One player may compete against the computer, or two players may simultaneously compete against each other. Each player has an 8-way joystick and 6 buttons.
The buttons on the arcade are typically laid out in the following fashion:
The L, M, and H stands for light, medium, and hard respectively. In general, light attacks are less powerful and faster, and hard attacks are more powerful but slower, with medium attacks in between.
The joystick works intuitively in that pressing left will generally move your character left, and pressing right will generally move your character right. But it is more important to think in terms of relative direction.
- If your character is facing to the right, then pressing left on the joystick means backward, and pressing right on the joystick means forward.
- If your character is facing to the left, then pressing left on the joystick means forward, and pressing right on the joystick means backward.
For this reason, all instructions are given with respect to forward and backward since the left and right directions change purpose when your character switches directions.
The following directions assume that your character is facing right, the starting direction of every fight for player one, who begins on the left side:
 How to Play
Each battle consists of best-of-three round match between you and your opponent. At the start of each round, both player's life or health bars are full. The first player to drive the other player's health bar to zero wins the round. The first player to win two total rounds wins the match and moves on to the next opponent. If a single player loses to the computer, the game is over and the player must continue to rematch the recent opponent.
To win a round, the player must use his or her character's attack moves to damage the opponent, and block or dodge the opponent's attacks. Each player may attack from a standing or crouching position, or they may jump in to the air and attack. To attack from a standing position, press any single attack button. To attack from a crouching position, pull the joystick in a downward direction (including both diagonals) and press any single attack button. To attack from the air, direct your character to jump straight up, or jump in a diagonal position, and press any single attack button in mid-air.
To block an attack, a player must push backwards on the joystick when the opponent attacks (otherwise, pressing back on the joystick moves the player away from the opponent.) Blocking can be done standing which blocks middle and high attacks, as well as attacks in the air, but does not block attacks which are low to the ground. Blocking can also be down crouching by pressing the joystick diagonally down and back. A Crouching block will successfully block low and middle attacks. High attacks will usually go over your character's head if they are crouching, but a crouching block does not defend against air attacks or attacks known as overhead attacks which start high and travel down. Darkstalkers incorporates the concept of air-blocking which is the blocking of attacks while in mid-air. You may hold back on the joystick while jumping through the air to avoid damage, even if you have already executed an attack, but not while that attack is still being performed.
 Chain Attacks
Characters in the Darkstalkers (Vampire) series have the ability to cancel weaker normal attacks into stronger normal attacks. For example, a player can perform a chain of attacks in successive order by pressing → → . Beginning with Night Warriors (Vampire Hunter), you can perform what's known as the Hunter Combo: → → → → → . There are only two guidelines to chain combos: You must go from weakest to strongest (for example, → is acceptable but → is not), and you can go from the same strength to , but not the reverse (in this case, → will work but → will not. → will work, because is of a higher strength). You can chain combo while jumping, standing or crouching, and you can preceed a chain with another chain (for instance, you could jump in with → , then continue to combo with → → once you land).
 Special Attacks
In addition to normal attacks there are attacks known as command moves and special moves. Command moves are special combinations of a joystick direction and a particular attack button that produces a different attack than when the button is pressed alone. A special move is a move that requires a more complicated joystick motion and an attack button to perform. For example, Demitri's Chaos Flare projectile and Morrigan's Soul Fist projectile are performed by sliding the joystick in a circular sweeping motion from down to forward, and finished off with any punch button. In this example, the strength of the punch button used happens to dictate the speed at which the projectile travels across the screen. Special attacks can be blocked like any other attack, but they do what's known as "tick damage." That is, even when blocked, they removed a single hit point from your health bar. Most special moves have a pause associated with them that leave you vulnerable to attack if you miss the opponent, or "whiff". Many Special Attacks can be enhanced by turning them into ES Moves by pressing more than one button when performing the attack. See below.
 EX and ES Moves
In addition to the health bar shown at the top of the screen, each player has a super meter at the bottom. As the player attacks and damages the opponent, and as the player takes damage from the opponent, the super meter fills up incrementally. With the exception of the first Darkstalkers (Vampire) game, the super meter fills up, and can store up to 9 levels of power. A player may execute an EX or ES Move as long as the super meter is filled to at least one level of power. (In Darkstalkers, the special meter will only fill up once. When it is full, it will automatically slowly deplete, and will immediately empty when an EX or ES move is performed.) EX Moves are activated by inputting slightly more complex motions than special moves. EX stands for Extra Special. When they are successfully executed, the game will freeze for a brief moment, and then the animation and attack associated with the EX move begins. If the EX move connects and is not blocked, it will do substantial damage to the opponent. EX moves can be used to turn the tide of a battle. Starting in Night Warriors, every player has more than one unique super move.
An ES move is a Special Attack that is enhanced by pressing more than one button when performing a special move. ES stands for Enhanced Special. For example, performing Demitri's Chaos Flare with one punch will create a normal size projectile. However, performing Chaos Flare to two punch buttons will create a substantially larger projectile that can hit up to three times, but at the cost of one level of Super meter gauge. Any move that can be performed as an ES Move will appear with a icon next to it.
 Guard Cancel
In the Darkstalkers series, particular moves have a Guard Cancel property. This means that if such a move is performed while your character is in the middle of blocking an attack, they will immediately cancel their block stun and perform the attack in retaliation, usually with a very high degree of success. The timing of a Guard Cancel is very strict. Some moves can only be performed as a Guard Cancel. In the first Darkstalkers (Vampire) games, it's not unusual for characters to have more than one Guard Cancel. Starting with Night Warriors, each character typically has only one Guard Cancel move, and it's usually performed with the motion. In Vampire Savior series, it becomes motion. Any move that can be performed as a Guard Cancel will appear with a icon next to it. Note that some Guard Cancel moves are also ES-able moves, and can be performed as both a Guard Cancel and an ES move at the same time, if you so choose. These moves will appear with a icon next to it.
 Projectile vs. Projectile
Unlike other fighting games, in which two colliding fireball-type attacks cancel each other out or pass right by each other, Darkstalkers features a new missile attack priority system. Each projectile has a certain momentum which is equal to the maximum possible distance minus the distance traveled. In general:
- When two projectiles are thrown towards each other, the strength of the button used overrides the other projectile. For example, if two Demitris throw two Chaos Flares, but one is performed with and the other one with , then the one will override the Flare.
- If two projectiles of equal strength are thrown, the one fired later will override the one thrown earlier.
- If two projectiles of equal strength are thrown at the same time, they will both cancel out.
- ES projectiles override normal projectiles. EX projectiles override any other type of projectile.
The last form of attack available in this game is a throw. Throws are executed by standing immediately next to your opponent, pressing the joystick either towards or away, and pressing a punch or kick button. Some characters are even capable of performing throws in mid-air. If performed correctly, your character will grab the opponent and toss them to the ground in a manner specific to your character's fighting style. Different characters have a different array of throws, so while some characters can throw with the medium or hard kick button, not all characters can. In general, every character can throw with the medium or hard punch button, and no character can throw with the light punch or light kick button. Recoveries can be used to take less damage from a grabbing ground throw or certain special attacks, and to stop taking damage much faster. To try and recover, rapidly tap b,f and press any Punch or Kick button repeatedly until you break free. Throws are unblockable, but they are escapable. If you press back or forward and any non-light attack button as you are being thrown, you will escape the throw and take no damage. You can only escape from regular ground throws, not from air throws or throws that result from Special Attacks.
 Dashing and Backsteps
All character can dash forward or backstep by tapping or . Some of these have special properties: for example, Demitri and Hsien-Ko's dashes make them vanish momentarily (this also applies to Demitri's backstep), which can be used to pass through attacks or projectiles. Demitri's dashes modify Demon Cradle. Rikuo can dash or backstep continuously until he reaches his opponent or the edge of the screen by holding back or forward during a dash or backstep. Morrigan and Jedah's dashes take them to the air during either move. Morrigan is the only character who can dash vertically. To do her vertical dash, press , or . Also, Morrigan is the only character whose dashes are cancellable.
Some people's dash or backstep may make them leave the ground, in which case you can perform air attacks or special moves if you are fast enough (Sasquatch can do this on both his dash and backstep). Some characters can even move through their opponents by dashing into them (Demitri, Felicia, Hsien-Ko, and Jon Talbain can do this). Most characters can interrupt their dash by pressing in the opposite direction in order to stop quickly.
 Introduced in Night Warriors
 Pursuit Attacks
These can only be used after knocking down your opponent, which can be done by hitting him or her with a crouching attack (some characters have other attacks or moves that will knock down an opponent). Note that pressing + prior to your opponent landing on the floor will simply result in a jumping kick, although there are some exceptions (you can perform a pursuit attack after juggling someone with Jon's Beast Cannon, although since they are still in air, the attack will obviously miss).
Once your opponent has hit the floor, quickly press + to perform a pursuit attack, which is basically a way of getting free damage. You can even ES your pursuit attack by performing it with . However, a fallen opponent is not completely defenseless--for one thing, the timing on pursuits is tricky and your opponent may get up before the pursuit is able to hit. Furthermore, most pursuit attacks have specific ranges, and so attempting one from too close or too far away may make it miss (although if an opponent is still on the floor when you recover from the missed attempt, you can try again). Finally, a character lying on the floor can always hold back or forward to move and get-up at the same time, thereby thwarting a pursuit attempt.
 Introduced in Vampire Savior
 Impact Gauge
In previous iterations of the Darkstalkers (Vampire) series, all damage taken was permanently lost. When one player was knocked out, both players regained all of their health before the start of the next round. In Vampire Savior, the health bar is replaced with the Impact Gauge. During each battle, players damage one another with attacks that cause some permanent damage, and more temporary damage. If a player is unharmed for a period of time, they begin to heal some of the temporary damage, up to the maximum permanent damage they have received. When one player is knocked out, that player regains their health bar, but the opponent's health bar remains where it is.
This is performed by pressing the Start button (or one of the shoulder buttons on console versions). Friendships are little actions or gestures that are meant to amuse but have no serious impact on gameplay (although some can inflict minor damage). Each character can use a Friendship fifteen times per battle. Some characters have more than one Friendship, in which case a particular action is chosen at random. Felicia has a Friendship attack (the Fake Throw), while Sasquatch has a Friendship EX (the Big Trap).
 Dark Force Change
Every character has the ability to use a Dark Force Change. To use your character's DFC, press the same Punch and Kick (e.g. +). Doing so causes your character to pose, and the background changes. You now have whatever special power your Dark Force Change gives you. Once activated, a Dark Force Change only lasts for a little while (a bar will appear beneath your life bar informing you of how much time is left). This amount of time will decrease faster when you are in hit stun. You can end a Dark Force prematurely by pressing any P + K a second time. Either way, when a Dark Force Change ends, the background reverts and you'll pose a second time. Remember that you are vulnerable while posing. Some characters have more than one version of a Dark Force.
 Introduced in Vampire Savior 2
 Dark Force Power
Every character has the ability to activate the Dark Force Power by pressing press the same Punch and Kick (e.g. +) as long as you have at least two levels of special energy. During Dark Force, your regular attacks, special attacks, Enhanced Specials (ES) and Extra Specials (EX) will do more damage, and some EX specials will even have different animation and hit a couple of times more. Some characters lose the abilities to activate their Dark Force Change ability, while others gain access to it by entering a new command (most typically +).