I'm a fighting game aficionado (or at least that's what I like to think, with my collection and all). Not only do I love the actual gameplay of the genre (the absolute purity of it), I've noticed a tendency for the story and character concepts/designs to embrace a ridiculousness not found elsewhere; a certain kind of character emerges in a fighting game that you pretty much can't find in any other kind of game. To me, the Darkstalkers series is the god-king of this phenomenon. Sure, it traces back to Street Fighter and its world warriors, but where Street Fighter was content to have national and racial stereotypes duke it out, Darkstalkers took the basic concepts behind classic Universal Studios-style monsters and went nuts with it.
I remember being in a local arcade as a child, wandering around, and seeing the Darkstalkers machine in a dark neglected corner, the demo blazing. I'd played Street Fighter II before, but it never held my attention. Here, I was transfixed. I saw some sort of monster samurai slashing at the only vampire classier than Dracula, and something went off in my head. I had to play this game. I had to learn these moves. I wanted to make the karate werewolf move and fight the way a character that cool deserved. Is that a bad reason?
In my mind, this game perfected what all games seek to do: give me a compelling reason to keep playing and trying all the characters. I sunk in quarter after quarter and token after token wherever I could find a machine that carried my game of choice. What's more, in those dark corners of the arcades and kid's centers, sometimes I could find other games that scratched that same Darkstalkers itch.
It's because of Darkstalkers that I played Samurai Showdown. King of Fighters. Guilty Gear. And I revel in every time that I've ever played any of those games. I even wound up going back to Street Fighter, and messed around with Third Impact and the Alpha series to great satisfaction. This was truly the start of my fighting game affair because every single time I've played a fighter, it's because of Darkstalkers.
Among all the properties that have emerged over gaming's history, I will always think of Darkstalkers as unique. The quirky systems, the way-out-there design, and the inescapable mood
of the games is impossible to overlook, and that's why references to it keep popping up. While I wish the references were more fleshed out (why is there never any Talbain?), they'll keep me hoping for a new one (I don't own a PSP and the PS2 collection was Japan-only). In the meantime, I'll have my copy of 3/Vampire Saviour for the PSX to console me, and my arcade memories. Damn, I'm sad.