Koji Igarashi on "Bloodstained" and Why "Aura Battler Dunbine" is the Best Anime Ever Made
Author: Ollie Barder
Date: 21 March 2018
For fans of games like Castlevania, Koji Igarashi is a well-known name. These days he's working on his own spiritual crowdfunded successor called Bloodstained. I was lucky enough to catch up with Igarashi and talk about this new game as well as find out more about his excellent taste in anime.
"I grew up in a castle town called Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima where the bushido spirit strongly remains. The seasonal changes can almost be too much — summer is very hot and humid, while there are constant snowstorms in the winter.
"When I was a kid, I was interested in anything mechanical, particularly cars. During that time, Space Invaders was a huge hit and that was when I started to become interested in computers.
"Wanting to get into games started when there was a Space Invaders cabinet at a skating rink. When I went to a nearby electronics store, I saw someone easily code a Crazy Climber-like game which greatly inspired me. One of the bigger reasons I wanted to create a game myself was when I came across a game called Xevious. This was a game where I felt the gameplay and narrative mixed so well that I decided to seriously create a game of my own."
Following these inspirations, Igarashi eventually ended up at Konami. Though initially not on the kind of software he wanted to make.
"At first, I was in the educational software department and did not work on games. Even after I started working on games, the strategy game I worked on was dropped and never made it to market. The first published game I worked on was Detana!! TwinBee for the PC Engine. I programmed the enemies in it."
To get a bit of clarity on how the development process was broken down, I asked Igarashi to explain the difference between programming, scenario writing and game design.
"Programming, scenario writing, and game design are just as they are defined, but the order and how they relate to each other are what makes the difference for me. First, game design is the task of creating a blueprint for the entire game. Programming, art, and sound are all necessities, but getting down the game design is the first step. The next step is the scenario writing. This method may differ from others, but I design the game first and then write the scenario. The narrative is revolved around a game design that is made from pure logic. This way, the restriction creates a realistic world and increases playing motivation. Lastly, programming is the last step to connect those necessary parts for the game. No matter how good those 3 pieces may be, they are all equally bad if they do not fit together. I believe programming is the last key piece to the finishing touches."
Moving on to the Castlevania series and specifically working on Symphony of the Night was something Igarashi was also keen to talk about.
"I loved the Castlevania series, but it was hard to get involved in such a popular franchise. In the midst of developing other games, the game I worked on called Tokimeki Memorial became a huge hit and that's when my selfish request to join the Castlevania team was approved. I joined the team right after that.
"During this time, everyone's focus was on 3D and nobody created 2D action side-scrollers anymore. Since we loved what we were making and did as we pleased, I believe that positive energy reached the gamers.
"While most side-scrollers were linear stage-clear type games, Metroid added exploration features and created a way to increase play time by making the players think, not blatantly increasing the difficulty level. Exploration based games also allow the player to go through and enjoy different areas when most of the time stages are differentiated by colors.
"As for my favorite Castlevania game, if it's from a game that I've worked on, it would be Symphony of the Night. If not, it would be Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse."
It felt only natural at this point to ask him what he thought of the Vampire Hunter D series.
"I'm a fan. Recently, I thought to myself that I haven't been reading books and when I looked up the series... there are new books! I need to go out and buy them! If I can make a game of it, I would but at the same time, trying to recreate the fights between those two super beings would be difficult to reenact in game."
Naturally, Igarashi saw the recent Castlevania anime on Netflix and he seemed to enjoy it as well.
"I thought it was very well made. Although the setting is based on a title I have not worked on, the characters and other parts that I did work on were well respected and that made me very happy. I'm looking forward to a continuation."
Bloodstained is now the next big gaming project Igarashi is working on but its crowdfunded origins are quite a bit different compared to his work on the Castlevania games.
"The biggest difference I felt working on a crowdfunded project is the amount of commitment I had to make before starting the development. When I was working for a larger publisher, promotions start about half a year before the release of the game. But with these crowdfunded projects, we would have to use all the promotional materials before we even begin. Of course with Kickstarter, there are promises made to the backers even when development can change midway. Although there are many aspects of it that are hard to overcome, listening to backer feedback and having an IP to call my own has been a blessing.
"I hope for the fans to play a game that my team has made once again, and hope that they would hope for a sequel. I also would like more people interested in this kind of old-school game.
"Right now, all my focus goes to Bloodstained. Well actually, we are making a Switch version of Bloodstained... I have been loosely thinking about ideas though."
Finishing off, I was curious if Igarashi was a fan of any other anime in particular. It was here he mentioned one of my all-time personal favorite series and that made me very happy indeed.
"My favorite anime is Aura Battler Dunbine. I love it so much that I have a LaserDisc box set of the series. It's a fantasy anime where robots appear, but the robots are powered by the creatures living in this fantasy world. It's a fascinating setting and I wish to myself that someday it would turn into a live action film."
Finally, I wondered what Igarashi had planned for the future and it's clear that he has ideas for what he'll do once Bloodstained is finished.
"One day, even though I know it would not sell, I want to create a game that is made for myself, to myself. For that purpose, I hope to make Bloodstained a base and spread on from there."