What a Wonderful Night for a Ritual – Bloodstained Ritual of the Night Review
Castlevania Symphony of the Night is a bonafide classic and arguably one of the greatest games of all time, not only perfecting the 2D Metroidvania style of gameplay but changing the Castlevania series as a whole from that point forward thanks to its director Koji Igarashi. From Symphony of the Night all the way until Lords of Shadow, the Castlevania series went through a golden age releasing some of the best and most beloved entries in the series’ history. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and publisher Konami decided to shift the focus of the series from the commercially and critically successful formula perfected by Igarashi, lovingly referred to as “Igavania” to a mediocre, God of War clone. For… some REASON. Understandably upset with this change in direction Igarashi decided to leave the company to pursue his own ventures. Then Mighty No. 9 happened.
For those that don’t know, the creator of Megaman, Keiji Inafune, left Capcom in a fashion similar to Igarashi, after being not allowed to make the Megaman games he wanted anymore. Inafune went to the then-burgeoning platform of Kickstarter to ask the public to fund his new project, a spiritual successor to Megaman entitled “Might No. 9”. Long story short, the Might No. 9 Kickstarter was record-breakingly successful and Igarashi decided to join this trend and start his own Kickstarter for his Castlevania inspired spiritual successor, “Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night”. For those fortunate enough to not know the sordid history of Mighty No. 9, the game was a massive failure on a borderline litigious scale. This left Bloodstained in a very precarious situation, as public opinion of Kickstarters had dropped to an all-time low and many wondered if Bloodstained would suffer the same fate. This is all to say that, thankfully, that is the furthest from the truth, and Bloodstained is not only a wonderful game in its own right but a worthy successor to the legacy of Castlevania that began with Symphony of the Night.
The story of Bloodstained is fairly simple. A rogue group of alchemists unleashes a horde of monsters upon the world, and Miriam, a “Shardbringer” who has the ability to use the powers of the creatures she defeats, must enter a mysterious castle to stop this evil at its source. The plot may be simple, but that isn’t the main draw of Bloodstained. That would be the classic, Metroidvania style gameplay. Bloodstained follows the traditional gameplay loop of discovering a new area, proceeding towards a boss, defeating said boss, uncovering new areas and revisiting old ones with new powers to open up new areas previously unreachable.
Defeating monsters gets Miriam shards which can be equipped to add new combat powers and abilities. These abilities can be anything from straight forward damage-dealing attacks to passive abilities that buff your other powers, or even summoning other monsters as familiars that can assist you in combat. There are also a plethora of weapons available that range from swords and guns, to more magically inclined weapons. These weapons can be upgraded in the crafting store, which can also be used to purchase items and new equipment outright. Shards can also be upgraded as well to increase the potency of the abilities. A fully upgraded shard power can deal MASSIVE damage and turn any battle in your favor. Combine this with the fact that you can completely customize Miriam’s look from everything from her costume to her hair color, which will always remain visible on her in the game world which is a great touch, and two players can have completely different Miriams that will provide two completely different gameplay experiences and half the fun is finding the Miriam that suits your playstyle the best.
Bloodstained is a difficult game, but it never feels unfair. If you reach a tough area or boss you can’t beat, you can always backtrack to defeat more enemies and get more shards or grind to get currency and purchase new items and equipment to help you out. The boss battles are difficult but they are visually spectacular and the highlights of the game ranging from fighting a two-headed monster atop a castle spire, to fighting a huge creature atop a speeding train. The game isn’t without its faults though. Being a Kickstarter game, there are some cracks that slip through. There are some janky bits, and elements like paintings that attack you that are clearly Kickstarter backers turned into enemies, and while none of these elements completely ruin the game it can take you out of the experience with a very in your face reminder of the game’s origins.
A special note must be mentioned of the game’s soundtrack. The Castlevania series has always been known for its fantastic scores and Bloodstained is no exception, delivering some of the best music I have heard in a game in quite some time, and sits with some of the best scores in Castlevania’s storied musical legacy.
Bloodstained Ritual of the Night is very much a “not” game. Meaning it is made very clear you are playing a “not” Castlevania, playing as a “not” Belmont encountering a “not” Alucard and “not” Dracula in “not” Dracula’s Castle. This, however, does “not” stop Bloodstained from being one of the best 2D platformer, Metroidvania style games in years, in no short part by being helmed by the man who helped perfect the genre in the first place so many years ago. Even if Konami won’t let a true Castlevania title come to light again, Igarashi and the fans who love the series will make it happen themselves if they have to.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.