ame Informer Online’s Japan Experience 2005 v1.0 continued today with a trip to Konami’s Japanese headquarters in Roppongi where we got the exclusive opportunity to sit down with famed series producer Koji Igarashi and chat about his upcoming two Castlevania projects Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS, and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness for the PlayStation 2. We also ask him about the odds of a future 2D Castlevania, possible future PSP and Nintendo DS titles, and what he thinks about the next generation.
Game Informer: So let’s start with Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. The game is coming out next month in Japan. Is it finished?
Koji Igarashi: Yes, it’s done already. We’re also finished with the U.S. version, as well as the European version. (laughs)
GI: You seem pretty excited about that.
KI: Wrapping up the development process with the DS project was really really tough. With the approval process taking place in the different countries with the North American and European versions of Dawn of Sorrow we can FTP (file transfer) it, and that made it a much easier process. But since the Japanese version is coming next month, we had a short approval process and I had to hand carry it to Kyoto to deliver the final code.
GI: So you’re happy you’re done I’m assuming.
KI: I’m so relieved it’s done. Now it’s time to think about the future products, so I’m asking myself when I can take a vacation. (laughs)
GI: Today! (laughs)
Koji Igarashi at Konami’s Japanese headquarters
KI: Once I get back to my office I will have a lot of things to work on.
GI: Was there anything that you found limiting with working with the Nintendo DS hardware?
KI: Unlike PlayStation games, with DS we sort of had a hard time with adjusting the transparency of the screen on the hardware. Aside from that with the DS, since it’s a different handheld, it was the team's mission to figure out how to do everything with the new hardware, which proved challenging. Combining the touch screen with the action oriented gameplay was tricky.
GI: Was there anything that you didn’t have time to add to the game?
KI: Let me start. I have a lot of things that I didn’t get in. With the characters, I wanted to have a middle-aged guy that was really worn out, but he’s not in it. This guy is working in a company and he’s not a top executive of the company, but not at the bottom, either – more of middle management. But he’s got a kid at home, and he’s got an older sister and younger sister. The older sister hates her father. I wanted to implement this general Japanese worker in the game, but when I asked the team, they said, “no, no, please!” (laughs) I had to give up. I wanted to add this worker type into the game and they said no. (laughs)
With the touch screen, there were a lot of features that we wanted to do. What simply happened was that – as I explained with combining the touch screen and the action buttons – you can’t do everything at once, and it makes you stop touching something. There are some elements that we had to remove due to the development schedule. One specific example that we had in a brainstorming section was picking up a cat with the touch screen (laughs). Because of the development schedule we weren’t able to do it.
One other element that I wanted to bring into the game that didn’t make it was combining items with the touch screen. But you don’t want to mix something together that you don’t want to have. But in the game we have weapon synthesis, so we thought that would cover that part.
GI: The story of Dawn of Sorrows takes place after Aria of Sorrow with Soma being reborn into Dracula. Did you enjoy continuing that storyline by using the same character again, and will you continue this storyline in the next iteration of the game.
KI: That was a new challenge, and the reason why I made a sequel this time with Dawn of Sorrow was because I didn’t want to waste the game element of the Tactical Soul System from Aria of Sorrow, and Soma already had that system so why not have him in it again.
GI: Do you think you’ll continue with Soma?
KI: I don’t have a specific plan at the moment, but I want to come up with a new gimmick variations.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
GI: We know with the storyline that while Soma is Dracula, no one else can be Dracula, and that’s why he’s being attacked, but is one of his goals to cleanse his soul and rid the Dracula element from his body?
KI: Dracula’s soul itself is not evil. So basically the soul is clean. It’s so powerful it draws the evil and chaotic powers around it. Soma is just cleansing the surroundings.
GI: We know that the touch screen is used for the seals, the bosses, making paths, the doors, and teleporting around the map. Is there anything else you are using the touch screen for?
KI: This is an advanced technique, but you use the directional pad, action buttons, and touch screen at the same time. It’s very technical, but you can instruct the spirits to do things for you. By tapping the screen with your finger you can target an enemy, and then with the action button you activate the action. It’s a quick movement. You can’t use the stylus.
GI: Will you use the DS microphone?
KI: At the beginning of the project we didn’t think the microphone was included in the top priority. At the end of the development cycle we came up with some ideas, but we weren’t really prepared to do things with it, so we decided against it. Possibly we’ll do it for the next one if we decide to make it on the Nintendo DS. We came up with a lot of jokes with the microphone.
GI: Was there anything that you changed with the Tactical Soul System?
KI: There was one thing that I wanted to introduce to the system, and that was if you obtain a certain soul, A is knife attack, and B is large sword. By having two souls equipped at the same time you can switch between the two quickly. You can combine two types like a strength type and a magic type. What I usually do is have attack ability on A, and have dash on B.
GI: How long do you think it’ll take the average player to finish the game?
KI: As usual we’re targeting around 10 hours of gameplay time. I can’t really provide a time reference because our team members are experts with the game right now so it’s hard to say but we’re always targeting 10 hours of gameplay time or more.
GI: Let’s move on to Curse of Darkeness. How is development going and are you pleased with your progress?
KI: We are really tight with the schedule. (laughs) So as soon as I came back from Shanghi, we’re back on the PS2 version.
GI: Do you think you’ve maxed out the power of the PlayStation 2 with this game?
KI: Yes, I think we have.
GI: How do you like working with the Xbox?
KI: Because the main development is based on the PS2, and as I told you we’re very busy with that version, the Xbox team is suffering. Obviously, the Xbox hardware specs are much better than the PS2, and the Xbox can express the game much better. But actually there are some things that the PS2 does better than the Xbox. But the Xbox team will be working harder from now on to make the Xbox version as good as the PS2 version.
GI: So far we’ve only seen a few innocent devils: the bird, the stone giant, and the fairy. Can you give us examples of other ones that we’ll see?
KI: There will be a witch type, wizard type, and I don’t know exactly the final name of the last one, but right now we’re calling it devil type – so it’s innocent devil-devil type (laughs). You can tell that they are devils. These are the six types that you’ll have access to, but you can only use one at a time.
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
GI: What was challenging about adding the innocent devils to the game as far as AI is concerned? Did you like adding this to the game, and would you like to use it again?
KI: The AI is much more polished since the E3 version of the game. As far as future versions of the game, if the gamers want it, we’d love to deliver them.
GI: You said at E3 that the innocent devils will be able to evolve, but you didn’t explain how. Will this be shown visually?
KI: The root of this evolution differs with the weapon that you are using. With the sword, by collecting red crystals your innocent devil can evolve into a certain type. With yellow crystals, which are spirit type weapons, that’ll evolve to a certain type, and with blue crystals, the axe. You get more crystals by defeating enemies. If you’re using a fairy type as an ally, they have ways of evolving. This is not final yet, but an estimation of crystal count.
Fairy types you can’t tell visually, but it will either recover your health or detoxify your body. The golem type you can tell, and the two major changes will be armor and speed and more power.
GI: How has your work been coming along with the camera in the game? How has it progressed since the E3 version?
KI: To be honest, our staff wasn’t too happy with the E3 version’s camera, so we developed two different camera designs for Curse of Darkness. One is the movement camera angle, and one is the battle angle. When the player is moving, the camera is closer to the player and angled further down towards the ground. In battle we pulled the camera out more and it’s angled higher to the ground.
It’s not a fixed camera, but you can lock the camera on and off during battle. You lock on and off with the R2 button and the right analog stick rotates the camera. By pressing L1, the camera will pull behind the player.
GI: Do you ever think you’ll return the Belmont storyline to 3D?
KI: I would also like to explore a new episode of the Belmonts, as well as going back to one of the past games and tweaking the storyline.
GI: When we met in San Francisco I asked you this specific question before, but I got a lot of comments from our readers about it, so I want to see if anything's changed since then. When I asked if you’d ever make a 2D-style Castlevania, your answer dealt with the fact that the reasoning behind not doing it was more of marketing and business decisions along the path that 2D wasn’t really viable anymore. Games like Viewtiful Joe and Alien Hominid have proven more or less that 2D isn’t dead. Are you still thinking you’ll keep Castlevania in 3D on consoles?
KI: I have always felt that I don’t want to put out the light on 2D games with home consoles. I think Viewtiful Joe is a rare case that’s been successful in 2D. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome to do another 2D style game on consoles. My impression seems like Europe doesn’t like 2D games at all. Ideally speaking, I would hope the people voice these opinions to Konami in San Francisco and that gets relayed back to Japan. It would be easier for me to start [this type of project.]
Basically, there are a lot of things that have to be considered for 2D development because it would cost a lot of money. So how we’d recoup those costs is tricky. We just need the gamers’ voices to be heard.
GI: Are you planning on bringing Castlevania to the PSP?
KI: PSP is in my head, and now that I’m done with DS development, I’ll include the PSP as one option for a future project.
GI: Would you like to do another DS project?
KI: Since we have an engine, we haven’t made the most of it yet with this sequel, but for now we just finished this one. I need to have my team take a vacation, but we don’t have any vacations. (laughs)
GI: What do you think of the PS3 and Xbox 360?
KI: I am interested in both of them, but I can tell it’ll cost a lot to develop for them. As a producer that manages development, it’s a headache. I’m just worried about the trend of the market. Just like movie industry the minor developers won’t get to make games due to development costs. I like the times of NES or SNES when there were so many games on the market. Now it seems like with the newer generations of hardware, the only games you are seeing are AAA titles. It’s narrowing down the market.
But I am also anticipating the interest in gaming, because after seeing the next generation platforms it’s closer to the entertainment arena than just the videogame arena. I’m looking forward to seeing videogames become one of the top entertainment categories.