It's been nigh on three years since I last wrote something substantial like this on Capcom. I can remember it like it was yesterday, and the company hadn't been doing so well at the time. How do we count the ways?
Many of its legendary developers had fled to form their own studio. The company was forced to outsource its beloved franchises to unproven Western studios. A series of Mega Man cancellations soured the attitude of its oldest fanbase. The practice of putting DLC on a disc seemed to stick to it harder than most other companies. Excellent little "pure Capcom" games like E.X. Troopers had been overstepped for Lost Planet 3, the blandest shooter of all time.
And to cap off this era of the company's history, Resident Evil 6 happened…
Many, myself included, were critical of the company, from a place of total love, mind you, wondering if there was any way our beloved pastime could get back on track. Like most recovery processes, though, the first step is to admit you have a problem, and that's just what Capcom did. It admitted most of these missteps in a financial report in mid 2013.
And ever since… Capcom has been a new beast. A crowd-pleaser. One who listens to fans, gives them what they want to the best of its ability, and it has begun a miraculous turn around that hopefully blooms into a full fledged recovery.
How did this change come about?
Bad habits out with the bathwater
Obviously, the most glaring change that Capcom has made over the last several years is that it is working on it own projects now. The outsourcing has stopped, and Capcom has a new generation of homegrown designers and programmers that are picking up the mantle of the company's old spirit.
Not that all the outsourced projects back then were bad. Once fans got over the radical changes to Dante in DmC: Devil May Cry, they realized that Ninja Theory cranked out a sweet action game that came closer to capturing the raw intensity and pure flow of the hardcore Japanese action genre than any other Western company had done before. Strider was a decent little revival to a lost franchise.
The same goes for Grin's Bionic Commando game, which is really good if players are able to get over the poor-man's attempt at a Metal Gear Solid plotline. That goes triple if they use the retro skin.
However, it has become clear in hindsight that Capcom couldn't have survived if it took any other route. Many saw it at the time as an attempt to emulate Square Enix's successful move towards Western development, but we've since realized the situation was far more desperate. Having been abandoned by its iconic employees, the company had to do something to bide time while it rebuilt its workforce.
The extent that Dragon's Dogma and DmC proved to be critical hits while the company was merely trying to survive proves in the long run that these outsourced projects might have miraculously over-delivered the success required of them.
Now, that new workforce needs to show that it can live up to the task given to them. The outsourcing is over, and a new age is upon us.
Another key area that Capcom has addressed is DLC, but that's selling it short. Capcom has excelled in all areas when it comes to Street Fighter V, delivering the ideal platform to grow and build a truly evolving game experience.
Not only has it done away with DLC on the disc, something plenty of companies were doing at the time, it's also moved beyond the laughably outdated practice of pushing out incremental updates every other year. See the massive collection of Street Fighter IV versions on the shelves of super-fans, and you'll see what I mean.
Street Fighter V could be model that bridges gamers and DLC once and for all because it gives players a choice. For years, gamers decried DLC as "charging us for pieces of the game that used to be 'secrets' or awards through extended play." Now, Capcom has gone all-in to see if gamers are more than hot air.
You can buy Street Fighter V characters as soon as they become available, or you can play to unlock them for free. A genius move, giving players what they've always wanted, choice, and still being able to profit off of it.
Let's also give credit to the fact that Capcom's PC ports have improved ten-fold over the last decade, a former complaint that rarely falls on the publisher anymore.
These moves are not coincidence. Capcom is learning and listening… and speaking of which.
Playing up a long legacy
For the time being, Capcom is stirring up its fan loyalty again by delivering the goods on its long and beloved legacy. The future can wait. Retro games from Capcom have been pouring out by the dozens, and in 2015, a month couldn't go by without seeing a game hit the digital shelves that we had all given up hope on.
We'll turn to Mega Man first because where else can we turn for a better example? On the PlayStation Network alone, Mega Man X4 launched in Sept. 2014, quickly followed by Mega Man X5 a week later. The two most beloved Mega Man action games on the PlayStation, thought forever doomed to be physical discs until the end of time, could now be played cheaply on our Vitas!
Fast-forward to May, and fans got Mega Man 8. Someone behind the scenes must really be listening and loving us! The Misadventures of Tron Bonne also got a surprise release in May, followed by the biggest white whale of them all, Mega Man Legends, which launched in September on the PlayStation Network.
Oh, and it also unofficially polled fans to see which PlayStation 2 Mega Man X game they want to see retooled on PlayStation 4 the most. Mega Man X8 apparently won since it was confirmed for Japan the following week.
Strings pulled, deals made, copyrights overlooked or given a blind-eye. Whatever. Capcom delivered, and I haven't even mentioned the major pushes on Nintendo Virtual Consoles or the excellent Mega Man Legacy Collection either. It's hard to remember that this kind of effort wasn't exactly Capcom's main focus back three or four years ago, but here it is.
The company wants fans back, and it is winning them back in the best way possible: by giving them the games they want. I mean, the company just announced that the PSP port of Breath of Fire III, the one Sony is rumored to have declined years ago, is coming to PlayStation Network after all this time! Who loves ya?
And what about the company's current business model with Resident Evil? It's probably not a shock that Capcom is releasing remasters of its most popular zombie games these days. It needs to train the youngins how Resident Evil games are built, and it also gives fans easier access to the older hits they love.
Resident Evil HD Remaster and Resident Evil 0 HD Remaster have gone a long way in sweetening the moods of the series' longtime fans, and following up the most popular game in recent memory, Resident Evil Revelations, with its own sequel was also a stroke of genius that shows the company is listening to what its fans want.
The point is that Capcom, who seemed desperate to peel away its legacy and become something new during the domination of AAA gaming, has been winning back fans and is building success on games, properties, and design theories that have always been strictly "Capcom." As the AAA loses its luster and starts to become boring, these companies with personality and legacy actually have something to lean on.
And it seems to be working. If you're listening Capcom, we have a lot of Onimusha and Mega Man Legends 2 fans who want a piece of the action, too. I've sure you've heard already.
Where do we go from here?
Like getting back together with an ex though, we need to find out what went wrong first, and how to not make those mistakes again. This little honeymoon phase, where Capcom butters us up with our retro favorites, is nice and all, but it can't last forever. Eventually, new games are going to have to take over, and this is where Capcom still has yet to prove that this can be a lasting effort.
As of right now, Street Fighter V and Monster Hunter are proving to be the company's primary focus. These two franchises rake in the biggest bucks, and they also have the lowest risk with formulas that don't require massive revolutions or overhauls. It is smart for the company to crank out these titles if it wants all those profits.
I still want Monster Hunter Stories in English too. I think that little gem could be something special.
Resident Evil 7 has to happen within a few years. These recent remasters and the highly-anticipated remake of Resident Evil 2 are not going to be enough to satisfy fans in the long run. Umbrella Corps also seems about as permanent of a solution as Metroid Prime: Federation Force. We need something new and something that shows the over-inflated ego of Resident Evil 6's was just a one time mistake. We'll see this game when Capcom's confidence is at its highest again.
It may be a little contentious, but Capcom seems unrepentant on its decision to make Breath of Fire 6 a mobile game, an elephant in the room that hasn't rubbed fans the right away. If it is that confident in the quality of this title though, throw it out for your English speaking fanbase and let them decide for themselves. Don't hold it hostage behind international lines.
deep down? Deep down, I think this game's never going to happen. No loss, really.
There are plenty other classic franchises that Capcom can tap into for solid revivals, but in the end, the real deal here is Mega Man. It's no coincidence that attitudes started to sour towards Capcom at about the same time it lost focus on its most iconic character.
With a 30 year anniversary coming up, we have announcements for a movie, an animated TV show, and enough merchandise to choke a Centaur Man, but nothing on a brand new game yet. I get the feeling that Capcom is planning something big to bring the Blue Bomber back to the center stage. If his appearance and reception in Super Smash Bros. weren't telling enough, Capcom knows that they still have a very valuable property on their hands here.
I still think it was a missed opportunity to not release Mega Man 11 before Mighty No. 9 came out, but who knows? That still very well might be the case! If Mega Man 11 happens, and it proves to be the HD, wonderfully animated, brimming with character, absolutely nostalgic hit that we all want it to be, then we'll know for certain that Capcom is back for real.
As for now, I'm proud to be a Capcom fan again, and I'm glad that the company has turned its ship around.
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