Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – 1997 Developer Interview
Released in 1997, Symphony of the Night forever changed the direction of Castlevania (for better or worse, depending on who you ask). These two interviews contain details about the development that I’ve not read elsewhere, such as an intriguing alignment system that was dropped early on. The first interview is from the official Konami guide book; the second is from an unknown source, but likely one of the contemporary Japanese gaming magazines.
—To begin, please tell us what role you played in the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night development.
Hagihara: I was producer for the first half of the game, and for the latter half I was both producer and programmer.
Igarashi: I acted as director (for the latter half), scenario writer, and programmer. “There is a glimmer of something suspicious about him.”1
Hagihara: That’s because he’s the Tokimeki guy. (laughs)
Igarashi: It’s been there ever since Tokimeki was released for the Saturn.
Yamane: I handled the sound, doing both music and sound effects.
—This new Castlevania is for the Playstation. Would you share with us what aspects of the hardware have been improved?
Hagihara: The PSX has less limits for development than any previous system. If you think you can do it on this system, you probably can. It has tile and line functions that allow you to do things easily, even without specially prepared software tools. That aspect was very convenient.
Igarashi: The PSX made it very easy to make changes and adjustments. With the sound fx too, if you wanted to program something you could just do it.
—Conversely, were there any difficulties with the new hardware?
Igarashi: Probably the backgrounds, since we were making a sidescroller.
Hagihara: There’s no hardware support for scrolling on the PSX, so we ended up using the same methods for displaying character sprites to display the backgrounds. That ate up a lot more of the processor power than we had anticipated. Another issue was that, while we were glad to have more memory to work with, compiling the game took an entire hour, during which time you couldn’t do anything. (laughs) That was annoying.
—The Castlevania series has a long history. Compared with previous games, what is the biggest change in Symphony of the Night?
Igarashi: No whip. (laughs) Not wanting to use the same story with a holy whip-wielding member of the Belmont clan was probably the biggest change. On top of that, Simon Belmont has a macho image, but this time we chose a more refined, aesthetic look.
—With the added RPG elements, it feels like there’s a lot of freedom in Symphony of the Night. Although I did get lost a lot at first…
Igarashi: We gave the player a lot of freedom because we wanted to lengthen the playtime for an action game, which is usually short. If people spend 5800 yen (approx $58) on a game, they should get 5800 yen worth of enjoyment from it. Even when a game is very difficult, defeating enemies isn’t very exciting, is it? I thought it would be fun for players to get experience from enemies and level up, so I added RPG elements.
—Can you tell us the origins of Alucard’s name?
Igarashi: It’s Dracula spelled backwards, of course. I heard it was a kind of nickname for Dracula. We had used it in Akumajou Densetsu (Castlevania III), so we took it and used it here too.
Hagihara: The Alucard from Castlevania III wasn’t very cool though. (laughs)
—How is it that Alucard, despite being Dracula’s son, can use holy weapons and subweapons?
Igarashi: This isn’t officially in the story, but in the backstory in my head, his mother was descended of holy blood, so he can use those weapons. That’s why Alucard has both the powers of light and dark, which was something we had decided on at the outset of the development.
Hagihara: In the early planning stages we had an alignment system. If you used the subweapons a lot you would have a holy alignment, and if you used magic a lot you’d have a dark alignment.
Igarashi: Yeah, and the ending would have changed based on your alignment. We had various subtitles for the game in mind too, like “聖魔のトリル” (seima no toriru)2
—Who do you think is the toughest enemy in Symphony of the Night?
Hagihara: Under normal conditions, Galamoth is a tough fight. If you don’t have any extra power from equipment it’s a real slog.
Igarashi: We made him so that if you just tried to fight him normally, you couldn’t win. I mean, that’s the kind of character he originally was.3 (laughs) Please enjoy him as one of the post-game challenges.
Hagihara: The truth is Galamoth was supposed to be far stronger than Shaft or Dracula, yet if you have the Fairy familiar you can pretty much beat him the same as any boss, right? If you handicap yourself by not using the Fairy it’s very hard though.
—That Fairy really helps out a lot.
Hagihara: I mean, if you just use the Fairy the whole time I guess the game does become easy. You can do the same thing with the mist transformation.
Igarashi: Right. So if you’re just trying to clear the game, it’s not that difficult, and beginners have no reason not to play. If there’s any enemy you don’t want to fight, escaping with the bat or mist is perfectly ok.
—During the doppleganger fight, I remember evading the soul steal attack with the mist.
Yamane: If you always use the fog you won’t defeat many enemies and your achievement rate will be low, won’t it?
Hagihara: It’s unrelated to that actually.
Igarashi: Well, it’s true that your bestiary won’t get any new entries.
—As for the familiars, I noticed there’s a normal Fairy and a “half” Fairy, but their levels and experience are different.
Igarashi: There’s the fairy, the half-fairy, the devil, and the nose devil. We made their stats match their characters.
Yamane: Did you hear all the nose devil’s lines yet?4
—I heard it. I laughed out loud!
Igarashi: We put that in a difficult place to find.
—At first I didn’t notice it at all, actually…
Hagihara: You have to force your way into a place that doesn’t seem accessible.
Yamane: A place that’s about to disappear. (laughs)
Igarashi: When the voice actor Joji Yanami was preparing for the actual devil familiar role, it was like, this sounds perfect for the nose devil! we should be recording this! But we missed it.
Hagihara: The nose devil becomes very strong if you level him, too.
Igarashi: All the familiars get really strong if they’re leveled up.
—I raise the Sword familiar to level 50.
Igarashi: It’s attacks change at level 90.
Hagihara: At level 50, you can equip it as an item, and if you level the familiar up to level 99, it’s extremely powerful. But the familiars were something we barely had time to finish in the development, and they almost didn’t get added to the game. So most of the enemies aren’t really balanced with regard to the player using a familiar. What I’m trying to say is, please don’t overlevel the familiars. (laughs)
Igarashi: For people who think they’d be helpful for them, it’s fine to use them. But for those who don’t want the game balance broken, it’s also fine to ignore them.
—In the ending Maria chases after Alucard, but I’m curious about what happens after that.
Igarashi: That’s something left for all the players to imagine themselves; it’s not our place to say. There are also other endings where she doesn’t follow Alucard.
—What is the max percentage you can get on the map?
Igarashi: It’s actually 200.6%. If you uncover the entire castle it’s 100%, and the inverted castle also has 100% (plus the underground waterway part for the extra .6%). We set the normal castle completion at 100% so as to put one “endpoint” to the game’s progression. What we were thinking is that people wouldn’t defeat Dracula on their very first playthrough; we wanted them to defeat Richter once. Then, after feeling like they’d beat Richter and cleared the game, they’d decide to aim for 100% completion in the normal castle and uncover all the places they didn’t get to; in doing so they’d discover the inverted castle and feel like they’d found something special. When players defeated Richter, we wanted them to be wondering, “What happened to Death? What about all of Alucard’s stolen equipment?”
—Well, in the clock room, if you break the right statue you do find the fake Alucart gear. (laughs)
Igarashi: Ah yes, the three-piece set. (laughs)
Hagihara: At first it was much more difficult to get to that room… I think it would only open at a set time for one hour? And if it was going to be really hard to get to, there should be some better equipment inside. But once we changed it so you open the clock room with the stopwatch, we realized we had better swap the gear there out to something less powerful. But we couldn’t think of anything good for it, so we just quickly and lazily made up those crappy three Alucart items. It was fun for us as programmers, we got to tease the player with those item stats.
Igarashi: If you collect all three, they’re good though.
Hagihara: Yeah, with all of them equipped, you get a luck bonus. With two rare rings, you’re all set. But you’ll be weak. (laughs)
Igarashi: The strength is about the same as the short sword.
Hagihara: The reason for that is that originally you didn’t need the double jump to reach that room. There was a moving platform, and if you knew the right time to wait you could get the gear from the very beginning. Even though the Alucart sword has better reach we thought the short sword was a good level of strength for it. Of course, once we changed it so that you needed the double jump, maybe we should have left a better item there as well… (laughs)
—Please give a final message for everyone.
Hagihara: I want to mention the Axe Armor. There’s some funny events if you wear it. Once you clear the game normally, you can start over with an Axe Armor playthrough, so I hope people try it out.
Igarashi: I really wanted to write a lot for the story this time. But being an action game, I had to cut much of it out. I hope from the progression of the dialogue, players get a sense of that larger backstory. Also, the line of dialogue that I especially liked was the final scene, when Alucard says “kore ijou haha o kurushimeru na!” (“Trouble the soul of my mother no more!”). Most of the rest of Alucard’s dialogue is very dead and emotionless, but he showed us some feeling here. I shed some tears when I heard it, so be sure to take a listen.
Yamane: Please enjoy the soundtrack, as well as the nose familiar dialogue. That was almost all done in editing, and was personally very fun for me, so I think you’ll enjoy it too.
Igarashi: Graphics lately have mostly been 3D rendering, and this kind of handcrafted pixel art has become rare. Please enjoy viewing the lovingly crafted graphics.
Symphony of the Night – 1997 Developer Interview
with director Koji Igarashi and designer Toshiharu Furukawa
—Today we have developers Koji Igarashi and Toshihiro Furukawa here to talk with us about Symphony of the Night. To start with, please tell us what games you’ve been involved with up to now.
Igarashi: Detana Twinbee (PCE), Gradius II -Gofer no yabou- (PCE), Tokimeki Memorial (PCE), Tokimeki Memorial -forever with you- (Saturn).
Furukawa: Rampart (Famicom), Axelay stage 2 (Super Famicom), Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (PCE), Gungage (PSX), DDR 2nd MIX dreamcast edition (DC port).
—What were some of your early ideas for Symphony of the Night, at the outset of the development?
Igarashi: Our first idea was to use the story and setting of Vampire Killer, and make the final Belmont vampire hunter your enemy. Another idea I had, and this is also from the setting of Bloodlines, is that it was supposed to be Quincy Morris who defeated Dracula, but it was actually Alucard who defeated him. I had even thought how this would work with the ending visuals. Also, the decision to make this a more exploratory action game was to extend the short life of normal action games a bit, and this was something we decided fromo the very beginning.
Furukawa: At the time the development section chief ordered us to make the “Ultimate Dracula” game. No one really knew what “ultimate” meant, but all the developers had talked it over, and the result was Symphnony of the Night. So, what do you all think? Ultimate Dracula. Try and picture that.
—Why did you choose Alucard as the protagonist?
Igarashi: Since we increased the size of the player character, we had to think about how that balance would work with the traditional whip; the problem is that the whip would reach across the entire screen, so we decided to make an action game based on other weapons instead. We also wanted a character whose abilities could grow and change, and to that end we thought using a character who could transform into other things would be more interesting. Given those two points, and the need to connect the protaganist to the history of Castlevania, we chose Alucard.
Furukawa: From a visuals perspective, we thought it would be cool to have a stylish man as the lead. The image of Simon in the instruction booklet of the very first Famicom Akumajou Dracula was slender and stylish. But somewhere along the way the Belmont image got changed to a pumped-up, musclebound man… and Symphony of the Night seemed like a good chance to change that image. I also think the “Akumajou” (demon castle) title doesn’t really suggest Simon Belmont as the main character, though that might be overstating things.
—Please tell us about any events, ideas, or characters that had to be cut from Symphony of the Night. Also, if there’s any post-game story for Richter, Maria, or Alucard, please share that too.
Igarashi: As far as the story goes, I did have deeper and more involved dialogue planned, but I thought it would interrupt the game progression too much, so we took it out. There were many characters who had to be cut, but the ones I still wish we could have added were Elizabeth Bathory and Gilles de Rais. As for post-game stories, Alucard and Maria’s whereabouts are unknown. Richter uses this as an opportunity to pass the vampire killer to the Morris family, who are relatives of the Belmonts. He disappears with Annette. After this the repuation of the Belmont name as vampire hunters vanishes from history. However, that doesn’t mean the Belmont bloodline has died out, so perhaps they will rise again as Vampire Hunters someday.
Furukawa: In a sense, I don’t think I can really say much about Alucard’s distant future… (it’s a mystery). As for Richter, the events of Bloodlines create the background for the story of Symphony of the Night, and I can’t confirm what happens to the Belmont clan after Richter. But that being the case, have you thought about what the future might hold? I like to think that one of the Belmonts is, unbeknownst to all, locked in battle with the King of Terror prophesized by Nostradmus to appear in July 1999.
I’d also like to say that although Maria chases after Alucard in the ending of Symphony of the Night, he doesn’t make her a vampire. She isn’t around 10,000 years later, you know. (laughs)
—Symphony of the Night is the newest Castlevania since Bloodlines. What things did you consider when making another entry in the series?
Igarashi: With Symphony of the Night, our concept was to make a game that would overturn player’s ideas about Castlevania, yet also feel like a Castlevania game. As for what things we specifically wanted to change:
-make the action exploration based (although Castlevania 2 also did this)
-add RPG elements, so anyone who put in the effort could beat it
-no more one-hit-kills
-the player character would not use a whip
-no more stairs (I mean stairs in the style of the previous Castlevania games)
-change the visual style
So our biggest concern was how, using these new ideas as a base, to create a game that would fit cleanly into the timeline and world of Castlevania, and not harm the image of previous games in the series.
—There’s a huge assortment of weapons and items to choose from, but how did you come up with ideas for all that?
Igarashi: We used a variety of different references, books and such, and tried to add things that hadn’t been used in Castlevania before.
Furukawa: Each staff member had a special attachment to a different kind of blade, so we ended up with a good variety. Though this did result in the developers’ favorite weapons being super-powered. Not realizing that no one liked shields was a bit of a blind spot…5
—The Castlevania series is known as a 2D action game that sets the bar high with a very high difficulty. I think with the emphasis of RPG elements in Symphony, more players than ever have been allowed to enjoy the series. How has the response from fans been in that regard?
Igarashi: The one thing we heard the most was “it’s too easy.” We expected to hear that though. There were also some people who said it was too difficult, and it brought home to me the difficulty of making something for “everyone.”
Symphony of the Night has also gained a lot of support from female users, definitely because of the difficulty setting, but perhaps also because of the visual style.
So in addition to allowing people who couldn’t beat previous Castlevanias to play, we’ve also successfully broken through to a whole new class of players, and I’m very happy that we’ve overturned the “hard game” image of Castlevania.
Furukawa: Many people also said “I don’t know anything about Castlevania and this was fun!” I have mixed feelings about that.
—Tell us about how you came to hire Ayami Kojima as the illustrator for Symphony of the Night.
Igarashi: Wanting to do something different from previous Castlevanias, one of our first steps was to imagine an alluring new visual style for the characters. We decided then to search for an illustrator who hadn’t done much work with games, someone who was active in a whole different genre. As a team we went to bookstores and checked out book covers, buying the ones we liked and researching the artists. There were a number of candidates, but we felt that Ayami Kojima’s work had the rich, aesthetic direction we wanted for a new Castlevania.
—Thank you for your time today!
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A silly joke: he’s describing himself like a character in a visual novel. Tokimeki Memorial, a visual novel game which he had just made, was a runaway hit in Jap↩
Something like, “The Trill of Light and Darkness.” A trill is a musical ornament where two adjacent notes (aka 聖 “holy” and 魔 “evil”) alternate rapidly.↩
Most likely a reference to Galamoth in Kid Dracula, the final boss of that game.↩
The nose devil was voiced by Joji Yanami, a famous Japanese actor who is known for nasally roles. It was included as a joke, and was left out of the US versions.↩
An odd comment considering how powerful the shield rod+alucard shield is, though it’s true that most of the others aren’t very interesting.↩