Publishers wouldn’t touch it
Last year, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night assistant director and subsequent series producer Koji “IGA” Igarashi left Konami after nearly 25 years with the company. At GDC that year, Igarashi ended his interesting Symphony of the Night postmortem, still fresh from his Konami break, with the hopes that he could now, “create things as I wish,” as opposed to what “the company wishes.”
That project was back burnered, “on hold,” by last September. And yet here we are, a Kickstarter for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Following in the footsteps of Mega Man‘s Keiji Inafune, who left Capcom to make two more basically-Mega-Mans, Igarashi is making what the Symphony of the Night team originally and inelegantly called a “2D exploration action game.” We call ’em metroidvanias. Igarashi is even making use of Azure Striker Gunvolt and Mighty No. 9 developer Inti Creates, as well as some other past collaborators.
Bloodstained stars Miriam, an orphan stuck in the middle of “a classic tale of magic, or rather faith and belief, versus science,” Igarashi told me through a translator. A group of alchemists, fearing its waning relevancy as science captures the 18th century setting, try to warn against the world losing faith. Start fucking loving science, they warn, and a bunch demons will take over. When that doesn’t happen, egg on face, the alchemists start fusing demonic crystals into orphans to call the demons to earth, attempting to instigate a global annihilating “told ya so.”
The demon crystals have a, “natural inclination to expand, eat away at hosts’ bodies,” not unlike bad videogame companies, perhaps. “Stained glass” acts as an artistic motif reflected in the art style, but those pretty shades in characters’ skin are also the basis of gameplay. Enemies drop materials, which are forged into gems, which can be formed into weapons. Rare materials can be forged into ability crystals that can be stuck in Miriam’s body. They can also be combined in a number of ways, like adding a strength+ attribute crystal to a double jump for a double jump attack move.
Igarashi explained the new system would be a little less repetitive than old Castlevania‘s, naming Aria of Sorrow specifically, where “you’re just grinding on the same enemy to create the same thing.” Why stained glass? “Stained glass is already cool-looking as it is, but stained glass weapons is badass.”
A recent walk through Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has me in agreement. Igarashi, “wanted to have a more colorful palette,” and so on top of the stained glass, you have a blue-heavy protagonist, purple tinted key items (candles, keys), and an active blood orange sky in the background (thanks to parallax scrolling) inspired by an 18th century Icelandic volcano eruption that killed 23,000 Brits and bore a “bloody sun rising.” All of this is framed by classic Gothic gray. If the mock up is any indication, it could look lovely.
That’s a “could,” of course, because the game has not been made yet. Igarashi is someone you can likely depend on to make a Castlevania-style game. Inti Creates has been delivering for a long time. And Bloodstained isn’t even held hostage by its Kickstarter, though it’s meant to fund the last “20%” of development (and make for physical, pressed Xbox One and PS4 discs). Still, it’s a way’s out. Igarashi hasn’t been gone from Konami much more than a year and shopping this proved difficult, hence last year’s “hold.”
Igarashi “scoured the globe” and “pitched every major — even minor — publisher on this concept.”
“There was a ton of interest, but for various reasons, from, ‘we do distribution for Konami and…don’t want to anger them,’ to ‘Oh, this looks like a Japanese game.’ But they didn’t realize Igavania games sold better in America than any other territory.”
Incidentally, despite the widening popularity of the term “metroidvania,” the team is eschewing the “castle” and “metroid,” opting for the term “Igavania,” explaining, “We want to make sure we don’t anger Nintendo, and Igavania is a more accurate name.” This project will likely irk someone at Konami regardless — “Konami doesn’t know about it,” Igarashi said last month — perhaps even more if it proves successful, like Mighty No. 9 or the recent not-Banjo-Kazooie platformer from ex-Rare folks, Yooka-Laylee.
Given those examples (or Double Fine Adventure Game, or a number of others), it feels like a sure thing, but Igarashi does seem a bit more unsure after constant publisher rejection. “A lot of them were more interested in AAA stuff,” he said. “There’s a big disconnect between what the publishers are giving people and what the fans want.” Inafune’s success, specifically, “proved that the Western audience would put its money where its mouth is and support the creators that it loves.”
Igarashi doesn’t expect he’ll generate “anything close” to Mighty No. 9. He remains modest about the whole thing. “I spent the last year trying to make this work because I believe that’s what the fans are telling me. And if the Kickstarter campaign shows that’s not the case, then in the end the publishers were right and I was wrong.”
“From Iga-san’s perspective,” the translator, explains, “the most frustrating, saddening part is that he did his due diligence. He tried to work within the standard publisher model.” It does seem surprising that Mr. Castlevania shops around a Castlevania and no one bites. Then again, why did Igarashi have to leave Konami in the first place to make this sort of game?
“In the good old days, it used to be, as a producer you’d put your neck out on the line to make a game and if it’s didn’t work out, then you’d be done,” Igarashi explained. Speaking specifically of Konami, at least as far as he left it a year ago (and somehow it was in a better state then), “Recently, there’s more of a delicacy at [Konami] towards how they handle IP to the point where rather than maybe making new games, ‘let’s just not touch it'” becomes the mantra. “Or, ‘we have to do it a bigger way.” The 3D Castlevania, perhaps.
Igarashi thinks it’s “more risk averse” because someone used to, “pledge it would be okay, and it was their responsibility,” but given that he would’ve have pledged on a new Castlevania, or Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima’s likely ending relationship with the company, I’m not sure that’s all of it.
But Konami is in the past now. Inti Creates is making Bloodstained under Igarashi’s direction. “We had several developers that were interested,” he explained. “We needed a team that was both capable, but more importantly passionate.
“They said, ‘Listen, ever since becoming an independent studio, we’ve wanted to do three games.’ One was a Mega Man type game, which they’re now doing. The second was an Igavania game. And the third is a Zelda-type game, which they will probably never get a chance to do,” Igarashi chuckled. Nintendo seems more open these days, though.
Igarashi did dredge up some past, scoring the composer of Symphony of the Night, Michiru Yamane. “I basically tricked her into joining the campaign by getting her really drunk and making her promise she would help,” Igarashi said. “You think that’s a joke, but it’s the truth.”
I believe it. And I believe Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night‘s campaign shouldn’t have a problem, “proving that this is a concept that the fans really want.” I mean, all you have to do is ask “Sword or whip?” and they flip.