I followed the release of Bloodstained for a long time, but never got around to playing it until very recently. At one point it was the most funded video game on Kickstarter, raising over $5.5 million in funds from backers. The game was helmed by Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi and featured many elements made popular by the hack-and-slash games of yore, most notably Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I loved that game and pretty much every Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS sequel thereafter, so I was on board for this spiritual successor.
First popping in the game disc and starting to play one thing was apparent: this game isn’t Castlevania. At least it felt that was to being with. The familiar elements were all there: countless enemies to dispatch, souls to absorb and use in your adventure, equipment to bolster your abilities, the list goes own. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling this was a game outside of the Castlevania universe, and I didn’t like that. There’s no Dracula to battle, no Alucard to find, and certainly no Belmonts.
“But then I found myself wanting to keep playing more and more. Wanting to see what the next room offered.”
In their place are new faces like series protagonist Miriam and a band of good guys competing against all odds to stop the unstoppable. The formula works just fine, but I think what Bloodstained really showed me was how much buy-in I had to the lore of Castlevania. The storyline of the Belmonts, the character progression of someone like Alucard, and the tried and true plot of resurrecting Dracula were aspects of the game I really enjoyed, and the story for Bloodstained just couldn’t compare.
But then I found myself wanting to keep playing more and more. Wanting to see what the next room offered. Needing to get the next ability to further my exploration of the castle. And then the Metroidvania bug bit me!
In the beginning, Miriam is fairly weak, with the smallest of foes presenting a challenge. As you fight on and level up, you’ll also absorb more and more “Shards” from your enemies. These shards allow for new abilities to be used for combat and exploration. Weapons like swords, halberds, and even guns find their effectiveness in dispatching the huge variety of foes in your way. Hidden input moves reward you with special attacks you otherwise wouldn’t even know you were capable of performing. Quests to hunt down demons, a subplot to rebuild the destroyed village, and even a demonic barber to change up your appearance lead to mountains of stuff to do. And that’s not even mentioning the crafting, cooking, and fusion systems!
“If you liked the Metroidvania style of action RPG and adventure games from years past, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is going to be for you.”
Bloodstained doesn’t hold your hand when explaining its mechanics. You’re kind of just thrown in to the fray and expected to figure it out on your own. At first this is incredibly daunting. I felt helpless getting beat up and not being able to explore without fear of death. Fast forward a couple hours (and levels) and the game really hit its stride. I found my favorite combination of shards, equipment, and items and was much more comfortable. A game is at its best when you hit this flow, and man, Bloodstained grabbed me and didn’t let go!
There are some shortcomings with the game, and not just the aforementioned story. The music is decent, but again has such large shoes to fill it’s difficult to really compare. Also, there are some typos and issues in the dialogue boxes for some character interactions. Some of the character designs, especially in the boss encounters, left me wanting more. The stained glass monster battle was cool, but the design of that foe didn’t seem anywhere near as menacing as the standard Werewolf enemy you encounter on a more frequent basis. Otherwise the sound and visuals were solid.
There are a lot of elements in Bloodstained, and it could have been easy for the developers to fumble handling them all, resulting in a lackluster game. Thankfully that isn’t the case. This game is fun, and hits all the right notes for the target audience. If you liked the Metroidvania style of action RPG and adventure games from years past, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is going to be for you. It does take some time to get going, but once it does you’ll enjoy the ride!