Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review - It Does Not Have To Be A 'Classic' To Be Considered Good

Players who go in with this mindset are in for a disappointment - players who just wanted another good 'Igavania,' however, will find a lot of things to love.
7.5
  • Playstation 4
  • Switch
  • Windows
  • Xbox One
  • Action-Adventure
  • Platformer
  • RPG
2019-06-18
Bloodstained Sit
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a return to form for Igarashi, and is fueled in almost its entirety with the fans' love for the Castlevania series. 505 Games

(Review is spoiler-free, and is based on the PC version of the game. Bloodstained's version on the Switch is something I wouldn't recommend at the moment, mostly because of how underwhelming it is compared to other platforms.)

As a pretty big fan of Metroidvanias, I’m almost always at the forefront whenever there’s a new release that’s sure to fit the bill. This year, I’ve already seen two releases on my list: Gato Roboto, which is this amazing callback to simpler handheld titles, and Touhou Luna Nights, which is definitely one of the most stylish Metroidvanias I’ve played.

Of course, none really caught my attention like Koji Igarashi’s return to the genre in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Koji Igarashi is best known as the producer for Konami’s Castlevania series, and had assisting directorial duties on what is probably the franchise’s most critically-acclaimed title, Symphony of the Night. Following Igarashi’s departure from Konami, fans have been wanting him to make another Castlevania-inspired title, as the series has taken a new direction that isn’t all too popular with its fanbase.

Bloodstained is a game four years in the making, starting way back in 2015 following one of the most successful Kickstarter video game campaigns. After acquiring the help of several other developer studios (in addition to Igarashi’s studio ArtPlay), a publisher in 505 Games and more than $5.5 million dollars raised from almost 65,000 backers, it’s finally here, ready to play. Of course, the only questions that remains are: is it any good? Was it worth the time and money spent? As a non-backer of the original Kickstarter campaign, is it worth playing? And does it hold a candle to other Igarashi’s classics like Symphony of the Night, Aria of Sorrow, and Order of Ecclesia?

The answers, in order: yes, yes, yes, and no.

Gameplay

Bloodstained Gameplay
Bloodstained features deep and expansive gameplay mechanics, all of which combine to produce a very enjoyable experience. Photo: 505 Games

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is as much of a 2D side-scrolling action role-playing title as it is a Metroidvania, in that it has quite the plethora of gameplay mechanics and options available at your disposal. That said, it’s top-notch when it comes to gameplay. The controls are extremely fluid and responsive, and every button press you make feels deliberate. There’s a lot of wiggle room for beginners to shine, and for the professionals to make their mark.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night features game mechanics very similar to Castlevania titles like Symphony of the Night, Aria of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia. Miriam, the game’s protagonist, can wield a veritable host of weapons, all amazing and useful in their own right. She can use daggers, swords, katanas, clubs, whips, rapiers, spears, guns, greatswords, and other special weapons, which all have different effects and nuances. The way weapons work is also very in-depth as well, as some are meant to be stronger against some enemies, while weak to others.

Bloodstained Weapons
Bloodstained features a huge variety of weapons and shardbinding powers for gameplay variation like no other. Photo: 505 Games

Each weapon type also boasts two key aspects to them: their base effects, which can be accessed by normally attacking monsters, and the more complicated techniques, which require specific button inputs for you to perform. The base effects are varied according to the weapon type, and typically you’ll see slashing effects from swords and katanas are often more powerful against normal unarmored enemies, while strike damage from clubs and firearms do more damage against armored ones. Weapons can also have different elements, of which the various demons are either weak or resistant to. This variety incentivizes different builds for different demons, which is amazing if you’re into that kind of in-depth system.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night also features weapon techniques, which are not just for flashing around stylishly with Miriam.These techniques offer decent damage output and other effects as well. You can learn these techniques by button mashing, which then gives you a prompt that you’ve learned a new technique, or read about them by accessing various bookshelves throughout the game. Techniques can be easily overlooked if you’re starting out, but once you get to enemies with certain gimmicks and ranges, these can be quite handy to defeat them. Techniques are relegated to certain weapons, but you can level them up by using them on enemies,allowing you to apply them to all the weapons in that category. The technique mechanic is a very effective way to reward players who aren’t just mashing the attack button and will most likely want to engage enemies in a smarter fashion.

As a Shardbinder, Miriam also has access to Shard powers, which she can unlock by slaying different enemies. Most of the enemies in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night drop shards, and these are categorized into five different groups: Conjure Shards, which can be used either aggressively or defensively, typically summon a version of the monster or their attack to help you out; Manipulative Shards, which often add another mechanic for traversal, combat or defense; Directional Shards, which rely on your directional input to either attack, defend or traverse; Passive Shards, which you can equip to either boost an existing stat or to add another new one entirely; and Familiar Shards, which summon a version of the monster who dropped it to fight by your side.

There are more than a hundred of these shards, each with their own varying degrees of usefulness and adaptability against each and every enemy and for every kind of situation there is. Combined with the huge number of weapons at your disposal, you can mix and match shards to create your own ultimate demon-killing machine.

Alchemy also plays quite a huge role in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, both as one of the game’s central themes in the storyline and in its massive gameplay aspects. With alchemy, you can craft your own armor, weapons, equipment, and upgrade your shards to give them more power. While a number of items can be dropped by enemies or bought from a vendor, a huge portion of the inventory is only available through crafting, with recipe requirements for some as well. A huge part of the Metroidvania experience can be felt here, as some weapons are straight up overpowered and are locked behind some levels, which can only be reached after you acquire the necessary tools of traversal.

The sheer number of possible combinations for all your equipment can become cumbersome at times, so to combat this, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night features loadout shortcuts, which lets you access any one of your combos with a press of a button. This makes for some very interesting game strategies, and if you’re fast enough you can even do back-to-back techniques with different weapons.

While this level of variety found within the combat system of Bloodstained is pretty commendable, it’s also one of its weakest aspects as well. There’s a ton of stuff that you may end up not using, and some items are downright useless in a casual playthrough. It may be worth checking them all out, if only to complete your archive of weapons, armor, equipment and shards, but gameplay-wise they tend to become pointless later on, especially since most of the time you end up just using maybe two or three sets of loadouts.

However, if you’re happy to just ignore the sheer number of available equipment, then Ritual of the Night will reward you with what is possibly the most expansive selection of abilities and weapons to choose from.

Level and enemy design

Bloodstained Enemy
Enemy design for Bloodstained is also quite varied, with each area offering different monsters to combat. Photo: 505 Games

One of the key selling points for Bloodstained back when it was still starting out on Kickstarter was Igarashi’s claims of its map being the biggest compared to other ‘Igavanias’. To his credit, he did deliver on this promise, as Ritual of the Night features a fully-realized castle complete with a number of varying levels centered around different themes. Before you even get to this demon-infested castle, you begin in a galleon called the Minerva, which provides a taste of the interconnectivity you will encounter throughout the game.

After this tutorial section, you’re introduced to your base of operations The small village of Ardantville acts as the game’s main hub, where the remaining survivors of the demon invasion take shelter in. Then, it’s off to the castle itself, a gothic-styled maze filled with zigzagging rooms, halls, dungeons, and – in the words of Dracula himself – “piles of secrets.” There are secret rooms, breakable walls, rooms that can only be accessed from certain perspectives, rooms that need different traversal methods to enter – finding your way through the first time is one of the earliest challenges the game will throw at you.

The varied and winding paths of the castle also mirror Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s impressive enemy design, bolstered by a diverse bestiary of demons. I’m very particular with enemy variation in Metroidvanias, as the games themselves tend to become repetitive and a chore to play through if there’s not enough variation. As Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a game that’s meant to be played for more than 10 to 12 hours, it’s great to find that there are different enemies for different levels.

In a somewhat amusing – and very brave – move, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night also features enemy designs based on some of its Kickstarter backers, ranging from the heads of pets to floating portraits of humans. At first, I was worried that it might take away from the tone of the game, but in the end, it only enhanced it more. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is as much a game from its dedicated backers as it is Igarashi’s, because without them there would be no Bloodstained in the first place.

The boss battles were also very memorable, and I would have liked to see more of them. Still, as there aren't that many, you end up remembering each one and how they play out. Even if you’re actively looking for ways to make fights easier, a lot of the bosses will put up quite the challenge. That said, these fights are not challenging to the point of frustration, often mastering this tightrope act of patterned tedium, coordinated attacks and punishable openings. I ended up enjoying the boss battles more than I care to admit, and for the past few days after I finished all the endings, I just found myself going through the Boss Rush mode again and again.

Within these strengths, however, lies its weaknesses. The enemy variety may be huge, but there are a number of them that are just color palette swaps of one monster. A fraction of them also felt like padding, to be honest, and in a game this huge, padding often reveals itself easier. What would’ve been good is to have these palette swaps perform different attacks or mechanics, as that would be much more forgivable.

Art and sound design

Bloodstained Art Design
The move to 2.5D may have alienated some players, and it remains quite the divisive aspect of the game. Photo: 505 Games

Whoo boy, here comes the big one. Bloodstained, for the most part, has been divisive because of its art. Depending on who you ask, opinions can range from ‘meh’ to ‘okay’, or ‘amazing’ to ‘ugly’, or even ‘great’ to ‘shit.’ It’s just more proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone has their own subjective preferences.

All of this said, I did not have an issue with the art myself, but perhaps it’s because I never tried to convince myself that this should be better than Symphony of the Night in order for me to enjoy it. True, an art style like Symphony of the Night implemented in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night would have been glorious, but Igarashi’s move to 2.5D and this divisive art design was his decision - a questionable one, but his nontheless. That said, there are some inconsistencies within the design. Some areas look amazing, and made me side with the developers for the shift to 2.5D. However, there are some areas that felt neglected in comparison, showing off poor lighting and weird textures which look bad no matter which angle you view them from.

While the art style and overall design can be a bit divisive, I do think that the character designs and animations are unequivocally great. Miriam’s overall design is beautiful, and the fact that you can customize aspects of her features like her hair style, hair color, eye color and the color of her clothes makes Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night all the more enjoyable and pleasing to look at. Her animations are pretty slick as well, with each and every attack for every weapon showing off variety, in addition to those neat little things she does when she sits down at the couches in save rooms, or teleporting through stained glass.

Another high point that basically sealed the deal of this game for me is Michiru Yamane’s work as the composer. Yamane is best known for her work on the Castlevania series, in particular Symphony of the Night, which arguably has the best soundtrack in all of video games. Infusing classical style with bombastic rock themes paid off pretty well once again, and certain highlights like ‘The Executioners’ and ‘Silent Howling’ really drive home the fact that you’re playing a Castlevania-style game. It's one of the few games where I actually went ahead and bought the soundtrack, and for the past few weeks I've been listening to it in my car as I keep hearing Miriam's little shouts as she hits various enemies.

In general, voice acting across the board was very well done. It’s amazing that they got Robbie Belgrade, who voiced Alucard in Symphony of the Night, to voice a character – three tries to guess what character he is before meeting him in the game. The highlight for me is David Hayter as Zangetsu, which evokes a kind of prodding and deliberate antagonism with a hint of encouragement to do better. I did imagine him as Solid Snake at times, which is kind of humorous considering how different Zangetsu is compared to the Metal Gear character.

Story

Bloodstained Story
Bloodstained features a host of characters, and a story that's not too shabby. Photo: 505 Games

Story-wise, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is set in a mostly different timeline from our own, with a deeper focus on alchemy, demons, and crystal magic. 10 years prior to the events of the main game, an alchemical demon-summoning ritual ended badly, and Miriam, a Shardbinder being used by the alchemists fell into a coma. However, when her friend and fellow Shardbinder Gebel escapes the torment of alchemists and raises a demon castle, with the goal of revenge upon humankind, Miriam inexplicably awakens and resolves to destroy her friend in order to save the world.

There is a lot of inspiration taken from other Castlevania titles in terms of story, including that one big twist at the end. It also feels just adequate enough to keep you interested and to give context to all the gameplay. Other than that, it’s a bit underwhelming. There is a certain charm to it, though, possibly because Miriam is a bit naïve and her interactions with the other characters drives the plot forward.

There are three endings to discover, all of which depend on how much of the game you have finished. Depending on the ending you get, the story may end up unfinished or resolved, but thankfully the game allows you to reuse your save if you get to a point where the story is not done. Hint: if it shows a ‘Game Over’ instead of the credits, then it’s the bad ending and you have to delve into the game a bit more.

It’s not a compelling story overall, but the characters more than make up for it with their interactions and nuances. It is, however, mostly an afterthought once you consider the gameplay, which is what Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was going for anyway.

Technical aspects and replayability

Bloodstained Replay
Completing the game's compendium requires a lot of time and exploring, which serves to add more to the game's length and replayability. Photo: 505 Games

Performance-wise, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night runs smooth on a PC, but varies on other systems. This in-depth assessment of the game is based on the PC version, and as such I’m just reviewing it from that perspective.

Despite the game performing up to par when it comes to how clean the graphics look, and how smooth the framerate is, there is a general lack of polish when it comes to certain aspects of the game, in particular the many small bugs that plagued it at launch. It’s not uncommon to encounter missing sound bites, bugged enemy drops, crashes at some bookshelves, visual glitches and missing lines of text. These are all minor things, but in time they add up to make it annoying enough to be bothersome. The enemy drops in particular were very frustrating, as killing a flying enemy close to a piece of terrain would sometimes cause loot to get stuck out of reach. It makes it seem that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was rushed a bit to get to meet its targeted release date, which paved the way to poor quality control.

Replayability, on the other hand, was never going to be an issue with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It’s made to be replayed several times, as evidenced by the multiple endings. Taking into consideration the fact that almost all weapons and shards are useful, and the ton of collections and side quests you need to finish in order to 100 percent the game, there is a lot of stuff available for completionists to keep themselves busy. I would put the game at around six to seven hours to reach the bad ending, 12 to 14 hours to get all three, and around 20 to 22 hours to complete most, if not all of the content.

Overall

Bloodstained Overall
A great title which unfortunately might end up overshadowed by the greatness of its classic predecessors. Photo: 505 Games

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is not Symphony of the Night, and it doesn't try to ever match it, too. It would be wrong to go into this game with the mindset of expecting something along those lines, because you can’t catch lightning in a bottle. The best anyone can do is make spiritual successors. While some of those can surpass their predecessors, a lot of times they end up being inferior because there’s this mindset that it can’t be good if it’s not as good or better than the original.

All in all, though, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a good game packaged with some very interesting and decidedly stupid faults. For every two goods you have, you also get one bad, and over time you quickly notice this, although it happens mostly when you go back after completing it. If you’re willing to look past most of the mistakes, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a great addition to this year’s lineup of Metroidvanias, and proof that Kickstarter can, for better or worse, produce an actual good video game from a massive funding. It’s far from being a classic, and it certainly isn’t up there with Symphony of the Night, but good games can exist somewhere in between – and in that space, you may end up enjoying Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night for what it is: an imperfect love letter to a beloved series.

(Review of the game is based on 30 hours of gameplay, with three endings all completed and most of the side content finished.)

REVIEW SUMMARY
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
7.5
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review - It Does Not Have To Be A 'Classic' To Be Considered Good
Despite the huge parity of performance on different platforms (especially the Switch version) and its long list of bugs and issues, not to mention its lack of polish, Bloodstained is a very decent game that just proves that Igarashi rightfully earned his mark on the Metroidvania genre. It's not in any way a classic, especially compared to Symphony of the Night and its other contemporaries - but its a good, highly enjoyable and replayable, albeit flawed title nonetheless.
  • Expansive gameplay built on a very solid set of mechanics.
  • Huge areas to explore, with a lot of secrets in between.
  • Good amount of variety not only in weapons and powers, but also the enemies.
  • Huge amount of replayability, with more free DLCs on the way.
  • Topnotch music and sound design.
  • Art style can be quite amiss on some people; even downright ugly for some.
  • Sports quite a number of irritating bugs and other minor issues, all adding up to downgrade the overall quality.
  • A general lack of polish, coupled with the Switch version being outright unplayable due to the fact.
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