As of this morning, the legendary creator of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Koji Igarashi, is back. He parted ways with Konami last year after a series of ill-fitting assignments, and it didn't take long for him to forge a new path as an independent developer, seeking help from friends in Japan and abroad. Freed from the constraints and budgets of a major publisher, Igarashi chose to revisit the side-scrolling action genre, and the result is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. This "Igavania," as Igarashi describes it, brings you into a mysterious castle where you must search for clues, items, and hidden paths. Given the work Igarashi has done within the Castlevania series, it comes as no surprise to see him return to his roots, as Bloodstained looks exactly like the sort of Castlevania game Igarashi might have made in the past. Igarashi has already secured an initial round of funding, but the Kickstarter for Bloodstained will allow him to publish physical versions of Bloodstained, as well as provide additional funds to increase the scope of the world and story.
Igarashi's tale is seemingly common nowadays, but there are questions that need answering. We had the chance to pick his brain leading up the announcement of Bloodstained, and our interview below touches on the unexpected challenges he's faced while trying to secure funding as an independent, how Bloodstained will surprise and please fans of his past work, and importantly, his perspective on the current state of Konami, where he spent his entire career until departing in 2014.
GameSpot: Was it easy to get the initial funding for Bloodstained?
Koji Igarashi: It was a lot harder than I imagined, actually. I’ve had a pretty solid record both critically and financially when creating these types of games, so I would have figured it was less risky than other titles publishers were already considering. But they all passed for a wide variety of reasons. I left Konami over a year ago and expected to have something up and running in 6 months… but no major publisher wanted to take a chance on my ideas, which was really shocking. The game industry is a lot harder as an independent than someone with a protected job at an internal dev studio in a publisher. Fortunately, I was working with Ben Judd at DDM (formerly of Capcom, now helping indie developers in Japan) and he continued to look for other funding options to make my dream a reality.
Do you think a game like Bloodstained would be possible through a traditional publisher relationship? Did you pitch it anywhere?
I approached all the big, medium, and small sized publishers. They were all nice about it and some tried to find ways to move forward, but for a wide variety of reasons, they all ended up passing. It was disheartening and confusing... On one hand, fans constantly asked me for another Igavania game, yet the publishers didn’t seem to think it was what their fanbase wanted. Hopefully KS will give developers more options to close that gap.
Any thoughts about the current state of Konami, now that you're looking on from the outside?
Honestly, Konami is where I’ve spent my entire gaming career until I left a year ago, and I'm grateful for all the wonderful opportunities I gained there. That being said, Konami will be Konami. They're a business, and financially lucrative trends will set internal policies. If that means there's a lot of money to be had in the mobile space and comparatively less money in the console space, that's the direction they'll most likely head. It’s a hard strategy to argue against since businesses exist to make money. But I'm an individual, and as fans have helped shape my career and my life, I feel the need to focus on them. Hopefully this Kickstarter will allow me to do just that.
Is it liberating or motivating to be able to develop this kind of game again? How does your current funding/publishing path grant you freedom where you perhaps didn’t in the past?
It's incredibly motivating. In the past, I needed to rely on publisher budgets, timelines, things like that--and while I was able to craft and shape the core ideas and designs, it’s nothing like the freedom this Kickstarter can provide me to go all out. It’s great to feel the reins come off as a creator and experience this kind of freedom.
How do you feel about developing this project out in the open?
I’ve never done anything like this before, but the idea of being able to interact with the fans and have them share their ideas with me sounds like a lot of fun. I'm really excited to get started.
You describe Bloodstained as an "Igavania" game; what does this mean to you?
I know the word Metroidvania is used to describe this kind of game, but Metroid is Nintendo’s IP, and I want to respect that. From here on out, this production needs to be my IP and my ideas, so it seems fitting to use a different name for my first independent title. Still, I'm worried it might come off a little narcissistic, but the team helping me with campaign suggested it as a good name for the new sub-genre of games that I create. How does it sound?
There are many similarities between Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Castlevania: Symphony of the night that go beyond general gameplay concepts. Miriam and Gebel are very similar to Alucard and Dracula; There's mention of a castle that makes a mysterious appearance. Why are these elements important to the vision for Bloodstained?
Symphony of the Night was a significant influence on the titles that came after it, so with some of the staff coming back to work on this game, similarities are kind of inevitable--plus, it’s what the fans seem to want. Some of the key concepts in Bloodstained include dark fantasy, gothic visuals, exploration, crafting, and of course, the key image of “stained glass” that ties into many of the game elements, but it's not a conscious effort to make the games similar.
Given the familiar elements, are there going to be surprises in Bloodstained that surprise people who may be expecting just more of the same?
Key staff will be working with us on the game, but it won’t be the same as SotN. You can expect to see a very robust weapon crafting system, with lots of enemy drops and enemy magic to forge new abilities. As far as surprises go... this is an Igavania game.
Female lead characters are still relatively rare in games today--how did you decide on Miriam for the main protagonist?
I’ve always been fond of strong female characters and had them in many of my games. This Kickstarter is a new chapter in my life, so I figured I’d try another female lead character and shake things up a bit. That being said, unlocking a male counterpart is one of the key goals, so I’d like to give people as many options as possible.
Aside from the production of physical versions of the game, in what ways will the Kickstarter campaign improve Bloodstained, overall?
Things like extra playable characters, more enemies, bosses, and weapons. I want this game to have real volume. I think people really appreciated the sheer amount of content in my previous games, and I want to make sure this is something fans will enjoy playing. And the idea is, if enough stretch goals are reached, we may be able to add potential online modes and new systems. But backers will have to unlock backer achievements on the KS page to find out exactly what those are.
Who will be publishing the physical versions of Bloodstained if the Kickstarter campaign is successful?
We currently have investment lined up if the Kickstarter is successful. We're unable to go into any more details beyond that at this point.