After what it felt like an eternity, the day has finally come. In this Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night review, we will tell you if it was worth the wait.
There are two types of games I like to play from time to time. First, you have the silent masterpieces. These games are those you probably don’t know much about them. That’s it until you play them and get your mind blown, of course. I’ve covered some of these here at TLG already. But chances are you know which one I’m talking about. Then, there are the less common ones: the games I like to call The 180s. These games are those kinds of IPs you think they are going to be just decent or mediocre until they come out. That’s when you realize how wrong you were by saying bad things about them. And hey, guess what: today I’m talking about a game made by the minds behind my favorite Castlevania games! Try and guess in which category this game falls into in this Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night review.
It’s been a long time, old one…
A little bit of perspective may clarify why many people (myself included) believe that the wait was worth it. Back in 2015, a not-so-humble Kickstarter appeared under the name of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. This game was being developed by none other than Igarashi Koji, also known as “that one who directed all those incredible Castlevania titles”. The Kickstarter reached its main goal of $500,000 and finished its campaign with $5,545,991. Just some spare change as you can see. But then, the waiting started. Time passed, and while the updates came at a reasonable pace, things weren’t looking so great. The Wii U and Vita ports were canceled, their partnership with Inti Creates ended and the game was visually pretty rough.
But that’s on the past, and today is… Well, right now. The game is out, the issues were fixed, and this ugly boy has been waiting for it since it was announced, so enough about the introduction and let’s address the elephant in the room. Is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night worth the wait? And the answer is: absolutely yes, but with some dishonorable mentions that I’ll address eventually.
Aria of Ecclesia
We are in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. The Alchemists, those who helped humanity with their ancient techniques, feared this period. Afraid of vanishing due to the rise of technology and the descend of spirituality, they did the unthinkable to keep being relevant upon the eyes of those who relied on them. They released a horde of demons in order to send a message to the world. How did they achieve this? By creating and then killing Shardbinders, humans fused with crystals that make them able to attune themselves to demons and their powers. Fortunately, the Church managed to vanquish the hell sent released upon Earth. However, 10 years later those very same demonic forces appeared alongside an evil castle that rose upon the village of Arvantville.
Even if this is not a Castlevania game, you can already tell the influences featured in the game. While we no longer have good old Drac as the main threat, the main elements of the Konami IP are still here: the forces of evil and the presence of a castle that rises due to demonic influence. However, in Bloodstained, I would say that the Shardbinder Miriam, our main character, drinks heavily from two beloved Igavania characters: Soma Cruz and Shanoa. Miriam may not be as emotionless as Shanoa, but her design and background resemble the woman who obliterated Dracula with his own power. The resemblance with Soma falls more towards their own way of doing what is good for everyone, even if their powers come from Hell itself. And now, let’s talk about Shards.
Gotta shard ’em all!
Another similar aspect that drinks from the already mentioned titles is the ability to obtain skills from your enemies. Similar to Aria and Dawn of Sorrow, Miriam has a chance of obtaining skills from foes after defeating them. And this is where the best feature of Bloodstained shines the most: all Shards have unique properties. From shields to deadly beams of void, every single ability grants us something different. This improves replayability massively, as you could get different shards from certain enemies (unless you did a completionist run, of course). This also brings one of my really minor nitpicks about the game, and that’s the need of a certain shard to progress in the path of the true ending. Nothing big to complain about, but it would be great if it was addressed better.
Now, Shards may sound amazing and almost flawless, and that’s… Well, actually true! The huge array of things we can use is incredible. Heck, even the ones that give Miriam a small attribute boost offer enough significant upgrade to equip them. And yes, some of them feel overpowered, but what’s wrong with feeling powerful in a game about giving enemies a taste of their own medicine? Speaking about enemies, let’s address them in the next point, shall we?
Demon! Death is too good for you!
If there’s something I love more than Castlevania, that is the monsters and creatures that appear in every title. Classics like Frankenstein’s Creature, the Mummy and other Hollywood-styled monsters are always fun to see. Yet it’s the mythological beasts from all around the world what I love the most about it. I’m even making a bestiary of all Castlevania foes, that’s how much I enjoy talking about them! But in this aspect, Bloodstained disappoints me quite a lot.
Some enemies are slightly reimagined versions of old monsters from Castlevania. Dullahammer’s Heads are basically Medusa Heads but with a more interesting style. Zagans take the role of Catoblepas without the petrifying breath. Ghosts are… Ghosts, nothing more to say about them. And it is great to see my favorite enemies like Buer once again, but there’s this thing I don’t like to see on my Castlevania-Esque games: color variants of the same enemies.
We have 127 enemies in Bloodstained (128 if we include the IGA DLC boss battle). However, from those 127 foes, we start to see the same thing with different colors or stats as we progress throughout the game. I mean, we fight against Toads, Water Leapers, Poison Toads, AND Giant Toads. To put you into perspective, there are 146 enemies in Symphony of the Night and 95% of them are unique. And while it is fun to find secret enemies or fight optional bosses (there are 21 bosses, 22 if we add IGA), I don’t think it offers enough variety. Minor issue, but it’s something I wanted to talk about. But you know what’s great though? Chairs.
“Just because we wanted to”
Remember that I wrote a while ago about Symphony of the Night and the freedom the dev team had to do whatever they wanted? Well, I’m really glad to see that Igarashi and his team still enjoy creating and adding whatever dumb mechanic they want to put in their game. And I can’t think of a better example of this than what you’ve seen so far: chairs. But first, a little bit of context. Not so long ago, I made a thread on Twitter talking about the best feature in Curse of Darkness: sitting down on things. You have a stupidly huge amount of chairs you can make Hector sit on, and in the end, you get rewarded with The Complete Chair. No boost stat, no overpowered weapons, just a place you can place your butt on.
I wasn’t expecting chairs to appear on Bloodstained, as I thought I was the only crazy fanboy on the planet who enjoyed this feature in Curse of Darkness. However, ArtPlay managed once again to surprise me. Not only I found chairs I could sit on, but I also found MULTIPLE styles of chairs. Thrones, benches, ice chairs,… But then, I found what I thought was the pinnacle of chairs in gaming: the Chair Mimic. And what does the Chair Mimic give you? A Shard that ALLOWS YOU TO SUMMON CHAIRS AT WILL. Not only that, but you can upgrade the Shard in order to summon even more different types of chairs. And this is when it clicked me: Bloodstained is a spiritual sequel to Symphony of the Night in all of its aspects.
There is a room filled to the brim with music boxes. You don’t do anything there aside from sitting down. There are some rooms with only a picture of a person who backed the game and a chair to just sit there and contemplate the portrait. If you save while having the Familiar Dantalion equipped, it will say “another page of your story written”. I could go on and on, but I think you got the concept already.
This castle is a creature of chaos
It is true that there’s a certain charm in the dumb features present in Bloodstained. However, there are some things that don’t work as flawlessly as I would like to. Let’s get the good things first: the castle is fantastic and a joy to traverse. You have big and beautiful hallways filled with ornaments and charm, and every area looks different. From the frozen depths of the castle to an incredible cathedral, you won’t get visually bored with this game anytime soon. But now this is the part I show my love for pixel art, and that’s because Bloodstained still looks pretty dull in some areas.
Don’t be mistaken: Bloodstained had an amazing visual improvement thanks to feedback and I can’t thank ArtPlay enough for that. But improving light sources doesn’t make the overall experience a visual masterpiece. Sometimes textures overlap in a really ugly way, and Miriam’s body doesn’t really interact with the lightning. It casts good shadows, sure, but it’s not that great when you notice that her own self doesn’t react to the light. I would pass this on a minor indie studio, but this is a title made by veterans. And now that I think about it, even indies can manage to do that. Also some clipping here and there, but nothing that will make you cry like an anime fan on prom night.
But wait, there’s more!
I thought my experience with Bloodstained was really short when I reached the “final boss” in less than 7 hours. But then I remembered how in all the Igavania titles they love teasing you with a fake ending. And guess what? It wasn’t over yet! But I have to say that reaching the true ending in Bloodstained feels slightly random. You have to get the Shard of a particular enemy you only see in one area, but the game really tells you to do it. Dominique, the shop owner, tells you some hints on how to advance, but they always address bosses rather than regular enemies. Granted, everything goes smooth after that, so it’s a small inconvenience.
After beating the true final boss (which, pardon my French, it was f*cking insane), I finished Bloodstained in 12 hours. I left some unfinished quests that were too grindy for my taste, but the overall experience felt great. And then I found two things: a Sound Test and a New Game Plus option. The Sound Test is fantastic, I always loved them back in the day and this also has some messages that made me sob of joy. But New Game Plus was the thing that blew my damn mind. Not only there are different enemies in certain areas (and more dangerous foes appear sooner), but bosses have new attacks too! And if you thought the game was easy on Normal, try NG+ on Hard and come back once certain boss obliterates you.
The Army of the Indies?
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a callback to the old days in the most fun and enjoyable way achievable. The amount of care, passion, and joy several studios put into this game is amazing. The soundtrack, even if it falls a little too much on the “Symphony of the Night” side at times, it’s still incredible. Even while writing this review down, I’m still eager to keep playing it in order to discover new and stupid aspects I may have missed! That’s the power of this game, and the mighty developers can and will show in order to tell their audience “you asked, we gave”. However, there’s a quote from an interview with Igarashi (thanks to Stop Skeletons for featuring it) I would like to address:
My definition of an indie is a developer, or developers, who make the games they want to make, that they want to release. [I’m] always thinking about the customer, the player, and what they want to play.
While this small fragment may look like Igarashi and his team are really dedicated to offering what people really want, it’s also not fair for him to talk about indies. Not only his game got a massive budget to use, but it also had the help of 2 other big studios. Indies do think about customers and players, yet they have fewer resources to do it as good as they would like to.
The Ritual is over
Before reading these final lines, please listen to the main theme of the game:
I’ve been waiting for this game since its conception back in 2015. Thanks to this game, I started exploring the world of Castlevania. And I’ve never been happier to do that in all my life. This franchise (as I stated many, many times here) is my biggest passion to talk and write about. To see one of the creators of this saga step up and make his own version of this beloved name was just stunning for me. And I’m glad to say that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has become one of my favorite titles of all time.
It may drink from the fountain of past Igavania titles, but the entire experience feels fresh enough. And for that, I really want to thank not only ArtPlay but every single studio and person involved in the forging of this game. It was a hard path for sure, but you can rest easy now. If someone ever asks me for my favorite Castlevania titles, I’ll be happy to add from now this:
Don’t forget about Bloodstained, because I’ll never be able to!