Abandoning Tradition to Keep Castlevania Relevant

The man in charge of Castlevania reveals that forging a new path for the series was the only way to keep it alive. "I don't want it to die."

Even the most cherished series needs a kick in the pants from time to time, according to Konami Producer David Cox. He recently sat down with GameSpot to discuss Mirror of Fate, the upcoming side-scrolling Castlevania for the Nintendo 3DS, and why fans of Koji Igarashi’s games shouldn’t fear the series’ new direction. Along with developer Mercury Steam, Cox wants to focus on the origins of the Belmont’s curse, and the ramifications it has on their offspring with each passing generation.

There are a lot of 2D Castlevanias out there, and fans have pretty clear expectations. Can you explain some of the core concepts that went into developing Mirror of Fate as a 2D Lords of Shadow game?

I'm probably going to get murdered for saying this, but like we said with Lords of Shadow, forget everything you know about Castlevania, because on the surface, it seems like a traditional 2D side-scrolling Castlevania game, but in many ways it's just a continuation of what we did with Lords of Shadow. If people really enjoyed Lords of Shadow , then they'll love Mirror of Fate. It's really like a squeezed-down version of that game.

Our idea with the series is to tell Dracula's story. Ultimately, that's the overarching storyline. Lords of Shadow is Dracula's beginning, Lords of Shadow 2 will be the ending, and this kind of sits in the middle. The purpose of Mirror of Fate is to explain the blood feud between Dracula and the Belmonts. How did it come about? What drives it? It has always been about going to Dracula's castle, killing Dracula; that has really been it. Dracula has always been a one-dimensional guy who just turns up at the end of the game. We really want to explore that character and explore the motivations of that character. How did he become Dracula? Why has he become Dracula? Why are the Belmonts the ones that have to go after him? That's the kind of story we're trying to tell.

Obviously, with a title like Mirror of Fate, it's about how fate and destiny are intertwined with our actions. You know, Gabriel made the decision to become Dracula because of the events in Lords of Shadow and the DLC. Going down this darker path has consequences on his son Trevor, and the things he does have consequences on his son Simon.

I know that you are a big Castlevania fan. How hard has it been trying to balance the game's identity and trying to keep some familiar elements, while mostly going in a new direction?

That has probably been the trickiest thing, honestly speaking. You've got a fan base that's dedicated to Castlevania, just as I was as a fan, but at the same time you've got to do something new. You've got to drive the series forward. You know, I don't want it to die. I want it to stay relevant and popular. Getting that balance right has been pretty tough, but at the same time with respect to Lords of Shadow, I think we took a risk. Even when the game came out, we weren't sure if it was going to be successful or not. It's kind of why we went to handheld because we didn't know what the next step was going to be. We didn't know if the game was going to be popular, so we said, "Let's make a handheld game; you don't need much money." We could do something small in order to carry on the series if necessary. Luckily, the game was successful, and senior management said, "You need to make a sequel." That was great, but we already started the 3DS game, so it was like, "OK, right." Luckily, we had a very rough idea about the arc, but we didn't have the detail, if you know what I mean. So we've got the beginning, and we've got the end, so let's develop the ideas and make it fit within the arc. That's how Mirror of Fate came about.

How do you respect the past while doing something new?

I think you've got to be brave and say we're going to put our mark on it. We are going to do what we think is right. We are going to try and be respectful to the past because I think you've got to, but at the same time, I think we were brave with Lords of Shadow. Some people liked what we did, and a lot of people didn't like what we did, so I think this time it's a bit easier because people kind of know what to expect. They kind of know that it's not going to be like it was before. They know it's going in a different direction, and they've accepted that it's a new universe, that it's a different timeline outside of the traditional timeline. I think it's a little bit easier this time to get that message across, you know, that we're going our own way.

I think we tried, particularly with Mirror of Fate, to meet some of those detractors a little bit further and meet their demands. We felt exploration wasn't as good as it could be in Lords of Shadow; we felt that was a weakness of the game. So when we were designing Mirror of Fate, exploration was much higher up on the list of things we wanted to achieve in terms of the final product. At the same time, we wanted to make sure the combat focus of the title, which is what Lords of Shadow was…we wanted to make sure that element was at the forefront. We don't want people who bought Lords of Shadow to suddenly get something different. They go, "I remember that Lords of Shadow game. It was awesome. But this game, what the hell is this?" We wanted to give them a true sequel, something that felt like it fit within the Lords of Shadow universe. So I think we're trying to straddle, and it's a very fine balancing act, but we aren't slaves to it. If a decision is made that we are going to take this in a different direction, we're just going to do it, you know? That's liberating.

So, Lords of Shadow freed you up to take some liberties with the series' storyline. Do you think that fans are going to be surprised with some of the events that take place in Mirror of Fate?

Yes, I think so, especially the story side of it. I think having a bad guy who has some depth to him, where you can kind of understand how he got to this place…at the end of this game, it's a WTF moment--it really is. We show Dracula how he has never been shown before, and I think people will go, "Shit, if I was him, I would be the bloody same." You know what I mean? So we're trying to give a perspective on it. Good and evil is not black and white in real life. Having characters who aren't black and white is really important to this game. I think that's something we've achieved, certainly with Dracula, with Simon, and with Trevor, because they are nuanced characters that have stories to tell, and it's a really interesting story that's really emotional. When you finish it, because you play the game backwards, starting with Simon, then playing as Alucard, then Trevor, it all becomes clear right at the end. That's the reason we did it. The very last scene, you click, and you want to play it again. You'll notice things that seem offhand or you didn't really notice before, and you go, "Aw shit!" It gives the game more depth. That's something we're really proud of with Mirror or Fate. The replayability is fantastic. I can't stop playing it, and I've been working on it for two years.

Is this arc going to come to a conclusion in Mirror of Fate, or is it going to carry over into Lords of Shadow 2?

There's a satisfying conclusion to the arc in Mirror of Fate, but the overarching arc is still there. You can play this game without having played the other. That's something we think is very important. In the first game, you have the story about bringing Marie back, about the god mask. That was the key thing, and it came to a conclusion, but you know there's the arc about how he became Dracula. That's going to be explained a little bit in Mirror of Fate, but more so in Lords of Shadow 2. I hate the word trilogy, but people are already saying that to us. It's going to feel like a whole. There's going to be a satisfying conclusion in Lords of Shadow 2, and everything's going to make sense.

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