In the years since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night defined the genre, “Metroidvania” has changed from a bold archetype to a bullet. A lot of games have been repeated and refined on Metroidvanias. But the producer of the Castlevania series, Koji Igarashi, dislikes the genre with his latest project, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, but returns to the convention. However, despite being relatively safe, Bloodstained is more than just its creator; Impeccable craftsmanship in level design and combat, improvements in quality of life, and unique taste help it stand alone in a busy landscape. This is our Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night Review.
Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night Review: About
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Developer: ArtPlay, Inti Creates, WayForward, Dico Co., Ltd., Monobit
- Publisher: 505 Games
- Genres: Role-Playing, Action
- Release Date: 18 June 2019
Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night Review: Gameplay
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night seems familiar, even down to the color-coded map that reveals itself during the game. Like its predecessors in the Castlevania series, your hero Miriam has to defeat even the most basic of enemies four or five times to overcome them, and the lack of agility can feel stiff and restrictive at first. This may seem to conflict with memories of games like Symphony of the Night, but fame will return as Miriam becomes more powerful, and the game becomes more recognizable along with her.
This is not to say that Bloodstained has left the formula completely unaffected. A series of techniques found in volumes around the castle teaches weapon-specific movement sets similar to a character action or fighting game. With the increased emphasis on differentiated weapons, the game introduces “Shortcut” loadout slots that allow you to switch between different sets of equipment quickly. It’s a small quality of life, but it’s cleverly implemented.
The most significant addition comes from Shards, or pieces of the demons and other monsters that give you extra powers. The Shard system combines the spells, relics, and familiars of Symphony of the Night into one system that is more robust and versatile. Shards come in five forms: Conjure, Directional, Manipulative, Passive, and Familiar. Conjure summons a weapon or creature, while Manipulative makes more extended changes to your current state.
Passive offers buffs and other benefits, and Familiars guide and help you. Directional has by far the most variety, offering tons of projectile-style weapons that can be aimed anywhere with the right joystick. Unfortunately, direction shards are also used for a few skills crucial to navigation, so you’ll have to switch them manually if you need to or take up a few shortcut slots.
Due to the nature of the Shard system and other power-ups and abilities, Bloodstained is not often a very challenging game. Getting a few more levels to take on a challenging new area or a new boss is quick and breezy, and the massive variety of weapon types makes it easy to adapt the game to your playing style. Like many old-fashioned games, seeing your way past the challenges requires patience to learn the enemy’s patterns, making your way with unique abilities, or a combination of both.
Other additions like crafting weapons and cooking permanent buff meals add a little more nuance to Bloodstained and a nice variety of ways to improve your stats. In general, switching on is only one way. You are not often forced to make difficult decisions about compromises apart from one or two points of some stat when choosing equipment. This feels unusual by modern standards but helps convey the idea that the genre is about empowerment. Going from weak and overwhelmed to a capable and professional monster killer provides more satisfaction.
Occasionally, Bloodstained shows minor technical problems. It suffers from delays on points, especially given specific Shard skills, and some areas are more apparent than the opulent rooftops of Arvantville or the showy brilliance of Dian Cecht Cathedral. The interior of the castle is generally beautiful, and the disparate environments show a keen eye for design with differentiation. The less graceful parts stand out, but only because the rest is so well put together.
True to its origins, Bloodstained is full of secrets to discover and corners to discover. The castle design unfolds beautifully over a few hours, instilling a constant sense of curiosity and exploration. The layout is subtle and inviting; points meant for accessing something later are clear without feeling limited or frustrating, and it rarely lets you know what to do next. A pin function allows you to mark points of interest to return to later. Accessing the “real” ending is a clever puzzle within this platformer formula, which opens up even more profound layers of the castle begging to be discovered.
Since it is a Castlevania game in everything but the name, there are some limitations on how explicit the game can be with its references and callbacks. Some are more blatant than others, but Bloodstained consistently impresses with creative solutions to whip up Castlevania’s ghost while lurking on the right side of originality. From weapon descriptions to a hidden 8-bit-shaped stage to one of the super-strong optional bosses, Bloodstained pays homage to his legacy with too many Easter eggs to count. These fun winks are clear messages for old fans, but not so apparent as to be distracting to newcomers.
That cheeky tone informs the entire game. While the story itself is bland and unobtrusive, the style and attributes surrounding it are anything but. This is gothic horror in its most silly way, with demons occupying the corridors of the castle alongside giant puppy heads and homages to the indie hit Shovel Knight. Even part of the dialogue is joking. A mission giver in the central hub has a comedic level of bloodlust over her revenge quests.
An undead ferryman drops an unclear hint about how you could open a pad for him if you only had a giant hand. A demon hairdresser who opens up cosmetic options is strikingly called Todd. Bloodstained is packed with little details like this that let you know that despite its stiff name and setting, the game is comfortable enough to call itself absurd.
Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night Review: Conclusion
It’s that feeling of comfort in its skin that makes Bloodstained such a treat. This is not a bold modernization of the genre or a departure from the origin. It’s precisely what it wanted to be: a throwback to a bygone era, with a few modern enhancements. Its perception would always be influenced by how well it evoked the feel of a classic Castlevania game; however, Bloodstained does that and better. With flexible combat and level design that always beckons to control just one room, Bloodstained shows that a modern Metroidvania can stand next to its predecessors as an equal.
With flexible combat and level design that always beckons to control just one room, Bloodstained shows that a modern Metroidvania can stand next to its predecessors as an equal.