After a while, it started to feel like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night might never happen. The “Metroidvania” video-game developed by ArtPlay and published by 505 Games was first on my radar (and yours also, perhaps) in 2015. Former producer of the Castlevania series Koji Igarashi started a crowdfund campaign on Kickstarter meant to illustrate the demands of such a game, and ended up raising more than 5.5 million as a result. Not too shabby given the campaign’s intended goal was less than one-tenth of that. In-fact, at the time, it was the most funded video game campaign ever on the platform. As months turned into years, my interest in Bloodstained admittedly began to waiver. Videogames take a long time to develop and I appreciate Igarashi and those involved for allocating the appropriate amount of time and effort to a project they were clearly passionate about. Too often, it seems, we’re exposed to the gaming model of “release first, patch later,” and while my interest had cooled, it returned the moment I saw Bloodstained officially added to Xbox Game Pass a month or so ago.
If you have followed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s development and are familiar with Koji Igarashi, then, you likely have some idea what to expect. Bloodstained is upfront in its intent. This is very much a spiritual successor to the beloved Castlevania series, in-particular, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Familiarity is in no way demanded for ones’ enjoyment of Bloodstained, but the influences, whether through the game-play, the level layouts, or aesthetic, is worn proudly. I call myself a fan of the Castlevania series, but it’d be fair to say I’m not as devout as some who might’ve been raised on the series. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was the first Castlevania I ever played and I loved it. I went onto play and review Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Curse of Darkness, and Lament of Innocence as well, which were not as well-received. None of these are what many would refer to as “classic” Castlevania, a genre-type I am mostly limited to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. Both of which, I enjoyed, and both of which were produced by Koji Igarashi.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night isn’t about reinventing the wheel, so-to-speak, so much as it is about scratching a seven-year itch that has been on consoles. Konami being Konami, has been more interested in slot-machines and porting old Castlevania games to devout themselves to a full-fledged sequel, and so, Bloodstained was really about filling that void. The graphics are budgeted (even after a trailer showing the considerable overhaul it went through) but they’re oozing with atmosphere and personality, capturing the coveted aesthetic and filling it with an array of unique, interesting creatures to fight off. This, backed by the musical score composed by Michiru Yamane, whose contribution has been an essential part to the Castlevania series all the way to Castlevania: Bloodlines, help really create that feeling of nostalgia and show why so many were pumped about a new game.
The fighting mechanics are as fun and enjoyable as I wanted. They feel easy to use but you’ll discover depth in trying to master them. There’s a variety of weapons and armors to choose from which can strengthen your stats, along with a level progression system. The weapons can range from a spear, allowing for ranged attacks, a brute-force weapon like an ax, allowing stronger damage infliction at the expense of speed, or something light-weight to deal out damage fast so you can get out of dodge. I hadn’t expected the armor to make a lot of changes in Bloodstained as far as appearance was concerned, which they don’t. However, you will discover various different cosmetic accessories to better customize your character. The fighting mechanics are complimented by special abilities called Shards. Shards are obtained by defeating monsters and provide abilities that can deal out significant damage or help your progression throughout levels.
Shards are comparable to the Glyphs seen in Order of Ecclesia and are a mixed-bag in my opinion. From the director’s insistent inclusion of them, it’s clear he wanted to differentiate and spice up the formula with these added features, but, often, I found them either jarring or unnecessary. I wouldn’t call them egregious, in-fact, exploration is one of the funnest aspects about Bloodstained and the Shards play a large role in that. At worst, however, they can feel kind-of detracting, gimmicky, and awkward to use, particularly when it comes to moving large objects, swimming, or inverting the map, which are all pivotal aspects of the game. Their importance during some moments can also feel cryptic and unnecessary at times. Again, it’s never egregious, but it is worthy enough of recognition.
Bloodstained’s story-line is in-depth, but, for the most part, understated. The voice-acting is, at times, questionable, but it’s never as melodramatic as, say, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. A shardbinder named Miriam awakens from a ten-year slumber and discovers a fellow shardbinder named Gebel has summoned demons to destroy England and to seek revenge on a group of alchemists who wronged him. She is tasked with stopping him. I feel the story is par for the course and about what’s essential for this type of game, which focuses more on the player’s experience and the game-play itself.
The boss battles are enjoyable and the world in Bloodstained feels robust and full. The Castlevania series has been known for its difficulty, but, like Order of Ecclesia and Symphony of the Night before it, I think Bloodstained balances the difficulty through its level-system and special abilities. I would even go as far as to say it’s the easiest among them, with only a handful of bosses giving me trouble.
The inclusion of smaller “quests” is a unique idea I’d like to see them pursue further in later entries, its contribution in this game, however, feels inconsequential and unfortunately undeveloped. I also encountered some glitches and frame-rate related issues on occasion, however, I did not find them to inflict large-scale detriment to my experience as a whole.
Warts and all, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a lot of fun and does an excellent job at building the foundations of a worthy Castlevania successor. If you’re a fan of the genre, my belief is that this should be a no-brainer, and, for newcomers, I believe it’s a solid way to become initiated into the genre.