Ever since it got announced that Koji Igarashi, the man behind the best and the most popular Castlevania game of all time – Symphony of the Night, is working on a new Metroidvania style game, fans around the world got thrilled with excitement. After four long years of waiting, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is finally here!
Bloodstained’s development was funded by a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The project raised over $5.5 million, making it one of the most backed Kickstarter games of all times, which in itself speaks how popular this game genre really is. While the original release date was planned for 2017, due to the release of Nintendo Switch in 2017, Bloodstained was postponed. Now, four years after it was announced, we finally got our hands on this gem.
The story of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night follows Miriam, a Shardbinder (Human transplanted with crystal that attuned her to demonic power) who was asleep for ten years. Her slumber was magical in nature, and while she was sleeping, the time stopped passing for her. Now she’s finally awake and she found out that the Alchemists have sacrificed the Shardbinders and in doing so, they summoned hordes of demons to the world. The only two Shardbinders left alive are Miriam and Gabel, her childhood friend who miraculously survived the sacrificial rite. Now is up to Miriam to discover who is the one responsible for the summoning and stop the disaster from happening.
The player will learn most of the story through interactions and dialogues with various characters they encounter along the way. Every character line is fully voiced, and I can safely say that the voice actors have done a phenomenal job. One of the main characters is voiced by David Hayter, the esteemed voice actor most famous for giving voice to Solid Snake from Metal Gear franchise. Fans will also be thrilled to know that Robert Belgrade, the voice of Alucard from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is also voicing one of the characters.
From the get-go, players will notice that basic gameplay is quite similar to old-school Castlevania games. The controls feel smooth and very polished, and the player will always feel like they are in control of their character. The only downside is if you are a PC gamer and you don’t possess a gamepad. I was playing a Steam version of the game both with keyboard and mouse and with a PS4 controller. While it is totally possible to play Bloodstained with a keyboard and mouse, I have to say that usage of the controller is highly recommended for this game. The controls feel much more natural and better suited for a controller, so this is pretty much the only complaint I have regarding this aspect. Thankfully, this is no issue for console users, but if you are a PC gamer, you should definitely play Bloodstained with a controller.
While playing Bloodstained, you’ll find out that Miriam is proficient with a wide variety of weapons. There are over ten different types of weapons, each with their own move set and special abilities. The best thing is that all of the weapon types are completely viable, so it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. You can choose between Daggers, Rapiers, Swords, Hammers, Spears, Greatswords, Whips, Guns, and even Boots! That’s right, boots are one of the weapons in Bloodstained, and Miriam can use them to deliver some deadly kick combos that would even put Chun-Li to shame. Each weapon has a specific type of damage tied to it, and most of the enemies are resistant to some types of damage, while they are weak to others. This information will be available in the Archives section of the Main Menu once you defeat several enemies of the same type. However, players will easily be able to discover this on their own. For example, Fire Elementals are resistant to fire damage, while being weak to ice. Similarly, most of the Demons in Bloodstained are resistant to Dark damage and vulnerable to Light. Still, this doesn’t force you to change weapons all the time, it just makes it easier to deal with certain types of enemies if you are appropriately equipped.
Also, it is worth mentioning that each weapon has a specific moveset tied to it. This means that you can execute some special key sequence which will result in Miriam performing a special ability that will be way more powerful than a regular attack. However, most of these moves cost mana, which balances things out quite neatly. You’ll learn the key sequences for these moves by reading certain books scattered through the game world. Bear in mind that these moves are not locked. While the books will provide you with information about them, you can always experiment and discover these on your own, which is quite nice.
Other than weapons, Miriam can also equip Armor, Helm, Two Accessories and a Scarf. These items come in a wide variety, which will complement your playstyle. For example, if you prefer using Greatswords, you might want to use some Armors and Accessories that are boosting your STR attribute since Greatswords scale very good with it. On the other hand, if you prefer hitting enemies with spells from a distance, you might want to equip some INT boosting items, etc. The whole equipment system is fairly simple and intuitive, and you won’t have much trouble adapting to it.
This is, perhaps, one of the most interesting aspects of Bloodstained. While playing, you’ll discover many different Shards, mostly from defeated enemies. Being a Shardbinder, Miriam can utilize these in and out of combat. There are five different types of shards, and each one is represented by a different color. Some of these will allow Miriam to unleash deadly spells on her foes. Others will give her some kind of protection, for example placing a shield that repels enemy attacks in front of her. There are also those that allow her to interact with certain objects and obstacles in the game world. Some of the shards will simply provide her with passive bonuses like increased resistance to a certain type of damage or increased effectiveness with a specific type of weapon. Lastly, there are shards that will allow Miriam to summon special familiars to aid her in battle. These familiars can be leveled up, which will increase their combat capabilities.
Each shard can be ranked up, and that will improve it in some way. To do so, you need to acquire specific materials. There are nine ranks for each shard and the materials required for upgrading them progressively get rarer. This balances things for players who prefer casting spells since they can use the same spell through the entire game, but in order to upgrade it to max rank, they’ll need some materials that are only obtainable at the later stages of the game.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night features a plethora of different enemies. Each of these possesses some unique abilities as well as some strengths and weaknesses. For example, heavily armored enemies are quite resistant to damage from regular weapons, but most of them are vulnerable to magic. Similarly, spellcasting enemies are quite squishy when it comes to damage from weapons, but are quite resistant to magic. Bear in mind that this isn’t always the case, but it is just a basic example. In any case, the enemies are quite diverse, and you won’t ever feel that they get too repetitive or boring.
This is probably one of the most important aspects of Metroidvania/Igavania/Castlevania (call it as you will) types of games. Each and every boss has a unique model and design. The learning curve for bosses is pretty smooth, so the difficulty will gradually ramp up. Most of the boss abilities have a distinct animation tied to it, which will allow you to learn their patterns and predict the attacks.
Also, it is worth mentioning that Bloodstained features three difficulty levels. However, at the start only Normal difficulty is available. While some may argue that this is a good move, I personally think that at least two out of three difficulty settings should’ve been available from the get-go. The reason for this is that on the Normal difficulty, some bosses are ridiculously easy (read, IGN easy). On my first playthrough, I was able to simply stand next to half of the bosses and trade blows with them, only avoiding some of the most dangerous attacks. Once my HP dropped too low, I simply used some healing pots and continued to bash the bosses until eventually, they dropped dead. This was a bit of a downer, which could easily be solved by having the harder difficulty accessible from the beginning.
The atmosphere in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is simply phenomenal! The music is very reminiscent of the one in Symphony of the Night but is a lot more dynamic. It was composed by Michiru Yamane, who also did the music for most of the Castlevania games, including Symphony of the Night, so the fans will instantly notice the resemblance. Overall, the game’s soundtrack is great, and it really adds up to the atmosphere.
The entire vibe is very dark, and it bears a lot of similarities to Castlevania games. From the start, the game will hook you up and you’ll quickly get drawn into its amazing world. All in all, the developers did a great job of replicating everything we loved about old-school Castlevania games and more.
Aesthetically, Bloodstained looks stunning. All of the models are very well designed, and you can instantly see the amount of work that went into creating the characters. Ever since the first version of the demo was met with the mixed criticism, Koji Igarashi and his entire team worked hard to ensure that the gamers receive the game they were promised. And boy did they deliver! Everything in Bloodstained looks astounding, the models, animations, spells, environment,… everything is neatly polished to perfection. Also, it’s worth noting that each and every weapon in the game has a unique model. The same goes for helmets, most of the accessories, and scarves. Sadly, the armors you equip won’t change your character’s appearance, which is a shame, but overall, it’s not a huge deal.
What truly makes Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night awesome is its replay value. Since there are over ten different weapon types, each with unique move set and abilities, as well as many different spells, Bloodstained has an amazing replayability potential. For example, playstyle with Daggers is completely different than the one from Greatswords, which will make you feel like you’re playing an entirely different game. Other than that, Koji Igarashi stated that there are 13 completely free DLCs on the way, which will provide players with many additional hours of gameplay.
All things considered, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is exactly what a spiritual successor should be, and after getting to try it out, I can freely say that Iga-san and his team did an amazing job. Well done!