The Gargoyle Trilogy

The Red Arremer, or Firebrand, anti-hero of our story.

The Gargoyle Trilogy is an often-overlooked body of work based on Capcom’s popular Ghosts & Goblins (Makaimura) series, and stars a recurring enemy called Red Arremer as the anti-hero. By mixing light RPG elements into the traditional action-platformer of the day, The Gargoyle Trilogy is an interesting blend of genres that we didn’t often see in the early 1990’s.

Capcom’s Gargoyle Trilogy, as I’ll call it, eschews the Japanese tradition of creating parody games on a mainline series and instead delivers a wholly different take on the universe portrayed in their Makaimura (Ghosts & Goblins) franchise. Rather than staring mainline series hero Sir Arthur, The Gargoyle Trilogy stars the Red Arremer – the titular pain-in-the-ass recurring enemy in the mainline series that has felled many a gamer thousands of times over. Red Arremer’s infamy in the Makaimura games was great enough toward the end of the 1980’s that the powers-that-be at Capcom thought it best to try and monetize his fame and create a game centered around his (I assume this is the correct pronoun…) journey.

Each of the three games in the trilogy presents Firebrand (Red Arremer’s Westernized name, which I’ll use from here on out) as you guide him on his epic quest to overcome some nefarious force trying to take over the Ghoul Realm. Firebrand’s quest in the first two games is not unlike popular console RPGs of the day as you travel around the world doing good things for local lords and being praised for your heroic deeds. There is already a legend about the “Red Bolt” in the towns and villages Firebrand visits in the Ghoul Realm, and as you progress events unfold that build Firebrand into the very legend you keep hearing about. The third game, Demon’s Crest, is significantly different in set up, tone, and structure to the first two. Overall, it’s all very odd compared to the mainline games in the Makaimura series.


Let's get some additional context by diving into a brief history of the Makaimura series before we get into The Gargoyle Trilogy.

Makaimura (Ghosts & Goblins) Arcade Poster

While Super Mario Bros. is often credited as being the first smooth scrolling action-platformer that has been iterated on for generations, many folks don’t realize that Capcom’s Makaimura (Ghosts & Goblins) released in the arcades just weeks after Super Maro Bros. debut on the Famicom (Japanese NES) in Japan. There are numerous reasons why Super Mario Bros. has so much clout, though. Its approachability, steady difficulty curve, and overall finesse over and above that of Ghosts & Goblins is readily apparent.


That said, the smooth, side-scrolling action platformer that came to prominence in 1985 was less of a unique innovation by Nintendo or Capcom and more of an inevitable development in genre exploration that began all the way back in 1982 with Activision’s Pitfall and 1984’s Pac-Land from Namco. Not long after, other high-profile Japanese developers like Konami followed suit with their own genre defining action platformers that took the foundations laid by Capcom, Nintendo, Namco and others to unique and novel heights.

The Makaimura series is best known for its intense but satisfying difficulty. In each game, Sir Arthur travels a linear path from start to finish, being presented with incredibly challenging platforming sections, devilish enemy placement, and exceedingly deliberate controls. Rushing through these games is a lesson in futility, while careful play is rewarded. That’s not to say the developers didn’t throw in many devices to keep you pressing forward, like a timer or set-piece stage hazards, though. There is always a sense of urgency and dread just two steps behind you.

Falling in line with many other arcade games of the early and mid-1980’s, the Makaimura series requires the player to clear two loops before seeing the true ending. Basically, the player is required to beat the game twice in a row in a single sitting. And because these arcade games were designed to eat your money, the second loop is set at a higher difficulty. Not insurmountable, mind you, but noticeably more difficult.


To this day Capcom still commissions new games in the Makaimura series created by either their internal development teams or external developers. The newest game in the series was released as recently as 2021 and carries forward all the tropes and balls-to-the-wall difficulty fans expect from this storied franchise. Makaimura's intense difficulty has become infamous in gaming circles over the years, so in a bid to increase sales of the series, Capcom introduced several additional modes and difficulty options across the last few releases to help ease new players into the series and create new fans.

Personally, I’ve always been a casual fan of the Makaimura series, but I’ve never actually taken the time to beat any game in the series completely. The closest I’ve come is about halfway through the second loop in Daimakamura, or Ghouls & Ghosts in the west. This is my personal favorite of the original series, releasing first on the Capcom CPS1 hardware and then on just about every console imaginable since its original 1988 release. Daimakaimura was the final arcade release before the series became a console exclusive franchise with the release of Chomakaimura, or Super Ghouls & Ghosts, in 1991. Created from the ground-up for the Super Nintendo, Chomakaimura is the popular favorite among series die-hards, and the final game in the mainline series until 2006’s Ultimate Ghosts & Goblins on the Sony Playstation Portable.

Firebrand’s journey isn’t the only spin-off Capcom created for the Makaimura series, though. The Maximo duology was released on the Playstation 2 early in the console’s life and acts as a 3D reimagining of Makaimura. Despite being released with little fanfare in the West, the Maximo titles have become a bit of a hidden gem in the Playstation 2 library for series fans and they are lauded as some of the best 3D action-platformers on the console. There is also a PS1/Saturn puzzle game titled Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons

The Gargoyle Trilogy deviates far from the Makaimura Series’ roots by including many lite role-playing game (RPG) elements like an overworld map, towns to explore, non-playable characters to interact with, and items and upgrades to collect. This includes the ability to upgrade your armor, health stats and more to help you along your journey. While still very difficult, The Gargoyle Trilogy is easier than the mainline Makaimura series overall.


Outside of The Gargoyle Trilogy, Firebrand is still a somewhat popular character in Capcom’s line-up, and we often see him as a cameo or guest character in other Capcom games. A big boost to his popularity in the last 20 years is his inclusion as a playable character in three high-profile fighting games: SNK Vs Capcom Chaos in 2003, Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 in 2011, and Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite in 2017. Firebrand (specifically, Red Arremer) can also be found as a cameo enemy in the classic arcade games Black Tiger and Higemaru. Of course, Firebrand is still causing worlds of frustration for new players in the most recent entries in the Makaimura series as well. 


Now that we’ve covered the who and what of Firebrand and the Makaimura series, let’s dive into the individual game reviews of The Gargoyle Trilogy.

Publisher: Capcom | Developer: Capcom | Release Date: May/July 1990

The first game in The Gargoyle Trilogy introduces Firebrand has the hero of the Demon Realm. Rather than present the player with a linear path from beginning to end, Capcom infused Gargoyle's Quest with RPG elements taken from the popular Dragon Quest series to give Firebrand's adventure an epic scale (even if it is still just a linear shot to the end of the game). Gargoyle's Quest is a definitive Game Boy release and it is considered one of the console's best experiences. 

Publisher: Capcom | Developer: Capcom | Release Date: July/Oct. 1992

This second release in the trilogy offers players an expansive take on the Demon Realm introduced in the first game. While it largely treads the same ground as the Game Boy release, this refined experience is even better than the first and stands tall as my favorite game in The Gargoyle Trilogy. It's a stellar NES game that should be played by all NES and action-platform game fans. 

Publisher: Capcom | Developer: Capcom | Release Date: Oct./Nov 1994

The third and final game in The Gargoyle Trilogy sees our star, Firebrand, in his biggest adventure yet. Somewhat unconnected to the first two games, Crest is more or less an early example of a Metroidvania that relied on adventure tropes explored in games like Metroid and Metroid 2 to create a non-linear journey for our anti-hero. While player choice and freedom of exploration was the aim of the development team for this outing, the general lack of direction in the game mar an otherwise stellar game on the SNES that has been criminally overlooked over the last few decades.