Castlevania is one of my favorite video game franchises. I grew up in the 90’s with a classic NES and SNES thanks to my parents and the Castlevania games were some of my favorites on them. They were challenging, but in a way I admired: the progress you achieved in them felt like it was because you had learned something, either about the environment or about your own limitations, and then you mastered utilizing that knowledge. Their technicolor brilliance and hummable melodies equally made them stunning and memorable. I grew up watching many popular classic movies, most of which were horror movies, so I felt right at home with Castlevania’s “Hammer Horror” inspired designs.
In 2019, a Japanese interview about the creator of the series, Hitoshi Akamatsu from Konami, the creator of Castlevania, was finally translated into English and published on Shmuplations. Being an avid fan of the classic games, I read it the first day it went live. Some of the details I learned were very interesting!
According to the interview, Akamatsu, unsurprisingly, was very passionate about Western movies. Simon Belmont’s signature weapon, the whip, for example, was inspired by Indiana Jones (and I won’t even bother mentioning where all the monster designs come from, it’s obvious). He played a role in spreading that passion to others at Konami, which influenced some of the creative direction that went into their other games in the 80’s. It is always exciting to me to discover that a foreign country has individuals who are so passionate about the creativity of another country that it influences their work and ultimately their lives as a whole.
Akamatsu demonstrated a graceful way of examining and thinking about how to design the first Castlevania. According to the interview, he thought of the player controls as an extension of the player, like growing a new limb, which influenced how he designed the feeling of movement, combat, and other interactions in the game. The order of sub-weapons that the player finds in the first game was deliberate, allowing players to get acquainted with the game and the limitations of playing as Simon Belmont. Falling in pits killed Simon instantly, so the risk of death was habitually on the player’s mind (which complemented the horror theme), but he also gave Simon a lot of health, so the player felt tough and heroic enough to take on big monsters. This approach to design implies a degree of realism was important to Akamatsu, even in the 80’s when video games were 8-bit.
The most astonishing revelation in the interview to me, however, was about Count Dracula. In the first game, after you defeat Dracula, he transforms into a phantasmagorical monster. Akamatsu revealed in the interview that this monster was not Dracula anymore, but the “curse of man.” An ongoing theme in the Castlevania games is the rise of Dracula once every century, but this interview clarified that Akamatsu intended for it to represent the rise of the curse of man once every century, which sounds way scarier and way more interesting. Another game in the series that followed this concept well was Super Castlevania IV, the development team of which consisted of Konami staff who worked directly with Akamatsu. Lastly, the gears in the castle’s clock tower were apparently supposed to represent Dracula’s heart, which is why in the ending sequence the clock tower is the only part of the castle that crumbles. For a game that released in 1986, a lot of thought went into the concept, story, and lore behind the game’s design and presentation. These things always mattered to developers!
Hitoshi Akamatsu is an example of how genuine passion in an individual can elevate the way those around him or her think about something. As a genius artist, he was capable of creating one of the best 2D platformers from the 80’s, a game series that wonderfully blended all the elements of a video game at the time together to create a monumental experience, and a franchise that went on to make Konami many millions of sales. I hope we continue to see minds like his in the video game industry for many generations to come.
You can read the full original translated interview at Shmuplations.com. Thank you for the fantastic translation and exclusive insight!