Koji Igarashi famously transformed the Castlevania series so dramatically that he helped popularize a genre: Metroidvania. Of course, Igarashi prefers to call it “Igavania,” and he surprisingly doesn’t cite Metroid as his main inspiration. That said, he’s not simply trying to avoid crediting Nintendo for inspiring games like Bloodstained or Symphony of the Night. Instead, he points to the Legend of Zelda series as the spark that ignited his passion. Speaking with Jeremy Parish of Limited Run Games, Igarashi reminisced about playing the original Zelda as a young man.
Koji Igarashi reflects on classic Zelda
Back then there were plenty of action games where the goal was to clear the stage. This game, however, was focused on exploration. It is still an action game with defeating enemies, but it lets you explore the map, and I can clearly see how much effort they put in to let you play for a long time. I was impressed by that. I still remember thinking why other games didn’t let you play for that long.
Koji Igarashi went on to laud the game rewards you for exploring. For example, if you can’t get past a difficult bit of combat, you can simply explore the map for extra heart containers, then return when you’re stronger. As good as the first game was, it was A Link to the Past on Super Nintendo that impressed him the most.
I think, even now, this Zelda is the most complete one. I think the level design is excellent and the game has great playability. You can tell they used the first Zelda as a reference and this Zelda is a great evolution in the series. Because of that, I still think this game is amazing.
Castlevania and Bloodstained inspired
As Igarashi explained, these early Zelda titles instilled in him the core idea for Igavania: focus on exploration and define the thing that unlocks the next area. In particular, Bloodstained and Castlevania both borrow the idea of teasing players with important collectibles just out of reach.
If you put an important item hidden by some wall or just some random location, people will tend to forget about it. You want to put items in a place that’s visually characteristic or symbolic so that people know exactly where it is. You really want to make sure this stays with somebody even after playing the game for a few more hours. And then when they get the thing that allows them to get the item, then they’ll go back there.
Of course, despite these similar design philosophies, there are still many differences between Castlevania and the Legend of Zelda. Koji Igarashi didn’t invent the Castlevania franchise, so by the time he came around it was already well-established as a 2D side-scroller. Without the authority to change this, Igarashi had to find ways to work his Zelda-inspired gameplay elements into a new perspective.
The camera perspective changes how the game is played. Side-scrolling games have the camera locked to the side, so everything revoles around the jumping mechanic. It’s about up and down. It’s about gravity. An overhead camera usually deals with spatial awareness, and those games usually don’t revolve around a jump feature.When we were working on the Castlevania series, the gameplay focused on distance and surrounding elements.
Koji Igarashi’s games will always be compared to Metroid, but its true influence shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both franchise focus on exploration through item collecting, just with different perspectives. In fact, we’ve even seen a 2D side-scroller Zelda in the form of Adventure of Link.