Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review — A Bloody Good Time
Koji Igarashi and his team have composed another exceptional symphony in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
If you’re one of the many fans who have been waiting more than ten years for Koji Igarashi to release a new game in the Metroidvania style he helped establish, I have good news for you. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a return to form for the famed director and confirms that he still knows how to make those exploration heavy platform-action RPGs you know and love.
In Bloodstained, you play as a young girl named Miriam, one of the last Shardbinders left on Earth. This gives her the unique power to absorb shards from demons and use them to cast various spells. Miriam has been in a slumber for the past ten years. During that time, the other Shardbinders have sacrificed themselves to bring demonic forces into the world to stop the Industrial Revolution. Or at least I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. To be honest, the plot is very anime and definitely goes places. It’s just not always easy to keep up with where it’s going.
Anyways, when the Shardbinders sacrificed themselves, one of their numbers lived. Gebel is the only other living Shardbinder and serves as the primary antagonist of the game. He has raised a demonic castle in a nearby town. You join Johannes (a crafter) and Dominique (an exorcist) in a quest to stop Gebel.
What follows is classic Metroidvania gameplay. As Miriam, you have access to a number of different spells that you can use to fight off the demon hordes that live within the castle. Each demon has its own associated shard, so you’ll have to kill them all if you want to get every shard in the game. However, the shards are a random drop, so you might need to murder somewhere in the neighborhood of 124 Giant Rats before you get its shard. But who’s counting?
Yes, it can be frustrating when the shards don’t drop, but the combat is fun enough that shard grinding never really felt like a problem. For me, it just provided an opportunity to try out different shard combinations to see what worked best for my playstyle. There are over 100 different shards, so everyone should be able to find something that feels good.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night really shines while you’re exploring the castle. Combat is tough but manageable. There are enough enemy types to ensure that it stays fresh throughout. The light-platforming is solid and really opens up as you unlock new abilities. I also have always loved when Metroidvanias tease you tantalizing new secrets that you can only unlock after you progress further in the game. It forces you to really learn the layout of the castle if you want to get the most out of the experience.
When you get to the boss battles, the gameplay falls off a bit. The big fights aren’t bad, but I felt like many of them were just glorified normal encounters because the difficulty of them is just so up and down. For example, the first two boss fights were great. They were tough enough that it took a few tries to learn their patterns and I felt accomplished once I finally took them down. However, with the exception of one other fight, I blazed through every other boss until the end of Bloodstained.
That’s not me trying to brag, either. I just found an OP shard combo and was able to walk through the big fights without a care for their mechanics. I don’t know if I would call it bad game design, but it did make the Bloodstained’s boss fights feel incredibly easy. Fortunately, there are two harder difficulty levels and, after I unlocked those, I liked their challenge quite a bit. Even without great boss battles, the game is still chock full of content. It took me about 18 hours to unlock 100% of the map and complete the game. And that’s not even taking into account the Boss Rush and Speed Run modes you unlock after finishing the campaign.
Graphically, the game is mostly unremarkable. It looks fine and suits the style well, but it’s not going to light any graphics cards on fire. That said, Bloodstained drips with that classic Castlevania style. The gothic themes invade the game from start to finish and help it stand out from other modern Metroidvanias. There are so many little details that really add to the atmosphere. There’s one room that has a rotating bookcase for a door. You never see this again, but it looks so cool in motion. Those little details add up to make you feel like you’re in a castle designed by a deranged madman.
Adding to the style is a beautiful orchestral score. Composer Michiru Yamane is no stranger to Castlevania and Igarashi (she made her bones composing Symphony of the Night, after all), but she really outdid herself here. The music does fade out at times while you’re exploring, which is unfortunate given its quality. However, when it hits, it hits hard. While playing I would sometimes clear a room and then just sit there while doing chores to listen to the music. David Hayter also brings his iconic voice acting work to Bloodstained as another fighter trying to overcome the forces of the castle.
The package hearkens back to Igarashi’s vintage Castlevania titles while also feeling fresh in the modern sea of Metroidvanias. That isn’t to say Bloodstained is perfect, though. As mentioned, the difficulty curve is more like a choppy sea that churns in and out. Bloodstained also has a number of technical issues that didn’t kill my enthusiasm, but certainly impacted it.
During gameplay, the game runs pretty solid. You get some chugging in fights when you do 2 actions at once, but it’s not too bad. For example, if you’re swinging at something at the same time you’re picking up an item drop, the game will freeze for a second. It’s annoying, but not game-breaking. The real problem is the load times. They aren’t that long (five to ten seconds), but they are pretty frequent. Many times I was jumping into the next room, hitting a load, and then falling back into the previous room. This gets incredibly tedious throughout the campaign and is probably my biggest gripe with Bloodstained.
There’s also a crafting system that’s tiresome. You can craft basically everything in the game, from better shards to stat-boosting food to new weapons. However, getting the materials to make anything requires lucking into random drops in the castle. For me, it felt too grindy to every really get into. I used it when I needed to, but mostly just stuck to the items that dropped in fights. Like I’ve said, on normal difficulty, Bloodstained was relatively easy, so I never felt the need to get deep into crafting.
Those hiccups aren’t really that bad in the grand scheme of things. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an excellent Metroidvania game that encourages exploration and experimentation. It’s incredibly fun to solve its many puzzles and finding that perfect shard combination feels fantastic. Fans of the genre will be very happy with this release. That said, I also think it’s a solid entry point if you’re wanting to see what all the hubbub is about. Igavania is back, and the video game world is better for it.