It's not long now until parched fans of Castlevania can satiate their action-platforming thirst on 3DS.
With the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate looming, I spoke to the producer of the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series (and head of the UK studio at Konami Digital Entertainment), Dave Cox, to get more details on the latest entry in the franchise.
Cox talks about the tragedy of Alucard, explains the complex relationship between the Belmonts, and tells us why the game works perfectly on the 3DS.
He also reveals his thoughts on the past Castlevania games, a few of his worries for the new release, and the heritage of Castlevania series overlord Koji Igarashi.
Pocket Gamer: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate is scheduled for release in March. Can you tell us more about this 3DS outing?
Dave Cox: This is a follow-up to the 2010 game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which was a very successful reboot of the long-running Castlevania series. Both the 2010 title and this new instalment are set in an alternative universe.
In that game, we re-imagined the story, characters, and setting to focus on Dracula and his origins.
In Mirror of Fate, we delve further into the reasons why Gabriel Belmont became Dracula and the consequences this has on his descendants. In particular, on his son Trevor Belmont and grandson Simon.
We explore why it is that the Belmonts must hunt down Dracula throughout the ages.
The Castlevania name has such a deep history with gamers, especially the core titles, yet the Lords of Shadow storyline is a reboot of the series. Do you feel somewhat liberated through being able to 'discard' the main narrative of earlier games?
Yes, it is quite liberating, though there is still a pressure to be faithful at least to the core ideas that made the series famous.
We knew pretty much from the start that we wanted to go our own way, and that if we could do that, we would be able to bring in new fans who had never experienced a Castlevania game before.
By essentially starting again, we're encouraging people to jump on board without their having to know the series's 25-year history.
Likewise, another persistent element in the franchise was Koji Igarashi's involvement. Do you take inspiration from what he accomplished with the series, or would you prefer to strike out in new directions?
We have really taken our inspiration from the original games and not the later games of Mr Igarashi.
As I said before, though, we aren't slavishly trying to remake those games, either. We are using them as a starting point and developing our own ideas. It's all about evolving the series for modern gamers.
It’s important to us that we move the series forward, while always being respectful to the past.
In many ways, Mirror of Fate feels like a natural evolution of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse to me. That game was a big influence on the design of this 3DS title. At the same time, though, it does feel like a true successor to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
Another 'lineage' question now. Can you tell us a bit about the relationship between the returning Belmonts? Apparently, there's some bad blood between them...?
Well, in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow we showed the origin of Dracula. Now, 25 years later, he has returned to wage war on the Brotherhood of Light, whom he feels manipulated him and lied to him. To compound this, they also kept the birth of his own son a secret from him.
This son, Trevor, has become a man. Not just any man. A man who is sent by the Brotherhood to take down his father and... well, it all goes horribly wrong for everyone involved. This leads to the blood feud that drives the drama to its shocking conclusion.
I have to say that, without spoiling the story, I think people will be surprised with the way this is handled in the game. Ultimately, this is a tragic story of love and loss. We get a perspective on the relationship between the Belmonts and their nemesis that we haven't seen before.
Fan-favourite Alucard is back, of course. Why pick him as another playable character, and what does he bring to the gameplay?
As I mentioned earlier, this game is heavily influenced by Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. So, a lot of the characters that appeared in that game, including Alucard, are in Mirror of Fate.
In the original series, Alucard is the son of Dracula. In Mirror of Fate, that is also the case.
Alucard always struck me as a tragic figure, and so we wanted to tell his story and detail his relationship with his father.
Of course, given this character is a vampire, we are able to introduce cool gameplay features and abilities, like turning into mist, into proceedings. This gives him access to areas of the castle that other characters cannot get to. Alucard is a badass, though he has a sad tale to tell.
By including Alucard, it's possible you risk an association with Symphony of the Night's 'Metroidvania' structure. Is this something you worried about during development, and is it a welcome association?
Yes, I suppose so, but - again - Alucard was in Castlevania games well before Symphony of the Night. I always liked the character and depicting him in a different way from the way he was seen in Symphony of the Night was something we wanted to try, for sure.
I like Symphony, but I prefer the old skool games far more. These are what I grew up with and what made me want to work in the video games industry, and at Konami in particular.
I think everyone on the team wanted to do something new, and, yes, we have been worried about the associations with the Metroidvania games. But, while this does contain some elements of those newer games, they are really pretty minimal.
We want players who enjoyed the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow to feel at home here. That was the main goal. We don't want to go backwards; we want to move forwards and keep the series fresh.
The visual design in this new Castlevania title is undeniably fantastic. And from what we saw in our preview of the game, the 3D is implemented really well. How important is it to really nail the Castlevania 'look' on modern handhelds?
This has been key to the whole project. It was important to bring AAA visuals to the 3DS.
The 3DS isn't so good at 2D, but it really excels at 3D. So, we set out to replicate the high-quality visuals that the first Lords of Shadow game was renowned for, yet we wanted to give it that retro flavour, too.
This was quite a challenge, I can tell you. We built a new engine for the game and we struggled to deliver the highly detail visual design the MercurySteam artists wanted.
Thanks to Jose Luiz Marquez, who was the game director, the team really nailed it. The graphical fidelity is incredible, and the depth of the 3D is something you really have to see for yourself to believe.
I play a lot of 3DS games with the 3D switched off, but you really must play this with it on. Of course, I am biased, but I think it's the best-looking game on the 3DS. It really shows off the killer feature of the hardware wonderfully.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate is scheduled for release on March 5th. Check back on Pocket Gamer for the full review a little closer to launch day.