Game name: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Release date: June 18, 2019
Available on: Steam
Genre: Igavania (yes, that’s a real genre, don’t question my life choices!)
Publisher: 505 Games
Big publisher neglects popular franchise, fans rally around famous Japanese creator who had a big hand in making said franchise popular, propelling his Kickstarter campaign for a spiritual sequel past all its funding goals. It’s time to finally talk about Koji Igarashi’s perfected take on Castlevania, the long-awaited Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
There’s so much that Mr. Igarashi got right with Bloodstained: RotN that I feel the need to start on its weakest part, which is the story (and the way it’s delivered). We play as Miriam, a more-than-human Shardbinder who can absorb her enemies’ abilities from time to time, and is an overall badass, facing towering bosses with grim efficiency in her quest to save the world from a doomsday plot instigated by a former comrade. Along the way we’ll meet interesting characters who will act as helpers, offering their services at a hidden base. So far so good, but sadly almost every time we meet anyone with voice lines for the first time, the otherwise fantastically paced action slows down to a crawl as we are forced to listen to their dialogue, even though we don’t really have many reasons to care for them. This will of course improve as the story continues and we get to know these people, but the way the game dumps exposition on us at the start can be a bit off-putting.
Moving on to the basic gameplay loop, anyone familiar with Symphony of the Night will feel right at home here, as most of the mechanics present in Igarashi’s first title as a game director return, improved and perfected. This means that we’ll explore an intricate map, unlocking new areas, and backtracking to get to places we couldn’t previously reach as our character grows in power and abilities (and yes, you can moonwalk your way out of difficult situations with the always helpful backstep).
Most of these abilities are acquired through Shards dropped by fallen foes, which can in turn be equipped so Miriam can gain new powers based on the defeated enemy’s moveset (just remember that Shard powers run on mana, so spamming them will quickly deplete our supply of said resource). As the adventure progresses we’ll amass an arsenal that would make any warlock cry like an anime fan on prom night (sorry, I HAD to do it). Aside from offensive, defensive and passive shards that bolster our ability to get rid of anything that stands in our path, we’ll also get access to movement upgrades such as a double jump, or a very useful disembodied hand that can lift heavy objects in order to create new paths or clear blocked areas.
Farming foes for their shards (or crafting materials) can be a worthwhile use of our first few ingame hours, as we’ll soon encounter enemy types that are weak to certain spells or weapons and resistant to others, so having a varied arsenal will always be a great idea. Here, our hidden base will prove incredibly useful, as we can craft new weapons or accessories with materials dropped by fallen foes or found in the chests that are spread out around the map. It’s also important to note that if we get duplicates of shards we already own, we can either sell them or use them to upgrade our existing inventory, unlocking even more powerful versions of our favorite spells (I definitely recommend not selling shards, but to each their own, of course). Getting secondary missions from a certain NPC who also calls this location home should also become a priority, as those missions can be easily completed by defeating enemies that we’d come across anyway, and the rewards are very much worth it. Oh, and there’s a cooking system too! (and mastering it can be VERY rewarding).
Equipping different weapons change the way we approach fights, as they all come with their own moveset, and as we progress in the story, we can even unlock weapon techniques, which add even more depth to the combat system (although I do not recommend using them with the d-pad in the Xbox 360 family of controllers if you wish to stay sane).
As we fight our way through the game’s demon infested locales, Miriam will also gain experience, leveling up from time to time, and increasing our stats (and no, there’s no randomized stat gains, thank the gods).
Feeling overwhelmed yet? Well, don’t, because there’s still stuff to talk about! (and also, because the game does a great job easing players into its various systems). Weapons and Shards aren’t the only things we can craft or upgrade, since there’s also armor and accessories, bringing even more customization into the mix, as we can choose to bolster certain stats in detriment of others, letting us create different builds that can be used to better manage certain situations. Oh, and if you like visual customization, there’s a barber that’s totally not Sweeney Todd, and he’ll be more than happy to assist with new haircuts.
Of course, a game that aims to perfect the Castlevania formula must also give us an intelligently designed map to explore, and I’m happy to report that Bloodstained won’t leave anyone dissatisfied in this regard. The bulk of Miriam’s journey will take place in an intricately designed Gothic castle, full of hidden areas and unlockable shortcuts. As we get new movement abilities and unlock certain Shards, we’ll backtrack and discover even more places to visit, hidden in plain sight, or just slightly out of reach until we get the tool we needed in order to access them. Trust me when I say that there’s always some new place to explore just around the corner. This also means that the game is actually pretty long, with my real ending run clocking at around 20 hours (you can technically beat the game at the 10 hour mark or so, but it’s not the real ending).
On the tech side, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is once again a winner, boasting a delightful art style that brings anime-like graphics to life with lighting effects that works marvels when it comes to hiding rough spots in the texture work. The soundtrack is also excellent, fitting the game’s Gothic atmosphere like a glove. I wasn’t completely sold on some of the characters’ voice acting, but as the game progressed, it grew on me.
Time for the final verdict, then. If you’ve been following this review until now, I think you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I think about this game, but putting thoughts into words is important. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night captures the essence of the Castlevania series, perfecting the formula that made Symphony of the Night a classic, and even surpassing its spiritual predecessor in many aspects. Koji Igarashi has done it again, and I can’t wait for whatever he cooks up next.
9.5/10 – Excellent.
Addendum: I’ve received a few messages asking if the game is playable with mouse and keyboard. The short answer is yes, and the long answer would be that weapon techniques are far harder to use on a keyboard/mouse setup, since they require fast and accurate input on the movement keys (which is the same reason why I said previously that the Xbox 360 family of controllers can drive someone mad if they want to use weapon techniques on the D-pad of such gamepads). So, if you don’t care much for the weapon techniques, you should be fine playing on mouse and keyboard, but if you do (and I personally think you should, it’s a pretty neat feature) then I’d recommend a controller, and preferably something along the lines of a DS3.