Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower First Look

We take a closer look at the Japanese version of Capcom's upcoming PSP fighter with exclusive media and an interview.

In the wake of Sony's jaw-droppingly good news with regard to the PSP's retail price in Japan (well, it's good for some, anyway, because we can't imagine anyone high-fiving over at Nintendo) and in the spirit of Halloween, we've decided to take another look at Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower. The game is a 2D figher from Capcom that's shaping up to be a historic moment in gaming for both Capcom and portable. While this may sound like a load of hot air, consider this: Capcom's Vampire franchise will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this year in Japan, and it will be the first 2D fighter for Sony's new handheld platform, as well.

Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower brings one of Capcom's underrated fighters back in to the limelight.

Oh...and Vampire Chronicle happens to support Wi-Fi multiplayer, which is hardly a common occurrence. While some gamers may be familiar with the series, which, while not achieving the mainstream success of Capcom's other fighting franchises--such as Street Fighter and the Vs. series--it has gained a loyal following in the US nonetheless. To bring everyone up to speed on the franchise and to offer a bit more insight into the slick, upcoming PSP game, we offer the following primer.

Back in the days when the Street Fighter juggernaut was going at full bore, the fighting gurus over at Capcom tried their hand at a very different fighter that was, in many respects, a testing ground for fighting mechanics that would emerge in its later brawlers. The game was Vampire, and it offered a significant change of pace from the fairly straitlaced SF series. Its cast couldn't have been a farther cry from the world warriors in SF that represented nations from across the globe. The game's roster of fighters was made up of a sampling of mythical creatures that leaned heavily on an undead theme. A Frankenstein-like golem, a succubus, a vampire, and a werewolf were all on hand, along with additional fantastical creations that drew inspiration from fantasy but were given a very Capcom-esque twist.

Besides its eclectic roster of beautifully designed characters, the game stood out due to quicker-paced gameplay that favored chain combos, introduced supermoves, and presented smooth animation that was heavy on frames. The game also offered a promising start to the series that would evolve over the course of two more arcade entries in Vampire Hunter and Vampire Saviour, which both featured two follow-ups that included new gameplay enhancements and balance. Unfortunately, following the last Vampire upgrade in arcades and in subsequent ports to the PlayStation and Saturn, the series appeared to be headed to that Valhalla reserved for fan-favorite franchises (which is currently occupied by Marvel Super Heroes, X-Men: Children of the Atom, and the Street Fighter Alpha series).

However, as luck would have it, the tail end of Sega's Dreamcast saw the release of the Vampire Collection, a tasty compilation-style entry in the series that not only let you play with all the characters in the series, but also selected which of the unique fighting styles seen in each entry that you would use. As if that wasn't enough to please fans, Capcom even made the game playable online. The only downside was that the game never saw the light of day in the US and was only ever available via Sega's online D-Direct shopping service for its console.

The Vampire series features some of the best character design seen in a Capcom fighter.

And just as it looked like the franchise was going to resume its march to Valhalla, Capcom announced Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower for its upcoming PSP platform. Now, everything old has become new again. We got our first peek at the game at this past E3 when a short snippet of footage from the game appeared in a montage of titles set to appear on the platform. This peek was followed up by our first hands-on of the game at this year's Tokyo Game Show, where Capcom had The Chaos Tower in its booth so its representatives could reveal more information on the game, in addition to setting the record straight on just what the heck the game is about.

Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower is an original title that, while drawing on many elements from the Dreamcast Vampire Chronicle, isn't a port; it's far from it, in fact. From what Capcom has revealed so far, Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower will include the core elements from the DC game, such as the selectable fighting styles for each entry, as well as all the characters from the series. For those unfamiliar with the colorful cast that has appeared in the series, the roster in Vampire arguably features some of the best character designs ever seen in a Capcom fighting game. The varied roster features a healthy dose of personality that's provided by the unique designs and the plentiful frames of animation that still impress us today. In addition, the game will offer original features, such as mutltiplayer functionality, that will use the PSP's Wi-Fi capabilities.

In addition to the expected one-on-one arcade mode, Vampire Chronicle will feature Wi-Fi multiplayer and an all-new single-player Tower mode.

Furthermore, an all-new Tower mode, which Capcom wasn't saying much about at the time, will be implemented. Fortunately, a recent update to the game's Japanese Web site revealed some choice bits of info on the game that have us intrigued. You'll apparently pick three characters from the roster of 18 fighters that comprise the team you'll take on a journey through a mysterious tower. Your ascent through each floor will revolve around defeating the enemies you encounter in one-on-one battles, The route you take will hinge on how you defeat your enemies and on how you can apparently go off on a tangent. While the mode sounds straightforward, it appears to offer a fat challenge, because if one of your fighters is defeated, he or she is out of the competition for good, forcing you to both fight carefully and pick a good team. Fortunately, in keeping with the arcade game's compilation quality, you'll be able to pick fighers from the four different games in the series--Vampire, Vampire Hunter, Vampire Hunter 2, and Vampire Saviour--depending on which game's handling you prefer.

When we got our hands on the game at this year's Tokyo Game Show, we were only able to try out the arcade mode with a handful of characters, but what was on display was beyond promising. Up until we played Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower, we'd pretty much accepted the fact that there would always be some comprises made when bringing arcade and console titles to portable hardware. We're now rethinking that theory, given the slick and apparently arcade-perfect leap Vampire has made to the PSP. Despite the fact that the game was a work-in-progress version of the title, the game looked great and ran at a respectable clip, even when selecting the higher gameplay speed.

Control in the game was tight and responsive, with the three kicks and punches mapped out nicely to the PSP's face and shoulder buttons. The PSP D pad took a bit of adjustment to get used to, but we were quickly up and kicking tail. While we hope the PSPs we played at TGS see a bit of tweaking to their D pad designs, it's hardly an issue, especially given the game's solid handling.

Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower may not have the flashiness of some of the PSP's 3D titles, but it will prove to be an excellent showcase for Sony's portable hardware.

Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower may be easy to dismiss among the flashier 3D titles found in the PSP lineup, but doing so would be a bad thing. The title is a solid fighter whose multiplayer functionality is a fine showcase for the PSP's capabilities, and the Tower mode sounds like an addictive test of skill that will give the single-player experience some hefty legs. If you missed out on the series when it was in arcades or when it appeared on the various platforms, you would do well to brush up on it now. The PSP game should prove to be a potent reminder of the series' appeal, and it should be a fine showcase for the hardware's versatility. While the game is due in Japan sometime after the hardware's launch in December, no official announcements have been made as to when or if it will hit the US. While you're waiting for either a Japanese release or a word on the US game, take a gander at our exclusive interview on the game, which comes complete with the first direct feed from a work-in-progress version of it.

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