For about four years, fans of Castlevania have been waiting for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the spiritual successor developed by the legendary Koji Igarashi. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a Kickstarter game, which is a breed games that have had divisive success with their consumers, especially games that acted as successors of classic games that no longer receive new entries. Castlevania has generally fallen under two kinds of 2D games: platformers like Mario and Megaman, or platformers like Metroid. With Bloodstained, it lands under the latter being considered a “Metroidvania” which are the Castlevania games, that Igarashi is famous for. Was this game worth the wait? Does it satisfy the blood lust for a new Castlevania game? Well, I’m about to give you my answer.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is available for purchase on the Playstation store for $39.99.
Bloodstained follows the story of Miriam, a young woman who is a special type of being called a shardbinder, which is essentially a person modified by alchemists with the power to absorb souls and gain magic abilities from them. She is given the duty of stopping Gebel, another shardbinder that wants revenge against humanity for what the alchemists put him though (as well as Miriam). By doing this, he uses dark magic to summon a nightmarish castle called the Hell Hold. Miriam doesn’t want to really kill Gebel, but she may not have a choice if she wants to save the world. The setting of the game is in 18th century England.
While the story is certainly not the biggest draw of the game, it was still enough to keep me invested and wanting to see what happens next. There is also some lore that’s interesting to learn, especially through the documents that are found in certain locations. Sometimes chatting with certain NPC’s will give you hints of what needs to be done to progress, if there’s any point where the next step isn’t clear. Generally this is an issue with this type of game, and while it still isn’t perfect, the next objective is made a bit more clear in this game through NPC hints.
If you’ve played a Metroidvania like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, that is essentially the type of gameplay experience you’ll receive with Bloodstained. Coming from me, this is a compliment due to the quality of those games. Even though the graphics are in 3D, the game functions as a 2.5D experience. Miriam has a slots and buttons assigned for weapons, magic attacks, as well an aim-able projectile, familiars, and stat boosters that can all be earned from vanquished enemies. These come in the form of shards. Shortcuts can also be assigned, for different loadouts, and you can create more of them by finding the white shards scattered among the castle.
As a Castlevania fan, one of the greatest things about this game is that it takes the good from the general atmosphere, plot, level design, and soundtrack inspiration from Symphony of the Night. While it adds features that were not present until the Game Boy Advance and DS games, such as more weapon styles and droppable abilities from enemies. This is the perfect example, of taking what works from previous games, and simply building off them instead of only focusing on what the “gold standard” entry had achieved.
The combat and controls are smooth and snappy. The overall pace of the game, may be slightly slower past than previous Metroidvanias, but nothing that takes away from the experience. This may also be due to the fact the game is 3D models and not 2D sprites anymore as well. The equipment can also change Miriam’s appearance, unlike previous Castlevania games that only affected stats. However this can be a double edged sword, because if you like how a certain piece of equipment looks but it has worse stats, it may feel like you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage of for the sake of aesthetics. There also didn’t appear to be an option to have the look of a certain costume piece and but to keep the stats of another unfortunately.
While the player can traverse through the game normally and follow the story, there are also side quests that can be done that are given to you by surviving villagers in the “hub” area near the beginning of the game. These among other certain NPC sidequests, can reward items and weapons for Miriam. The difficulty of the game, essentially seemed like a game that starts off very unforgiving, but then once you level up some, and start to gain a collection of stronger weapons and shards, it becomes slightly more manageable (I’ve played only on Normal difficulty). The game does seem to encourage grinding like in previous Metroidvanias, but it’s never anything that feels like a chore.
There are a ton of weapons in the game as well, some special while some standard. If the player likes collecting all the weapons it will definitely increase the replay value. It would’ve been nice if more weapons functioned differently from each other, but for what’s to be expected, it at least hits the standard if not slightly higher. Some at least have special effects, or can even have a special move unlocked for them if it’s found while exploring.
If there’s really anything that could stand out as an issue for this game, is that the game doesn’t really push the genre in any new direction. If you expect a late 90’s/early 2000’s Symphony of the Night style game, that’s what you’re essentially getting. It’s only slightly disheartening since the wait for the game was so long, and it’s the first Koji Igarashi game like this since the early 2000’s, that the game could’ve reached even greater heights if they evolved the genre slightly more. Perhaps now with a strong base, that could be saved for a sequel?
Graphics and Sound
Something that has always been a criticism of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, before release was the graphics. It already didn’t help that Igarashi is known for sprite based Metroidvania games, and then Bloodstained is a 2.5D game, which left a bad taste in the mouth’s of certain fans. Personally I never thought the game looked that bad pre-release, but I’d be lying if the constant delays for the game haven’t returned with major improvements. The game in general is gorgeous and colorful, some backdrops especially standout that show the twisted night sky. Graphically the game has an almost cel-shaded look to it, which is a graphic style that isn’t as common currently. It’s a type of game that has a dark gothic appearance but also a very vibrant color. Graphically the game has come a long way from when it was first shown off a few years ago. The animation are smooth and concise, though more so from Miriam than the enemies. The game runs at a stable 60fps, with very minimal frame drops, which sometimes occur in the more open areas with a large amount of enemies.
Though there are a few hiccups with the graphics however. There are some areas of the game with constant flickering, and it didn’t seem like it was actually part of the environment. Even though the game overall looks great, it shines more so in the models and backgrounds. Some textures of particular environments, don’t look quite as up to par as the rest of the game. Generally seems to be certain wood or brick textures. Lastly while the 2.5D generally works and looks spectacular, some parts of the game makes platforming clunky. This is mainly within parts of the game that have twisting structure segments, such as the Tower of Twin Dragons area. Essentially it’s hard to make out what is a platform that you can land on, and what’s part of the scenery. Lastly there is one glitch, where some dropped items from enemies, are unable to be picked up. These are small set backs and don’t detract from the game too much thankfully.
One key thing that Castlevania games are known for is the music. Symphony of the Night in particular is known for a groundbreaking soundtrack. While Bloodstained‘s soundtrack isn’t quite on that same tier, it certainly doesn’t disappoint either. The tracks are both atmospheric but can also be upbeat and blood pumping. Some of the tracks even feel like tributes to songs from Symphony of the Night, without being too similar. It also helps that the gothic orchestra style of music, mixed with rock or metal, isn’t quite as common in games as it used to be. As for the voice acting, it’s not anything groundbreaking but it get’s the job done. At the least, it’s great for a kickstarter game. It’s also entertaining to hear David Hayter voice one of the main characters (Zangetsu) and Robert Belgrade, who was the original voice of Alucard from Castlevania, perform another voice over after such a long absence.
Nintendo Switch Version Comparison
While I was primarily playing the Playstation 4 version of the game, I have also played the Nintendo Switch version. While I would not say the Switch version is unplayable, it is definitely a large step down. The graphics are very muddy, more pixelated, and less vibrant. The frame rate is definitely slower, it’s a fairly stable 30fps, but even then sometimes it drops or temporarily lags after any moment of pausing the pace of the game (like examining a book). If the Switch version is one’s only option, then it’s definitely still worth a purchase, especially if being portable is the main way you would want to play the game (Docked mode of the game looks worse as well). While the developers do want to improve the Switch version, if you have another console you can buy the game for, such as PC or PS4, that is the more ideal way to play the game.