Last updated on June 26th, 2019
In this Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review, we’ll take an in-depth look at the latest kickstarted game by Castlevania’s lead creator. “I know they are wrong!” Proudly proclaims Koji Igarashi in a video four years ago, speaking in his Kickstarter video for his new project Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Defiantly, he assured that he would create another Castlevania-style game worthy of his legacy. More enemies, more items, more bosses! Did he succeed? Is this one of the few true Kickstarter success stories? Or have we been left crying like vampires on sabbath night?
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review
Developed by: ArtPlay
Published by: 505 Games
Release date: June 18th, 2019
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), XBox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch
- Spiritual successor to Castlevania made by Koji Igarashi
- Revival of 2D Igavania RPG in a dark gothic fantasy setting
- Deep, rich single player narrative adventure
- 13 FREE DLCS! Some available at launch, others as post-launch updates.
- Tons of enemies, bosses and secrets to conquer
- Multiple playable characters
Bloodstained Review: Story and Setting
As the Industrial Revolution proceeds, people begin to move away from spirituality and towards science. This is not good for the Alchemist’s Guild, who see their patronage shrink. Panicking over the loss of so much power and desperate to survive, they summon a demon filled castle to ‘prove’ that people need them. The people of the world have a few issues with this, and after the Exorcists drive back the demons at horrible cost the Alchemist’s Guild is disbanded. 10 years later, the castle has returned with the demons. This lovely and cheerful tale serves as the backdrop for the adventure of Miriam as she tries to keep her promise to her childhood friend Gebel and figure out the secrets of the castle.
This is a Castlevania game through and through, in mechanics and in story. The only way this game could be more Castlevania is if Konami allowed ArtPlay to call the game Castlevania. This means that the setting is, frankly, nuts. Most of the castle doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, with things getting crazy and more video-gamey as things progress. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Castlevania games have never been what you would call grounded and it would have been very strange if Bloodstained suddenly decided to follow logic. You have waterways, desert caves full of sand, lava caves and oriental gardens all in the basement of this castle. The castle parts themselves aren’t boring either with a wide range of backgrounds and styles clearly marking which section of the castle you are in.
Monsters follow a similar pattern. There are of course some monsters that seem right at home in a haunted demon-infested castle such as bats, ghosts, and skeletons. Then you have the giant puppy head on a chain that tries to eat you. Or the heavy-metal guitarist that spews purple flames at you if you get to close. They have a decent rift going too as they try to melt your face. Logical? Consistent? Not even slightly. But then again, that’s not what a Castlevania game is about and as I said earlier, Bloodstained is Castlevania in all but name.
Which, unfortunately, leads us to the first weak point of the game. The story itself is nothing to fawn over. So many times during this game I was able to say “Yep, saw that coming a mile away” with the occasional “Of course this character is misunderstood”. Only at one point did the story actually rise above mediocre, where the story beat and the mechanics of the game perfectly meshed together in a way that made me say “Wow, that is really neat!”. It’s not a bad story by any measure and it certainly didn’t subtract from the game, but the story didn’t really add anything to it either. If you buy this game for the story though, chances are you’ll be disappointed.
Bloodstained Review: Gameplay
Gameplay is the core of any Metroidvania game, as story has never been a strong point for the genre. I’d go so far as to say the story and dialog in Symphony of the Night is laughably bad, though in a good campy way. The gameplay though, the gameplay is what keeps us fans of this genre coming back time and time again. Bloodstained fully delivers on that gameplay, including parts that I really wish it hadn’t delivered on. Before we get into details, let’s talk some technical stuff first. On PC, this game has minor problems that, while not huge, are there and need patching. Now I didn’t keep an official tally, but I suffered around 5 crashes/freezes during my play through. It got to the point where I would travel a couple rooms out of my to hit a save point just in case. Most of my crashes happened on room transitions which is a fairly critical issue as I’ll discuss in a moment, but one time I froze just looking at the warp map! Not cool Iggy, not cool at all. There are also the occasional missing words in dialog, and the infrequent VO/dialog mismatch as well. Nothing major and nothing that ever interfered with the game, but it is there.
Combat & Weapon Variety
Combat in Bloodstained is ye-old standard affair: press a button, and swing in front of you. That’s it. No attacking up or at a diagonal unless you use magic. You can crouch and attack at a downward diagonal, but with few exceptions you never need to do this. Oh, and you can attack while you’re in the air. Now at first glance this doesn’t seem like a great system, but there’s a beauty to the simplicity of the design. Choosing a direction to attack and then attacking is only a very small part of the equation. Every weapon class has a different attack animation. Great swords have an overhead arc and are slow while katanas swing straight out and are faster. Further complicating things are enemy movement speeds and patterns. Great swords are good for hitting things at range or slightly overhead, but your timing has to be perfect to hit bats and other fast-flying monsters. Stomping attacks with boots are great for rapidly and safely crushing large slow enemies, but only if they don’t have an overhead attack. For the most part i never wished that I could attack up or at angles, with one exception: The guns.
I will be frank. I feel the guns are a pointless and useless addition to the game. They shoot slow and don’t do a lot of damage unless you have ammo. You can only carry so much ammo and it can be a real drain on your resources. Even with the ammo damage boost though they always felt really weak to me. Perhaps I’m just not using them correct, but I probably used guns for a total of 30 minutes out of the 18 hours I’ve put in so far. I might have been more inclined to use the guns if I could aim them, but just like every other weapon they can only shoot straight. Only certain spells can be aimed.
Magic & Grinding
Speaking of spells, we come to one of the major weak points this game inherited from its pedigree – grinding. Almost every enemy can drop a shard when killed. These shards give you a variety of abilities, from passive buffs to rays of doom to summoning a chair to sit in. No, I’m not joking. You can get a shard that allows you to summon a chair to sit in. Now while you have some of questionable usefulness like the chair summon (that seems to recover MP at higher levels), they’re all fun to use. Now here’s the rub – the more shards you have, the more powerful the effect gets up to 9 shards held. The only way to get shards is to kill monsters. Over. And Over. And OVER. Traditionally the best way to do this is to find a room that has a decent concentration of the monster you’re farming, kill them, and then leave and instantly return to the room. Again and again and again and you get the idea. Oh and remember earlier when I was talking about how I was getting infrequent crashes on room transitions? Ya, that doesn’t help the process. Now you don’t have to do this. There is another upgrade path for the shards, and I beat the game only having 1-2 copies of the shards I had equipped. But if you want to max out your power, or get every shard in the game, brace yourself. That way lies grind.
There is also a crafting system in the game. As you kill monsters and collect treasure chests, you will get materials. Chests always have the same materials and the blue ones restock when you return to base which always gives you a source of materials. Might even be worth it to mark on the minimap (yes you can do that and yes it is awesome) the location of all blue treasure chests you find. Some crafting resources can only found on monsters though, which means yet more grinding. This is especially true if you want to try and cook and eat all the foods for the permabuffs they provide. While it can be a bit of a pain at times, you definitely want to check in to see what new recipes have unlocked when you get a new book. Crafting new weapons and armor can be a valuable upgrade source for your character.
Secrets and Exploration
Exploration is of course another major component of Metroidvanias, and this is one of the few areas where I feel Bloodstained has added to the genre. First of all, the map is freaking huge and filled with secrets. 100% this game is going to take some serious dedication with regards to exploring this place. Thankfully there are some good quality of life improvements here, otherwise the size of the castle would work against the game. First is the ease of movement. Right from the start you get access to waystones, a cheap instant recall consumable. As far as I can tell, the only time you can’t use these things is in a boss fight. I probably went through 20 of these things. There’s also a decent network of warp points throughout the map and it swiftly became a priority of mine to find the warp point whenever I entered a new area.
Some other features that prevent exploration from becoming tedious are personal map markers, quest markers, and chest markers. At any time you can press a button (the red B on my Logitech) with the minimap open to place a marker, and press the button again to remove it. This allows you to mark anything you wish, though it doesn’t allow you to enter in notes. One of your quest giving NPCs will ask you to kill X of Y. Once you accept the quest, you’ll get a little green scroll icon on your map to show which rooms contains monsters you need. Finally when you encounter a chest for the first time, a marker will be placed on the map until you open it. I cannot begin to express how much suffering this feature saved me, as early on in the game you’ll walk past many chests you can’t reach and have to come back to.
Of course we can’t talk about gameplay and mechanics without talking about bosses. They are all well designed and with one exception, they all play out very differently. Some of them even have a cool little movement gimmick to them, which I won’t spoil here. Even the exception are understandable, since it’s literally the same boss each time, just upgraded on the second round. Most bosses I was able to beat on the first try, with none of them taking more than 5 tries. The exception to this are two of the optional bosses I found. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for me and I decided to beat the game, write this review, then come back to them. Oh and buy 99 pizzas and cheese the heck out of the fights.
Sadly my closeout on the mechanics is not going to be a good one. Many of Igarashi’s games suffer from the same problem: Stupidly concealed requirements for endings. I’m not talking about secret endings here, I’m talking about having the basic, satisfying ending hidden behind poorly or not at all explained requirements. For example in Symphony of the Night you had to have a specific familiar equipped when you entered a room, or you couldn’t get the item you needed to reach half the game. In Harmony of Dissonance if you didn’t have two specific rings that don’t give you good combat stats equipped for a boss fight, you don’t get the good ending. So on, so forth, this is a pattern that is repeated across many of his games including Bloodstained. Have no fear, there’s no spoilers here, but I had to hit the internet three times to get unstuck towards the end of the game. One of those times I would have solved on my own, one I might have solved on my own, but the third? Nope. Very unlikely that I would have solved that one. There’s having trust in your player’s intelligence, then there’s assuming they think exactly like you do. I am in fact sufficiently steamed over one of these items I plan on writing a separate article about it, but there is nothing more I can say here without spoiling things.
Bloodstained Review: Audio and Visual
It is very rare that I will put my foot down and say something is objectively beautiful, but gosh darn it this game is objectively beautiful. Within the style of a 2D game, I legitimately don’t have anything negative to say here unless I dig deep in the barrel of nit-picks. For example: If you choose a long-hair style for Meriam, her hair acts more like a spazzy scarf that it does hair. Or, hmm, let’s see, oh I got it! It’s a bit confusing at first what all the green scroll icons are for on the mini-map. That took me a bit to figure out they were showing me the rooms where my quest targets were. Nit-picks aside, the visuals are just about perfect here. The background and foreground are both beautiful and distinct, the monsters are fun to see, and the bosses are epic.
Sound also is incredible. In fact I’m listening to the OST as I write this review. Every castle section has it’s own distinct theme in addition to having a distinct look. Give me a little more time with the game, and I’d be able to tell you what general area of the castle I’m in without looking at the screen. Even the SFX is awesome. Weapon swings, hitting the enemies, enemy death cries, it’s all good. There are some silly sounds, like the death “Oooooh!” from some of the large humanoid enemies. Nearly giggle inducing at times. Also the Toy Shoe SFX is a bit much. It was a good weapon when I got it but oh, that sound effect.
Bloodstained Review: Replayability
With all of the additional game modes Bloodstained has, I have to say this game has a lot of potential for replay. First up we have New Game+. Now I’ve only had time to poke at this mode, but it does seem to alter enemy placement. I can’t tell if it changed the enemy stats or not. If it did I’m still so overpowered for the first area that everything is dying in one hit. Given the scaling in the original game I probably wouldn’t be able to tell until several areas in. Still it’s nice to have, and it even shows you in the minimap where you went in the previous game which I thought was a nice touch. Completing the game on Normal also unlocks Hard and Nightmare difficulty settings, as well as speedrun mode which has built in per-room saves. Boss Rush is another mode you can enjoy, and it has rewards for your normal game as well making it worth while to at least check it out. All in all I don’t foresee that I’ll stop playing this game anytime soon.
Bloodstained Review: Pricepoint
Depending on how skilled you are, a basic run-through of this game is going to take you about 15 hours. Really depends on how hard you get stuck/get lost in the latter portion of the game. If that is all that I was going to do, if I was going to put the game down right now because I beat it, I would still consider this a good buy. Currently on sale for $36 with a regular price tag of $40 on the PC, I consider this to be reasonable. While I’ve gotten more hours out of less money, I had a very enjoyable 15 hours with this game. Factor in the New Game +, Boss Rush, and Speed Run modes that are the game right now and you’ve got one heck of a good purchase here. Further factor in that if they deliver on just half of the promised post-launch features I wouldn’t have any problems recommending this game at $60. There is some serious content for your dollar here. If you have even a slight interest in this style of game it is well worth your money.
Bloodstained Review: Final Thoughts
Bloodstained is Castlevania, with all of its beauty and all of its flaws. While some of the flaws do run deep in my opinion, I still greatly enjoyed the game. Flawless execution on aesthetic, incredible sound, levels that are fun to navigate and monsters that are more fun to kill, this game is a love letter to Koji Igarashi’s previous works. However, that is all that it is, though fortunately all that it needed to be. Bloodstained has done nothing to push the genre of Metroidvanias down new paths, but it is a shinning example of what they can be. And with that, I suppose I should end this review with a paraphrase of a very common quote: “What is a review? A miserable pile of numbers! Have at you!”