There are few crowdfunded games that have been as widely anticipated as Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Promising a return to the classic f the 2D Castlevania titles, primarily Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the game amassed over $5 million on Kickstarter back in 2015, making it one of the platform’s biggest success stories. Helmed by former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi, Bloodstained had a lot of expectations riding on it.
Despite minor controversies, like a last minute delay and the cancellation of the Playstation Vita port, fans were still eagerly awaiting its release. Fortunately, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night lives up to the hype, and delivers an excellent love letter to the Castlevania games of old, whilst carving out its own identity.
Set in 18th century England, Bloodstained follows the journey of the Shardbinder Miriam. One of two remaining humans who can absorb and harness demonic powers, she must explore the mysterious castle that has sprung up ten years after an invasion of demons. As in many Metroidvania games, the story is more of a backdrop to the exploration aspects rather than a driving force. However, it was enough to set the scene, and the game had enough compelling and interesting characters that it was fun when plot developments occured during Miriam’s delve into the castle.
It is just as well that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night nails the exploration aspect. The castle is brimming with variety in its scenery and enemies. At one moment, you might be chased down a giant tower by a fire-breathing dragon, and at another fighting alongside a mysterious samurai atop a speeding train.
“The castle is brimming with variety in its scenery and enemies.”
There is also a staggering number of unique enemies, few of whom feel like pallet swaps or re-skins of previous encounters. Bloodstained’s colourful gothic-meets-anime art style makes every enemy and character pop, and the game overall is a delight to look at. The soundtrack is also a joy, featuring a variety of catchy and atmospheric tracks that make the frequent backtracking less of a chore.
It is just as well that there is a lot of variety, as you will have plenty of time to see it as you backtrack all over the place to figure out the next place to go. That kind of somewhat aimless direction is kind of part and parcel for the Metroidvania genre; some players may get annoyed at getting stuck for hours looking for the next place to go, whereas others will love the hands-off approach.
That said, the frequently respawning enemies can make exploration a bit of a pain. Every time you leave and re-enter a room, the enemies all respawn. This is fine if you are grinding for experience, items or shards, but if you are simply trying to get through the area for the tenth time to find a new place to go, having to cut through the same enemies over and over can get tiring. The fact that some enemies can knock Miriam back out of the room, which revives all the enemies, can get especially infuriating.
In addition to searching for new abilities and areas, Bloodstained has many more side activities to check out. Ingredients can be bought, found or grown to prepare meals which offer stat buffs. There is a robust crafting system, with which the player can make new items, weapons, armour and accessories. There are even special quests requiring Miriam to make certain items and meals for rewards, encouraging the use of those systems.
Furthermore, defeated demons can drop shards, which give Miriam spells and passive buffs. In addition to playing around with the large variety of different weapon types, ranging from guns to spears to whips, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night always gave me new things to find and unlock around the corner.
There are also some fun customisation options. Players can alter Miriam’s hairstyle and colour, as well as clothing colours, soon into the adventure. Certain headgear and accessory choices are reflected on the player model as well. It was a small touch, but a fun way to play around with the player character’s appearance.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night makes you work for your fun. Whilst it doesn’t start off too difficult, some of the endgame areas and bosses can be truly challenging. However, I never found the game’s difficulty curve particularly frustrating, as save points and fast travel rooms are spaced closely enough that I never felt too isolated. If you are a Castlevania veteran, you will know what to anticipate. However, don’t expect getting to the game’s true final boss to be a walk in the park.
The Bottom Line
As one of the poster children for crowdfunded video games, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, Koji Igarashi’s love letter to the types of Castlevania games Konami just doesn’t make anymore is a fantastic and engaging experience that preserves what made those games great.
The lack of direction and somewhat intermittent narrative might not be for everyone. That said, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night absolutely lives up to the Castlevania heritage, and holds up as a modern title. If you were worried that this game was going to end up a Mighty No. 9-sized disappointment, don’t be; Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is absolutely worth your time and money.