By Melody Klink
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the “spiritual successor” to Playstation masterpiece Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the game that helped coined the phrases “Igavania” and “Metroidvania;” sprawling sidescrollers who allow free roaming while collecting items, power-ups, and special abilities to continue the narrative. If you’ve played a Castlevania in the last 25~ years, chances are, it’s been the work of Koji Igarashi. Igarashi worked at Konami from 1990 to 2014, when he left to co-found his own game studio, ArtPlay. After seeing the potential success of crowdfunding a title, Iga took a shot; in 2015, he launched a Kickstarter asking for $500,000, promising another title like Symphony of the Night.
It was funded in hours, and ultimately made 5.5 million bucks- a feat only been passed by the Kickstarter for Shenmue II!. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the result, and boy oh boy, did they put that money to work.
Bloodstained follows protagonist Miriam, a woman who was experimented on as a child. Shardbinders, they called them, could have shards and crystals injected into their bodies to control great and powerful abilities… also, demons. Lots of demons. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, and when the Alchemy Guild conducting these experiments summoned all of hell onto an unsuspecting 18th century town, well…
It’s up to Miriam to wake up and control the threat.
Summoned by the Church and asked to quell the demons, Miriam embarks on a journey through a mysteriously materialized castle.
A massive coup unfolds, and allies are not what they seem… of course, neither are the enemies.
You spend your time in Bloodstained traversing the town of Arvantville and the castle itself, killing enemies, collecting their powers (Shards, from here on out) along with equipment, items, and weapons, ever winding towards the true threat at the center of it all. Achievements and trophies will have you seeking out every corner of the massive map, and there’s plenty to do to keep you coming back for more. Unlike Symphony, the map currently goes to 100%, and while there’s no actual upside down castle, you can invert yourself wherever you want!
There are some quests to do for the townsfolk, and a handful of NPCs that help you in your journey. How you explore this castle is up to you; aside from areas requiring boss Shards or other items to navigate, if you can reach it, you can move through it.
If linear-only is your thing, this might not be the game for you. After all, exploring is part of the fun! And charm! And accidentally stumbling onto enemies you have no chance of beating! Wheeee!
I definitely felt drawn to Bloodstained, ever eager to finish that next goal, get to that next area, find that next demon. The story sometimes falls to the background, but it works here; the castle is the problem, and you’re fixing it. You’re literally inside the threat, so you don’t forget your ultimate purpose.
The graphics to Bloodstained are tremendously beautiful, and definitely harken to their SotN roots. Gothic, archaic items adorn the walls. Some areas are huge, titan-tall cathedrals and towers, while others are short and simple hallways.
But even the hallways are pretty. Seriously, go look at the flames in the halls! Also, why do demonic castles always have cathedrals? I always question that, though I enjoy the juxtaposition of the choice. Which is what they want me to do. ANYWAY.
Despite it being a “2d Sidescroller,” Bloodstained often takes you into a 3D environment; seeing Miriam move about a spiraled tower is super cool, and rounding the outside of the castle itself is a unique view. Miriam herself of course looks 3D, her animations and motions fluid and crisp. You’re able to customize Miriam’s look, too! Which is why you’ll see her looking different in all my screenshots… whatever man, I like to switch it up. DON’T KILL MY VIBE.
The music in Bloodstained is definitely Castlevania flavored in its spooky, haunting, and often electric guitar-filled way, though I honestly don’t recall as much of it as Symphony of the Night’s epic score. For me, music is often a signifier of where I am in a game, and I really love that feeling- here, I checked the map more often than normal just to see what area I was in.
So far, I’ve spent about 25 hours in Bloodstained, and I’m sitting at the final boss chamber… waiting to hopefully not get murdered. Again. Bloodstained certainly doesn’t take it easy on you, and while it’s not near as punishing as SoulsBorne games, if you go in cocky, you’re coming out with a Game Over.
With all my years of Symphony of the Night expertise, I was cocky. And I literally Game Over’d every boss at least once. Their mechanics are sly, and they take thought to figure out. They can be relentless, filling the screen with all manner of magic, leaving you dodging for your life! There are even secret & random “bosses” that are just there for crafting materials and achievements… and they can fork you up even better than story bosses.
Cue the 8-bit dungeon in the game, which is such a cool throwback! And the boss of it freaking sucks.
As much as I do love Bloodstained, I won’t say it’s without flaw; like any modern game, it comes with ailments that big releases can’t seem to help. A number of bugs have been reported, such as items making the game crash, or in my case, simply zoning to another screen forcing the game to quit out entirely.
Thankfully I had just saved.
While this only happened to me once, it’s a grave concern for players relying on the “find a save point” system used by these games. I can only imagine having barely beaten a tough boss, and having your game crash completely out, losing all progress.
Of course, the lack of auto-save is also part of the charm- in Ye Olden Days, that’s what we all had to do, YOU WHIPPERSNAPPERS, in addition to walking fifteen miles in the snow, as it were.
Don’t ask where we walked to, we just always walked fifteen miles in the snow…?
I know I mentioned Castlevania a million times in this article, and that’s not meant to be unfair to Bloodstained; most of us got the game because we wanted more of that Symphony of the Night feeling, and that’s how Iga banked it. That’s not to say it’s not a good game that can stand on its own, either! But nostalgia is powerful, and this game will certainly take you back to 1997… just happens to be prettier. The world often lacks this kind of title now, considering how Castlevania has changed in modern times. If you’re a fan of the Metroidvania genre, then Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night will certainly fill that niche. I love the title and I certainly await whatever Iga and his team create next!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to die to this boss again.