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Feature Article

Capcom Is Killing It Right Now

Return of the World Warrior.

Things have been great for Capcom in 2019. Just in the first quarter, the publisher has released new Devil May Cry and Resident Evil games, and both titles have gone on to find tremendous commercial and critical success. These recent entries represent a fundamental return to the roots for their respective series, and in the broader sense, they also show a clear shift in the company's vision.

With over four decades in the business, Capcom has produced some of the most influential games, and each of those games feels like a decidedly Capcom-made experience that's difficult to replicate. However, as many fans are aware, Capcom's track record isn't flawless. But if anything, its recent successes help alleviate the notable missteps that have left long-time fans frustrated and disappointed--myself included. With this in mind, I felt it was worth talking about why it's been especially great to see Capcom coming back into its own as a creative force in the industry.

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Over the years, the company has evolved and reinvented itself in a number of interesting ways. And in most cases, technology and external pressure were the driving factors for strong innovation and change. With the launch of hardware like the PlayStation 2 and GameCube during the early 2000s, Capcom pushed for a number of new entries in its most popular franchises like Resident Evil 4, along with the creation of new IPs such as the original Devil May Cry. This period was a particularly exciting time for fans, as it pushed Capcom to create new experiences that made the most of the new hardware at the time. Several of these titles would go on to become best-sellers and fan-favorites, placing Capcom in a position as one of the industry's premier developers.

When looking at where they're at now, it shows a clear pivot from the troubled period the company was in during the late 2000s and early 2010s--a time where a sudden shift in the gaming market in the wake of the PS3 and Xbox 360 put Capcom in a bind. Though there were standout hits like Street Fighter IV--which revitalized the fighting game scene and propelled it to esports stardom that carried over to Street Fighter V--this period in its history proved to be challenging after the departure of several key creatives, including Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya, and the closure of internal developer Clover Studio.

Mega Man 11 (2018)
Mega Man 11 (2018)

Around the early period of the 2010s, there was pressure to follow the evolving gaming market, and all signs seemed to be pointing towards the West. This shift was spearheaded by former Capcom designer and head of global development Keiji Inafune--one of the key creatives behind Mega Man--who lamented the state of the Japanese game development scene in a September 2010 article in the New York Times.

"I look around Tokyo Games Show [2010] and everyone's making awful games; Japan is at least five years behind," said the former head of global research and development. "Capcom is barely keeping up. I want to study how Westerners live and make games that appeal to them."

This belief motivated the push for more western-style entries in key franchises, with the aim of attracting a broader audience. With Capcom investing time and resources into western developers, acquiring Blue Castle Games and forming Capcom Vancouver, it sought to refocus some of its key brands like Bionic Commando, Devil May Cry, and Dead Rising to create more global appeal. This also had an influence on internal developers at Capcom, emphasizing more of a western-style for their own games, which was especially noticeable in the Resident Evil series. The 6th main entry reached a crescendo of over-the-top action and kitchen-sink style game-design, along with the underwhelming Umbrella Corps, an esports-driven shooter that was poorly received by fans.

Capcom hitting such highs as of late by basically being Capcom has been a welcome sight to see.

Though some of these games saw critical and commercial success, including Ninja Theory's 2013 stylish-action reboot DmC: Devil May Cry, it also led to other games that missed the mark--such as Bionic Commando and Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, the latter of which turned the familiar survival-horror experience into a squad-based shooter. What made some of these western-centric games a tough sell was that they often didn't exhibit the same level of craft and style as Capcom's internal titles. In essence, the push for westernization by Capcom coincided with a drop in quality and effectively diluted the franchises that brought the company success in the first place.

Following Inafune's departure, and after lack of successes for many of its key titles, Capcom refocused efforts in-house in recent years and produced a number of games that reaffirmed its standing as one of the industry's top developers. There have been four games in particular that have helped Capcom re-establish itself as a premier publisher, and in turn, rejuvenate their aging franchises for the modern era. One of the biggest assets that Capcom has employed for this current resurgence is a focus on prioritizing its own internal talent and technology, prompting the creation of the RE Engine--the successor to their proprietary in-house engine MT Framework.

In 2017, Resident Evil 7 was released, returning the series' focus to classic survival-horror gameplay, which it had gradually phased out in the sequels following the series' reinvention with Resident Evil 4. As an incredibly macabre, and atmospheric horror title, greatly emphasizing player disempowerment in comparison to its direct predecessors, this return to the series' roots was the first game to use the RE Engine. It was also the first game in the survival horror series to feature VR functionality, allowing for a greater sense of immersion during the near relentless experience.

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However, as Capcom realigned focus, it continued to show some signs of growing pains in the face of the shifting gaming landscape. 2017's Marvel Vs Capcom: Infinite, the latest game in the popular crossover fighting game series, was a misfire due to its scaled-back approach and other stylistic changes that rubbed fans the wrong way. The company also closed its sole western development studio, Capcom Vancouver. Though it became the core Dead Rising studio following the success of the sequel, the following games, unfortunately, didn't leave much of an impact.

In 2018, Capcom released Monster Hunter World, the latest entry in the co-op focused monster-slaying series. It would eventually go on to become the company's biggest hit in years, surpassing 11 million units as of March 2019. What makes this a particularly surprising turn of events is the fact that Monster Hunter games can often feel unapproachable for newcomers, often chucking players into the deep end fairly early on. With a particularly steep learning curve for its main systems and some long, drawn-out battles against even some of the lower-end beasts, past entries could make for a challenging game to invest yourself in. However, Monster Hunter World offered an exciting and surprisingly accessible point of entry for many players, allowing them to learn the expansive systems to take on the bigger challenges that await.

Most recently, Capcom launched both Resident Evil 2 and Devil May Cry 5, the latest entries in franchises that helped define the developer in the 2000s. Powered by the RE Engine, both games take advantage of modern technology to reintroduce players to the kind of gameplay that made each series stand out during its prime. Both games would go on to become best sellers, with Resident Evil 2 selling over four million copies, and Devil May Cry 5 passing two million sold in just 10 days. In some ways, the consecutive releases of the RE2 remake and DMC5 serve as something of a one-two punch focusing on the type of gameplay experience that made Capcom such a beloved developer for many fans.

Monster Hunter World (2018)
Monster Hunter World (2018)

Capcom also has become one of the more proactive developers in quality issuing remasters and remakes of older titles. These re-releases often serve as a great opportunity for new players to experience some of Capcom's finest games for new platforms. Currently, Capcom is still in the business of re-releasing past titles. Just in 2019, we're seeing the return of the original Onimusha, an enhanced collection for the Phoenix Wright series, and Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen for the Nintendo Switch--the later of which proved to be a faithful port on par with the PS4 and Xbox One releases.

In many ways, the developer's recent successes match that of its strong and innovative run during the early 2000s, bolstered by the need to make changes that leaned into what it does best. In an interview with USGamer, Devil May Cry 5 director Hideaki Itsuno--who has had a hand in other franchises including Street Fighter, the Capcom VS series, and Dragon's Dogma--attributed the recent successes with a strategic change the company applied some years back.

"About three or four years ago, there was a shift where it wasn't so much about focusing on what the market wanted," said the DMC5 director. "It was more of a shift of, 'Let's make what we want to make, and what we consider to be the highest quality and the best game.' Three or four years later, which is now, is when you're starting to finally see those games come out. It's nice to see that success."

This internal shift focusing on new games within its core franchises have all earned stellar approval. Games like Resident Evil 7, the RE2 remake, Devil May Cry 5, Monster Hunter World, and Mega Man 11--the latter of which is the first installment in more than a decade--have gone to become standout hits, inspiring more confidence for what's next. Capcom hitting such highs as of late by basically being Capcom has been a welcome sight to see.

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Following the launch of Devil May Cry 5, Capcom USA CEO Kiichiro Urata stated on social media that "Capcom is back", and with how things are going, that's hard to dispute. In many ways, it appears that Capcom has rediscovered its identity after years of setbacks. In addition to the first major expansion for Monster Hunter World, and more re-releases in the wings for 2019, Capcom's strong year is looking to continue at a steady pace. Here's hoping we'll be able to see that growth and momentum carry on for the years to come, and perhaps lead to the revival of other classic Capcom titles.

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