Much like its bloodsucking antagonist, Castlevania has lain dormant for many years, but Konami’s classic vampire-slaying franchise is finally beginning to awaken thanks to projects like Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania.
Released earlier this week, the heralded DLC stars Richter Belmont and Alucard in what Konami Return to Castlevania supervisor Tsutomu Taniguchi half-jokingly refers to as an isekai — slang for anime about characters suddenly being transported into a new and unfamiliar world.
“Is ‘isekai’ a buzzword ? Because this is how I would define this storyline,” Taniguchi told IGN in a new interview. “Let’s just say that Dracula’s Castle teleported on the Beheaded’s Island and what happened on the island stays on the island.”
No, Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania isn’t canon, but it is a fun reimagining of the old-school platformer, which got its start on the Famicom way back in 1986. The DLC has been heralded by fans and critics alike, with IGN’s review calling it a “shining blueprint of how to do a crossover right.”
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According to Evil Empire chief operating officer Benjamin Laulan, it got its start at 2019’s BitSummit festival in Kyoto, which the studio attended in the hope of making a deal to sell Dead Cells in the Japanese market. A meeting with Konami convinced Laulan to shoot his shot and pitch a crossover, and was surprised to find a receptive audience.
“Back in France, we started working on it and well, since Dead Cells had ‘respectfully stolen’ so many elements from the series already, such as: the whip, the key art with the castle, the food hidden in walls… the ‘rogue-vania’ punchline… (oops!) It just made sense to continue this way, so we got lost into excitement and went all-in, the pitch quickly turned into a full DLC proposition,” Laulan said.
Laulan called Empire’s collaboration “really, really smooth,” saying Konami readily agreed to everything from Richter Mode to the Konami Code.
Taniguchi, for his part, said that Konami is “proud” that Castlevania had such an impact on Dead Cells.
“Seriously, knowing that Dead Cells, which is among the greatest indie games of the past ten years, was inspired by Castlevania is a huge source of pride for us,” he said. “When Evil Empire and Motion Twin came back with their full-DLC proposition instead of just this short featuring we weren’t really surprised and we were hoping for that to be honest. And we just thought we had to let them go full circle, because we knew they would use every ounce of their talent to honor the franchise. And also, I personally admit I just really wanted to see what a fight against Dracula in Dead Cells would look like!”
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‘We know that our fans always want more’
Taniguchi wouldn’t say what the Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania means for the broader franchise, which hasn’t seen a proper release since 2014’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (the successful Netflix series aside), but did acknowledge the “excitement and enthusiasm of the fans online,” which is “really motivating for [Konami].”
“We tried to bring back the games that people loved and cherished with the Castlevania Anniversary Collection and the Castlevania Advance Collection, we also brought back Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night for our PlayStation fans and on mobile, and launched Grimoire of Souls on Apple Arcade to celebrate the lore of the franchise,” Taniguchi said. “But we know that our fans always want more, and we do too, so this opportunity to have this amazing crossover with Dead Cells was impossible to pass up on. “
Konami is a long way from its glory days, when franchises like Metal Gear Solid and Castlevania towered over the games industry, but there are signs of a comeback. Konami is currently working on multiple Silent Hill projects, including a full-blown remake of Silent Hill 2, and rumors of a Metal Gear Solid remake persist. Even Suikoden is getting a little love with a remaster set for later this year.
Will Castlevania follow suit? We’ll just have to see. But in the short-term, Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania is a tantalizing reminder of what could be for one of Konami’s most beloved franchises.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.