A few years ago, a Kickstarter was started for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The man behind this game is Koji Igarashi. You may recognize him from his work with Konami and several of their Castlevania games. More specifically, we’re looking at his work on Symphony of the Night, which he helped direct, write, and program. Symphony is lauded as one of the best PlayStation games of all time by some folks. It has great visual style, satisfying gameplay, and a very memorable soundtrack. It ticks all the boxes (some might even say created) that a good metroidvania includes. Symphony of the Night scratched a very specific gaming itch that many games have been chasing after for a long time.
All in all, Bloodstained has some big shoes to fill as a spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. As you might imagine, the Kickstarter was very successful, reaching its goal in a very short amount of time. But history has shown that a successful funding doesn’t always mean a good game. But I can safely say that, despite a few flaws, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is also a good game and it scratches that gaming itch that it was born from. It ticks almost all the boxes and I think it earns the title of being a spiritual successor. In other words, if you liked Symphony of the Night, as well as other games of the genre, then you should definitely give this one a go.
Is Bloodstained a Clone?
The comparisons to Symphony of the Night are pretty blatant throughout Bloodstained. Especially when you first start playing the game. Not only in gameplay but some enemies and game features are very reminiscent of those older Castlevania games. It takes the moniker of ‘spiritual successor’ very seriously. That doesn’t mean it is a carbon copy though. Bloodstained has its own distinct flavor. While it borrows from previous games, it does stand out on its own in a few different ways.
With that said, that similarity to those games is also a double edged sword. There are aspects that seem to be pulled out right out of other games and are placed into Bloodstained. Symphony of the Night is a pretty old game at this point and while it still holds up well, it does show its age in certain aspects. Bloodstained doesn’t really try anything new with the formula. It’s more Symphony to put it simply. But then again, that’s what most fans of the game wanted so, it kind of works itself out.
Miriam the Shardbinder
You play as Miriam, who through a series of events, becomes a Shardbinder. What this means is that she is part human and part crystal. This allows her to absorb shards from fallen enemies that give her new abilities. This makes up the core of the gameplay for Bloodstained. She wakes up from a coma to find that one of her old friends is leading a demon invasion that could be the end of the world. You have to explore the castle and find new abilities to, of course, save the world.
Collect All the Shards!
As you explore the map you’ll fight a variety of enemies, any of which can drop a shard upon defeat. In fact you can collect shards from every enemy in the game if you so desire. These shards can give you a number of different effects and abilities depending on the enemy. They range from stat boosts to new attacks to new abilities. For example there is a particular enemy that can give you the ability to move under water, allowing access to new areas. Or another shard can give you a familiar that helps you in different ways and have their own levels. These familiar can heal you, block attacks, and help you find secrets to name a few.
You’ll have to equip and experiment with these shards to create a play style of your own. There are different categories of shards which gives a ton of options when it comes to customization in how you want to play.
Difficulty is a Bit… Surprising
It’s safe to say that while the system is pretty straight forward it does give you the ability to have many different combinations and play-styles. Which is great. This also makes it so you can become pretty powerful fairly early in the game. In fact, I hadn’t put in more than a few hours when I discovered a combination of shards that almost felt like cheating. I was killing bosses with very little effort, very quickly.
But that only worked until I hit a wall that was a specific boss called Bloodless. Suddenly, I actually had to put some effort into playing the game and instead of cheesing my way through the fight I had to use some strategy. The fight wasn’t too bad once I figured out the strategy but the sudden change in difficulty was a bit surprising.
The later portion of the game definitely steps up. If you’re not ready for it be prepared to die. I appreciated the challenge of the later game though. I’ll admit was a bit concerned that Bloodstained would become stale if it stayed the way it started out. It seemed to take some time to get to this point and there really wasn’t any indication that the game was going to get the jump on you either. I was happy to see it come around though. Once I recovered anyway.
Lots and Lots of Ways to Fight
The combat is, once again, very similar to Symphony. You have to be fairly accurate to time hits with where you are in conjunction with the enemy. A nice difference in Bloodstained is that there are several different types of weapons you can use. And they all feel a little different. Swords are what you might expect; an attack that is straight out in front of your character. Certain swords, axes, and hammers have an overhead attack that makes hitting things above and in front of you a breeze. Then you can find specialized weapons that have a range of different effects if you’re willing to look hard enough. There are also the classic whips if that’s your thing.
One of my personal favorites was the Flying Edge which gave me a sword with a ranged attack. It wasn’t super powerful but it swept across a good portion of the screen, giving me some space from the enemies. Speaking of ranged attacks, you can also use guns instead of melee weapons. This gives you the ability to attack from afar and you can find, and make, different kinds of bullets to go with them. Oh, and yes, you do have a limited amount of good ammo to keep track of. Although there is a type of ammo that is infinite but also very weak.
To put it simply, you have a lot of ways to customize your fighting style and experimentation is crucial to finding what works best. You’ll have to change it up too. My previous combination that allowed me to cheese my way through levels and bosses turned out to not work so well later in the game and on certain bosses. But half the fun is discovering different combinations of powers and weapons and going out to test them on the demons and monsters of the castle.
Loot and Levels
You’ll find all kinds of different items throughout the castle. These range from food items and new weapons to different armor and even strange items. There are plenty of secrets to be found in Bloodstained and you’ll even come across the classic destroyable walls. Some items aren’t even necessary and are just for fun. One item is the Convex Glasses. When equipped it zooms in just a little bit closer to Miriam and the action. Not entirely functional but a fun little addition anyway.
When you aren’t out fighting baddies, you’ll be at an impromptu base in the village outside of the castle. Here you can do several different things including buying items and upgrading your shards. You can also find quite a few side quests here. Take on some avenge quests and take out specific enemies that killed a villager. Or have the farmer grow some crops that you can use to make food. How about helping a hungry old lady remember what kind of food she is craving.
There are quite a few activities in this “home base” that can be beneficial to your adventure. Some of the story takes place in the village and you’ll get to know some of the characters here as well. It also holds its own fair share of secrets.
Bloodstained Can Be Quirky
I realize that I’ve made a point to compare Bloodstained to other games, specifically Symphony of the Night. On the surface there is a reason for that. Bloodstained was made with the idea in mind of creating a new game that followed in the footsteps of previous games. That’s not to say it’s an exact copy, as I’ve mentioned. The look and feel of the game makes it stand out from the rest of the pack. And it has some very quirky enemies as well.
One of the early enemies that you may run into is a giant cat with horns just chilling in a portal. I almost felt bad killing it. Until it hissed at me and a column of fire appeared under me. Then you’ll discover a giant dog’s head that is attached to a chain and it flies at you chomp-chomp style if you get too close. Or how about the dancer with the bunny ears? You know, the one you can actually turn into if you happen to get their shard? Or maybe you’ve come across the rockstar playing guitar that shoots bolts of music at you. This isn’t even mentioning some of the memorable bosses. All these odd enemies intermingled with the classic demons and other villains is both weird and fun. And it gives Bloodstained an interesting taste that I wasn’t expecting going in that I found quite enjoyable.
It’s Gothic and Anime Combined
Bloodstained is a bit of a mixed bag in the looks department. It’s not bad looking by any means, but can awkward at times. For the most part backgrounds and the levels look pretty good. Especially with the background depth that some areas show. There is quite a bit of detail to soak in and I really enjoyed the views as some levels stretched quite far into the background. It’s worth mentioning that they added a lot to the game shortly before its release in the graphics department. In this case it definitely worked in their favor.
The enemies are all decent as well. The game is very colorful and fun to look at. But when it comes to the characters, there is a little bit that could be worked on. For starters, I’m not a huge fan of the somewhat anime style of the characters. That’s obviously a very personal choice though. But the characters don’t quite fit in with everything else. Some of the animations are laughable at times as well. One moment in particular had a character walk off screen and it was very stiff and wooden. It stood out completely compared the rest of the area. And as far as our heroine, Miriam goes, she looks alright. It would be nice to have a character that isn’t sporting the old cliche that is anime cleavage though. But maybe that’s just me.
I guess at the end of the day it’s a bit of personal choice. I did get used to it all eventually and it didn’t bother me enough to dislike the game. But I think it could use some improvement as far as the look of characters go. Everything else looks good.
Glitches and Performance Issues
Bloodstained has a lot going for it but it’s also full of glitches and performance issues. Luckily none of them were game breaking in my experience. You’ll find frame rate drops happen quite often when there is a lot going on. There are graphical issues at times as well. My favorite sword, the Flying Edge, had a particular glitch where the flying trail animation would stretch across the entire screen. This happened quite often in several different locations.
Also, there is a noticeable delay when doing certain thing such as going to the next screen or pausing. And then there are the load times. Specifically when you die, there are times when loading can take a very long time. Loading might only take 20-30 seconds if you’re lucky. Or it might take up to several minutes. Like, actual minutes. Again, not something that made me stop playing the game but it could definitely use some sprucing up in this department.
This Sounds Oddly Familiar…
As with pretty much everything else in this game, the music and sound effects are very reminiscent of Symphony. When I started the game there was a song that, for a second, I thought was actually the song from that game. The soundtrack in Bloodstained has a similar vibe and sound but isn’t quite as memorable. When I noticed the music it was usually because it sounded familiar to something I had heard before. This doesn’t mean it’s bad but it doesn’t shine as much as it could. Sound design is all pretty satisfying. Hits felt good and enemy sounds all made for a good experience. Voice acting was just okay.
Bloodstained has a lot going for it. Satisfying gameplay, many secrets to find, and a huge castle to explore. There is a lot to discover in how you play, especially as you find more secrets and items. The shard system is an interesting way to customize your gameplay style. It is very much more of what you love from Symphony of the Night and other Castlevania games of that era. But Bloodstained doesn’t do anything new with the genre. It borrows many concepts to create a game with more of what people loved about the other games. In short, if you’re a fan then give this one a go. Minus a few iffy aspects, Bloodstained is fun experience. Whether it falls into the realm of one of the greats is unlikely but I enjoyed my time anyway.