Review: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Computer)

Reviewed by AlanJohn, posted Jun 22, 2019, last updated Jun 23, 2019
As a long time fan of the Metroidvania genre, especially the classic post-SOTN Castlevania games, I was very eager to play this spiritual successor to the series,
Jun 22, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): June 18, 2019
  • Release Date (EU): June 18, 2019
  • Release Date (JP): June 18, 2019
  • Publisher: 505 Games
  • Developer: ArtPlay
  • Genres: Metroidvania, RPG
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • Also For: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the latest creation led by legendary game director and producer Koji Igarashi. After an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign, and over 3 years of development, can the game hold up to the standards set by previous titles in the Metroidvania genre?
AlanJohn

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Gameplay

Gameplay and controls might be the most crucial part in any platformer, so it seems a natural place to start. Within seconds of first controlling Miriam, the main protagonist of the game, I instantly recognized the movement and controls as of those characteristic to previous Castlevania titles, such as Order of Ecclesia, Portrait of Ruin, and Dawn of Sorrow. Controls are tight, responsive, with minimal delay even with a bluetooth controller (for reference, I played this on my PC with a DualShock 4 controller, using Steam's built-in controller API). Movement speed is about what you would expect of the genre, without any acceleration. Attacking feels responsive and satisfying, and jumping feels fluid with the game offering you tight midair controls that allow you to dodge enemy attacks as well as maneuver gracefully. From the start of the game, you also have the ability to slide, which can also be utilized to attack.

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Miriam's character design can be changed after progressing about a quarter into the games main storyline.

The first weapons you receive are shoes—yes, shoes. Kung-fu shoes, in fact, designed to deal a lot of damage. Put simply, your first weapon is Muay Thai, dealing a decent amount of damage to nearby water demons. Not too far into the game you encounter a variety of weapon types, ranging from small knives to late 18th century firearms. Accompanying your standard weapons are Shards, the new gameplay mechanic that allows you to perform a variety of tasks, such as special attacks, enhancing attributes, and granting additional abilities which are necessary to progress through maps and the main storyline. Shards are randomly dropped by enemies as well as bosses, reminiscent of the soul system in Aria/Dawn of Sorrow.

The Combat System

Bloodstained offers a wide variety of weapons that'll satisfy most, if not all Castlevania fans. If you enjoyed playing with rapiers in Symphony of The Night, you'll enjoy the assortment of blades in this game. If you're more of a traditional, NES/SNES era Castlevania fan, you'll enjoy the inclusion of whips. In fact, the marketing of this game was the slogan "Sword or Whip", with the player deciding which weapon type suits them better. That's not to say the game is limited to blades and ropes, quite the contrary in fact. axes, short swords, great swords, katanas, muskets and more can be found in the game. If you want your character to be fast and agile, the non-great swords might suit you, as well as clubs and maces. Do you want a large hitbox that spans from your back, to the top of your head, to the front and then a little bit down? Check out the large collection of great swords. Feel like not taking any risks and just shooting your enemies off from a distance? Muskets, with different types of ammunition, will assist you. Truly, there's something here for any Castlevania fan.

Adding to the vast weapon systems are techniques: special abilities that can be performed by precise button combinations consuming MP. Each weapon group has specific techniques, applicable only to that group. These abilities can include combos, parries, and blocks. This system is actually deeper than I imagined, so much so I only started using it properly during the endgame. Techniques can be found by reading journals or discovering them randomly by button mashing.

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Note the percentage of known techniques I've learned. This screenshot was made right before I fought the final boss.

Accompanying the weapons are the previously mentioned Shards, which offer a wide variety of abilities most of which consuming MP. Shards can be used during combat as additional magic attacks as well enhancing attributes, and conjuring familiars—something fans of Symphony of the Night will greatly appreciate.

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Familiars can level up, and also have an intricate upgrade system which is based on your shard rank and grade, which is basically the amount of shards you have.

Shards can be upgraded by collecting more shards, as well as leveling them up using alchemy, which requires you to collect specific elements from enemies, usually from the ones who dropped the shards in question.

Crafting

Bloodstained introduces a crafting system that allows you to dispose of old weapons and use the materials gathered to forge new weapons, armor and apparel, as well as upgrade shards. Crafting also allows you to create consumables, such as potions, antidotes, and food. Yes, this game has food.

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The game also has an in-game shop that lets you buy consumables and other stuff you cannot be bothered to craft yourself.

Ritual of the Night has an apparel system that also reflects on the view of your character in-game, something Castlevania fans did not get in their beloved games due to technical limitations. The changes for the in-game model does not apply to armor, unfortunately, so even though you might be equipped with some level 100 flaming armor, during gameplay you still look like you're wearing a maids outfit. You can change the color though, that's nice I guess.

Story, Map Progression, and Difficulty

You play as Miriam, who is embedded with a mystical shard that channels demon powers or something, and you're accompanied by your friend Johannes who is an alchemist. You're traveling to this village in order to combat an invasion of demons caused by your ex-friend Gebel who is evil now for some reason. I don't really want to spoil the plot, so you'll just have to play it yourself if you're that interested. Just an FYI, even though this game is very much a spiritual successor to Castlevania games, it does NOT take place in the same universe as those games and does not reference plot points or characters from that series. There's no Dracula in this game (well, kind of). Which is a shame, the plot feels like it would fit nicely in the Castlevania universe as a spin off, but due to Konami's incompetence and refusing to use the IP for anything not pachinko related we'll have to wait a long time before we see another (good) game in the series. Story is OK, it's not Symphony of the Night, not even Aria/Dawn of Sorrow, but it's adequate and gives you enough motivation to get through the map, which is the real 'narrative' so to speak.

As you progress in the game, by exploring the map and fighting enemies you unlock new abilities which allow you to further explore the map and thus progress in the story further. No surprise here, this is a "metroidvania" after all. The formula is proven to work, and is engaging as ever in this installment. The map in this game is full of secrets, interesting designs and cleverly thought-out design choices. Save rooms are never too far apart, and not too abundant to make the game feel like a walk in the park. There are also teleportation rooms with which you can fast travel. It is believed that a "metroidvania" is only as good as its map, and this one's pretty damn good. It's filled with a wide variety of intriguing, beautiful designs, with a lot of different elements represented, as well as the classic Castlevania tropes (yes, there is a castle in this game, and it has all the rooms you expect to see there).

Beginning the campaign for the first time you are only offered the Normal difficulty, subsequent difficulties such as Hard and Nightmare become available after completing the campaign multiple times. During my first playthrough, I did experience some struggles and obstacles, and died plenty of times. Thankfully, the game offers somewhat of an elastic difficulty, as you can stock up on Potions and consumables that can restore your HP mid boss fight, as well as "waystones" - consumables that instantly transport you back to your base, and can be used any time. It's no Dark Souls, or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but even at Normal difficulty the game will give you a challenge.

The game took me around 20 hours to complete, though it should be noted that the campaign has been beaten by other people who simply rushed through the story within 14-8 hours. I enjoyed exploring and finding every single secret in the map, yet still could not get over 98% map completion. The game also offers some menial sidequests that do not deter from the main narrative and can be completed whenever you'd like.

I could go on about the gameplay mechanics of this game and it's intricacies, but it's better left for the player to explore and discover for thyself. The excitement you get when destroying a wall, finding a hidden room, opening a chest and uncovering a secret weapon is overwhelmingly satisfying, and cannot be described in text. Yeah, that sounds cheeky, but I've been playing Castlevania and Metroid games since I was 7, and I still enjoy finding secrets in these games!

Graphics

During the first year of development, backers and fans complained about the poor design aesthetics and sub par graphics, after which nearly by the end of development the team at ArtPlay with DICO completely revamped the look of the game, as seen best in this trailer:

The anime-like aesthetic may seem off at first, but I had grown to it during my playthrough. The map variety conveniently compliments the graphical capabilities of Unreal Engine 4, with a decent amount of particle effects scattered during weapon use, as well as somewhat primitive surface reflections. Character designs are generally hit or miss, with only the protagonist and some antagonists having memorable and cool designs. Enemy design is solid, with the occasional re-color enemy here-and-there, which is a given in these types of "large" games.

Playing through the game was mostly a smooth 60fps experience, with only a couple of frame drops seemingly out of nowhere occasionally appearing. Strangely enough, lowering the settings (which were set to 'Epic' by default on my machine) did not get rid of these frame drops, which leads me to believe this is more of a software issue in the coding of the game, and can be hopefully resolved with a patch. There were other graphical glitches present throughout the game, including a weird glitch with the final boss that I cannot discuss without spoilers, but these were all minor and did not affect my gameplay experience. Some users have reported the game to crash, but I did not encounter any issues during my playthrough.

Well, here come the lowest points in the game, for me personally. Some of the cinematic cutscenes, actually no, most of the cutscenes in this game do not look good at all. This is confusing to me, as the designs are well made and polished, and during gameplay they look spectacular, but during some cutscenes they look out of place with the poor animation sequences. Bloodstained has real-time cinematic cutscenes, all done in engine between gameplay sections. The animation, movement, lipsync, etc. all seem amateurish, and look like they were done crudely without a proper scene-blocking/framing tool in the engine. There's no mocap in this game, this isn't Death Stranding or LA Noire, it's only an "indie" game after all. But, I'm still disappointed by the poor quality. Thankfully, most cutscenes are just voice acted dialogue boxes with character models that move depending on what emotions are present. These are fine.

Overall, the graphics in this game are nice to look at. The art style is done with great care and attention to detail, with the large variety of enemies having intriguing, sometimes frightening and also cool designs. The backgrounds, foregrounds and everything else this map has is done passionately with amazing detail for a metroidvania game. It's not the prettiest platformer, that goes to Ori, but it's still a beautiful love letter to past Castlevania-like designs.

Sound

The game has decent sound design, with Michiru Yamane as composer for most of the music in the game. Bloodstained has beautifully orchestrated music, with memorable boss music and background music for different places in the map. Boss fight music is up-beat and epic, as expected, and gets you pumped up when fighting a difficult enemy. The soundtrack is a must buy for fans of classic Castlevania tracks.

All dialogue in this game is professionally voice acted, with the legendary David Hayter of Metal Gear fame appearing as a key character. Some grunt level enemies are voice acted as well.

Sound effects in Bloodstained are top notch, with some being homages to Castlevania sound effects.

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Yep, this game has "Sound Test" :D

Final thoughts

Look, I haven't had this much fun in a game in years. This game has me eager to play it even after finishing it, as I still want to get that 100% while there are no guides I can use to cheat with, as well as try all the different combat variations offered. Bloodstained has scratched an itch I didn't even know I had, being a masterful action-oriented 2.5D action RPG with endless variety and depth, and satisfying movement and combat. It might not be perfect, with some downfalls in its plot and story, as well as some technical glitches that can be easily fixed with updates in the future, but it's the closest we have to a true Castlevania experience, and it holds up to the standard that even the best games from the series have set. This might as well be considered an essential game for anyone who wants get into Metroidvanias, along with games such as Symphony of the Night, Super Metroid, La Mulana and Guacamole.

IGA has delivered, and I think all of the faithful backers and fans will be delighted with the end result. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a phenomenal experience which will leave you satisfied and wanting more.

Verdict
Pros
+ Tight controls and movement
+ Deep combat system
+ Wonderful designs
+ Great music and sound
+ Vast amounts of upgrades and additional abilities scattered around the game
+ Large, detailed map full of secrets
Cons
- Mediocre storyline
- Poor cinematic cutscene quality
- Minor graphical glitches
9 Presentation
10 Gameplay
9 Lasting Appeal
Game left me wanting more, and leaving me sad we won't see another true Castlevania installment soon.
9
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an amazing game, filled with love and passion from its creators and delivers a true "metroidvania" experience. If you like Castlevania games, you'll love this true spiritual successor.


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