least for the base roster. However, there are other characters that we can surmise have met with unfortunate fates. Given Jedah’s goal to reconstitute both Makai and Earth’s souls into a single perfect being, it can be safely assumed that he was defeated at the end of Vampire Savior, and may very well have died once again in the process. Granted, the ending in Vampire Savior 2 implied that Jedah can easily revive himself, so maybe he could appear as an unplayable boss in the initial release, while becoming playable in a future season.

Likewise, while most fighting game endings tend to be non-canonical, the Darkstalkers series appears to take a “broad strokes” approach. For example, in Night Warriors, Jon Talbain regains his humanity; Felicia becomes a famous celebrity; Rikuo meets a surviving female of his species and the two settle down and have a child; and Hsien-Ko and Mei-Ling give up their lives to save their mother’s soul, only to be reincarnated as a new pair of twins. All of these story elements end up being canonical in Vampire Savior’s storyline, so it’s safe to assume that many of the endings in Vampire Savior would likely be considered canonical in a fourth Darkstalkers game. After failing to bring his sister back to life, Victor gives up his life to revive her.

Finally, there’s Donovan. In his Night Warriors ending, he ends up succumbing to his tainted blood, effectively becoming a vampire in his own right. Capcom has tried to keep Donovan’s fate ambiguous, but the presence of “Dee”, a hybrid character with Donovan’s head pasted on Demitri’s body, in an arranged version of Vampire Savior (only present in the Japan-exclusive Vampire Darkstalkers Collection on PS2), seems to imply that Donovan’s grisly fate may have come to pass. On the other hand, Donovan himself did appear in the home versions of Darkstalkers 3, with an ending. However, given the similar presence of the deceased Pyron, as well as the fact that his ward Anita hadn’t aged a day, despite VSav taking place several years after NW, makes me think that a terrible fate did end up befalling Donovan after all.


Seems pretty cut and dry to me.

That’s not to say that I’d leave these characters out of the game entirely – quite a few of them have some pretty big followings – I’d just suggest that Capcom should find a way to bring these characters back while logically following the canon established in previous games. If Capcom does end up bringing back any of these characters, I hope it doesn’t end up happening in a “I didn’t actually die” manner, sort of like how they revived Gouken in Street Fighter IV. Fortunately, Nash’s resurrection in Street Fighter V was handled a lot better, so I have some confidence that Capcom would put some effort into revitalizing these defunct characters.

At the same time, there should definitely be some new blood added to the game, and it needs to take place from the very beginning. Night Warriors made the bosses from the original Darkstalkers playable and added two completely new characters on top of that. Vampire Savior added another four, which came at the expense of three characters from the previous game, though it’s hard to say if hardware limitations were the sole cause of their removal – at the very least it led to the creation of both Vampire Hunter 2 (to bring the old characters into the new engine) and Vampire Savior 2 (which replaced 3 existing characters in the VSav roster, allowing the NW-exclusive characters a chance to combat the new characters that arose in their absence). As such, it’s safe to say that Darkstalkers games generally rely on adding new members to their cast, and regardless of the mixed reception towards many of Capcom’s more recent attempts at creating Street Fighter characters, relying entirely on nostalgia from the beginning feels like a big miscalculation.

I’m not going to bore you with fanfiction-level pitches for original characters or even talk about what iconic characters from myths or horror movies would make good choices for new characters. I just have one suggestion that Capcom should keep in mind: try bringing in an older Anita as a playable character. This isn’t even an entirely new concept, unused data found in the arcade version of Vampire Savior implies that both she and Huitzil (alas, poor Phobos!) may have been planned as playable characters, but were likely left out due to space limitations. Dee’s ending in that Vampire Darkstalkers Collection I mentioned earlier uses a sprite that appears to be modelled after the design found in the arcade version’s data, along with two still shots that seem to have been used for both the versus screen and a victory screen, respectively. All of this artwork matches up perfectly with the character design found in the unused content, which leads me to believe that Anita was pretty far along in development before being scrapped.


Is this the little girl I carried? 

Hopefully, that would mean that there was already a moveset concept far enough along for the character, which Capcom could recycle and use in a Darkstalkers 4. Of course, due to Capcom’s reluctance to comment on Donovan’s fate, it’s also possible that they may avoid using Anita in general. However, both Night Warriors’ and Vampire Savior’s storylines have made allusions to her growth and power: Donovan’s ending in Night Warriors shows her as a grown woman, while Jedah’s ending in Vampire Savior makes reference to an unknown “ruler of humans”, making nothing clear aside from her gender. On the other hand, Street Fighter V itself seems to be pushing its series’ particular storyline forward, filling in the gaps between earlier games in the canon and III, which seemed like a dead-end for the series storyline as recently as the previous game. Perhaps Capcom’s becoming bolder and we’ll finally get some answers to whatever questions we may have about the fate of the popular Dark Hunter and his young ward can finally show off some of her incredible potential. With all of that in mind, Capcom may decide to save Anita for inclusion down the line and go with a completely original idea in the base roster. From a storyline and popularity standpoint, Anita kind of reminds me of Jubei from Blazblue: both characters have been established as extremely powerful in canon, but Capcom and Arc System Works respectively have dragged their feet on making them playable. I just hope that if Anita isn’t in the base roster of a new Darkstalkers game, that she becomes playable sooner rather than later.


Back in the 90s, all you really needed for a fighting game was an Arcade mode for single-player and a versus mode to allow two players to compete head-to-head. Anything else felt like a bonus. At this point in time, consumers are a lot more discerning. While the most hardcore players of the genre feel like any resources spent on anything that isn’t the versus mode is a waste, mainstream audiences generally prefer a great deal of single-player content. In recent years, Capcom had suffered difficulties when trying to court both audiences, so let’s see if we can find a way to make both groups happy.

First, let’s take a look at the additional modes – that is, anything besides the standard Arcade and Versus modes – present in previous home versions of Darkstalkers games, if only for inspiration. The first game to add any additional modes was the home port of Darkstalkers 3 on the original PlayStation. These new modes include Training (a staple in the genre today), Collection (which allowed players to unlock artwork, music and the arcade mode endings for repeat viewings) and most importantly, Original Character. In what was clearly a predecessor to World Tour mode in Street Fighter Alpha 3, Original Character Mode allowed players to choose any character from the main roster, edit their colors and names and play through multiple run-throughs of Arcade mode in order to power them up, boosting their strength, allowing them to start with more and more full Super Meters and even increasing the number of downs they have available. There wouldn’t be another new mode until Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower on the PlayStation Portable. Fittingly dubbed Tower, players would select three characters and try to tackle a long tower, filled with opponents. Completing certain tasks like finishing an opponent with an EX move would change the path taken in the Tower itself, leading to quicker routes. Enemies become more and more dangerous the higher a player reaches, and the mode only allowed for interrupt saving, and that’s only due to the mode’s length.


In my defense, it’s really hard to summarize an entire game mode into a single image.

Let’s start with the obvious modes: the multiplayer. The usual should suffice, both local and online versus modes, allowing for fights with human opponents, the latter of which likely using a new iteration of Capcom’s proprietary “Kagemusha” netcode. Throw in a “VS CPU” mode and that should keep most hardcore players happy. Personally, I’d want to see a 2-on-2 tag mode as an option – sort of like the Variable Battle in Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX – simply because it would be interesting to see Capcom add a tag option in a game that didn’t rely upon it as a standard mechanic (the most recent game I can think of that tried this was the reboot of Mortal Kombat). That seems a bit outside of the scope of this kind of game though.

Then there’s the single-player modes. As Street Fighter V has taught us, Arcade Mode is a must. In Darkstalkers 4’s case, I’d suggest using Arcade Mode as the basic story mode at launch, simply due to a small roster that could have the potential for expansion. A cinematic Story Mode wouldn’t be available at launch, but rather once the game’s roster is large enough to bring such a mode to its full potential. Ideally, the Arcade Mode would work similarly to Vampire Savior’s: with rival battles, minor story segments and different boss fights per character. Of course, given my early proposed roster doesn’t have any obvious boss characters, but ideally the Arcade Mode would be updated as new characters are added to the game, with expansions made to existing characters’ storylines.

As for extra modes, I’d love to see Darkstalkers Chronicle’s Tower Mode return in a new Darkstalkers game. It seems like a much more interesting concept than SFV’s Survival Mode, leading to a greater deal of replay. Considering the addition of Fight Money, bringing in the Weekly Missions from Street Fighter V would also be a good idea. Training Mode and Trials round out the game’s single-player offerings, with the potential for more content down the line.


While most people would argue that a game should only be judged on its gameplay, it’s just not realistic in practice. Before one can play a game, they must have their senses enticed by the sights and sounds of the game in question. If that weren’t the case, then The King of Fighters XIV wouldn’t have been derided for its PS2-quality visuals and this industry wouldn’t be obsessed with pushing graphical quality to its limitations, despite the diminishing returns. The Darkstalkers games are clearly among the most stylish out of all of Capcom’s fighting games, to the extent where I’d argue they might even be the most stylish games Capcom has ever produced in its entire history. As such, a true successor to the series would have to live up to those expectations.


First and foremost, there is the game’s tone. Despite sharing a Teen rating in North America with other Capcom fighters like Street Fighter and Rival Schools, the games themselves contained much more adult content compared to their contemporaries. Characters would be dismembered in standard attacks – Jedah used to decapitate himself in his Guard Counter – causing the game to be a much gorier affair than other Capcom games at the time outside of Resident Evil. Likewise, most of the female cast members were far more sexualized compared to other fighting games at the time. Morrigan in particular could be counted upon to deliver double entendres: she was a succubus after all, a literal sex demon.


One second, you’re carving out your enemies’ entrails…

Obviously the 90s were a long time ago, and graphical resolutions have skyrocketed since then. Likewise, the all-seeing eye of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board has focused a lot more on Japanese content since those days. As such, if Capcom attempted to do some of the stuff they attempted back in 1994, it would probably net them a Mature rating… and I’m actually completely fine with that.


…the next, a robot’s a one-man (bot?) band.

Darkstalkers is already a niche franchise and I’ve seen a loud minority of the Street Fighter fanbase – particularly the ones who wanted a Mortal Kombat crossover – crying out for Capcom to try experimenting with an M-rated fighting game. I wouldn’t want Darkstalkers to be toned down from its mature, yet wacky tone in the original ’90s releases and considering the fact that these days, the games’ content would be placed under greater scrutiny, I say Capcom should just throw caution to the wind and deliver a worthy successor. That’s not to say that I want Capcom to go out of their way to shoot for a Mature rating: I just want the same style of content present in the earlier titles to be present in a new one, with no worries over censoring content to hit a specific rating. That being said, avoiding the dreaded Cero Z rating – effectively the Japanese counterpart to the rarely-seen “Adults Only” (AO) ESRB rating – is crucial, but given the fact that Capcom’s a Japanese company to begin with and most of the content that could potentially earn said rating would be perfectly hunky-dory in America, aiming for a Mature rating seems like a safe bet for retaining the series’ tone in a new entry.


In an ideal world, a fourth Darkstalkers game would consist of high-definition, hand-drawn 2D graphics, similar to Skullgirls, but on a much grander scale. Alas, the days where we could expect companies to undertake a project in that style are long gone, so clearly, a new Darkstalkers game – and in fact, any other future Capcom fighting games – will likely use a 2.5D style: 3D models facing off on a two-dimensional plane. While sprites and hand-drawn 2D animation will always have a certain flair, 3D models are generally easier to market to the general public, cheaper to design in the long run and best of all, allow for additional flourishes, like alternative costumes that would generally require completely redrawing characters in traditional 2D games.


So, with a heavy heart, I acknowledge that 3D models are clearly the more realistic choice for any new game in the series. However, special care must be paid to the animations. Fortunately, we do have at least some small pieces of evidence that Capcom may be up to snuff in this regard. On a system as powerful as the Wii – itself, on par with consoles from the previous generation – Capcom was able to achieve Morrigan using Lilith as a shadow double in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, a 2-on-2 tag-team fighting game. Likewise, Morrigan (sans Lilith, unfortunately), Felicia and Hsien-Ko were able to be recreated relatively accurate in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which had the twin disadvantages of being a 3-on-3 fighter and being developed for two systems with severely narrow bottlenecks when it came to RAM.


Of course, even characters like Felicia are gonna need at least five models.

Of course, the most relevant indication I have is also the most recent. In Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, Jedah Dohma was added with extreme detail and work put into his animations – a gilded rose in what was otherwise a pile of manure. Given the current swarm of rumors around MvCI, specifically that the entire game’s budget was on par with a single season of DLC for Street Fighter V, that would seem to imply that achieving a 10-character roster with the same level of animation quality from scratch – which isn’t even entirely necessary, given the existing assets for three of the characters I’ve listed – isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility.


Even by today’s standards, this is amazing.

With that in mind, a fourth Darkstalkers game – regardless of budget – should definitely go for a more abstract look compared to its creator’s contemporaries. Street Fighter V tried to bridge the gap between realistic and bizarre visuals, with mixed success. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, on the other hand, went for an even more realistic look, a fitting choice given the game’s emphasis on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the visuals suffered greatly as a result. Darkstalkers 4 should go in the exact opposite direction, favoring a more abstract style.


Try to recreate those gorgeous backgrounds too.

We’ve seen this work in lower budget fighting games – despite it’s low graphical fidelity, ARIKA’s Fighting EX Layer is generally considered a joy to look at, due to its emphasis on aesthetics over impressive graphics. I’d argue the same for The King of Fighters XIV, but I’m probably in the minority, considering the rough state of the visuals when the game was first revealed. Perhaps the best example would have to be Microsoft’s Killer Instinct revival, a game that didn’t deliver on impressive graphical quality, but still managed to create an appealing look that made it one of the most popular Xbox One exclusives throughout the console’s entire experience – one that even the discerning eyes of PC gamers were more than impressed with.

Detailing the kind of art style I’d like in a new Darkstalkers game is difficult. My mind automatically seems to default to a cel-shaded look, likely due to the fact that I’ve recently watched the Night Warriors OVA from several years back. Despite criticisms surrounding the piece, I felt like it did an amazing job recreating the style and substance of the Darkstalkers series in general.  Frankly, I wouldn’t mind something like that “Darkstalkers Are Not Dead” trailer I kept mentioning earlier for a final look of the game. Considering how old that concept trailer must be by now, recreating the particular dark, exaggerated style in a full game shouldn’t be too difficult for Capcom to achieve, especially with a small introductory roster of 10 characters.


Imagine this, but in 3D.


It cannot be understated how important the artstyle has been for Darkstalkers throughout its entire history. Boasting among some of the best-drawn 2D sprite work of all-time, Darkstalkers felt like a direct response to Street Fighter. Perhaps in an effort to offset some of the game’s darker material, characters would often take on cartoony, exaggerated proportions and expressions, making the game almost as enjoyable to watch as it was to play. The visuals in these games definitely pushed Capcom’s CPS-2 hardware to its limit and produced among the most beautiful backgrounds in the entire fighting game revolution of the 1990s – rivaling even those of SNK. (Seriously, if you’re unfamiliar with these and a huge fan of pixel art, look up backgrounds for both the Darkstalkers games and SNK’s later titles on the NeoGeo hardware, you won’t regret it.)

Sound Design

Usually, when I write about video games, I have a tendency to listen to video game music to help me focus. When writing about a series I particularly enjoy, I stick to music from those particular games. I originally didn’t intend on doing a section regarding the game’s audio – I’m not much of a composer and frankly, listing off a dream team of voice actors feels inconsequential – but as I was listening to old songs from the games themselves, rearrangements and even original fan pieces inspired by the series, I was reminded of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’s soundtrack, the latest game to feature compositions from the Darkstalkers series, and how lifeless the game’s compositions were. I decided to listen to the two songs (Morrigan and Jedah’s themes) once more, to convince myself that they weren’t as bad as I remembered.

I didn’t get far in either track before I shut them off. To make matters worse, I compared them to other recent iterations of Darkstalkers themes, yet Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom’s iterations didn’t evoke any of the disgust I felt listening to Infinite’s compositions. I ended up doing a little research and found that the game’s composer, Eishi Segawa, had mostly done work in film and television: MvCI was the first video game credited to him. I’m inclined to believe he was chosen for his background in an effort to make the game sound more “cinematic”, so I’m not going to blame him for the poor showing, rather Capcom and Marvel for once again perpetuating the idea that “cinematic” has to be synonymous with “bland”.

That being said, I still have my concerns about Capcom’s musical output as of late. I’d say that Capcom’s recent attempts at scoring their fighting games have been less good and more “mixed”. There have definitely been some amazing rearrangements of classic themes and original compositions in Capcom’s recent output, but it seems just as likely that a bland take or an annoying new song is just as likely to crop up in any given soundtrack.

I’d probably want a new Darkstalkers game to have music that evokes the same kind of tone that the original CPS-2 compositions did, but that’s a difficult thing to really quantify, especially against modern sound technology. The musical themes from Darkstalkers, Night Warriors and Vampire Savior all managed to capture their own settings, while still sounding similar enough to form a cohesive soundtrack, yet the way that these two conflicting goals were achieved was likely due to the technical limitations at the time, as opposed to despite them. Having said that, I wouldn’t suggest using the classic instrumentations in a new game, simply because it feels like in many cases, attempting to directly recreate the instruments from older video game hardware often leads to a more calculated and less enjoyable sound.

Instead, Darkstalkers 4 should embrace newer technology with its musical compositions. At the same time, it should definitely pay homage to the sounds of previous titles, which brings up a question: what would the more realistic equivalent of the music in the original Darkstalkers games even sound like? There are a few obvious answers – Lord Raptor’s themes have generally gone for a heavy metal vibe; Anakaris, Hsien-Ko and Bishamon’s music have always tried to represent stereotypical notions of their countries of origin; Huitzil’s themes have been mechanical with tons of brass instruments in their composition; Felicia’s themes have been upbeat dance numbers (with plenty of meowing added for good measure); and Green Scream (along with Rikuo’s other themes) tends more towards natural sounds, attempting to recreate various forest settings. With all that being said, there were a few instruments that are abstract and difficult to discern any real-world equivalents. Likewise, Darkstalkers’ compositions would generally incorporate sounds that managed to sound otherworldly despite the clear limitations of the sound hardware. These sound effects have a tendency to show up in fan compositions and arrangements, but not as much in officially licensed tracks… and I don’t know how I feel about that.

I suppose Morrigan’s theme provides the best basis for comparing and contrasting official arrangements of Darkstalkers music, simply because of the entire cast, she’s the most likely to be present in crossover games, therefore I would have a lot of material to work with. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom’s original Japanese soundtrack performed Morrigan’s Night Warriors theme in a style not unlike smooth jazz, and I think it’s my personal favorite official modern take on the composition, though I’m not sure if that’s because of my musical tastes or how well this new arrangement matched the original composition. The version in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 sounded a bit more artificial and bombastic, but managed to keep a jazzier sound with a great emphasis on a synthesized saxophone. Project X Zone reimagined the same theme with a greater emphasis on synthesized sound, which while accurate, just ends up sounding hollow. The sequel went with Deserted Chateau and gave it a more orchestral sound, which just seems wrong to me for some reason. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite went back to the Night Warriors theme and gave it a techno club sound, which seems incredibly wrong to me for some reason. Maybe it’s because the original composition gets overpowered throughout the track, but low-quality arrangements seem to be a recurring theme in that soundtrack in general.

While a jazz motif seems to fit with Morrigan’s theme, it seems out-of-place with themes like Victor’s solemn dirges, Sasquatch’s more playful and upbeat theme or the aforementioned heavy metal of Lord Raptor. As such, it become imperative for Capcom to shift from style to style depending on the composition in question. Multiple composers would likely sidestep this problem entirely, but there must be cohesion between the entire sound team in order to match the spirit of the classic compositions.

There is one more thing I feel I have to mention if I’m going to be thorough about any new Darkstalkers game’s soundtrack: individual victory themes for each character on the roster. They need to return. While more recent iterations of Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom have stuck to a single theme for character victories, this was a constant in both series for the most part. Meanwhile, even from the very beginning, Darkstalkers attributed unique themes to each character after winning a match. I see no reason to break this beautiful tradition, as they serve to further differentiate each character, giving them a more unique persona – most notably in Vampire Savior, where characters didn’t really have individual stages, and by extension, stage themes.


Also, miss the contrasting win/lose poses from the first game.

This brings up one final, yet major question: new compositions or rearrangements? I’d personally go with both, taking a similar stance to Street Fighter V: with character themes being retained, but new, original themes for characters with less iconic themes and new stages. Characters from the first two games in the series clearly have existing themes, while Vampire Savior characters don’t have any specific themes, though they are generally associated with existing themes: for example, B.B. Hood was given the War Agony theme in Match of the Millennium and Jedah was given a remix of the Fetus of God stage music in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. It could be argued that the VSav characters could get brand-new themes – like Karin and R. Mika, who eschewed their leitmotifs from Street Fighter Alpha 3 in favor of new compositions – but I’ll leave that up to Capcom. After all, considering the sheer amount of recreations of old stages found in SFV, it’s entirely possible that all of those areas in VSav could reappear and it would be odd for them to lose the songs associated with them. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind if Darkstalkers 4 went for entirely original compositions as well, while selling new arrangements of classic themes as cosmetic DLC.

That brings us to the voice acting. Ideally, we’d be looking at a dual audio situation, much like Street Fighter V, as opposed to just an English voice cast like in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Of course, given Darkstalkers’ relative popularity in both regions, that seems like a given – or at the very least, if the game only has one set of voice acting, it would likely be Japanese. Regardless, it seems likely that the voice cast used in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – and in Morrigan’s English voice actor’s case, Infinite – would return if Capcom were to ever make another game in the series.

With all that being said, there are really only two voice actors I would want to come back in a fourth Darkstalkers game – and they’re both for the same character. I’d want Yuji Ueda and Scott McNeil to reprise their respective roles of Lord Raptor in Japanese and English respectively. Considering the fact that Ueda has reprised the role of Lord Raptor as recently as Project X Zone and has still been playing characters for Capcom – specifically, Blanka in Street Fighter (though it’s unknown if he’s returning for SFV) – I think he’s pretty much a lock for the role. Scott McNeil, on the other hand, hasn’t really worked as much in video games, though he did do voice acting in Dead Rising 2.

Post-Launch Roadmap

Of course, most of what I detailed in this write-up is meant for the game’s launch. Killer Instinct managed to launch with a similar amount of content but proved so successful, it ended up getting two more seasons worth of content across four years. Ideally, Darkstalkers 4 would also end up being successful enough to obtain additional content down the line. Of course, Capcom seems to have a tendency of greenlighting at least a single additional season of extra content, regardless of the game’s success. However, given the free-to-play nature of this pitch, Capcom may count the initial release as the only guaranteed content for the game, withholding future funding until the game proves successful.

Each of Killer Instinct’s seasons included eight characters, though the first two seasons also included bonus characters reworked from existing members of the roster (Shadow Jago and Omen, respectively), while the third season was followed by what was dubbed “Season 3.5”, consisting entirely of three characters similar to the bonuses in the first two seasons. Meanwhile, the DLC seasons in both Street Fighter V and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite consisted of six characters apiece. In the case of Darkstalkers 4, I would suggest a compromise: the usual six characters that Capcom usually does, but with the addition of a seventh bonus character, free with the season pass but available as a separate purchase, at a cheaper price than a standard character.

I foresee the game having roughly two additional seasons if the initial release ends up being successful. The first would consist of four returning characters (likely whoever gets left off my proposed roster, along with Bishamon and Huitzil), two brand-new characters and Lilith as the season’s bonus character – a big part of the reason why I’m so adamant about her model being included as one of Morrigan’s art assets. The third season would bring back the remaining old characters, along with a few more newbies. Whether or not the game continues to receive support after that would likely depend on the popularity of the original characters created for the game.

While reading over this article, my editor pointed out that guest characters would be a good idea for content in a new Darkstalkers. While he suggested Dante (from Devil May Cry), I’ve also heard people mention Tessa and the rest of the cast from Red Earth (or War-Zard). Arthur and Firebrand from the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series also come to mind. Generally, I’ve been against the concept of guest characters in the past, but given their ubiquity in modern games, my stance has mellowed. My only stipulation is that they wouldn’t be added to the game until after every character from the previous games is playable.


Couldn’t resist.

Once Capcom decides to end support for the game, it would make sense to release a physical version with all of the content from every season of the game included, much like Killer Instinct’s Definitive Edition. Perhaps, Capcom would do two versions of this, a cheaper standard version and a more expensive version with additional physical goods, just to sweeten the deal for collectors and die-hard fans.

Thus concludes the first edition of Armchair Dev. What do you think? Am I completely off-base with my pitch for a new Darkstalkers game or do you think free-to-play would be an interesting avenue for revitalizing the cult classic? Do you think my choices for the base roster were among the most popular characters in the series or did I forget anyone? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Bad Portsmanship?

Recently there has been quite a bit of derision directed towards the practice of “portbegging.” The idea that people asking for a game to be made available on their system of choice are at best pathetic and at worst a species of parasite that video game websites must actively suppress has become a strongly-held belief by some influential members of the gaming community, and as you can probably guess from my word choice thus far, I disagree. There’s a fair amount of nuance involved in this issue, but as a whole I think the title of this article more often applies to those against so-called “portbegging”.

Portbegging can be simply defined as asking for or demanding that a game which is coming to at least one other platform be released on your system or one of your systems of choice. Now that right there sums up the crux of why I think many condemnations of portbegging are unfair: they lump together asking for a game and demanding a game. There are very few circumstances where I would consider asking for a game to come to your system worthy of derision, as long as you are willing to take no for an answer given a reasonable explanation. Someone genuinely doesn’t know Nintendo owns Mario? Then I’m not going to throw a tantrum if they ask for Super Mario Odyssey on PS4, as long as they accept it not happening upon having the situation explained to them.


No, this isn’t precedent.

This segues nicely into something I want to discuss. As you may be aware, Bayonetta 2 and 3 being Nintendo exclusive is the greatest injustice of the modern era, and Nintendo funding (or very likely funding in Bayonetta 3’s case) them is no excuse for the games not being released on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Vita, and 3DO. This is a rallying point for people who take the acceptance of portbegging to its illogical extreme, and needs to be addressed so that my argument does not appear contradictory. It really isn’t that complicated: there’s a difference between wanting a completely third-party game (especially if it’s already on systems from multiple companies) to be released on your platform of choice, and demanding a game owned or funded by a first-party publisher be released on competing systems.


Coming to PS4 any day now for the last five years.

This is so obvious that I’m skeptical that many people truly don’t understand it, I think this false equivalency is more likely to be a bad faith argument used by people who are bitter that a game isn’t coming to a system they own. The idea that Nintendo is holding a game that only exists because of them “hostage” by making it exclusive to their systems, or that Nintendo fans have no right to complain if a third-party game is on every platform except Nintendo’s because they won’t “share” Bayonetta, is blatantly ridiculous. For the record, I completely understand that games like Cuphead will not come to Switch or PS4 unless Microsoft decides to allow it, and am not angry at Microsoft or those games for the situation. And again, if someone doesn’t understand the Bayonetta situation and asks for it on their system of choice, they’ve done nothing wrong as long as they accept the explanation for why that won’t happen.

So, moving on from the clear-cut exception of games that are made or owned by first-party publishers, what else determines when it becomes reasonable to be upset at an answer of no when you ask for a game on your system? One thing I consider a major factor is exclusive versus excluded. Of the four major gaming platform brands (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Steam), I find it much harder to justify a game being on only three of those than just one of them. If a company can only afford (at least for now) to release a game on one of those, or even if one of the companies made a deal for exclusivity, I think that is often understandable. Now there are exceptions to that, mainly when it comes to sequels. If an indie game was successful on consoles but only the PC version gets a sequel, I’m much less likely to accept “well we could only afford to make a PC version” as a justification. (I’m still furious at ScrewAttack for what happened with the AVGN Adventures sequel) Likewise, paying to make a sequel to a multi-platform game exclusive to your system (not funding that game existing in the first place like Bayonetta 2) is a dick move. But for the most part, if a game is only available on one platform (or two in the case of Microsoft’s decision to release all of their Xbox One games on PC as well, which I think is a strategically bad move but one they have every ethical right to make) I consider demanding that it come to other systems to be bad portsmanship.


I’m not angrily demanding this on Switch or PS4. That means I’m better than PC gamers and they should put it on my systems, right?

With all those exceptions, when do I actually think portbegging is unfairly maligned? When the game isn’t exclusive, but excluded. If a company refuses to release games on PC for no apparent reason or excludes Switch from a collection of classic games that it could unquestionably run perfectly (Capcom was guilty of this, but got better), while the other three platforms get it, I think asking for the game to come to the one platform that is missing out is a completely reasonable request. Does seeing “Can we have this game on Switch?” or “Is there any reason you can’t put this on Steam?” on a forum really ruin a game for you? Why is wanting your system to get every multi-platform game a sign of greed, isn’t that the entire point of games being multi-platform? The fact that at least one major message board would ban people on sight for asking for a game on a system it wasn’t announced for shows just how bad this anti-portbegging hysteria has gotten. It seems like it’s just a repackaged version of spending recess bragging that your system got a game and that loser’s system didn’t, only even more obnoxious since you’re acting like you’re the victim of having to see… *clutches pearls* portbegging!


Never forget. Never.

So not too much more to say about this topic. There are times when demanding a game on your system is clearly unreasonable, but this does not apply to simply asking and, in some circumstances, even demanding it isn’t that unreasonable. If seeing someone ask for a game that isn’t even exclusive to your favorite system get one more version is really that upsetting to you, maybe you’re the one with the problem.

Arr Matey! The Case for Piracy in Gaming

*Note: This is only an opinion piece. Piracy is wrong and you shouldn’t do it unless you know that the thing you are pirating cannot support the creators or in protest of the creators.

A long time ago, I used to buy video games. I still do, but that’s really not my point. I realized that gaming was expensive. Games were more expensive back then and my wallet was hitting flies real fast. So then I found the PC. I had a Packard Bell. I know I’m showing my age by saying this but hey, age is better in some cases. I quickly found that there were many services that were available on the internet…especially under the wide world of DIAL-UP! But I digress (while still showing my age…) I found the wonderful world of emulation. I found ZSNES and I found out there were many games on the SNES and the NES that I never even knew about. I was a poor boy growing up, so being a gamer was hard. I didn’t have many real games or the consoles I have today. If the younger me could see me now, he’d be honestly surprised and maybe even shocked I spent so much money. Anyway, it’s time for me to start my reasoning.

It’s a Hard Knock Life for Games…

My gaming life started with the SNES. It was the first console I ever owned. The games I remember playing the most were Super Mario World, Tom and Jerry, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, Wheel of Fortune Deluxe Edition (the only game I still have) Legend of the Mystical Ninja and a Caesar’s Palace game my brother had. As you can see, my list was really small for carts in console. As I said earlier, when I found out about ZSNES, my gaming world was opened. It was there that I found out about many games that I could not have access to because I didn’t have the money to buy games. Games such as Final Fantasy, Lufia, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Dragon Quest, Dragon Ball Z series, and lots more series were in my grasp. All it took was downloading a ROM of the game. There were many warnings about how downloading ROMS were illegal and such, but me and my wallet said that the risk was worth it. I played many games this way (and only this way) in a lot of cases. Most of my teenage years were spent downloading many different ROMS and playing games alone and sometimes with other people, depending on how much patience we had with internet and other things.

Instead of Winning….I Got Whipped!

As I continued my pirate gaming life, I found mIRC. This is a chatting program that allows you to connect to servers and chat with people around the world. See how great the internet is? Little did I know this would further my quest on finding more games for free! I found many mIRC servers that had many games on them I’d never heard of again! They were also on a new console. The Game Boy Advance. I think I was hooked around then. Because I had gotten a Game Boy Advance for Christmas one year during this time and I only had 2 games in real life for it. Those games were Metroid Fusion and Sonic Advance 1. All the other Game Boy Advance games I played (and still play to this day, really sadly) were emulated. I actually talked myself out of buying Kingdom Hearts:Chain of Memories on Game Boy Advance because I thought I wouldn’t be able to beat the game in real life, and I’m more used to the controls on the emulator on my computer anyway. The problem with emulation is when you have to reset your computer. You lose all your saves and all your games, so you have to remember what games you had and you have to reset them. This is part of the reason why I haven’t beaten many games at all. It’s also part of the reason why I stopped emulating so many games. But during the time that I did emulate, I saved a lot of money and had a lot of fun with the games I did have.

Instead of Cheating, I Forgot to Get Tricked!

I eventually got into consoles again and that really stopped my emulation days since. I tried to emulate some older PS2 games and such, but I guess the problem is the consoles of 6th gen and later are too powerful to run consistently and properly on a computer. I started this whirlwind with the original Xbox. I enjoyed my few games I had for that. I never did try to emulate those games because I thought the console would be too strong for anything my computer could do. My Xbox got stolen from me, so I decided to switch to a PS2. This was the first console I actually bought a decent amount of games for. This is because I impulse bought at lot more for this console, and I was getting a decent amount of money I could do whatever I wanted to with as well. When I got my PS3, I somewhat tried to go back to PS2 emulation, but it didn’t work out well, so I stopped trying. I also tried to emulate the 3DS and the Nintendo 64 but both of these were busts as well, so I bought a 3DS and played games the right way.

Over the years, I have bought more consoles and games, and emulated less. But when I had less money, I emulated more because it saved me money and still gave me fun times and memories I’ll never forget.

The moral of the story is, if you don’t have money, pirate for free, until you can, then don’t!