The introduction to Capcom’s new 30th Anniversary Character Encyclopedia points out that Capcom got its start from arcade action and fighting games where story and character were virtually non-existent. Back in the 80’s players were lucky to get anything more than a line of text explaining that “Super Joe” had to go shoot somebody or something, and the story led to a denouement where the game simply spat the word “Congragrations” at the player. Over the decades since those first comical attempts at character development, Capcom has given the gaming landscape hundreds of beloved characters, along with even more second string sidekicks and quickly forgotten one-hit wonders. Over two hundred fan favorites (And Barry from Resident Evil) are chronicled by Loe in this hardcover encyclopedia.
It’s true that this sort of information could be found online at Wikipedia, or the many fan wikis of Capcom’s various games. Yet, one of the things that makes this book special is the sense of humor that comes from writer Casey Loe. He has a long, distinguished career as a strategy guide writer and treats his Capcom arcana with reverence, but he still isn’t above poking fun at some of Capcom’s D-List characters. A few of these poor bastards had brief ignoble lives staring in long-forgotten games, and Loe is happy to mock their misfortunes (And dated fashion choices).
The book is alphabetized by character name from Ada Wong to Zangief, with no less than three entries for Ryu along the way. Each character gets one full page with a few paragraphs about them, plus a couple of images and a listing of important data like their first and last appearances, and alternate names.
This format means that everyone gets the same about of page space regardless of how popular they are. Chris Valentine, the star of the Resident Evil franchise has just one page, while the new guy Jake from Resident Evil 6 gets the same. This lets Capcom cover plenty of characters within the limited space of the 200-page tome, but it still means that long-running stars like Megaman and Ryu don’t quite get their due.
The format does gives readers a chance to learn about some of the more obscure characters and cult games that deserve more attention from fans; Harman Smith from Killer 7, Vanessa Schneider from P.N. 03 and even Detective Gumshoe from the Phoenix Wright games. Readers will never hear such a heartfelt description of the downtrodden Dick Gumshoe as they’ll find here…
Mixed in are tons of Street Fighter, Darkstalkers and Final Fight characters. Capcom has created a huge stable of these fighting games and the book covers many of the less popular franchises with a focus on significant gameplay features and technological achievements. Who was the last 2D fighting game character that Capcom created? Why is the final boss from Street Fighter III so important? That’s revealed here. Loe even speculates on why Dimitri from Darkstalkers doesn’t show up often in other franchises.
The history of Capcom as a company can be found within these pages too. Their clumsy efforts to turn “Super Joe” from Commando into a recurring character are revealed. Then there’s Capcom’s first awkward attempt at a mascot: Captain Commando (Get it, CAPtain COMmando). Poor Cap never got a fair shake, but middle-aged gamers can still think back on his awesome four-player coin-op arcade game. Loe gives Cap and each of his three sidekicks their own pages and glorifies them as much as possible, while still mocking the ridiculous concepts behind them (“Genetic Bandages” indeed, Capcom).
Loe is more reverent with the serious characters attached to successful franchises. Many members of the Resident Evil cast are represented with a fairly in-depth look at the relationships between them. Unfortunately there’s a needless focus on one-shot characters from the recent games and not enough of the fun supporting characters like Hunk, or Alfred/Alexia Ashford.
The 30th Anniversary Character Encyclopedia is an informative and entertaining read. It is also an attractive hardcover volume for fans to show off their love. Yet, with barely 200 pages and a very brief text intro it’s rather short on content. It does come at a relatively low price for a hardcover, so it’s worth the investment for hardcore fans, especially those looking for cult games to discover or obscure characters to cosplay.
The Capcom 30th Anniversary Character Encyclopedia is available now.