Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Disclosure (Kickstarter) at the end.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night started as a Kickstarter in May of 2015, claiming to bring a new game from Koji Igarashi, creator of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and was funded in under 24 hours and went on to be one of the largest Kickstarters of all time earning over five million dollars. It’s been over 4 years since then, it finally was released, but has it delivered on its promise?
It’s taken almost twice as long as expected, but the end result is very interesting, and we’ll break it down. The fact is Kickstarters, in general, have an unknown quality to them. Whether it’s failure to launch, like Code Hero, games that are unimpressive such as Mighty No. 9, the number of them that are now moving to Epic Game Store at the last minute, or games that are good, such as Timespinner, or just games that come out entirely too late, it’s become almost a minefield for video games. The question is can Bloodstained become the one game that avoids those pitfalls? Perhaps.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night looks great from the first moment. The first area of the game is a ship sailing over unknown water. This was the original demo level for the game and was fantastic at that time. While it didn’t give much away, the look and feel of the level really worked. It is still the opening level of the game, and it combines all those great elements together, allowing the player to explore the galleon at their own pace and reveal in some amazing looking graphics.
Every level in Bloodstained is reminiscent of this design. Each area and room evokes an interesting feeling and a memorable sign. A number of times I had to backtrack through levels to find something, and each level stands out so well it’s easy to find your path through them without opening the map in each room. The look of each area though stands out in quality as well as style.
The disembodied dogs head is equal parts hilarious and scary.
The enemies in Bloodstained are well designed and interesting. However, there is a definitely “Castlevania” flavor to them, going as far as having Dullahammer heads flying around similar to the Medusa heads of the Castlevania games. In fact, if you’ve never seen the enemies of Castlevania, I would say that you’ll see most of them in Bloodstained, and it’s a good start.
Of course, Bloodstained does push beyond the past and create all new horrors for the player. In fact, the one that stands out for me is the disembodied head of dogs that bounce around on a leash, or cats that can swipe at players. The enemies contain everything from Ninja assassins, guitarists, shovel knight, and more as well as having a strange and macabre design. One downside is that with so many various designs to the enemy quite a few areas feel a bit random, but at the same time, having different challenges thrown at the player in a different order does keep the player on edge.
There were a number of Kickstarter goals that definitely influenced the game. A number of backers were able to be placed as portraits in the game, which works extremely well, in fact, there’s a portrait I adore of one backer’s cat. But I also am curious of how many of the enemies that I found out of place were from different backer’s wishes, or in general how much the Kickstarter process affected the game.
Though I do find parts of the Kickstarter rewards interesting. The devs included a number of voice lines from David Hayter, and Robbie Belgrade in the game, and those are enjoyable to play through.
The portraits are amazing, but come on, someone got a portrait of his cat? That’s hilarious.
Unfortunately, not everything works in Bloodstained, there are a number of characters who talk to our main character, Miriam, in the main village of the game, and the character models here really look out of place for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It’s a strange piece that I’m unsure why they weren’t improved over time.
Similarly, a couple of areas stand out as just not being as original as other parts of the game, or features that weren’t fully used. After the boat ride, the second area of the game has an amazing 90-degree turn in it as the player runs to the right. It’s a bit of visual trickery but it stands out. However, it’s one of only four rooms in the entire game that uses this trick. A major boss battle occurs in a circular room, as does an epic fight, and a couple of areas, but it’s used so sparingly I’m not sure if it could have done more or is just a one-off trick.
The story of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is strange. I struggled with the story, and even replayed the opening three times, just to ensure I wasn’t missing a scene or two. Unfortunately, the Bloodstained opening is a little all over the place.
The opening story is as dry and simple as can be.
The story starts by telling you about previous experiments behind done on “Shardbinders” most of which died, leaving only the character of Gebel, who survived the experiment, and Miriam who had fallen into a ten-year slumber. It’s very quick and rather lacking opening. From there, Miriam’s friend Johannes is assisting here and bringing her to a castle where they meet Gebel, who seems to be controlled by a mythical being called Gremory, and a church agent called Dominique. From here the castle is open for the player to explore.
Throughout the game, it feels like Bloodstained is trying to piece much of its story together. There are a number of characters introduced such as Zangetsu a sword-wielding samurai and Alfred as an old mage. Zangetsu is actually played by David Hayter, and it’s such a thrill to hear his voice again in the game, even if it does sound a bit like a cross between a swordsman and Snake from Metal Gear Solid, it’s a great performance. All the characters are well voiced.
From these characters, I could have sworn that this game was a sequel to Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. However I don’t believe this is the case, and in fact, it seems Curse of the Moon is based on an alternate universe, and as such, I have a major problem.
The game seems to imply you should already know some or a decent amount of this story, but if Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a different game, there’s no backstory to already know. Even if there is a backstory, it should be included with this game so players get a full experience, rather than grasp at the weak opening with its numerous plot holes.
After the odd opening of the game, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night does have a decent story. Zangetsu and Alfred have met a couple of times and both characters have their own reasons for exploring the castle. There’s a lot to explore and discover in the game, and in fact, I liked the story more as I got to the end of the game, as pieces of the original story eventually got filled in. However, if this was intentional, the opening could have been more fleshed out and these reveals would have been more impactful rather than leaving holes that the player would expect to have some explanation even if it’s an incorrect or an unknown gap.
You eventually start to get some of these pieces to be filled in but many hours later.
While this is a brand new story about all new characters, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between Bloodstained’s flow of the game and Symphony of the Night. With Gebel placed as the main villain at first, it seems different, but once you reach Gebel, climbing a long set of stairs and seeing him attack with three magic blasts, it’s hard not to think of how Dracula would attack.
Of course, this similarity is in place because in a lot of ways Ritual of the Night is Symphony of the Night, but yet, it’s a little too on the nose, even if it’s a major homage to the creator’s original game.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s gameplay is very similar to most Metroidvania games, but of course has direct comparisons to Symphony of the Night yet again. It’s not unsurprising and in fact, I think most fans were expecting that.
Players start as Miriam and are given two weapons to start the game, a pair of boots, and a knife. Both weapons are perfectly fine but it shows one of the big things that Bloodstained focuses on. Every weapon type in Bloodstained has a different attack animation, speed, and style. The Boots make Miriam use kicks for all attacks, while the Knife uses a short-range stab motion.
There are quite a few different types of weapons as the player goes on, ranging from spears, long swords, greatswords (which use an overhead swing), whips and more. The weapon types are quite different, so each one feels different, but the weapons in each category has a similar use. There are even guns if players want to use a ranged weapon, along with ammo as necessary.
In addition, Miriam will slow gain shards from the enemies she beats, the shards are a form of magic system where she can use them for attacks. She can spawn a head on a flail, or throw shurikens if she gets the right shard. There are a number of different shard types, depending on where they go on the status screen but the end result is that Miriam becomes an extremely strong and dangerous character over time with all this equipment and shard system at her disposal.
The enemy designs here are really awesome, but it’s even better when you gain the shards from them and get a special ability.
From there almost every element of Symphony of the Night is brought across, the player is once again exploring a large castle, that continually grants the player new abilities along the way. These abilities require the players to backtrack to previous areas to find where to use these new abilities. The ability to double jump may allow the player to reach a new platform, or the ability to grab objects and move them allows the player to move the pillars out of the way.
However, this is one area where I feel that Bloodstained lacked a certain something. It’s not always clear where the player is supposed to go next and a few of these features are unexpected.
In the Galleon at the beginning of the game, the player gets the ability to shoot a fireball, which Miriam can aim. From here she can use the fireball to light a fuse and set off a cannon to blow a hole in the wall. It creates this feeling that many of the shards that the player will pick up will be able to interact with the world in strange and unique ways.
Sadly, that’s an incorrect feeling. This is one of the only interactables in the world. There are only two or three other shards that allow this to happen. Both are given by bosses. This is in addition to the various movement abilities, such as the double jump but it’s a shame because the interactivity with the cannonball works well but it’s so rarely revisited.
Even when it is revisited it’s hard to know what’s going on. There’s a shard called Craftwork that allows you to move pillars which makes a lot of sense. However, that same shard is supposed to be used to move Iron Maiden, but there’s no indication that the shard could be used on it, and personally, I didn’t realize it until I looked online, almost five hours after getting it.
Similarly there, another major path to open is also done with a specific shard given from a boss, you have to already know to use this skill to open a path, in a specific room you passed through close to ten hours ago. In hindsight, it’s rather obvious but sadly since this type of technique is used so rarely I didn’t even consider doing this, and I was distracted as I got the shard, so I didn’t put two and two together.
I love this combination of the guitarist and a chariot. It’s perfect.
The last shard I want to bring up is the one that starts allowing you to move underwater, which is essential for progression, isn’t a guaranteed drop and requires players to farm a few enemies until it drops. This is another place where players can get lost.
The fact is this is a little too common for my taste and where most Metroidvania gives you flat abilities to use, the fact that Bloodstained doesn’t give you a firm hint hurts the experience. Though if the player returns to Dominique and Johannes in their makeshift town, they’ll give little hints on what the player is supposed to do next. Sadly these hints seem to be delayed. I learned where bosses were after I defeated them, but I was stuck since they weren’t giving me hints on what to do after those bosses. Sadly this doesn’t help the progression of the game enough, especially when the player can get lost so easily.
The game doesn’t give firm objectives so much of the progression of the game is done through exploration, which could work, but Bloodstained could make the problem space a lot smaller to make the player find their way easier.
With the exception of these logical gaps in the game, much of Bloodstained is well designed. The levels are laid out very well where players mostly can just follow the paths or figure out which diverging paths that he missed to find the way to the next boss or skill.
The boss fights in Bloodstained are rather solid and each one brings in a new and unique mechanic. Only a few boss encounters in the game were easy, and most of those feel like they were placed to break up the flow of the game rather than being a full boss encounters.
I just love the derpy face on this boss.
The early bosses of the game can be a little easy, and won’t challenge many players, but as the game goes on, especially once the player is pushing towards the end game, the challenge of the game rises and honestly the final areas can be quite difficult. Much of the end game is based on which gear players will use. There are a few broken weapons in the game, and a number of very powerful items, but without knowing exactly what to use, I think most players will struggle some with the final areas.
Another big piece of Bloodstained is that there are quite a few secrets in the game, this can range from everything from hidden rooms and items to little moments in the game. There’s a piano in one very large room that the player can actually sit at like any other chair in the game. However, if the player puts down the controller for a bit, Miriam will actually play the piano with a beautiful little tune.
If the player wants to go even further, they can use a specific familiar they are treated to an additional scene with the familiar singing. This isn’t just a single moment, there are a rather large number of little secrets in Bloodstained. Everything from the classic action of being able to bump a librarian’s chair up into the air, a secret 8-bit level, a room behind a bookcase, and even at least five additional boss fights that are not part of the main storyline of the game. Bloodstained treats these secrets as special moments, and as a player, I smiled each time I found one and just wondered how many of these I missed as I made my way through the game.
There are a few things I wish were done a little better. None of these really ruin the game unlike the previously mentioned shard interactions, but they are still pieces I wish to call out.
I found some glitches, the most annoying was that sometimes when loot or items would drop from enemies they would not “land” on the ground and are unretrievable. A recent patch claims that it has fixed this bug, which is good but it still dogged me my entire playthrough.
Cooking is one of many features of the game that are interesting but are under used.
Cooking is an interesting feature, where eating a new type of food for the first time gives you stat points, but after the end of the game, I realized I had only cooked 10 items out of a long list. It appears a majority of the elements for cooking may need to be purchased, otherwise, I was unable to find where to get most of these elements, which lowered my interest.
In general, a lot of ideas happen this way. There’s a chest early on that gives three seeds, and you can use this with a farmer to grow these three types of food, but I never found another seed, and the food he created couldn’t be used on its own.
The quests in the game mostly involve killing a specific enemy or finding a specific item to give, and these are interesting but I don’t think they were really required to improve Bloodstained and perhaps detracted a bit from it as well as it was yet another thing for the player to track.
All of Bloodstained is similar to this style though, wonderful throwbacks to a different style of game that isn’t being made that often. While the Metroidvania genre is still very strong, it’s rare for anyone to capture the brilliance of the originator, Castlevania: Symphony of the night. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night does that very efficiently. It’s hard to really avoid the comparisons with these two games because they’re so aligned in many ways.
If someone was interested in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, I think there’s an important question of expectations. The first question should be what do you want from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night? This is the crux of what I find to be many people’s thoughts on the game. When I backed the game personally, I expected an all-new “Metroidvania” in the same style of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which was one of my favorite games. In fact, I think Bloodstained is almost exactly that, with a heavy focus on “being” Symphony of the Night, whether it is due to the Kickstarter responses from fans, or from what was originally planned all along.
However, I do know that some fans wanted this to be an evolution of that formula to create an all-new game that is different and unique and has less connection to the original game.
While I wouldn’t mind seeing an all-new game from Koji Igarashi, Bloodstained was never going to be it. This was an homage to the originator of Igarashi’s fame, and fans backed specifically because of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In many ways, it was always going to be the same game, and if that’s what you’re looking for, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night definitely delivers on it. However, those looking for something completely different or brand new will probably have to temper their expectations.
Overall though, I give Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night a
I’ve based my review and score fully on the Windows version of the game. Though not everything that was promised in the Kickstarter has been released yet, it should still be coming. There’s DLC coming for many of the stretch goals, and I’m sure Bloodstained will continue to improve over time. There have been a couple of important patches already after I finished playing it.
At the same time, I have to mention that reports about the Switch version of the game are particularly negative. I haven’t played that version, I don’t own it, but if you are considering it, give it perhaps another month. The current plan is a major patch in mid-July but the state of the game as it stands right now does seem to be lacking compared to the other three editions.
It’s sad to end on such a negative note, but I think it’s clear that the team behind this game will ensure a good product is delivered if the Windows version is anything to go from. I’m glad to see this game deliver on so many promises, and recreate the amazing moments and memories as the game they based this copy on. I’m looking forward to returning to Bloodstained and seeing even more of this game.
Update: At the beginning of August the promised Switch patch has yet to be released, it sounds like it’ll be even longer so considered other versions unless yoy are remarkably patient.
Final Thoughts: An amazing return to the style of Castlevania Symphony of the Night while giving an all-new adventure and castle to explore. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a worthy Metroidvania.
Stats: 31.6 hours played 34/45 achievements earned.
Disclosure: I backed this game on Kickstarter and thus got my copy due to that. I believe I paid more than the current price for the game as part of this though I used the MSRP to judge the game.