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Critical Eye: Koji Igarashi

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Just in time to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Castlevania, we take a look at the man who revolutionizes the Metroidvania, or rather IGAvania as a whole new subgenre as well as the fate of one of the legendary game franchises.

The Castlevania franchise is one of the popular franchise that every gamer will surely be familiar with, it introduces the horror theme in the 8-bit era that provided a difficult-yet-satisfying gameplay experience. Then at the late 90’s when most of the publishers are shifting their games from 2D sprites to 3D polygons, one man managed to keep a 2D game its original roots and combined two game mechanics into a whole new subgenre, and that was Koji Igarashi.

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Early Years

Also known as IGA to his peers, he started his gaming career in Konami when he graduated from college, though at first he was supposed to be working for a different company, but after a dispute with the HR, he was fired. Then his mentor urged him to apply at Konami and eventually landed a job as part-time, he then worked full time after a year. His first involved project was the shoot ‘em up game Detana!! Twinbee for the PC Engine.

IGA then taken helm of his own project, and the first was a dating sim called Tokimeki Memorial. IGA requested to be transferred to a different department after completing the game, as he believes that it doesn’t need a sequel as he already added everything that could be done in the first game. And since the game became a hit, his boss accepted his request and was moved to the Castlevania team. He became the assistant director (even programmer and scenario writer) for Castlevania Symphony of the Night.

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The IGAvania magic

Though the term Metroidvania or IGAvania became popular, the first game to invent the said subgenre was Metroid from Nintendo. It featured a mechanic where players must explore a large area in a non-linear gameplay, where backtracking to explored areas were encouraged as whenever you acquire a new item or equipment, it can unlock new areas to progress further into the game. In Symphony of the Night, it borrows the same mechanic but was refined and featured the RPG elements previously found in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. The RPG mechanics in Simon’s Quest was rather unpopular due to the cluttered setup and confusing to use during its period, but the mechanic worked well for Symphony of the Night.

This allows players to increase the character’s level to ease up the difficulty and allows more exploration with the chance of looting powerful arsenals. These ideas were effective for Symphony of the Night that it was well-received by the players, this as a result became a mainstay feature for future 2D Castlevania games in the 2000s and shifted the once action-platforming franchise into an adventure game franchise.

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Journey with Castlevania

Though Symphony of the Night was a success, Igarashi briefly left the team to tackle on other projects, at this period the franchise jumped into 3D with two games for the Nintendo 64, unfortunately both were not successful as these were panned with poor receptions. He then returned to the Castlevania team and became its manager and producer, where he oversees all of the development in the succeeding games.

The IGAvania formula continued in the franchise for the 2D games in portable consoles, while keeping some of those elements on 3D games for the home consoles. The Metroidvania games were still getting good receptions on the portable consoles, however the home consoles had mixed reactions due to the shifting on 3D games at that time. His last Castlevania game was Harmony of Despair for the Xbox Live Arcade which features some of the characters from recent Castlevania titles in a multiplayer co-op gameplay.

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Life after Konami

In 2014, IGA left Konami to set up his own studio, but he ended up working with Inti Creates; the same company that launched the Azure Striker games and was founded by former Capcom members. He then co-founded Artplay Inc. and act as the producer for the company. Leaving Konami allows IGA to have freedom in his projects where he can still create games that will be enjoyed by his longtime fans who appreciated the Metroidvania revolution from his previous Castlevania works.

Then on May 11, 2015, IGA finally launched a Kickstarter campaign for his new project Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Bloodstained aimed to become the spiritual successor to the Castlevania games that he had created. And in just hours after his campaign launch, the project was successfully funded thanks to the overwhelming support from the fans. Now aiming for an early 2018 release, the game is still currently in development and now has a publishing deal with 505 Games; the publisher who launched the Payday series.

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His Legacy

Igarashi made a big change on the fate of Castlevania during its time, as it managed to retain its 2D roots for other platforms and forged a whole new subgenre, though he made trials and errors on 3D games for the franchise, he proved that one formula was really effective for the franchise and the fans praised him for it. Though he may have left the company, he created a legacy that help spawned some inspirations from other game developers into flourishing the Metroidvania subgenre.

With the positive receptions from fans on the development of Bloodstained, this would eventually mean that players can expect future games from Igarashi once Bloodstained is release. But until then, the fans will have to endure a long wait.

Koji Igarashi’s recent works:

  • Detana!! TwinBee (PC-Engine) – Programmer
  • Gradius II (PC-Engine Super CD-ROM²) – Programmer
  • Tokimeki Memorial (PC-Engine Super CD-ROM²) – Scenario Writer
  • Tokimeki Memorial: Forever with you (PlayStation, Sega Saturn) – Scenario Writer
  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation) – Assistant Director, Programmer, Scenario Writer
  • Elder Gate (PlayStation) – Director, System Programmer
  • Castlevania Chronicles (PlayStation) – Producer
  • Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (Game Boy Advance) – Producer, Scenario Writer
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Game Boy Advance) – Producer
  • Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (PlayStation 2) – Producer, Scenario Writer
  • Nano Breaker (PlayStation 2) – Producer
  • Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (Nintendo DS) – Producer
  • Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PlayStation 2, Xbox) – Producer, Scenario Writer
  • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS) – Producer
  • Castlevania: Order of Shadows (mobile phone) – Producer
  • Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (PlayStation Portable) – Producer
  • Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Nintendo DS) – Producer
  • Castlevania Judgment (Wii) – Producer
  • Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth (WiiWare) – Producer
  • Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (Xbox Live Arcade) – Producer
  • Otomedius Excellent (Xbox 360) – Producer
  • Leedmees (Xbox 360 Kinect) – Producer
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Xbox One) – Producer

Did You Know:

  • His nickname IGA is actually a deriviation of his last name Igarashi and that is what he always used on the game staff credits.

  • Despite leaving Konami to pursue his own project, Igarashi is still open to become a consultant if there would be a new Castlevania game being develop.

  • When he was young, he did some part-time jobs that involved creating stuffed animals.

  • From his career in Konami, Iga has two games that he considered as his greatest work. The first was obviously Castlevania Symphony of the Night and the other was Tokimeki Memorial.

  • According to his old blog, his favorite food was beer

  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was the second largest funded Kickstarter campaign for video games.

  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s composer Michiru Yamane, also composed for Castlevania Symphony of the Night and other succeeding Castlevania titles as well as some tracks for Skullgirls.

Koji Igarashi will be visiting Manila as he will be at the upcoming Esports and Gaming Summit 2016 on October 28 to 30, 2016 at the SMX Convention Center. This is the very chance Filipino gamers can meet the legendary game designer.

 

Sources:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2372/whip_smart_konamis_koji_igarashi_.php https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/37s0ev/i_am_former_castlevania_producer_koji_igarashi/

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