Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
You know you have reached a whole new status in your career as a game developer when your name becomes the defining term of an entire genre of games. One of the gaming world’s cornerstone titles, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, was produced by Koji Igarashi and from it the term Igavania was born to refer to titles in the Metroidvania genre created by Igarashi, the last of which was Harmony of Despair released nearly a decade ago. While there have been a number of action platformers with vast worlds to explore, there was a certain magic that could only be found in Igavanias. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, developed by Iga’s independent studio ArtPlay, recaptures the magic of Igavania by being a worthy spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night while at the same time standing on its own feet.
In the world of Bloodstained, alchemists have attempted to harness the power of demons as a means to stand against the Industrial Revolution of 18th century England. They infused humans with crystals containing demonic energies turning them into Shardbinders to later sacrifice them in order to summon and control the spawns of hell. Gebel is the only Shardbinder to have ever survived the process. Ten years later, he has summoned an army of demons to exact revenge upon England and the alchemists that experimented on him. Another surviving Shardbinder, Miriam, who was spared from being sacrificed due to falling into an unexplained slumber, awakens and is recruited by the Church to stop Gebel and banish his demonic army. Miriam is aided by Johannes, a former member of the Alchemy Guild, and exorcist Dominique as they travel to the ruined village of Arvantville just near Gebel’s castle.
In essence, the story of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is evocative of that found in the Castlevania series with a mythos all of its own. Miriam is both dutiful and tragic as a protagonist as she is willing to fight Gebel for the sake of humanity and to keep the promise she made to him, that she would stop him if he were ever to succumb to his demonic powers. Beyond its main narrative, Bloodstained interweaves a few more subplots involving a demonic book sought out by alchemist Alfred and warrior Zangetsu’s hatred of Shardbinders, including Miriam. The lives of some of the surviving villagers are also touched upon through mini fetch quests. The dialog is delivered through high-quality voice acting though the character models during story sequences don’t look nearly as good up close as they do during gameplay.
Bloodstained is a Metroidvania through and through meaning that exploration, secrets and discovering new skills is the order of the day. Skills and abilities are acquired by defeating enemies and bosses, the latter of which will unlock traversal and path opening techniques required for progression. There’s a Reflector Ray ability which acts as a targetted teleporting ability that transforms Miriam into a ray of light that can bounce off of reflective surfaces. At the same time, it can be used to beam through narrow passages or even reach high ledges. Another fun ability is Inversion which allows Miriam to flip the world upside down with a simple down-up motion allowing her to access door and paths that were otherwise unreachable. These cleverly designed abilities make exploring the Gebel’s castle an engaging and addictive experience where players will be constantly hungry to find more secrets.
Building and powering up Miriam is achieved through one of the most flexible systems ever seen in a Metroidvania. There are five categories of shards, each with a large number of individual shards to collect, that can enhance Miriam’s combat and traversal capabilities. All shards can be upgraded by acquiring the right crafting materials. Weapons are also hugely build-defining as each type has its own strengths that can be leveraged and weaknesses that can be complemented with the right shard configuration. If it all sounds like a lot of menu navigation will be needed for build changes, Bloodstained has a brilliant answer to that in Shortcuts. Players can save their favorite setups into slots which can be quickly accessed through pressing a single button allowing for on the fly build changes. The only downside is that slots are obtained by finding specific skill shards, five of which can be obtained in a single playthrough and three more through New Game+.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, for the most part, runs smoothly with very few hiccups in the form of minor frame drops. It’s been reported that the Nintendo Switch version suffers the most from these with crashes and freezes also occurring. ArtPlay has acknowledged these issues, however, and are planning on rolling out small updates in order to address them as quickly as possible. There will also be thirteen DLC packs containing a slew of new features, including a roguelike mode, two additional playable characters, and multiplayer modes to name a few, all for the low price of free.
Over two decades ago, Symphony of the Night was released and became an instant classic that is still played and enjoyed by many to this day. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night isn’t just a worthy successor to this legacy; it’s a heavy contender in the Metroidvania space. One that introduces a compelling new universe, fun exploration mechanics and an insanely customizable build system. Despite some of the small hiccups, ArtPlay has proven that Kickstarter projects can live up to their promises by delivering high-quality memorable games. Bloodstained took a few years to be completed but it was well worth the wait in every sense. Igavania is truly back.