Written by Jonathan Wojcik
We're really doing a "video game year" this Halloween, but Resident Evil doesn't have to hog it all! The Capcom Fighting Game Darkstalkers, A.K.A. Vampire Savior, is a Spooky Gaming classic that you might not have expected to see here, especially with most of its characters leaning so much more towards a human design. Back when I was a kid, though, everyone I knew was a fan, and I had a pretty memorable time playing it at mall arcades back when they were still a type of thing that existed. I even remember the terrible cartoon show and associated action figures! Wait, did I say "terrible?" I dare you to name an achievement by man, god or beast that's objectively any better than these forty seconds. What were we even talking about again? Spooksneakers 4 on the Sega McTendo? Right! Yeah! As soon as I'm done watching this scene on a loop, I'm going to write you an article! See you in six hours!
So, we may as well start with the character everyone remembers the most, probably because it was 1994 and every video game, comic book, anime and movie went completely overboard marketing whichever character they gave the biggest boobs. She wasn't supposed to be the "star" of the game, but she sold, and is still more or less treated as the face of the series.
Originally conceived as a female vampire, it was the suggestion of producer Alex Jiminez to make the character into a Succubus, a concept the Japanese team apparently hadn't heard of at the time and was "very excited about" once Jiminez explained it. It's almost hard to imagine there was a time when games and anime weren't routinely loaded with Succubi and Incubi, but Morrigan was apparently a true pioneer.
Morrigan's more than just some sex demon, however. In Darkstalkers continuity, succubi and incubi are demons that feed on dreams, and must experience constant stimulation - dating, dining, dancing, fighting, even playing games - or wither up and die in only a couple of days, forcing them to live what might seem like senselessly hedonistic lifestyles. Morrigan even likes video games! The sexy demon getup and tournament fighting is all just an extension of this bratty nerd's perpetual boredom.
Her outfit is also pretty damn stylish, with those awesome bat-patterned tights, and if you always thought the wings on her head and thighs were anatomically ridiculous, don't worry, because they're not actually a part of her body. The wings are formed from actual bats, or at least shape-shifting supernatural bats that Morrigan can control. Each wing on her head is a single transformed bat, and the larger wings are three or four bats apiece. Several of her attacks demonstrate the versatility of her little winged friends, which can meld together into all sorts of convenient, deadly forms presumably made entirely out of sculpted bat-flesh. That is actually REALLY kickass! Despite appearances, Morrigan is a genuinely creative and original take on what it might mean to be a "Succubus," with a set of powers I haven't really seen anywhere else.
So except for the addition of a succubus and a couple of other oddballs, the principle of the original game was really "what if we made Street Fighter out of the Universal Monsters," so there obviously had to be a werewolf. There isn't much to Jon beyond what you might expect from his werewolfery, except the fact that he uses moves inspired in particular by Bruce Lee, so he's also a kung-fu werewolf.
I've discussed before how I never actively thought much about werewolves in the past, associating them more with goofy furry art (no offense to goofy furries) and a mainstream commoner taste in monsters. These days, I aggressively reject that sort of superior attitude about basically everything, and even if a wolf guy isn't "my" thing, I respect and appreciate the horror they were meant to represent and how awesome they can be through other people's eyes. Also, he's predominantly blue, and there's something I really like about blue as a scary monster color.
A cat girl may not be recognized by most as one of the core monster archetypes out there, but it wasn't something a Japanese franchise in the 90's could afford to skimp out on if it could find any excuse to include it, and they certainly went all-out making her, uh, "marketable." I went with the official "censored" version of this art because the actual cat blocking her ass is really funny, but also because her design skirts a line that my google ad provider might actually complain about. She's pretty much naked except for strips of fur.
Cat women actually are a classic monster, though, with so many examples throughout horror, especially older horror, that it's really a shame they've been reduced to almost nothing but "cute" Otaku day-dream fodder. At least Felicia has those huge giant monster hands and feet to remind us that she can disembowel you if she feels like it, and even if her most villainous goal in the game's complex storyline is to become a pop star, I don't have that much difficulty accepting her Monster status. I really like those walking animations of hers; they're not animated like she's just a human with some cat parts, but like she's really got the mind of a predatory feline stuck in an awkwardly humanoid body.
When Felicia isn't running around naked and eating rodents, she's also a nun!
Just the sort of character you want in a homage to the Universal Studios Frankenstoid; a big, destructive beast with who's actually a sweet, gentle and naive soul on the inside. His terminally ill creator actually dies shortly after Victor is brought to life, and having no understanding of death, Victor believes the unresponsive professor is just that disappointed with him. This is the entire reason Victor goes on to battle other monsters in a big tournament-style melee, because he thinks he needs to show his dad that he's the Strongest Monster Ever. Great, now I want to cry.
VICTOR VON GERDENHEIM
Victor eventually finds companionship in his master's other, more humanlike creation, Emily, which he considers his "little sister," and the two live happily in their dad's castle until Emily finally just...stops working. It turns out that she was just a crude prototype, and could only hold an electrical charge for so long before "shutting down" again. Victor is easily fooled by the villain of Darkstalkers 3 into believing he must help gather souls to bring Emily back to life, but in the end, Victor only saves her by sacrificing himself.
He's "just" a Frankenstein's Monster with electrical superpowers, but Victor's personality is adorable and his story agonizingly sympathetic, even compared to his original inspiration. I mean, HE THOUGHT HIS DEAD DAD WAS JUST MAD AT HIM HIM. HE THOUGHT THAT THING. PLEASE HUG HIM AND TELL HIM EVERYTHING WILL ALWAYS BE OKAY.
Our mummy, meanwhile, doesn't have an especially heart-tugging or even very original story, just your typical undead ruler trying to bring back his kingdom, but there's a lot to love about him as a monster. He's got creepy eyes like that all throughout his body, visible just momentarily in several of his attack animations, and in fact, there doesn't seem to be anything actually filling out his big, buff, manly shape. Here are some blink-and-you-miss-them animation frames from a spitting attack:
Look at that withered little ghoul in his mouth! That's apparently his pal, Khaibit! He's actually MORE THAN ONE mummy! He's also got only fleshless skeleton legs under the bandages, so are those bandages all that actually form his "muscles?" Sure seems like it, from another of his attacks:
Anakaris is like a whole Russian Nesting Doll of mummies, even further illustrated when he's hit with an enemy attack that changes his sex. We'll explain that later, but LOOK:
I love this design either way, but what I REALLY love is how it then splits at the waist to reveal Khaibit doing an impression of "The with a tiny, happy scorpion on his head (just take my word for it, it's more clear in some other shots). While this "female" design isn't exactly "canon," it does further emphasize that there are apparently multiple bodies and forms that constitute one being!
It's a gill-man! An awfully handsome gill-man, too! His English name is even taken from stuntman Ricou Browning, who wore the original Gill-man suit in Creature From the Black Lagoon. Just like the creature, Rikuo lives in the Amazon River and may be the very last of his kind, his underwater civilization demolished in an earthquake. Fortunately, he finds a female of his species by the end of the first game, the two have laid eggs by the second, and when we last see them, they've discovered another species of merfolk to take them in, identical except for their anglerfish-like antennae.
What's interesting about Rikuo is the sheer variety of biological traits exhibited in his various attack animations. At any moment, he can morph himself various other fins, frills, crab claws, tentacles, a frog-like tongue, blowfish-like spines, even what appear to be sharpy coiled snail's shells he can stab people with. He's practically an elemental being of aquatic creatures, though truly nothing beats this:
While they were making a game out of classic "western" ghouls, the team saw fit to throw in at least one Japan-specific monster. I kind of wish it had been a more interesting yokai of some sort, even one as common as a Kappa or a Tengu, but I guess Bishamon is a concept more suited to this type of game anyway; a demonic samurai warrior possessed by his own cursed suit of armor.
In his first appearance, Bishamon was a hapless human who eventually repents and becomes a peaceful monk. In the second game, the monk seeks to destroy the "Armor of Hate" once and for all, but it absorbs souls to create a new body for itself and no longer needs a separate wearer. In both cases, you can think of the demonic suit as the "true" character here, and Bishamon is simply whoever or whatever can wear that suit. That's always a fun concept, but I think a little more could have been done with it.
Getting into more peculiar territory here, Huitzil is a giant, alien robot modeled after a Dogu statue, which of course is supposed to imply that the Dogu are modeled after his kind. An invasion of these machines was even, apparently, what actually destroyed the dinosaurs before they were all buried under the Earth by a cataclysmic earthquake, and just one is eventually reawakened by the original game's villain to serve as a major boss battle.
In a nod to Giant Robo and similar series, the reactivated weapon eventually malfunctions and believes it must protect a single human child from all harm. It's ultimately destroyed saving his life, but not before transmitting a signal to reactivate the rest of its long-buried kind, all of which begin scanning their surroundings and sorting them into two categories: the kid they have to protect, and things they have to destroy to protect him.
This whole "ancient alien" angle is a very fun and novel way to incorporate a morphing robot into a setting full of werewolves and demons, and they had a lot of fun packing sci-fi weaponry into its animations!
So this is the guy who actually woke up Huitzil, and he's supposed to be an energy-based alien who seeks to destroy and consume the planet Earth. I wish that looked more interesting than a horned man on fire, and it easily could have even if they were really married to the Fire Person angle, because when Pyron is subjected to that "gender switching" move we mentioned earlier, he looks like this:
For nothing but a one-off gag that lasts all of five seconds, they came up with an ENTIRELY different, significantly more fascinating concept here, a fiery alien queen whose huge, pod-like head apparently conceals a darling little flame-critter that I'm guessing would have been the entity's true form.
And there's a yeti! They call him a sasquatch, but he's definitely Yeti material, and a fun design with a squatter, rounder shape and more dog-like face than I usually see in bigfeets. He doesn't have that much of a story, but it's nice to see a cryptid as a fighting game character, and it's not too surprising; Japan does think of the various skunk-apes as one of the iconic "Western monsters."
This is the guy who was kind of "supposed" to be the most prominent character, and is more or less the original main villain of the series, though there isn't much of a twist to him. He's a fairly typical Dracula-esque vampire with all that entails, including a spooky castle and an obsession with feeding on the blood of young women. In fact, almost all he's really remembered for besides his silly hair is his final attack, "Midnight Bliss," which transforms his opponents, regardless of sex, into "cuter" female characters just before he drains all their blood out in one go.
It's ridiculous, but some of the transformations have interesting concepts in their own right, and it's a shame they aren't just present as secret, distinct characters themselves. You also get a glimpse of Demitri's "true form" during this maneuver, a shadowy bad-winged demon that would have also made a more interesting design than this default.
Demitri is, of course, the reason everybody's fighting, holding a tournament to determine the new ruler of the demon world. Above all, he wants the throne that Morrigan inherited by birthright, and the two are considered bitter rivals throughout the series. That is, unless you count the 90's cartoon up there, in which case Morrigan is inexplicably just one of Demitri's evil minions.
I guess you have to have at least one nearly normal human guy, though Donovan is actually supposed to be a human-vampire hybrid or Dhampir, a concept any media with vampires in it seems to be madly in love with. Like many Dhampir characters, he's angsty and tormented about his semi-inhumanity and fights evil as a hunter of actual vampires. He also protects a creepy little psychic girl, Anita or Amanda depending on the version, who's supposedly destined to rule all humans and poses the biggest threat to Jedah. These two are basically designed as if they're the "heroes of the series" we might be following if this had always been an anime, I suppose.
Introduced as a bigger, badder villain than Demitri, Jedah is supposed to be a Shinigami, a Japanese spirit of death sometimes treated interchangeably with the concept of a "grim reaper," but in Darkstalkers continuity this also seems to be interchangeable with basically a "devil," and his design is even heavily inspired by Go Nagai's Devilman.
Jedah's powers center heavily on his supernatural blood, and he can break himself into pieces or even take on a semiliquid form to extend his limbs or morph them into weapons, which is cool as hell. Watch him in action and you'll see all sorts of tasty body horror; I especially love when he grabs the opponent's face and appears to pump his own blood into them through his arm!
Also rad are Jedah's wings, which are just giant scythe blades hovering behind his back, and the fact that his outfit, as cool as it seems at first glance, is modeled after a male high school uniform, the equivalent of the devil dressing in a modified sailor suit. He's a 6,000 year old embodiment of death, but his persona is that of a juvenile delinquent who never grew up, and is only missing a pompadour or pointy sunglasses. I guess he has them in spirit. I like him so much more now than I thought I did.
We're getting into characters brought to us by Darkstalkers 3, now, the last true new entry in the series. "Baby Bonnie Hood" is the only character with no supernatural powers, but she was treated as an honorary Darkstalker for Jedah's tournament because her soul is just apparently that dark. She's only a child, but she's also a ruthless bounty hunter who specializes in monsters, and while she prefers to target evil monsters, she's really only in it for the money and the thrill of killing, packing her picnic basket with a physically impossible volume of deadly weaponry and using her harmless appearance as a lure for werewolves and vampires.
It's a really funny concept, they thankfully don't seem to market this little kid as one of the game's "sexy" characters and Little Red Riding Hood is a pretty fun motif for a monster slayer. If they had to have one perfectly mortal human here, this is an acceptably wacky one.
Eh, sorry, I'm indifferent. There's a complicated backstory in which Morrigan's true power was split into three pieces when she was a child, and one of them is brought to life in the form of Lilith, who's all broken up about being an "incomplete" succubus. Whatever! She always just felt like an arbitrary Morrigan knockoff to me, and maybe designed to appeal to a sketchier otaku crowd, though it's hard to tell when an anime style character is supposed to look like a kid or just supposed to look more androgynous. There is an interesting minor story note that she isn't certain of her gender and could even one day grow into an Incubus, which is also in line with what these demons are actually supposed to do, but it's never really explored beyond a little speculation from Jedah. If the series had properly continued and we ever saw this happen, I'd just hope he kept wearing the bat tights.
Early concepts for Lilith were actually as an older, half-angel sister to Morrigan, and surprisingly enough, I'd have found that a bit cooler than just adding another demon. I'm always biased towards the option with more variety, whatever that variety may be.
Like many American kids back then, Hsien-Ko was actually my very first encounter with the concept of a Jiang-Shi, which I once talked about for its own small Halloween entry about a zillion years ago. These creatures are often translated as "Chinese hopping vampires," but that only does a disservice to their more unique origins and powers. The really fun thing about this one is that there are actually two characters here, sisters Hsien-Ko and Mei-Ling, whose village was destroyed by Jedah's minions along with their Senjutsu master and their mother, who sacrificed her soul to protect them. Now intent on freeing her, the sisters used a secret technique to take on their current forms: Hsien-Ko into a Jiang-Shi and Mei-Ling into the paper talisman on her sister's face, which keeps her powers under control.
Hsien-Ko's character is really brought to life by her animations, twitching and rattling and hopping around as stiff and rigid as a true Jiang-Shi, which only hops because it suffers the effects of rigor mortis. It wasn't as clear in her older artwork that her huge, hooked claws are artificial until they launch from her sleeves on long chains, an exaggeration of the tekko-kagi associated with ninjas and commonly given to Jiang-Shi in a number of fictional portrayals, possibly just because metal claws look really, really cool on a blue-skinned, leaping corpse.
One of the last characters ever introduced is one I'm kind of obligated to consider my favorite, seeing as to how she's a bug. Younger me was kind of disappointed that we only got some arthropod representation in such a human-like form, but she grew on me fast, especially since her anthropomorphic appearance is only superficial!
Just the way Q-Bee carries herself is more insect than human, dangling her limbs like a real wasp in fliight with her larger compound eyes pointed straight ahead. These are canonically her only real eyes, while what appear to be more human eyes are just an imitation! The top of her head is her face and the face is just her mouth!
Q-Bee is actually the queen of a monster race known as the Soul Bees, which inhabit Jedah's territory and are naively loyal to him as minions. They can eat anything, but souls are their most important sustenance, and what allows a young larva to mature into a new queen. That's right - they're parasitoids! Q-Bee even has an ultimate finshing move in which she encases her opponent in a clay prison, implants an egg, then dies as her replacement self hatches! Check that out near the end of this move compilation, because even after 20+ years, nobody has seen fit to make complete animated sprites out of this game's coolest moves and characters.
Darkstalkers still doesn't have that one monster that's perfectly "me," but as much as I'd have loved a fly or cockroach most of all, I'm glad they did find room for an insect, and Q-Bee does have one of the series more obscure precedents in Hollywood monster movies. Who knows if that's how she was intended, but she's the perfect Darkstalkers-style homage to that 1950's explosion of Killer Insect films!
Up to now, I'd tackled these characters in their order of introduction, but I felt like I needed to save the #1 most radical man for the end, or I guess for the beginning and end, since we already explored his career as a renowned hip-hop artist, heroic lifeguard and professional party dude.
Raptor's Japanese name is Zabel Zarock, and I want to say it's hard to pick between the two, but...LORD. RAPTOR. Sorry, Japan. We really pulled ahead of you this one time. LORD RAPTOR is the "zombie" of Darkstalkers, from a time before the word was even more strictly defined as a shambling and mindless flesh-eater. Originally an Australian guitarist nicknamed the "God of Metal," he became obsessed with the demon lord Ozom, taking his lyrics directly from the occult tome A Chapter of Tolagido. In his ultimate live performance, he pledged his final allegiance to the demon, sacrificing himself along with the blood of his entire massive audience. Now a living corpse in service to Ozom, his true goal is to eventually overthrow the demon and supplant his own dark god.
Did you catch all that? Was it METAL enough for you? How do you like his walk cycle? Did you notice that his guitar is alive and has teeth? It's another thing nobody's made any decent animated gifs out of, but he's also got this great purple cyclops demon, Le Malta, who was assigned by Ozom to spy on Raptor and counteract his inevitable betrayal, but it seems like the two of them became fast friends anyway. Le Malta can change into anything, and they seem to have a lot of fun together, especially when the demon becomes a basketball hoop and Raptor slam-dunks his opponent. The little guy can even become a gigantic chainsaw!
I feel like we really don't make characters this ridiculous anymore, as a society, and it's sad. The 90's went so incredibly overboard with its idea of what was "cool," even in completely different countries under completely different cultural standards, as though we all collectively realized around the same time that we could make comic books and cartoons overflowing with Punk Rock Titty Mechadragons From Hell, and then just...poof. Right around the 2000's it all quieted down and we became afraid of passing anything off as "bad ass" that might accidentally appear "stupid."
Well, Lord Raptor isn't stupid. EVERYONE ELSE is stupid if they think he is!!!
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