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access_time July 27, 2019 at 8:00 AM in Microsoft by David Poole

Review | Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Crowdfunding is a fairly new tactic for the gaming industry. While there have been several games that have done it, only a few have become available. Results are hit and miss, with probably the biggest miss being Mighty No. 9. This caused consumers to be a bit skeptical of the method, though Castlevania series veteran Koji Igarashi decided to try his hand as well. Intending to make a spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the Kickstarter for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was born. Despite a few bumps in the road, it’s safe to say that Bloodstained is a crowdfunding game done right.

The story of Bloodstained takes place during the Industrial Revolution, with a fairly Gothic setting in Europe. Alchemists experiment with summoning demons and end up creating Shardbinders, human test subjects that were capable of harnessing demon power. Sacrificing all but two Shardbinders, the alchemists are nearly wiped out by demons they summoned. Of those two Shardbinders, Miriam falls into a deep coma while the other, Gebel, seeks revenge against the surviving Alchemists. Ten years later, Miriam awakens, deciding to help put a stop to Gebel’s revenge plans. The story is pretty straightforward and follows a similar formula of previous Castlevania games. With that said, it’s entertaining enough for players to enjoy.

The game itself is part of the Metroidvania genre, using 2.5D visuals and exploration across multiple areas to progress. Because of this style of gameplay, players will uncover many skills and techniques over time to reach new areas. Of course, like many titles in this genre, there are tons of shortcuts players can utilize as well. However you play, Bloodstained gives tons of options for players to enjoy the game. Multiple weapons, including swords, daggers, whips and pistols, all play incredibly different. It’s up to the player to find a weapon style that suits them, though it’s also good to try different options.

Bloodstained seems to combine the best elements of Castlevania titles like Symphony of the Night and Aria/Dawn of Sorrow. There are shared elements like the multiple weapons and level design, but there are some unique references too. Bloodstained utilizes a technique system that ties to various weapons, using directional inputs to perform them. This is reminiscent of Alucard’s spells from Symphony of the Night. While they are powerful, they are rarely efficient and sometimes it works best to just use the weapon normally. The features inspired by Aria/Dawn of Sorrow is the Shard system. As Miriam defeats enemies, there’s a chance that the enemy will drop a shard, which Miriam will absorb, gaining new abilities. This works almost identically to the Soul mechanic from the Aria/Dawn of Sorrow games.

Shards in general have a bit of variety. Some are abilities that use mana, whether it be projectiles, directional attacks or summons. Others work more as passive abilities, buffing weapon attacks for Miriam. Then there’s the Familiar shard, which allows Miriam to summon a demon guardian that follows her around and attacks enemies. Finally, players gain shards from bosses, which tend to give Miriam new abilities, suchas the double jump. Shards further give a lot of variety to the gameplay, and collecting multiple of the same one allows players to strengthen them. Being one of my favorite mechanics from Dawn of Sorrow, this was a welcome return.

As mentioned before, Bloodstained offers a variety of shortcuts. Depending on how the player progresses, they may be able to gain access to areas that were meant for later. Using abilities like downward kicks to spring off of enemies or light fixtures allows one to get to new areas. It’s that sort of freedom that makes Bloodstained perfect for speedruns, and also good for fans of the genre in general. Keep in mind that this makes the game significantly more challenging too. That’s already on top of a pretty decent challenge already. Overall, if you love the Metroidvania gameplay, Bloodstained will likely fulfill your expectations.

Graphically, there’s a lot to say about Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Originally, the game didn’t look too visually pleasing, though after more time in development, the developers turned it around. The game does still have some inconsistent visuals, but the Gothic setting combined with the variety of demons and traps make for a beautiful title. Each area has its own aesthetic theme, from clock towers to underground caverns. Backgrounds create a mesmerizing backdrop to a lot of the platforming, and some visual elements add a bit of fun too. Particularly, I found the various backer portraits scattered throughout the castle to be entertaining. That being said, it’s possible that it could also distract from the overall style of the game.

When it comes to the audio, Bloodstained is a treat to the ears. The original composer of Symphony of the Night, Michiru Yamane, returns to deliver another beautiful score. While it’s unfortunate that we can’t get remixes of iconic Castlevania tracks, the songs we do get are still good. Yamane’s haunting yet upbeat music sets the mood for this platforming adventure in a perfect composition. As for the voice acting, it’s not bad, but it does feel a little cheesy. Even voices like David Hayter don’t make for a groundbreaking performance, but it’s still great to hear.

Perhaps one of the best things about Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the many Easter eggs hidden throughout. Not only are there references to the Castlevania series, but there are various call-outs to other games, anime and books. Fans of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series will be happy to know that the game has plenty of references. One particular Easter egg I enjoyed involved sitting at a piano with a certain familiar. Regardless of how players might feel about them, it shows the developers had fun building this title. It also requires an attention to detail that gives a certain appreciation.

While the game does a lot of things right, there are still some issues. The biggest glitch I ran into was text disappearing from text boxes. Other issues involved treasure chests opening on their own as well as crashing. While I didn’t experience any of that, I was aware of the possibility. While not a bug itself, load times after deaths felt a little overly long too. The Nintendo Switch version has it worse, with longer load times, even between rooms. It’s also prone to crashing and other performance issues The Switch version being a visual downgrade and running in half the framerate didn’t help much. Luckily a patch is in the works for the performance, though one already released and heavily altered the balance.

When it comes down to it, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a worthy successor to Symphony of the Night. The game isn’t done releasing content, as there’s more on the way. Co-op and competitive multiplayer, an additional playable character, new modes and more await in future updates. Even without that content, the game is still a satisfying experience on its own. The game is a must-own for die-hard Castlevania fans, filling a void that’s been empty for years. Bloodstained sets the bar for crowdfunded games, delivering a fantastic adventure.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

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