Without a doubt, Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower will delight those who have a soft spot for traditional fighting games.
While all of Capcom’s fighting game properties have something unique that distinguishes them from other franchises, they still look and feel pretty traditional. Darkstalkers seems to be the exception to that rule, since that particular series is unlike anything else in the genre: characters burst with personality, the stages have odd names and everything is charmingly distinct. Without a doubt, Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower will delight those who have a soft spot for traditional fighting games.
Since not everyone is familiar with this port, let’s make a brief description: The Chaos Tower is a portable title that compiles moves, costumes, characters, stages and soundtracks from every game in the Darkstalkers series, including Darkstalkers, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge and Darkstalkers 3 (known in Japan as Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire.) Among the 18 colorful characters, you’ll find large robots, nimble samurais, blood-sucking vampires, brain-eating zombies, fierce werewolves and even an alternative version of Little Red Riding Hood. On the other hand, the grotesque-looking environments include dark settings such as Creator’s Fetus, Forever Torment, Feast of the Damned, Tower of Arrogance and War Agony, among other bizarrely named stages.
But what would it be of a fighting game title if it didn’t have a couple of diverse modes in which you could show your fighting prowess? All the traditional modes are here, including arcade, training, chronicle and network. Arcade mode is uninspired to say the list: you choose a character, speed and playstyle to participate in a couple of fights, beat a final boss and unlock your character’s respective ending.
Training mode is also pretty lackluster. The problem here is not only that the game doesn’t overtly explain the basics, but it also eschews features that are expected in any fighting game. For instance, if you pause during training mode, you don’t have access to your characters’ move list. But the worst omission is the lack of a tutorial mode. Therefore, if you’re looking for a traditional fighting title that teaches you how to play, I’m sorry to tell you that Darkstalkers Chronicle isn’t it.
Finally, no fighting game would be complete without a mode that features all the art, music and videos that you unlock in the other modes. That’s exactly what chronicle is, a virtual place where you can find a plethora of illustrations, songs and cutscenes.
Fortunately, playing against others is still a possibility in the portable version of Darkstalkers. Network mode features a couple of sub-modes, including versus, limit battle, and league where up to four players can participate. Although playing against others is definitely one of the best ways to experience Darkstalkers, the lack of infrastructure mode definitely hurts this aspect of the game.
Up until now, we have mentioned all the conventional modes. We have the traditional (not to mention extremely dull) arcade mode, the lackluster training mode, the fan-favorite collection mode and the more-than-welcome multiplayer mode. Thankfully, the one mode that I haven’t mentioned yet is one of the most compelling ones to ever grace a Darkstalkers game: tower mode.
In tower mode, you select three characters and take part in several fights in order to try to reach the top of the tower. After each fight, your characters retain the damage they took and the energy from the “super combo” gauge they accrued, providing this mode with a sense of progression rarely seen in fighting games. Characters who remain on the bench, on the other hand, gradually recover health the longer they stay there. As you make progress, enemies increase in difficulty, you obtain illustrations and have access to special boss fights, which are in fact overpowered versions of regular characters and can easily be identified because they make use of an alternative color palette.
Tower mode is objective-based and some fights require you to approach opponents in different ways. For instance, you need to defeat certain enemies without jumping, without using special moves and so on and so forth. This makes this mode deeply engrossing, since it lets you use strategies that you wouldn’t normally use in a regular fight. The best part about tower mode is that it has a strategic flair to it. Do you save your best character for the next boss fight? Do you move left or right of the tower? Do you fill up the combo bar and deliberately save it until you need powerful attacks? Additionally, the fact that you can change combatants after each brawl keeps things varied, making sure that no two battles are alike.
Sadly, a couple of issues put a barrier on your enjoyment. While controls are quite intuitive and combos easy to pull off, this aspect of the game has its issues. As almost every fighting game that has been ported to the PlayStation Portable, The Chaos Tower suffers from the console’s hardware limitations and the D-pad isn’t the best replacement for a proper stick.
Furthermore, the lack of a proper tutorial mode is a shame and the fact that the training mode doesn’t even list the different characters’ moves can’t be overstated. Featuring a tutorial mode that actually teaches you some of the basics would have been a great addition, especially for those who have never played Darkstalkers games before. Finally, a proper online multiplayer mode would have been terrific, since not everyone has a friend with a PSP and a copy of the game.
In the end, Darkstakers Chronicle has everything that you’d want out of a traditional fighting game: this sprite-based fighting title looks terrific on the PSP’s pristine screen, the characters’ animations accentuate the thrill of the combat, the aural portion of the game is superb and the Tower mode is deeply absorbing. There are a couple of issues here and there, but as far as PlayStation Portable fighting games go, Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower doesn’t disappoint.