Since I initially hoped to finish this piece in December, I wanted to select a character who’s associated with the Christmas season. As you can see, Capcom’s photojournalist won out of the two options who were in contention. Series developer Capcom Vancouver fortified much of Dead Rising 4‘s iconography with Christmas bauble, and series symbol Frank West is always a topic worth discussing.
But let’s first credit everyone who helped me report this story:
- TheAnvil for helping with edits, offering commentary, and for helping me research.
- Wolfman_J for helping with edits and offering commentary.
- Caldorosso | The Fool for helping with edits.
Capcom’s Resident Evil had already been established as one of the company’s key breadwinners, but Dead Rising‘s launch introduced an alternative zombie-centric series to their lineup. I was in high school at the time, and although I can’t remember exactly how I learned of the game, I can recall how fascinating it was to me and my peers.
And Dead Rising’s endearing protagonist contributed to its eccentric flair.
Frank West’s History
Keiji Inafune commented how Japanese-developed games habitually had “beautiful, shiny, young” characters in the lead roles. Approving of how Western-helmed titles conversely tended to have “a wider variety,” Inafune initially wanted a protagonist who looked “ugly” and “fat” for his levity-laced, zombie-themed passion project. However, Inafune did later elect to tone down the guy’s unalluring veneer, saying he didn’t want someone “super cool,” nor someone who “looked super ugly.” Ultimately, Capcom Production Studio 1 yearned to create a “more rough, tough, gritty character for the Western market,” and Frank’s refinement served as a learning experience for them in designing such characters. Early looks at Dead Rising do partially reflect this progression, as Frank’s model discernibly changed since the game’s unveiling.
In short, Frank was designed to be an unremarkable man stuck in an extraordinarily dangerous situation. Inafune said it best: they wanted Dead Rising to feel ”real,” with us assuming the role of an “average, everyday Joe,” hence why Frank lacked innate superpowers or a florid arsenal. Befitting of the project’s design philosophy, Frank generally had to manage with makeshift weapons – such as a baseball bat, a broom, or a wooden bench – as he trudged through the hazardous commercial establishment.
While someone else loaned his vocal cords to Frank during Dead Rising’s beta phase, Terence J. Rotolo was the person who portrayed him in the final release. Rotolo subsequently voiced Frank throughout his home franchise and beyond, thereby making him synonymous with the role. Dead Rising never recieved Japanese voiceovers for its Eastern release, meaning Rotolo voiced Frank internationally, too.
A freelance reporter, Frank West flew via helicopter over Willamette, Colorado, catching horrific sights on film prior to landing on top of the town’s sole noteworthy attraction, the Willamette Parkview Mall. After a cryptic chat with the mysterious Carlito, Frank heads inside. While he quickly notices the shapely Isabela, his attention is soon turned towards the undead crowd lurking outside the mall. Sadly, the barricaded cadavers break through the entrance thanks to an elderly woman with skewed priorities. Frank escapes the chaos (or is rescued by the janitor, Otis Washington), meets agents Brad Garrison and Jessica McCarney, and circumstances force them to work together to unravel the conspiracy behind the zombie outbreak. Moreover, Frank ordered his pilot to come back in three days, giving him finite time in an environment where every zombie and many persistent people are out for blood…
Dead Rising made a splash, promising its series and mascot would become perennial faces in Capcom’s assemblage. Dead Rising was pushed with a port for the Wii (with liberties and omissions taken to compensate for the platform’s weaker hardware), and another, even less substantial approximation was released for Java-powered phones. Capcom has more recently published a similarly underwhelming iPhone adaption, the aptly named Dead Rising Mobile. As for Frank, he gained supplemental exposure as an unlockable bonus in Inafune’s Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and its sequel. Valve also amusingly honored the reporter through an Easter egg in the Left 4 Dead 2: The Passing DLC campaign (which Capcom Vancouver in turn reciprocated).
In 2010, then-Capcom representative Seth Killian noted how Capcom’s upper management took notice of how strongly Frank resonated with their Western audience. Frank’s vs. series debut in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars was unveiled at the 2009 Tokyo Game Show, signaling his rising status. Afterwards, he seemed slated for a spot in Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, especially given the suspicious silhouette born by Chun-Li’s helicopter pilot; producer Ryota Niitsuma acknowledged Frank was in “quite deep” before being dropped. Consequently, Frank’s subsequent inclusion in 2011’s Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, although leaked ahead of time, was celebrated, cementing him as a Capcom mainstay. Frank also somewhat ironically partnered with Darkstalkers’ Hsien-Ko a year later in Project X Zone.
Dead Rising 2 and its prologue, Case Zero, did not feature Frank (although a few allusions were made to him), opting instead to introduce a new protagonist, Chuck Greene. Frank, however, did participate in the four-issue Dead Rising: Road to Fortune comic book series, which partially explored his activities between the Willamette and Fortune City incidents. In 2010, Frank returned to the field in Dead Rising 2: Case West. Picking up directly from Dead Rising 2, our heroes headed towards a nearby Phenotrans facility, each with their own mission to fulfill. However, one final Dead Rising 2-branded title, Off the Record, capped the generation off as a response to those who missed Frank. This entry was noncanonical, instead studying how a decadent Frank would’ve handled the Fortune City outbreak in lieu of Chuck.
However, Dead Rising 3 followed 2’s precedent, adding newcomer Nick Ramos to the franchise’s entourage. The series’ pioneer still had a presence in Los Perdidos, however; gold Frank West statues littered the metropolis, a fellow Case West alumni enviously namedroped him, and a museum detailed the prior numbered games’ events, making a passing mention to Frank’s current whereabouts as a “zombie consultant and occasional motivational speaker.” Regardless, his outfit was bundled with Chuck’s as a DLC pack for Nick, and he partook in the Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition DLC. Finally, a prequel film, Dead Rising: Watchtower, aired in 2015 through Crackle. An uncharacteristically chipper Frank, in the character’s live-action debut, was played by comedian Rob Riggle.
Screenshots of Dead Rising 4 were divulged before the game’s proper announcement at Microsoft’s E3 2016 presentation. Its reveal proudly boasted Frank’s homecoming, with Frank himself greeting fans at E3. Accordingly, Frank West was at the forefront of 4’s marketing, commemorated by the #FrankIsBack hashtag. Capcom Vancouver mapped out a few divergent ideas for where to go with Dead Rising after finishing 3, and then-studio director Joe Nickolls explained how they “kept coming back to Frank.” They were not only brimming with the desire to revisit Frank’s history in Willamette and bring closure to it, 4 was destined to coincide with the franchise’s tenth anniversary, thus making it an “easy decision” to bring back its premiere protagonist.
However, astute fans noticed three aspects of 4’s Frank were amiss: his physical design had been altered, his personality changed, and he was sporting a different voice actor. Ty Olsson, credited in-game as Victor Nosslo, hit the recording booth instead of Rotolo, owing to Frank’s ostensible maturation. Rotolo wanted to reprise his role, however; he appreciated the fans’ support by sharing the petitions on social media, and he commented on a video theorizing why a newcomer was hired to voice Frank:
Interviews and promotional materials foreshadowed the metamorphosis Frank’s disposition was undergoing. Two infographics played up a “wit” the character was hitherto never depicted with, and Capcom Vancouver’s “Behind the Scenes” featurette suggested some of the studio’s heads didn’t appreciate Frank or Dead Rising for their multifaceted aspects. However, Nickolls’ description of Frank, suggesting “he’s cooler, he’s tougher, a little wiser, but he’s still Frank,” would be swell to see realized if handled competently.
Dead Rising 4 launched on December 6, 2016, and DLC and patches for it were churned out throughout 2017. Of these, the most notable was the Frank Rising campaign, which functioned in place of the series’ hallmark Overtime Mode. The game’s PlayStation 4 re-release, the regrettably subtitled Frank’s Big Package, is the most recent release under the Dead Rising banner.
Regardless, Frank remains active in Capcom’s shindigs. He sanguinely reappeared for Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, retaining his professional rivalry with Marvel’s Spider-Man and thankfully regaining Rotolo’s talents at the expense of unflattering facial reconstruction. Most recently, a chibified Frank loaded with orange juice and his baseball bat is usable in Capcom Vancouver’s Puzzle Fighter. So, no matter the series or genre, Frank West will always intrude if there’s a scoop to be found.
So, what’re my thoughts on Frank West?
Although I dabbled with other platforms at friends’ homes growing up, my Xbox 360 was the first console I owned that was not manufactured by Nintendo. Early titles for it like Hexic HD and Gears of War left an impression on me, but of all of my 360 games, Dead Rising’s impact might have been the strongest.
And much of its memorability can be accredited to its central character. We all became enamored with Frank upon hearing his now-iconic catchphrase, but the man’s appeal extends beyond that. To reiterate a bit, Frank wasn’t brought to Willamette thanks to preordained fate or because he was enlisted to do so, he was trying to make a living, somehow getting the job done armed with only his camera and whatever he got his hands on. Frank’s profession and modest physique accentuated the verisimilitudinous nature of the game he starred in, as did his plain, unassuming sounding name.
Dead Rising’s utilization of time is often compared to the 1993 film Groundhog Day, and it’s an incredibly apt comparison. Tell me, how did you spend your first few days in Willamette? Mine went poorly, from getting shot by the convicts to carelessly wandering into zombies to getting shot by Carlito. If you can think of a way to kill yourself during Dead Rising’s first 12 in-game hours, Frank and I suffered through it together. Yet I persisted, learning the mall’s layout, its hidden trinkets, and its scripted events. As my fund of knowledge improved, Frank gained experience and leveled up, strengthening him and granting him new, dexterous skills. This synchronized evolution intimately bonded my experience with Frank in a manner unlike anything I previously experienced in a video game.
Frank’s drive to procure his story unrelentingly motivated him throughout Dead Rising, but it did not conflict with his humanity. As Frank unearthed the truth behind the outbreak, his disgust for the shady activities of both Carlito and the United States government grew. Meanwhile, his initially turbulous partnership with Brad and Jessica developed into a strong comodere. And, depending on the player’s agency, Frank could aid fellow survivors lurking the mall, offering to chaperone them to the safe house. When a Psychopath emerged, Frank always made a conscious effort to diffuse the situation before resorting to self defense. Frank even had the capacity for forgiveness, as seen when he befriended Isabela and, if you spared him, Paul.
Furthermore, Frank sympathized with the psychologically damaged Cliff, and he even tossed some sympathy over to Carlito, the game’s primary antagonist. Carlito was directly and indirectly responsible for countless deaths during the Willamette incident, leaving behind a legacy that would haunt the United States for years, and he even personally made no less than three direct attempts on Frank’s life. Understandably, Frank was unable to forgive the terrorist, yet he still provided some solace to him as he died, promising “the Santa Cabeza story will be told.” Carlito and Isabela had a strained relationship by this point, and Frank took care to not only provide consolation to her, he informed her how her safety was ultimately Carlito’s greatest concern. Speaking as someone who likes to witness some relatability and compassion in narrative-driven protagonists, this was nice to witness.
Frank also isn’t prone to jealousy or vain competitiveness. His profession is a crowded one, yet he took no issue with Kent coexisting with him until the high-pitched photographer’s insanity crept out. Likewise, Frank was content collaborating with Rebecca Chang in Case West and Off the Record, showing he doesn’t mind sharing an exposé with a colleague.
Of course, that’s not to say Frank’s a picturesque boy scout – he’s assertive and, like anyone, has moments of sarcasm – or that he wasn’t a tad opportunistic. Frank was clever enough to know how to use leverage against others to further his agenda, as demonstrated in Dead Rising and Off the Record. Seeing Frank’s entire range as he reacted to his surroundings was satisfying, helping to differentiate him from the other, more stereotypical leads I was accustomed to. In short, our favorite reporter isn’t the deepest character ever penned in this industry, but he’s nevertheless human, possessing positive and negative qualities like you or me.
While I remember Frank predominantly for the original Dead Rising, I do applaud how he was handled in Case West. I like how he physically aged in the five years since he escaped Willamette, with the receding hairline and slight potbelly adding to his unconventional demeanor. Frank donning Carlito’s locket was a nice touch as well, symbolizing how much the Willamette incident affected him. Likewise, he retained his personality while projecting the confidence and gravitas of a veteran reporter; after all, Frank didn’t merely cover wars anymore, he survived them.
A few hours into it, I’m thus far less enthused over how he was characterized in Off the Record. His dailog is sprinkled with quips, deviating from how he was previously written. Still, he’s nevertheless believably the same person, and since Off the Record is, for all intents and purposes, fanfiction in relation to the series’ chronology, I’m okay with it taking a few liberties. (Capcom Vancouver certainly was as well, given a few of Off the Record’s plot twists.) Besides, any imperfections in Frank’s characterization in Off the Record were handled much better than in his next starring role…
So, what’re my thoughts on Dead Rising 4’s Frank?
Warning: Dead Rising 4 is still a relatively new title, particularly for PlayStation 4 owners. Therefore, I warn you now that this section will cover the entirety of the base game’s plot.
Heretofore, when I opined and shared my experiences with a character in this column, I would generally do so within the context of the character’s whole resume. Sure, I may emphasise one or two games specifically, such as how Rosalina’s primarily dealt with Super Mario Galaxy, but never before has it been necessary to isolate a character’s portrayal in one game from the rest of his or her background. However, Dead Rising 4’s Frank is so removed from his Dead Rising and Case West incarnations that such an unprecedented act is required.
Frank and his purported evolution were focal points for Capcom Vancouver when hyping up Dead Rising 4. In an interview with PC PowerPlay, Nickolls explained how he believed Frank “really felt video game-y” in the original entry, which he added was “a Japanese take on things.” They therefore wanted to modernize him, making him “a little more street-savvy” and gnarled while, in his opinion, simultaneously being the Frank West they’ve “always wanted to make.” His team also compared 4’s Frank to the character’s former glory, undermining the physical differentiations between them. On another occasion, Nickolls bloviated how people savored the direction they took Frank in, from his interactions with others to his new set of vocal chords.
It’s worth stressing how much pride Capcom Vancouver took in 4’s writing. Nickolls explained to gamesindustry.biz that their product had three “proper video game writers” scripting it, boasting how they weaved a tale with “depth.” Regarding character interactions, Nickolls correspondingly heralded this installment as the new benchmark for Dead Rising. Furthermore, Nickolls insisted they didn’t try to “write the funny,” they instead supplied players with the tools to entertain themselves. Art director Geoff Coates shared that sentiment, noting how the players fabricate much of the series’ humor.
When conversing about Dead Rising 4, Capcom Vancouver personnel tossed the word “evolve” around a lot, asserting even now how it’s advancing its series. It’s a notion I vehemently disagree with, and if you’d like to read an overview of my stance on the title, you can find my review of it at uInterview. I started my critique by addressing Frank’s makeover:
“First, let’s talk about our favorite everyman’s comeback. Fans will instantly notice two contradictions between Dead Rising 4’s Frank West and his prior incarnations: his voice and his design. Frank was portrayed by Terence J. Rotolo in most of his earlier appearances, but Victor Nosslo was cast as the role this time. This decision was made as the development team wanted a “grizzled, older take” on Frank. As for his physical appearance, Frank managed to age so gracefully that he not only looks younger, but his facial structure has changed.
“Shortly after starting, a Dead Rising vet will discern another alteration: Frank’s personality is different. Continuity nods are made to his prior escapades, but there’s little else to link Dead Rising 4’s take on Frank to the character’s earlier incarnations beyond sharing their name, profession and hair color. There’s little in the story that persuasively required Frank to be the lead, either, so it would’ve been ideal if Dead Rising 4’s protagonist became a new character rather than mar our memories of Frank.
“However, if you can overlook these discrepancies, you’ll discover that our new Frank is wholeheartedly unlikeable. He’s juvenile, his dialogue is littered with humorless quips (“That’s what she said!”), and his consideration for fellow survivors, at best, can be described as indifference, although his interactions improve slightly following a spontaneous enlightenment over halfway through the game. Nosslo’s voice work personifies the new Frank well, however.”
My assessment is harsh, I know. Thing is, at the onset of his adventure, the new Frank, although inconsistent with previous Franks, nevertheless showed promise by coaching and sharing a rapport with his pupil, Vicky. Unfortunately, their dynamic quickly becomes dysfunctional, and properly dissecting it would require nothing short of its own article. I will note, however, that Frank’s egotism was overplayed, and his ability to construct persuasive arguments was neutered. Also, despite supposedly caring “the most” for others, Frank’s conversations rarely convey any concern for his cohorts; he ditches Brad Park, 4’s surrogate for the original’s Brad and Jessica, as soon as he can, and he’s callously uninterested in Kylie Hammond’s plight when she asks for his help.
Dead Rising 4’s writing is tonally dissonant from its predecessors. It even clashes with itself, unsure if it should ever allow a somber moment to resonate with its audience. 4’s script overbearingly plagues the experience, and Frank, aside from the fleeting moments when he’s written decently or as if he’s psychologically broken, ceaselessly attempts to make players laugh. In the game’s tutorial, he quips about seeing a therapist. “Thanks, Obama,” is one of his random in-game quotes, he describes Calder as “Godzilla strong” with “a serious hate-on for Obscuris,” and he accuses the Evolved Zombies of being “the Hitlers of zombies.” Frank’s truculent jabs towards an antagonistic group irritated me more than it did them. A running gag was Frank’s insistence on getting a fist bump. I could go on and on, but Frank wasn’t cringe-inducing in his 30s and 40s. His “updated outlook” decompensated him into an immature caricature.
However, if I was asked to pinpoint one segment in Dead Rising 4 that most visibly demonstrated its tone deaf writing, this entire exchange between Frank and Darcy would be it:
Please take a moment to contemplate everything this scene said about Dead Rising 4’s protagonist and the world he inhabits. Its premise is simple: an annoying, unimportant but innocuous side character wants Frank to help him escape, but Frank disregards him, conducts his own investigation, and leaves Darcy behind as the scenery begins violently shaking, casually remarking, “You’ll be safe here. Probably.” Our previous three heroes – including Frank – would’ve instinctively untied Darcy. Anyone who wouldn’t would’ve rightfully been called out for their inactivity, likely winding up on the opposing end of a Psychopath fight. It’s a mean spirited sequence played off as a joke, one that doesn’t fit within its series’ conventions. Making matters worse, this entire segment occurs during gameplay, meaning it’s not just Frank who abandons Darcy. You do too, though the only repercussion Frank faces is an inconsequential denouncement from Brad. It’s also worth recalling that Frank partially sympathized with Carlito during his dying moments yet he chided Fontana, one of 4’s primary villains, during hers.
I suppose, to be fair, 4’s Frank did grow more tolerable after his moment of character development. He never abandoned his “wit,” but he did volunteer to save Hammond from Tom, and he genuinely attempted to reason with Calder before their confrontation. This poignancy is marginalized, however, for two reasons. First, it’s only resurrecting a portion of the common sense Frank already had 16 years ago. Second, this epiphany is unearned within 4’s narrative. There were two moments it was presumably spurred by, but there isn’t a gradual or clear trajectory presented through Frank’s dialog or monologues, he just… spontaneously decides to go aid Hammond. Frank’s reconciliation with Vick and his subsequent sacrifice felt just as hollow, especially the latter because of its cliched storytelling and for being an unabashed hook for then-unreleased DLC.
Dead Rising 4’s Frank was intended to be more relatable, but he isn’t unless you predominantly communicate through unfunny one-liners, pop culture references, and expletives. He’s intended to be a logical progression of a character we’ve loved for a decade, yet his characterization, design, and voice lack all but the most superficial of resemblances to the Franks of yesteryear. We’re presumably meant to like 4’s anti-heroic figurehead, but I was unable to. 4’s Frank isn’t someone I could cheer on, he wasn’t someone whose screen time I relished in, nor was he someone I hope to see again in a future title. He was someone I desperately wanted to punch in the face.
As I implied when I briefly discussed Sonic Battle’s Chaos Gamma, fanservice for the sake of it isn’t necessarily a wise decision, and Dead Rising 4’s treatment of Frank firmly falls into that category. We’ll touch upon this a bit more in the future, but I believe Dead Rising scoring a new protagonist with each numbered installment was a healthy decision for the brand. If Dead Rising 4 had starred Hank East as his own individual, he wouldn’t have been likable, but he wouldn’t be retroactively making one of my favorite characters worse.
Granted, both Frank and Dead Rising have gradually gotten more cartoony over the years, so it might be unfair to completely lay the blame for their mischaracterization at 4’s feet. And, yes, I understand Capcom Vancouver’s rational for bringing Frank back, and there’s merit to it, no doubt. Seeking to please your fanbase is admirable, but it’s disingenuous to triumphantly highlight a beloved character’s comeback when he’s so unfaithful to who he once was without a justification for it. Ultimately, Frank’s inclusion didn’t feel like a celebration of a milestone anniversary, it felt like a nostalgia-pandering gimmick to appeal to older fans whilst his rewritten, focus tested guise was done to make the game more marketable.
Capcom Vancouver has fortunately heard fan feedback regarding Dead Rising 4; its most recent update endeavoured to placate fans of the older titles, hence why I’m cautiously optimistic they’ll mull over the backlash 4’s Frank earned and restore him to the Frank I know and respect when he inevitably reemerges. That said, barring some heavy retcons or skimming over details, I do wonder how they’d reconcile 4’s Frank with his younger selves, or if they’d even bother to try.
Regardless, Frank’s autochthonous attire remained the standard in both of his contemporary crossovers, one of which even drew from Off the Record rather than Dead Rising 4 for his extra costume. And Frank’s classic persona certainly remains the default in my heart. I’ve never put too much thought into which video games compose a list of my all-time favorites, but Dead Rising sprung to mind the one time I tried. Its stricter aspects render it uninviting to some, but it’s a game I will always treasure.
Congratulations, Frank West! The whole world knows your name!
So, this was a particularly long one. I consequently figured it’d be a nice cool down for me to discourse a character next with a less pronounced history, someone a bit more obscure. I had around four characters in mind, but an upcoming joint project between me and a few fellow Source Gaming personnel inspired me to bump someone else to the forefront.