Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Author: Jeremy Parish
Date: 23 September 2006
Promises of fanservice galore.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin looks to be on track for an early December release date, which means it should be just about good to go — which in turn means that director Koji Igarashi is ripe for grilling on the game's intimate details. We caught up with him and lead composer Michiru Yamane at TGS to discuss the game's story, wi-fi features and soundtrack.
1UP: Thanks for allowing us this interview. Now, we spoke at E3 while the game was still in development, but at this point it's pretty much done, right?
IGA: The game information is done, yes — I'd say the game is about 99.7% at this point.
1UP: Just putting the polish on at this point?
IGA: We're even done with the polishing, actually.
1UP: I had the chance to play a nearly-finished version of the game a few weeks ago and I was really impressed by the size of the game — it's so big it has to be broken into different maps.
IGA: Yes, it's a huge map. In terms of the number of rooms in the game, compared to Dawn of Sorrow it's probably about 50% larger.
1UP: It also feels a lot like the older Castlevanias, at least in the parts that I've played... very straightforward.
IGA: Actually, I would say Portrait of Ruin is a mixture of the linear style and the map-exploration type games.
1UP: Can you explain that a little? How do those styles fit together?
IGA: Well, as the main map we have the castle — the portion where you're doing the exploration. Meanwhile, someone has taken over Dracula's power and is controlling the castle with paintings. So there are several paintings within the castle that allow access to the sub-dungeons. These sub-dungeon parts have some exploration elements, but they're also like missions. So there's a combination of the two.
1UP: In the short amount of time I've played there seem to be lots of special events, like a Behemoth chase that seems like a nod to Rondo of Blood. Are there lots of these moments in the rest of the game?
IGA: Definitely — basically we've taken different elements from past games and have sprinkled them over Portrait of Ruin. We wanted old Castlevania fans to see these things and smile.
1UP: These chase portions seem very one-directional. How does that work with the free-exploration style of the game?
IGA: I'm not really sure how far you've made it into the game, but... well, in Rondo of Blood you weren't able to beat the Behemoth. But in Portrait of Ruin, you can actually battle against it. So we've changed these old elements to fit the new game. There are many gimmicks, too, that relate to the two playable characters, which will also affect how you play the game.
1UP: Yes, the mine truck puzzle where the two characters have to swap place quickly is very clever — it requires thought and quick reactions.
IGA: Right. Going back to the beginning of the game, there's a switch that you have to turn on, but one character is too light to activate it alone — so you need two characters on the switch to activate it. Also, there are heavy items that the two of them must push together. Boss battles are mostly designed to be fought by one character, but for some of the mini-boss battles you'll have to use both characters together to battle against them. Actually, there are some boss enemies that you have to fight together to defeat, too.
1UP: Speaking of the partner characters, I recently saw a screenshot that featured both characters battling against Gergoth, the zombie dinosaur from Dawn of Sorrow. Was that indicative of co-op play?
IGA: Yes, that's something you'll be able to do in co-op play.
1UP: Is co-op limited or does it encompass the full game?
IGA: Actually, that particular monster you'll find all over the game. But co-op takes place in restricted stages and areas of the game.
1UP: Similar to Versus mode in Dawn of Sorrow?
IGA: Yes, it's very much like that. With WFC we have one course for co-op, but for local wireless play there are three stages.
1UP: I remember you mentioned something at E3 about creating online shops. Did that idea work out?
IGA: Yes, that's in the game. It's a shop mode, but you don't sell — you don't lose your items. It's more like duplication in that you let other players create copies your items. Also, when you're shopping offline you're probably going to see some pretty expensive stuff, but over wireless you get a 20% discount. When you buy stuff in the shop mode you earn points, and you get more points for buying online.
1UP: What do these points do?
IGA: If you collect certain amounts of points you can acquire rare items.
1UP: So basically, it's trading with other players?
IGA: I don't know if you'd really call it a trade... if you open a shop you won't actually lose your own goods. What you do is go to the shop in the main game. Then, once you get some items you can sell you can set up your own shop over wireless.
1UP: Are there rare items that can only be acquired through trade?
IGA: Actually, I feel bad for players who don't have Internet or otherwise can't do wireless. So I decided not to do anything negative towards them. So basically you trade normal points, but in trading them you get a discount and extra points by doing wireless. And if you get enough points, you'll earn rare items. One thing I need to mention is that the items you trade are only the ones you acquire through the main game. So if you acquire duplicate items from other gamers' shops, you can't sell those — only the ones you find yourself.
1UP: Playing the demo, I found some interesting Castlevania plot twists, especially about Jonathan's father [the hero of Castlevania Bloodlines]. Will we be learning more about him and his partner Eric Lecarde?
IGA: I can't talk in detail, but I can definitely say that Eric Lecarde is somewhere in the game — although I can't say where, exactly. John Morris, though, won't be in the game, because he's already passed away. The death of John Morris is the key to unfolding the story of Portrait of Ruin.
1UP: From the way the characters talk, it seemed almost like John hadn't been able to defeat Dracula. So does this mean you're changing the story of Bloodlines?
IGA: Actually, it's not that he wasn't able to defeat Dracula — it's that he wasn't able to make proper use of the Vampire Killer whip. And John was able to, but his son Jonathan doesn't know how because John died before he could teach him how to. In the storyline that I've established, the Belmont family knows how to use the Vampire Killer without training, but the Morris family members don't automatically know and need to be trained first.
1UP: So how did the Morris family come into possession of the Vampire Killer in the first place? Why are they fighting Dracula in the 20th century rather than the Belmonts?
IGA: Well, there was a golden rule established in Bloodlines that said Richter Belmont was the very last Belmont to use the Vampire Killer. So, in order to make that rule fit within the entire timeline, Richter was the ultimate — the very last one to use the whip. After that, there was a certain incident that caused the Belmont clan not to use the whip for a certain time. Of course, Count Dracula resurrected in 1999, as was predicted — so by the year 1999, the Belmonts have to reclaim the whip so that Julius Belmont can destroy Dracula. During the empty portion of the timeline in which the Belmonts don't use Vampire Killer, we have the Morris family to take up that role. I can't tell you why the Belmonts couldn't use Vampire Killer for a certain period, though.
1UP: Is that explained in this game?
IGA: No, it's not. [Laughs]
1UP: Does that mean there will be a sequel to Symphony of the Night to explain the gap?
IGA: Not necessarily... I'll have to sort that out in future titles. But I haven't decided anything as of yet.
1UP: Miss Yamane, you find different inspirations when you compose Castlevania music — Lament of Innocence was set long ago and doesn't have electric guitars, for instance. What most inspired your work in Portrait?
Michiru Yamane: Actually, this time I've asked another composer to contribute to the soundtrack — the legendary Yuzo Koshiro. He was a big fan of past Castlevania games and has a really good grasp of the series; he's contributed five songs to Portrait of Ruin. His involvement really stimulated my own creativity and inspired me to create many different kinds of music.
1UP: Did the game's more varied environments inspire you at all?
MY: Yes, you can access many different sub-dungeons in the game, all of which are very different. The desert area, for instance — that's very different, something I've never experienced in a Castlevania game before, so I went with a belly dance kind of music.
1UP: The DS hardware obviously doesn't sound as good as PlayStation or PS2. Do the limitations of working on DS cards frustrate you, or do you find them inspiring?
MY: Well, this time around I worked on the original soundtrack. Once we had created the soundtrack, our team's specialist converted the music into 16 parts so that it could work within the limitations of the DS hardware.
1UP: Meaning the sound quality is improved this time?
MY: Definitely, because he's a specialist!
1UP: [Laughs] OK, finally — is there anything else you think everyone needs to know about the game, something I've forgotten to ask about?
IGA: I think I've been talking a lot about the game systems, from E3 until now, so let me address something that gets overlooked. Our team is mostly from Dawn of Sorrow, and we've "powered up" with people from other talented teams. Dawn was a tough a project, but for Portrait we worked under great pressure, and under great time constraints and and workload. I mentioned before that the map is 1.5 times the size of Dawn of Sorrow's — I think the team members suffered 1.5 times as much as with the previous game, too. As many sleepless nights as we had with Dawn of Sorrow, with Portrait we suffered even more. But for all of that, we've tried to polish it and make it a good game, and I think it's come out great.