The wait is finally over - today, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night releases on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, with the Switch version due out next week. It's a journey that began with the launch of the Kickstarter back in 2015 - although, of course, the journey began well before that, when Koji Igarashi began working on the Castlevania series during his time at Konami, and put his own imprint on these beloved games. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night stays true to that, and the early signs are promising. We've only just got code, and our review will be with you shortly - for now, here's a discussion we had with Igarashi during Kyoto's BitSummit a couple of weeks back.
You recently had a trailer which showed off the revamped look for Bloodstained. It went back and showed how the game looked - it seemed to almost cast shade on how it looked beforehand! Did you sit down with your design team beforehand to give them a heads-up what was going to happen.
Koji Igarashi: Well, I think that both trailers had their good spots and bad spots! The interesting thing is, the previous trailer was immensely well received in Japan, and not as well received abroad. The new trailer, it was incredibly well-received abroad, it wasn't so well-received by the Japanese fanbase. It's kind of a 'you can't please everyone' kind of deal. Which one's better? You can't really know. It's interesting how the Japanese perspective and the Western perspective were so different. That's the thing about Kickstarter projects - I want to really respect the opinions of everybody, and there are a lot of foreign backers.
That's one of the hang-ups with crowdfunding, I guess - it means that projects like this can actually happen, but how can you please everyone? Instead of having a small team developing it, you've got millions of people all adding their voice during development.
Koji Igarashi: It doesn't matter whether it's Kickstarter or if I'm making something for a company - everything I make, we're making it from the customers, it's for the fans. It's being made to please them - so that doesn't really change whether it's Kickstarter or for a bigger company. The biggest difference is announcements! You've got to announce it from the start, and you need to update the fans. I run out of ideas, things to show the fans - it's from the very beginning. And that's the part that's hard.
How has the process compared to making a Castlevania game for Konami?
Koji Igarashi: When working within a big company, you'd announce a game six months from release, there are set dates. With this, there was the base game, and then the stretch goals that's more work tacked on, and if the stretch goals get there, you have to make them, and that becomes more of a responsibility.
When you started out, I imagine you had a vision for what you wanted the final game to be. How different is that to what the game is now?
Koji Igarashi: It's completely different! There are so many small differences in the process, though essentially it's the same game that I wanted to make.
We're not too far out until release - what do you plan to do when it finally comes out?
Koji Igarashi: I don't have anything planned for the day of release - I'm going to wait for reviews to come in. If they're good reviews, we'll have a party. If they're bad reviews, well, we'll have a meeting to talk about why they're bad reviews!
Well, good job I'm not reviewing it. Actually, I think I might be...
Koji Igarashi: Please write a good review so we can have a party!
Would you go through this process again - obviously crowdfunding has changed, it's not quite the same, but would you do something similar again?
Koji Igarashi: Kickstarter's difficult- things have changed so much from the start, things like we had the Wii U version but that console is not really in circulation anymore, so if I were to go for another crowdfunding project, I'd have to give it a really hard think. It's so hard to figure out what the gaming landscape is going to be like when the game is going to be released compared to when you announce it - especially regarding the stretch goals.
Has this been more or less stressful than making one of the Castlevanias for Konami?
Koji Igarashi: The general stress of making the game has been largely the same! But now I'm not at a big company anymore, there's so much more that I've personally got to do, and that's the only real change - that's obviously a lot more stress.
You've got an ex-workmate, Kojima, releasing his game this year as well - it's nice to have these Konami alumni in this position right now. Do you two get together to share war stories at all?
Koji Igarashi: I don't! I don't consider myself an equal of Kojima, so it's hard for me to ask him for a drink - it's not really my position to!
It's Konami's 50th anniversary - they've recently re-released some of the older Castlevania games. Have you taken this opportunity to look back at the past?
Koji Igarashi: I don't really look back - I'm not the type to look back once a game is out, I just move on to what I'm doing next.
Oh man, that ruins one of my questions as I wanted to ask about your work porting Gradius 2! What do you want to do next? Have you set your mind to what your next project is going to be?
Koji Igarashi: Since we're still kind of in development I haven't really thought about it that much. But! If Bloodstained does well I'd be very happy, and very willing, to make a franchise and build upon it. Right now it's about getting this game out, though.
Your games have their own identity that is very identifiably you - from when you came on-board with Castlevania and of course in Bloodstained. I've got my own kind of idea on what that is, but what, to you, makes an Iga game?
Koji Igarashi: I've no idea! I recently released Revolve8 [a free-to-play mobile game by Sega] and people considered that very different, but I don't really know why people thought it was so different. I'm not sure what marks out my own personal identity in a game - I'm just doing the usual.
What is it you're trying to express in games, then - what is it you really want to put across?
Koji Igarashi: Right now, with Bloodstained, I'm developing it firstly for the fans. It's about giving them what they want, giving them something they can enjoy - specifically with this, as it's crowdfunded. Other times, I see something I think that's interesting, I think it's fun, try that out, take in ideas that other people think are fun, then just collect those. I'm always taking notes.
What is it you've taken inspiration from recently?
Koji Igarashi: Right now I play other games and take inspiration - with Bloodstained, it's the Castlevania games, obviously, but right now I'm just playing so much Bloodstained.
You've played it yourself - how would you review it?
Koji Igarashi: I've been playing a lot - and I think it's really fun! But even as the developer, there are a lot of parts where I'm not very good at it at all. But it's still a load of fun.
That doesn't bode well for me. I'm terrible at video games. How does it compare, do you think, to your previous work on Castlevania - is this your finest to date?
Koji Igarashi: The best work is whatever I'm currently working on - reviews might agree or disagree, but that's how I feel. And I'm waiting for reviews.
Don't look at me! In the future, if the opportunity to make another Castlevania came up, would you do it - or has that ship sailed?
Koji Igarashi: If I had the opportunity, I'd do it. Castlevania is one of those games - when my game came out in 1999, that game still has staying power, it's still interesting, it's still very popular.
You've done a lot of games that aren't Castlevania, or in that vein. In your future do you see yourself moving further beyond this action formula?
Koji Igarashi: Well Revolve8 was different! And you mentioned those other games - making 2D action is fine, but I've got the interest and it's interesting and a fun challenge to make a different kind of games.
Thanks for your time, and I'm looking forward to playing Bloodstained. It's not long to go for me now.
Koji Igarashi: Please write a good review!