On May 30, Capcom celebrated its 31st birthday. But because we cannot take Capcom to a lovely little sake bar in its hometown of Osaka, Japan, we opted instead to celebrate the game giant’s top five franchises. Because, as we looked across Capcom’s long and on-going history, we noticed that if there is one thing Capcom does extremely well, it is launch franchises. And kill zombies. And throw dragon punches. Alright, there are three things Capcom does well.
|5. Vs. Series|
Capcom essentially established the fighting game genre as we know it, and by the mid-1990s the arcade and console scenes were flooded with Street Fighter sequels and me-too variations of the basic formula. Come 1996, Capcom cooked up the greatest-yet departure from their one-on-one fighting game recipe and released X-Men vs. Street Fighter, the first of many fighters in the unofficially recognized Vs. series.
X-Men vs. Street Fighter melded the frantic air combos of Capcom’s earlier Children of the Atom fighter with the company’s internationally famous Street Fighter cast, and somewhere in the process pioneered tag team fighting. X-Men vs. Street Fighter set a precedent for outrageous fighting game shenanigans, and with each subsequent Vs. game Capcom upped the insanity. Witness a modern match of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 — with six characters in play at any given moment, infinite combo patterns, and confounding techniques like “unfly mode.” It’s just about impossible for a layman to reconcile the action with what he or she knows about fighting games. That’s the appeal. Ten years later, the madness continues with Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
|4. Breath of Fire|
Capcom is synonymous with fighters, Mega Man, and all manner of zombie killing. But Capcom also has a solid role-playing game franchise in its legacy: Breath of Fire. (Which, incidentally, was first published in the States by Square.)
Each breath of Fire game stars the blue-haired boy Ryu and the spunky fae Nina. Ryu is an able fighter, but his real power is the ability to transform into a dragon. Just the ability to get all dragoned-up is cool, but Ryu is not the only mystical monster in the Breath of Fire universe. The worlds of each title in the five-game main series are populated with talking frogs, winged people, gargoyle guardians, and waking armadillos. Though the Breath of Fire games evolved across the SNES to the PlayStation 2, the core held steadfast to Japanese RPG formulas – something that many gamers still celebrate.
Sadly, though, do not hold out hope for a Breath of Fire revival. In a late 2008 interview with 1up, Capcom head of research and development Keiji Inafune all but dismissed the idea of Ryu riding again: “There are currently no plans on making a new Breath of Fire game. Apart from that, regarding RPG titles, they are very popular in Japan, but only certain RPG titles sell so Capcom doesn’t really need to even consider making these titles as an option.” Surely, that made a lot of gamers very sad woren. Those are the cat people in Breath of Fire, by the way.
|3. Mega Man|
In the 1980s, Capcom cornered the market on top-notch NES action games. Although games like Bionic Commando and Duck Tales have become legendary in their own right, Mega Man was the only potential franchise to really catch on. And catch on it did: with six sequels on the NES alone and subsequent iterations on nearly every platform, Mega Man may be almost entirely responsible for the sequel-itis that now dominates the video game industry. With 28 million Mega Man games sold worldwide, it’s hard to blame Capcom for bringing the Blue Bomber back each time.
Since his debut in 1987, Mega Man has appeared in everything from RPGs to fighting games and even several cartoon series. But the original formula has proven too good to ignore, and two decades after Mega Man first graced the Nintendo, the robot hero returned in pseudo-retro pixilated form in Mega Man 9 and 10. He still has all the trappings of his most beloved NES era games: eight Robot Masters, a scheming Dr. Wily and a surprisingly adaptable arm cannon. What more could a blue robot ask for?
|2. Resident Evil|
Some publishers are one-trick ponies, pumping out installments in one or two genres over and over again. Not Capcom. Platformers, shooters, fighters, puzzle games, action games – nothing is off limits. And how many game companies can say they singlehandedly popularized a genre? Yes, there were games like Resident Evil before 1996, but Shinji Mikami’s vision of survival horror captured gamers’ imaginations and rocketed to popularity. What’s so amazing about the early installments in the Resident Evil series is their capacity to truly frighten. That focus has gradually given way to intense action in recent years, but the early titles in the franchise gave us legitimate chills (and sometimes made us jump).
Resident Evil is never going to win any writing awards; the story is all but incomprehensible at times. But the gameplay is so solid that it creates memorable moments all on its own. Resident Evil’s convoluted puzzles, white-knuckled survival dashes, inventory management crises, dastardly bosses and iconic environments combine to create an unforgettable gaming experience across multiple decades and platforms. The story of Resident Evil is not so much Jill or Chris against Umbrella and zombies as it is you, the gamer, against the horrors of Raccoon City and beyond. The series has wound its way into numerous spinoffs, sequels and reboots over the years, and not all have hit the bulls-eye. But the core Resident Evil experiences are so outstanding, so fulfilling, that they outshine their lesser cousins. Capcom’s iconic survival horror franchise is still going strong, and we can’t wait to see where the developer takes it next.
|1. Street Fighter|
Funny that a mostly uncontrollable mess of an arcade game would become one of gaming’s most dearly-loved franchises. The first Street Fighter, released sometime in the 1700s, was never highly regarded. Its inconsistent controls for pulling off special moves were further confounded, originally, by analog rubber pads instead of the now-familiar six-button configuration. But Capcom persisted with the idea and eventually produced the transcendent Street Fighter II.
Capcom didn’t invent the one-on-one fighting game, but Street Fighter II established so many genre norms that to credit Capcom with the birth of the genre isn’t really inaccurate. The series gained cultural traction with its compelling gameplay — simple and inviting on the surface, but infinitely deep on further inspection — and cast of memorable, if not overly stereotyped, fighters. Arcades gained new relevance (perhaps their last) and Capcom’s Street Fighter games sustained a sub-culture of tournament players eager to travel the nation to compete.
After a decade-long layoff from the limelight, Street Fighter is lately back to form as a Capcom mainstay. International Street Fighter tournaments continue to draw massive crowds and serve as a focal point for a thriving culture of competitive gaming.
|Honorable Mention: Onimusha|
Ignore the detractors: Onimusha is not Resident Evil with samurai. Yes, the two star franchises share some DNA – there is no shortage of object-collecting puzzles and the swordsman heroes of Onimusha turn like tanks, too – but the Onimusha franchise was far more action-oriented than the early Resident Evils. (That, of course, has since changed.) Featuring incredible retellings of Japanese history with a healthy dose of the paranormal that provide awesome set pieces, the Onimusha games deserve to at least be mentioned with the top five Capcom franchises. It’s been a few years since Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, but hopefully Capcom has not hung up the Oni gauntlet for good. Samanosuke, hero of the first and third Onimusha games, deserves one more ride.