Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night producer Koji Igarashi struck quite the figure this past weekend at BitSummit, walking around the show floor in an outfit that stood out even in flashy, fashion-forward Japan.
While he still wore the battered cowboy hat he adopted as part of his signature style during his tenure as the boss of Konami's Castlevania franchise, the rest of his wardrobe seems to have answered once and for all the "sword or whip?" question with which he initially teased Bloodstained's insanely successful Kickstarter campaign. You couldn't miss IGA, because he was decked out in a full traditional yukata robe, with a samurai sword by his side. And fittingly so: IGA had come to BitSummit to announce the latest character his team has integrated into the world of Bloodstained — a samurai with a grudge against protagonist Miriam.
Perhaps surprisingly after last year's excellent E3 demo, IGA didn't have a new playable build of the game to show off — likely due to the team's decision to reinvent its development process from the ground up. But that's not to say there's been no progress on Bloodstained over the past year. I spoke to IGA to get a sense of where the game stands today, what's changed since E3, and of course to sort out the mystery of what a samurai is doing in Victorian England.
IGA: We've announced a new character... well, we'd already announced the character, but today we explained the reason why it's a samurai character. We talked about his backstory and the reason that character is in this world.
Bloodstained is a gothic horror game, but there is a reason to have a samurai in this setting! There are three main characters already, including Miriam and Johannes, but there aren't enough to tell the whole story. The alchemist Alfred is the one who summoned a demon into the world, but we also needed someone who had a grudge against the demon. Originally, we were planning to have something like a Templar knight take on the role of fighting the demon and everyone associated with it, but after some discussions within the company, we realized there are no Japanese characters in the game at all. So we thought, "OK, why don't we put a samurai in there instead?" So that kind of became the beginning of this new character.
USG: You mentioned this is gothic horror — now that I think about it, I can't remember if you've said if this game is set in a specific place and time, or if it's less specific than that?
IGA: We have — it's late 18th century England.
USG: When you say there aren't enough characters to tell the story, do you mean we'll be playing through the plot with different perspectives, like Rashomon or something?
IGA: No, right now, Miriam is the only character you play as. When you beat the game, you'll unlock two additional playable characters. Which ones, we haven't said yet. But once you unlock those characters, you can replay as those characters.
USG: So the samurai is not necessarily guaranteed to be a playable character.
IGA: So here's the thing. These characters have been announced, but we haven't announced which will be playable. Only Miriam. We haven't said that the samurai will be playable... so you can have fun guessing for yourself what our intentions are.
USG: In terms of coming up with a samurai, I know you wanted a Japanese character, but how did you settle on this specific character?
IGA: Yeah, I mentioned we had originally planned on including a Templar knight. The thing is, a Templar knight has a really strong, sort of muscular image. We wanted to have a Japanese character who fit that same mold, who would be a formidable opponent for the main characters. We felt a samurai would be closest to that sort of feel. We thought it would be a better equivalent than, say, a ninja.
USG: Can you talk in a general sense about how progress is coming along on the overall game?
IGA: Last summer, we announced we were changing up our development process a bit, and we've been moving forward with that plan. If you were to press, I'd say we're about 20-30% done.
USG: Have you made any notable refinements to the gameplay since the demo last summer?
IGA: One of the things we noticed watching people play the demo is that a lot of players got lost a lot while playing through the game. Like, there would be a door they needed to go through, but they wouldn't notice it was there. So they'd spend time backtracking and looking for a door because the one they passed over wasn't obvious to them. What we're doing now is bringing out the entrances and exits to make them more prominent. We're also providing a better way for players to understand where they are on the map overall.
One of the things we're also doing is... with a lot of 3D games, the background will tend to be lighter than the foreground, and the foreground will be lighter. But with our 2D games, the balance was different — dark backgrounds, light foregrounds. With Bloodstained, we're making that same aesthetic decision: Switching the foreground to be lighter. That's one of the biggest changes we're making.
We are making some minor playstyle adjustments, but no major shifts. Just small refinements to controls.
USG: As one final question, what has been the most surprising experience you've had while working on this project?
IGA: One of the things I realized starting this project on my own is that it's a lot easier to work at a big company. So many things are already done for you! As an independent developer, you have to make constant trade-offs based on strengths and weaknesses, because you don't have everything prepared for you. That's probably the biggest revelation I've had.