Castlevania: Curse of Darkness – 2005 Developer Interview

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness - 2005 Interview

This lengthy Castlevania: Curse of Darkness interview with producer Koji Igarashi and director Takashi Takeda originally appeared in the official Konami strategy guide. It mostly explores the individual character designs, but Takeda also takes time to talk about the new free camera, the Innocent Devils, and the Stealing/Weapon Synthesis gameplay systems. Please note, there is a long Michiru Yamane section to this interview which I will also be translating soon!

Koji Igarashi – Producer
Takashi Takeda – Director

—Why did you change the title back from Castlevania to Akumajo Dracula for this game? 1

Iga: First off, I should say that we weren't trying to draw a line between this game and the previous one. The reason we changed it to Castlevania in the first place, was that the Akumajo Dracula games actually have a bigger market share in Europe and America compared to Japan, which means that the volume of reporting and info on them is greater there too, and they also go on sale there first. In the not-too-distant past, news outside of Japan was hard to come by, but now with the wonders of the internet, Japanese users can easily catch what's happening. But Akumajo Dracula has been called "Castlevania" overseas, so we were concerned that Japanese users wouldn't make the connection that Castlevania==Akumajo Dracula. That's why last game we decided to change it to Castlevania here too.

As for why we changed it back for this game… up to now the Castlevania title has been associated with trilogies, but we felt like our name change had had the opposite effect of making it hard to get info about the Akumajo Dracula titles. In other words, there were still Akumajo Fans in Japan, but people seemed confused… "Wait, is Castlevania supposed to be Akumajo Dracula???" We couldn't let that go on, so we returned to the original title.

Koji Igarashi and Takeshi Takeda.

—Curse of Darkness takes place three years after the events of Castlevania III. Why did you choose that particular setting?

Iga: Well, part of it is just that I love Castlevania III. (laughs) Once we came up with the Innocent Devil system, in which you have a demon servant that fights alongside you, that was when I first started thinking about where in the Castlevania timeline we should place this new game. Since the Innocent Devils are demonic creatures, I figured the story should hew close to the demonic as well.

The idea I came up with then was, when Ralph C. Belmont was fighting Dracula, behind the scenes there was someone who betrayed Dracula—and there was also someone who was pursuing and hunting this traitor. Those circumstances were part of the reason Dracula was defeated then; I thought it would be interesting to have a story like that, with events that weren't a part of the official recorded history but were nonetheless major events. In that sense, I guess you could say that the gameplay system idea came first, and from there we built up the story around it.

—Why did you choose the theme of "revenge" for this game?

Iga: Up to now, the Belmonts have been seen as the good guys. I thought it'd be nice to do something other than a moralistic "good triumps over evil" theme sometime. After all, Castlevania has always had an excellent world for telling a "dark hero" story. Alucard would be one such character… though even he is fighting for a just cause: "I've got to stop my Father!" So he's still kind of a good guy. This time, though, I wanted the motivation itself to be impure. So this theme is what I came up with, and then I thought it would be even more interesting if each side was out for revenge on the other.

—Can you tell us how Hector's character was created?

Iga: A long time ago, I used to say what motivates men… is women! (laughs) Like when the protagonist's great love is murdered, for instance. So I created Hector, a hero with such a cruel past, someone whose heart has been hardened.

Hector's "bat motif" concept art by Ayami Kojima.

—Did you make any specific requests about Hector's design to your illustrator Kojima?

Iga: Firstly, it being a 3D game, you spend a lot of time looking at the character's back, so his design needed to incorporate frilly things that would flutter in the wind and so forth. Also, if his silhouette resembled Leon's too much, he would look like a member of the Belmont clan, so I asked her not to do that. Since Hector is on Dracula's side, Kojima's initial designs featured bat motifs. They were totally awesome! So I made sure those were kept in throughout the many other revisions he went through.

—How about Isaac?

Iga: For Isaac, I thought it would be interesting for the game to have another warrior with the same style. Also, the fact that he and Hector were formerly allies made the story easier to write. There's also the fact that he's been afflicted with Dracula's curse, so I thought it would be interesting to fight against a dark hero who's gone kind of crazy. We discussed how to represent that visually, and one idea was "how about having him be naked from the chest up." (laughs) Then we created the symbol of the Devil Forgemasters, and while Hector has it embroidered on his clothing, for Isaac we said, let's make it a crazy tattoo on him! Actually, when I asked Kojima to design him, she said "Um, don't tell anyone that I was the one who made him barechested!" (everyone laughs)

Takeda: She was really uncomfortable with that wasn't she! I also remember that in the first illustration she handed us, Isaac's underwear was like, as low-cut as it could possible be, but in the next design iteration she raised it a bit.

Iga: And then I told her to lower it back down. As far as possible. (laughs)

—How did Julia come about?

Iga: When we were writing the plot, Julia was the very last character we created. We were looking at all the characters we'd created, and we realized it was all dudes. So we decided to add a heroine to the mix, and we noticed the role of shopkeeper was vacant. (laughs) But we said, wait… there's no way a woman would be out here operating a shop in the hinterlands alone. So we thought, maybe she's a witch instead. Then we thought, we only have a few female characters here, so we should make sure at least one of them is involved in the plot somehow. The idea we finally arrived at was having Julia be Isaac's little sister.

Julia (R) was designed to resemble Rosaly (L), Hector's wife who was accused of witchcraft and executed.

Also, Julia's face somewhat resembles Hector's previous lover, Rosaly, so Julia is the only person Hector shows any emotion with. She was kind of a side character at the beginning, meant to show a slightly lighter side of Hector, who has that past of betrayal.. but ultimately she became a very important character. To Kojima, I told her Julia was a shopkeeper, so she could do whatever she wanted with her design. Originally her legs were bare, but even though she's a witch I thought that might be a little too erotic, so we gave her the leggings you see in her final design.

—How did you come up with Saint Germain and Zead?

Takeda: I suggested that it might be interesting to have several mysterious characters in the mix, all untrustworthy. By the way, Saint Germaine is actually based on a real historical figure, the Count of St. Germaine, who would mysteriously and suddenly show up throughout Europe in the 1700s.

Iga: From the beginning, I really wanted Zead to be Death in disguise.

—How did you come up with their visual design?

Iga: For Saint Germain, at first I asked Kojima to give him a design that was dissonant with the era. Details like his glasses, pocketwatch, etc. But his outfit ended up being too chaotic and didn't make any sense, and having him in modern, casual style clothes felt weird, so we talked and decided to go for the more worldly, gentleman style that you see now.

Takeda: We definitely didn't want him to appear stylish; rather, we wanted to give the impression of a kind of subtle mismatch, of just slightly missing the mark somehow.

Concept art for Zead by Ayami Kojima.

Iga: Zead, on the other hand, being Death in disguise, I thought he should wear clothing that covered up most of his body, revealing very little bare skin. From his neck down he would show no skin, and he would wear gloves too. Also, Death's skin pallor is darker, but I was worried that would make it too obvious he was an enemy, so giving him a priestly outfit also solved that problem. I hadn't originally planned for him to be bald, but one day, out of the blue, Kojima drew a picture of him like that. (laughs) It totally fit his image so we went with it.

Takeda: I also told Kojima what I hoped to see in his design, and she drew many rough sketches for us. But the one where Zead was bald clearly emanated the most power.

Iga: Kojima seemed uncertain about it all the way to the end though. "Is it really OK, for him to be bald?" And I'm like, what's wrong with being bald?! (everyone laughs)

—How about Ralph's design?

Iga: I simply said that he should have that barbarian vibe, your classic Belmont clad in full leather. Richter from Symphony of the Night was depicted that way, and I said the barechested look was good.

Takeda: I was worried that long-time Castlevania fans would visually mix him up with Simon Belmont. If you see that brown-colored clothing it's like, which one is it…? So to give him his own distinct visual identity, I asked Kojima to put a scar on his face (and this detail goes back to Castlevania III). I said, to ensure no one mistakes him for Simon, make him look like the captain of some space freighter or something. But Kojima had some resistance to the idea of putting a scar on a man's face, and she kept saying "How about we put it on his chest?"

Iga: To which I replied, OK, how about we put scars in both places. (laughs)

—How about Dracula's design?

Takeda: Kojima is a true professional, so for Dracula we didn't feel the need to give her any instructions. We just told her it's a new Dracula for a new Castlevania game.

Ralph (Trevor) Belmont's concept art by Ayami Kojima, featuring the prominent "double scars" suggested by Iga and Takeda to distinguish him from Simon.

—With Curse of Darkness being your second game on the PS2, what aspect of the development did you place the most focus on?

Iga: We really worked hard on the camera. The one request we constantly received, from both Japanese and foreign players, was to be able to move the camera. (laughs) Personally, I'm of the opinion that because Castlevania was originally a 2D game, a fixed camera was fine. When the camera is fixed, it's the developers fault if you can't see an enemy, but when the camera is free the player has the added stress of having to rotate it around to spot enemies. Ultimately, in the last game we tried to make the game as easy to play as possible. (laughs) But this time I think we've managed to create a satisfying experience with a free camera and show that it, too, is a viable option.

Takeda: We expended a huge amount of effort on getting the camera right. First, we gathered data and took notes on several dozen 3D games that have come out, and created mock-up camera systems that imitated them. We showed these to our programmer and had him divide them into separate scenes… we really went the extra mile here. I think we put a lot of stress on the person who was in charge of that.

Iga: I got very angry by the end. "This is no good!" The biggest problem, before we were able to sort things out, was that the camera was too close to the player. It made it hard to play. You know the close-up camera perspective it shows when you're moving? Before we adjusted it, that was the only camera angle we had. But we adjusted it so that when an enemy comes out, the camera pulls back into a fixed position. We also made it so the camera tracks in parallel alongside the area you're fighting in. This made it so the camera wouldn't move around weirdly when you're fighting, which makes battles a lot easier. The other improvement we made was the target camera. The boss fights are one-on-one showdowns, so we made it so it automatically switches to the target camera in those fights.

Takeda: Of course, we wanted the camera switching to be something that players wouldn't notice. The camera should switch over in a natural, almost atmospheric way. In 3D games, it's quite annoying for players when you make them pay attention to the camera.

—Being a 3D game, did you take any special pains over the motion capture?

Iga: We did use motion capture for the previous game, but we didn't use any for the gameplay portions of Curse of Darkness. The reason why is that in real life humans just can't move that fast. We want it to feel instantaneous when you press a button to draw your sword, for example, but you can't do that with motion capture. So it was all done manually.

Takeda: Yeah, for the in-game portions, there's not a single bit of motion capture used. There were so many tiny, detailed adjustments we needed to make—like making a certain action one frame quicker—and we were making those revisions every day, for over a year. Even if we had used motion capture, there wouldn't have been a trace of it anyway after all our revisions.

Motion capture, while not being suitable for the in-game action, lent the cutscenes in Curse of Darkness a natural and expressive quality despite it being the pre-HD PS2 era.

Iga: We did use lots of motion capture for the drama scenes though. We hired actors from Hollywood to film it.

Takeda: The action segments of the drama scenes were done by a famous stunt actor in Japan, someone involved in the tokusatsu hero genre, actually.

—How was the Innocent Devil system created?

Iga: The first thing we worked on was making sure the devils didn't get stuck in the background and would follow you properly. However, if the response was too slow when you used a skill, it would end up harming the gameplay, so ultimately we prioritized responsiveness and went with a system where they could warp.

Takeda: Then there was the growth system. Basically, we aimed for something where you could level the devils in any number of ways, and all of those would be "correct". For example, even if you never use any of the evolution crystals to change their form, you would still end up with a super powerful devil. We wanted players to succeed with any type, and even if you tried something weird it would still be fun—but that diversity also made it very challenging to adjust and balance everything.

Also, we put a lot of effort into the different types of Innocent Devils. The bird-types will get extra hits in for you, and the battle-types will put themselves out in front and fight aggressively. If you favor a playstyle where you're supporting the devils, you can use all the fighting types and just let them fight for you; conversely, if you want to do the fighting yourself, using the fairy-type or something like that to guard for you is another good option. Basically, we wanted you to be able to play your way: no wrong answers.

Iga: That reminds me, in an earlier version of Curse of Darkness, we gave the players tons of Devil Shards. (laughs)

Takeda: Well, about that… here's the thing. I really hate it when you lose things in video games. Like losing items or equipment… but also anytime there is "missable" content that you can't return to, routes that get closed off, and so forth. That's why I wanted Curse of Darkness to be a game where, ultimately, you could "go back" and wouldn't be locked into one path. The Devil Shards were one example of that design philosophy. Without that lenience, I think players would not trust the game.

Iga: I feel the same way, and dislike it when you can't go back to things. I'm glad Takeda and I were on the same page there. But when they're dropping shards left and right that's also a problem. (everyone laughs)

A comprehensive look at all the Innocent Devils and their different abilities in Curse of Darkness.

—Why did you add Stealing and Weapon Combining to Curse of Darkness?

Takeda: I thought that having enemies randomly drop items just feels like playing the lotto, right? I thought having a more "technical" process for acquiring items by stealing them would elevate the gameplay. However, it would weigh the gameplay down too much if you needed to steal certain items to progress, so I thought finding materials and then combining them into a variety of items would be better balanced. It's also fun to study the recipes and discover new things you can make. The Item Combination, Stealing, and regular drops were all conceived as part of a single system.

Iga: Item crafting is one of those things players ask for a lot, and that was a big part of it. It was something that both the players and the devs at Konami asked for, almost as much as the request for a free camera. In the last game, you only had the whip, which is fitting of course since Belmont==Whip. But this time the hero isn't a Belmont, which you could say was also another reason we included these new systems.

―Please tell us your overall concept for the music.

Yamane: In terms of gameplay systems, Curse of Darkness is something of an exploration-heavy game, and then you have the innocent devils that flitter and hover around the player, so I tried to evoke an overall image that was similar to Symphony of the Night, but even more gorgeous and lush. Also, one of the requests I received was to make the music melodious, catchy, and hummable. So I was often humming or whistling while writing… or to put it in a more musical way, I made sure the chord progressions were very direct and unambiguous.

Michiru Yamane, Castlevania composer extraordinaire.

―What kind of media or art did they share with you during the development to help you with the writing process?

Yamane: The very first thing I saw was not the completed story, but rather IGA's scribbled-down plot notes. (laughs) I read the character notes he'd written there, and when Kojima had finished some illustrations I saw those too. I also saw some concept art for the backgrounds, with stone buildings… basically, as the development progressed and I saw more and more assets from the game, I would adjust or revise the music I'd written if it didn't match my initial vision. As the image in my head slowly came into alignment with the actual game, it became easier to write, and I'd then I'd share what I composed with the team… that was the basic workflow.

Takeda: Michiru works extremely fast, so it's easy to ask her to make changes. Sometimes she gets carried away though and will write a super long intro, for instance. So we often ask her to shorten things slightly. We're like, "Hey Michiru, the enemies are all dying before the intro even finishes…" (laughs) You could record the longer versions for the OST CD though, is something we also often say.

―How do you create an overall sense of balance between the compositions?

Yamane: I think variety is important. The battle music should make you feel good while you're fighting, so I try to write something that gets you riled up and in the spirit. That's also my approach for the stage music, but I vary it up depending on the imagery of the stage, including quiet pieces when it's appropriate. In terms of individual songs, the fact that players will be hearing this pieces over and over for a long time is a fact I always keep forefront in my mind. For music that is going to be played over and over, I want to make sure the sound textures are not grating, and are pleasing to the ear. Obviously it's great for a tune too be catchy or memorable, but I actually put a big premium on having good sound quality.

―When writing the music for a Castlevania game, what are some of the things you pay specific attention too? What is challenging? And what do you find most fun?

Yamane: I put a lot of effort into the atmosphere of the world. Musically that means using pipe organ and choral voices like you might hear in a church. But I can't go too far there or every game will sound the same as the last. (laughs) To make sure players don't get bored, I'm always looking to add things like guitars, trying to keep listeners on their toes… it's kind of a struggle. As for what's fun, I like that the world of Castlevania will keep changing and evolving, because it forces my music to change and evolve with it.

Michiru Yamane's Curse of Darkness OST.

―Have you always been a big fan of the gothic world and aesthetic?

Yamane: Yeah. I really love it. I listen to lots of different music, but I've especially spent a lot of time studying traditional music, and I think that comes out in my work on Castlevania. It's great, honestly, and I can really say I love my work.

―How did you end up deciding to bring back the electric guitar for the battle theme in Curse of Darkness?

Yamane: When I went to E3 for the previous Castlevania game, many people asked me about it. "Will the new game have any songs with guitar?", "Who played that guitar on Symphony of the Night…?" It really drove home for me how much people like that sound, so from the beginning of the Curse of Darkness development I resolved to include more of it.

―What was your image for the opening theme, Shukumei no Junshou (Prologue of Fate)?

Yamane: The cutscene visuals were completed first, so I used that as my reference. But IGA and I had a difference of opinion about the first version I created… (laughs)

IGA: The opening is very short, so most composers wouldn't be able to write a catchy melody in that short of a time, but… Yamane can do it!, I thought. (laughs) I asked her to revise it three times, each time saying I wanted to be more catchy, more melodious!

―What was your image or concept for the ending song, "True to Your Dreams"?

Yamane: Before I wrote this song we decided that we would use a professional tenor for the vocal part. I wanted to ask Russell Watson to do it, and though I didn't know then whether he would accept or not, I wrote the piece imagining that he would be the singer. I'm a huge fan of Russell. I think it was… let's see, about 4 years ago that I first heard him singing―they were playing one of his CDs at a record store, and I've been keeping up with his discography ever since. I knew that if we could someday get him to sing for a Castlevania game it would be a perfect match for the music and a huge step-up in refinement and quality. As luck would have it, when the Curse of Darkness development began, and we were sending out offers to various third-parties, Russell happened to be visiting Japan for the first time.

"True to Your Dreams", Yamane's long-awaited collaboration with English tenor Russell Watson.

―Did you go see him in concert?

Yamane: I did. I bought general admission tickets. I went with my family, and, since it was somewhat work related, our boss who handles the budgeting, but I wasn't only there to hear him sing: I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to make a pitch to him, so I brought a bouquet of flowers, a Castlevania CD, and a letter. I handed everything to the reception clerk and asked her to give these to Russell. Then at the end of the performance, I saw the receptionist hand those flowers to Russell and I was like, "that's my bouquet!" (laughs)

Then the concert ended, but somehow I felt unsatisfied. Normally I would have just gone home, but my boss suggested we wait for the performers to exit. I was like, "I feel too old for this…", but we waited there. And well, probably because this was his first visit to Japan and a special occasion, he came out and shook hands and signed autographs for all the fans who had lined up. When it was my turn, I explained in broken English that I was a video game developer. Then Russell's manager noticed that we were the makers of Castlevania. I gave him my business card there, which proved critical in his accepting our offer later.

IGA: It was thanks to Yamane's personal business card that she handed him, that we were able to open direct negotiations. Without that, I doubt we would have gotten through to him and been able to collaborate on a recording.

Yamane: Yeah, if I'd not handed him my card, and instead went through the intermediary of the record companies, I think our offer would have gotten lost in the shuffle of the many proposals he receives, and the timing likely wouldn't have worked out. But by meeting Russell in-person, and giving him the letter and CD, and finding out that he was a big video game player in his youth… well, thankfully a lot of happy coincidences aligned for this collaboration to come true.

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  1. He is talking about the domestic Japanese market, of course. The game continued to be called Castlevania overseas.

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