While our team has different gaming tastes, the NES-era Castlevanias bind us together, providing a common love which inspires us as we develop Mecromage. For evidence of our design philosophy, let’s travel back to 1994 to the heart of Romania –er Hollywood, to examine that which created a seismic shift in the Castlevania franchise.
Up until Symphony of the Night, the Castlevania games shared a certain ruggedness. Although somewhat born from hardware limitations, the stocky and tank-like heroes conveyed a heaviness and strength that fit perfectly within the Hammer Films-influenced setting and baddies.
The 1994 release of the Interview with the Vampire film caused Konami to swerve off the rugged road and towards a more frilly, androgynous presentation. While I have no proof, everything from Alucard’s flowing animation to the wispy text and ultra-clean sound effects seem influenced by the aesthetic of the film.
The movie has a certain romantic and decadent view of vampires, and this decadence seems to spill out into Symphony of the Night’s design. Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in the game as items and weapons are legion. Most of the challenge associated with earlier Castlevanias is gone, replaced with a massive treasure hunt and map-grinding. While it’s a great game, it always feels as though the interactions with enemies, that which was important in previous games, is downplayed. The pacing and tension of Castlevania 1 and Castlevania 3 are also lost.
What would have happened had Konami, instead of transitioning to Symphony of the Night style Metroidvanias, evolved and improved upon the older Castlevanias?
By answering that question and addressing our concerns with the pre-Symphony-of-the-Night Castlevanias, we forge some guiding principles for Mecromage:
- The game should have exploration, but the player should be focused on playing and not the map.
- The game should have finite lives, but continuing should create the option for new exploration and not feel like you’re stuck in a rut.
- Each of the upgrades and items you find should feel different and useful instead of like a swapped out graphic with different damage.
- The enemies should feel built-around the player’s capabilities.
- The game should have a metal/prog-rock soundtrack.
- The main weapon should be iconic and always available to use.
Ah awesome. The downside of metroidvanias with frequent save points, is that there’s no real sense of loss when you die. It sounds like the balance you’re describing is something more akin to Simon’s Quest, where exploration was needed, but not the primary focus, and rpg elements were just that, not with grinding being fundamental to progress in the game.
Yes! We often use Simon’s Quest as reference/inspiration, as in “let’s examine what works and improve upon what doesn’t.” There’s a spectrum of linear/non-linear areas in our game: the trick is not falling in a rut and making the action itself purposeful.