Dave Cox is a massive Castlevania fan. Throughout our chat he constantly references the 8 and 16-bit classics, suggesting he isn't just a guy who's been randomly chucked onto the franchise. No, he loves it.
It's this love that shone through in Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow, the first Castlevania game Cox produced alongside Spanish development studio MercurySteam. Heralded by many as a fantastic return to form, both the Xbox 360 version and PlayStation 3 version of Lords Of Shadow received rave reviews for its combat-focused gameplay, character-driven plot and sheer scale.
Now MercurySteam is putting the finishing touches to Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow - Mirror Of Fate, a 3DS-exclusive sequel of sorts that looks set to be just as engrossing as its console cousin from what we've already played of it. We sat down with Cox to discuss the game's production and his love of Castlevania as a whole.
When was the decision made to create the next Castlevania game as a traditional platformer?
It was pretty much made the day after we finished Lords Of Shadow. It was ready to come out and we weren't really sure what we were going to do next, and we had sixty mouths to feed and we were a little worried about the next few months and how we were going to feed everyone at the studio. I spoke with Enric, the studio head, about potentially getting a project up and running quickly instead of waiting for Konami to decide if they wanted to do a sequel or not, and I said if we did a handheld title we could probably get it approved reasonably quickly.
We had this original idea that Gabriel and Marie could have a child, and that was going to be in Lords Of Shadow, that was going to be part of the epilogue, but we later felt it was one twist too many - we'd already had this big payoff and we felt if we had this as well it was going to end up like Return Of The King with all these different endings so that got shelved. But it was still there and we thought, "let's run with that idea".
So we came up with the proposal quickly, in a matter of days, based around this idea and we presented it to Japan, and they said "sure, go ahead, move forward with it" - which was good because it secured funds for the studio and everybody could stay and nobody was going to get made redundant or what have you.
So we started talking about different ideas on where we could take the story, and somebody said at the brainstorm: "Wouldn't it be cool if this was a sequel to Dracula's Curse, as if they'd brought out Dracula's Curse back in the '90s and they hadn't made any other Castlevania games and this was going to be the next one?" We all had a good laugh at that, then we started thinking: "actually, that's not a bad idea, because then we could have multiple characters and we could have the branching pathways and all that kind of stuff." So that's really where it sort of sparked from.
And then, obviously, Lords Of Shadow did well, got good reviews, sold very well, became the most successful Castlevania and then Japan were like, "we need you to make a sequel", and we were like "shit, we're just about to do a handheld title, and we haven't got enough people!" But it was a nice position to be in, to be honest.
So in terms of plot would you say it bridges the gap between both console Lords Of Shadow games?
Yeah. I mean, it'd be nice to say it was all kind of carefully considered but that wasn't really the case. We had the idea with Lords Of Shadow to follow Dracula's story but we just didn't know if it was going to be successful. So we had an arc that we'd talked about during development, about how we could end the story, but we hadn't really thought about anything other than that. Now we had this handheld title, so we started thinking "how would this fit into the Dracula story?", since Lords Of Shadow is where Dracula begins and Lords Of Shadow 2 will be the end of the saga.
So we decided we could use this to tackle the feud with the Belmonts - you know, why is it the Belmonts that have to go after Dracula, why is it them in particular? I'd always played all the classic games and you always had a Belmont, you killed Dracula and that was the end of it, there wasn't really anything past that. So we thought it'd be nice to kind of explain how this feud has come about and slot that in between both Lords Of Shadow games, creating... I don't want to say a trilogy, but that's the way it's going to end up, I guess.
Over the years the Castlevania plot became more and more convoluted and confusing. Was the Lords Of Shadow series your attempt to draw a line under it and start with a clean slate?
Yeah, in many ways it was about getting rid of the shackles, if you like, of the previous saga. I think it had been running for such a long time, 25 years is such a long time for a saga and you've got all these different stories and all these different characters, and it's very hard for new people to come in and know what's going on and pick it up. So with Lords Of Shadow, we decided to wipe the slate clean and set it in an alternate universe, reboot the whole saga and sort of start from zero again.
Do a Star Trek.
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Of course, over the past decade most Castlevania fans believe the GBA and DS titles are the best current Castlevania games. So when it came to making a handheld title, it was a brave move to ditch the sprite-based graphics that everyone holds to such high esteem...
Or a stupid one! (laughs) Nah, like I said before the original reason for doing a handheld game was more about feeding sixty people, but then we were quite attracted to doing a handheld game because Castlevania had this kind of legacy on handheld that's been really successful and for us as a studio we wanted to make a more 'classic' game, we wanted to do something that harkened back to the old days and was inspired by the 8-bit games we grew up with as kids.
We see the original Castlevania as almost the purest version of the game, and after that you had all the different iterations where various different creators would come on and bring their own slant and take to it. So we always tried to go back to that one but I always felt that it was perfected in Super Castlevania IV, which for me is one of the best Castlevania games ever.
But Dracula's Curse is still one of the classic games and it was such a great return to form after Simon's Quest, which I didn't really like, myself. So it was nice to come back to that and I always remember as a kid playing that game with its multiple characters, and I think that idea kind of took hold once we did that brainstorming meeting and we ran with it.