Igarashi & Yamane on Lament of Innocence
Author: Christian Nutt
Date: 21 October 2003
The producer and composer of the newest Castlevania game talk shop.
We had a chance to sit down with two of the main creative talents behind the Castlevania series recently and grill them about Lament of Innocence and more. Producer Koji Igarashi, better known as "IGA," whose sole job is the Castlevania series, had a lot to say. He was joined by composer Michiru Yamane, who in addition to being the main composer of the series these days has also worked on the Suikoden series and more.
GameSpy: The Japanese title is simply "Castlevania." Is that because this is a new beginning for the series?
IGA: That's exactly it.
GameSpy: What do you feel you can do with the series now that you're starting it fresh?
IGA: I just got to the starting point where I've actually completed my 3D Castlevania game. I just wanted to climb up to this starting point where Castlevania begins as a 3D action game. From now on and in the future, this will be the starting point, and I would like to proceed with 3D Castlevania.
It all depends on the platform, and the market. If the market still allows 2D gaming, I would also proceed with that game design as well.
GameSpy: You say it's a new starting point for the Castlevania series in 3D. Do you consider this game to be everything you wanted it to be?
IGA: I wanted to create a proper 3D Castlevania game with Lament of Innocence. For future games, I would like to do something more. I would like to provide a lot more fun elements in future Castlevania titles.
GameSpy: Now that you've been working with the Castlevania series for several titles, and you've appointed Michiru Yamane as the exclusive composer and Ayami Kojima as the exclusive artist for the series, do you feel the series has fully developed its personality?
IGA: Principally I wanted to pursue the style that I established with Symphony of the Night. Michiru and Ayami were working together with me. In that sense, I think it's great to be bringing these two back.
GameSpy: Lament of Innocence has a high focus on combat and the combat engine is very robust. Is that the most important element of Castlevania in 3D?
IGA: When it comes to action games, combat is most important part and fun element of the game, don't you think? KCET's other horror-themed series, Silent Hill, has very creepy creatures, but Castlevania has a different image — like boom! the monsters are right there. So creepy and combating are the two elements. We're actually targeting to provide a combating action game for the world. That's the main focus of the game.
GameSpy: What was the hardest to balance in developing the game system in 3D? The level design, the combat, and the other elements — what was the hardest to make work together?
IGA: Let's talk about this in terms of 2D vs. 3D. 2D is easier to understand — where the monster is, where to attack, where to run, etc. 2D would be very easy to create. The graphics don't have to be very high quality, because every element of the game is obvious to the player.
So we've extended a 2D game style into 3D, but 3D has a very different environment. It's really obscure, comparatively. Having a 3D environment is not as precise as it was with the 2D. The good point about 3D gaming is bringing the actual, reality-based environment, to gaming. The dynamics — of audio, of the graphics, bring a new reality to life.
In a somewhat related topic, we finished development some time ago, so we had very much time to work on game balance. Because we had too much time, almost, we adjusted it again and again and again, we're so used to the game that it almost became too difficult.
GameSpy: The level design is a bit different than the map style of the previous ones — it's more like a dungeon exploration game, a series of interconnected rooms. Do you think you could do a more interlocking style, fully explorable castle, in 3D? Would you like to?
IGA: I originally came up with the original game concept having fully connected rooms... but it was really hard to understand. It's really hard to access as well, and solve the puzzles with that sort of map. I decided to break it apart into separate area maps, and keep the puzzles contained within each area. Basically the puzzles are to be solved within the same area, but there are items that work between areas — with the next stage, or whatever.
GameSpy: Yamane-san, do you feel that you have lots of creative freedom in making music for Castlevania?
Michiru Yamane Yes, I do.
IGA: Usually you have many past Castlevania music arrangements in a Castlevania game. But as a producer, I've asked — since this is the origin of the series — to have only one or two songs. The rest, she was completely free to come up with.
GameSpy: As you've mentioned, much of the music in Castlevania has become emblematic of the series, for example the song "Bloody Tears." Do you think that any of the music you've composed could become anthemic like that?
MY: I wonder. I don't know. I hope so — it would be wonderful if that happens. If any fans still love to listen to my music on and on, it would become a legend and it would be rearranged through the sequels.
GameSpy: Now that the look of Castlevania has been determined through Ayami Kojima's art, and the sound through Michiru Yamane's music, and the vision through IGA's guidance, do you feel that you're something of a trio — the Castlevania crew? Like a partnership, or a band?
IGA: We have to reconsider the partnership if the market starts to reject it. But so far the market has been praising our group. We want to go onward with it. As long as we're all needed, we'll keep on doing it. There's not going to be a lack of anybody.
GameSpy: What about some of the older games, like Castlevania III for NES, would you want to continue any of those stories? And what about a more recent character, like that of Juste from Harmony of Dissonance or Soma from Aria of Sorrow?
IGA: Well, in Castlevania III, there isn't very much story. But maybe I could make it more in-depth and present a very different game. As for the more recent games, there are a lot of thoughts going around in my head. For example, with SotN's Alucard and Maria — what happened afterwards? I have to keep on thinking of sticking with Castlevania or I'll be removed from the project! I'm just kidding, but I do have a lot of fun. Aria of Sorrow is a next-generation Castlevania, and I do really want to continue next-generation Castlevanias.
GameSpy: One thing that's become popular is revisiting or remaking old games — in fact, that's already happened in the Castlevania series. Castlevania IV for SNES is a remake of the original game. Would you ever consider doing such a remake?
IGA: If I were to do a direct, exact remake, that would a Castlevania Chronicles game. But as I mentioned, I'd also be interested in doing something like you mentioned — taking a game and taking its essence and making it as a new game, like with the SNES Castlevania.
GameSpy: Do you think there's any possibility of exploring other genres than the action/adventure game with Castlevania?
IGA: If Lament of Innocence is well-received by the market, then I might think about that question, but there's no time for me to think about it right now.
GameSpy: Castlevania has been more popular in the U.S. than it is in Japan. How do you feel about its reception in both countries? Do you think there's anything you can do to make it more popular in Japan?
IGA: I think Japanese gamers love the theme and concept of the game. I have no intention of making a game exclusively for the North American audience. Sometimes I feel that Castlevania should perform better in Japan. It seems that Japanese gamers have the image that Castlevania is an extremely difficult game. Since Symphony of the Night, I've taken a great effort to make the games easy enough for any casual gamers could enjoy the game, but I don't know that it's reached them. In Japan, we have a lot of different promotions going around, as with Sonim, the pop singer who dresses up as Leon Belmont. I just hope people can understand what Castlevania is.
GameSpy: And with Harmony of Dissonance, you worked with Mana-sama from Malice Mizer [ed. note: a Japanese Rock band.] Do you like working with musicians to promote Castlevania?
IGA: Malice Mizer are huge fans of Castlevania — they made a song called "Nocturne in the Moonlight." At that time, the marketing plan was... well, we thought that Malice Mizer fans were Castlevania fans, and we thought that they'd be the casual gaming audience, and that's why we tied up together with Mana-sama.