Interview: Konami's Koji Igarashi

Author: Kikizo Staff

Date: 22 October 2008

Source: Kikizo Archives

We sit down for a chat with Konami's Castlevania man, IGA, to discuss Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia for DS, and the upcoming Wii fighting spin-off Castlevania Judgement.

Few non-first-party series have the same sort of consumer goodwill and critical clout as Konami's long-running Castlevania. Despite running for over 20 years and spawning all manner of sequels, spinoffs, and even a few missteps, fans still get excited every time a new installment in the series is announced.

The series has been worked on by many designers, programmers, and directors over the years, but the man responsible for its most recent outings — and its two newest titles, Castlevania: Judgment and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, is Koji Igarashi.

IGA, as he is often referred to, started as a programmer and writer at Konami, helping on projects ranging from ports of shooting games to the scenario of Tokimeki Memorial. He officially became Castlevania's leader after taking over the reins of Symphony of the Night towards the latter half of its development.

Since then, IGA has produced some of the most memorable action/adventure games on the GBA and DS — not to mention a few 3D titles for the PS2 and a remake of the much loved Dracula X for the PSP.

It's been a couple of years since our last, video-based interview with Koji Igarashi, so we were pleased when we recently had the opportunity for a chat with him about his latest endeavors in vampire-killing. You might be surprised to learn about how much the direction of a popular series like Castlevania can be affected by the suits...

Kikizo: The announcement of Castlevania: Judgment took a lot of fans by surprise. What made you decide to make a Castlevania fighting game for the Wii?

IGA: Well, I know it looks like a fighting game, but I don't really classify it as such. I prefer to think of it as more of a "3D versus action game." [Laughs] When I first started exploring the possibilities of the Wii console, I definitely wanted to make full use of the Wii Remote. To do a traditional Castlevania game usually requires, well, a different control scheme. Plus, we wanted to develop a game to could be played in short bursts, something where you could sit and play for about an hour at a time and still get a full game experience.

I know when people first heard "Castlevania" and "Wii" they were thinking, "Yeah, use the Wii Remote like a whip!" But I soon realized that making people do that for long periods of time would be cruel and unusual punishment. A very tiring endeavor, indeed! I thought about things a little bit more, and I came to the conclusion that something like this would be a better fit.

Two main reasons why this type of game felt like a good fit for Castlevania, though... Number one, I wanted to put a time restriction on it, so people wouldn't be playing for hours at a time. Number two is that this is the 22nd anniversary of the series, and I thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to bring characters from all of the past games together for the first time. Maybe I should have actually done this for the 20th anniversary, but... [Laughs]

Kikizo: You have a very famous manga artist, Obata-sensei, doing the designs. I think a lot of people in the West know him from Death Note in particular. When people first saw his designs, they were a bit surprised...

IGA: I think Simon looks the most different. The reactions, I think, are from people remembering the old, old Simon! But when Ayami Kojima drew him, that was a very different type of Simon, also. I think it's very much and individual artist's vision.

Obata-sensei doesn't like to just copy something. He wants to add a different, unique flavor to everything he does. That's probably the reason why they don't look like what you envision.

Kikizo: So why did you pick Obata-sensei to do the designs rather than Kojima-sensei, and have you had any problems translating these designs into character models for the game?

IGA: The Castlevania core fan base really likes Kojima's art style, we know that. Since we're bringing this game to the Wii, though, we've also got a new potential audience. The Wii does skew a little bit younger, so I wanted to "soften" the art style a little bit. Also, one of the people on our team was actually a former assistance to Obata-sensei. I thought that I'd use that connection to ask and see if he'd be interested. He happily agreed to do it, and that was that!

As for your other question... Yes, definitely, translating his art style into 3D models is very difficult. But the way we're doing it is that we get the artwork from him, render it in 3D, have him look at it, get feedback, make changes as necessary, and repeat until everyone is satisfied. It's a big back-and-forth process but it helps us get everything exactly right.

Kikizo: You mentioned that you don't really think of this as a fighting game. I take it you're not really aiming to make a "competitive" game along the same lines as Street Fighter or Virtua Fighter?

IGA: Yes, definitely. In games like SF or VF, all of the movements and inputs are extremely precise, and timing is crucial. I wanted to appeal to a broader audience than the general fighting-game crowd. There's also the issue of the Wii controller. It's difficult to do those sorts of precise movements when you're waving something around. That's why we opted to do more of a competitive action game.

Kikizo: As for Order of Ecclesia, this is the first (canonical) Castlevania game to star a female character. She's not tied to the Belmonts at all. Can you describe her a bit more and how she fits into the overall timeline?

IGA: The game itself doesn't indicate that it takes place at a specific point in the series timeline. However, the game happens during a time when the Belmont clan has vanished, along with their legendary whip, the Vampire Killer. But, Dracula is still around, so there are a lot of organizations are trying to bring him down, and a lot of effort and money are being expended. None of them have been successful save Ecclesia. Shanoa, the lead, is a member of this organization.

Kikizo: The game doesn't feature any touch-screen elements like the previous two DS Castlevania games did, correct?

IGA: It's not correct to say it isn't used at all, but you're correct to say it isn't used in gameplay.

Kikizo: Did you think the DS touch-screen elements in the previous Castlevania games didn't work quite as well as you wanted them to?

IGA: Well, in order of Ecclesia, using the touch screen simply wouldn't be very helpful. You're already using the D-pad and buttons a lot, so it'd be difficult for the player to use the touch-screen in conjunction with these controls. There are a lot of minor areas in these games where we could — and have — used touchscreen controls, but it's not a necessary element, so we opted to simply forego them this time around.

Kikizo: Do you see Order of Ecclesia as being the last Castlevania game on the DS, or will the DS continue to be the principal platform for the franchise going into the near future?

IGA: I would definitely like to develop still more Castlevania games for the DS platform! For the US market, though, the retail price on DS games are traditionally very low — $30, maybe $40 if the game card itself has a larger capacity. The development costs for Castlevania do tend to be higher than average for a DS game, so it's hard to get some concepts for the series approved. I love the DS and want to continue work on it, but I'm not sure if it's the best option from a pure business standpoint.

Kikizo: We saw your presentation at Game Developers Conference last year, where you said — very emphatically, I might add — that 2D games will never die.

IGA: Ah, yes! [Laughs]

Kikizo: So do you have plans for doing other 2D games, besides the Castlevania series?

IGA: To be honest, we've got a lot of Castlevania on our plates right now! [Laughs] I haven't even thought of doing something else. If there's an opportunity, I definitely want to look into it further, though.

Kikizo: Would you have any plans to remake older Castlevania titles, like you did for Dracula X on PSP? Maybe for release on services like WiiWare or Xbox Live Arcade?

IGA: Castlevania has a lengthy legacy of great games, and I'm definitely interested in revisiting them if I get a chance. However, every time I've tried to pitch something like that, I just get told I should make a new game instead. But yes, if there is another opportunity like there was with Dracula X Chronicles, it's something that I would definitely like to do.

Kikizo: Yes, we think a lot of people would be very happy to see something like that! Especially if something like that would come out around the same time as Judgement.

IGA: [Laughs] It might be a bit difficult, since the release dates of Judgment and Ecclesia are already so close!

Kikizo: Thanks for your time.