Title: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Release Date: June 18, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: 505 Games
By now, the Igavania formula has been used plenty of times in games. After playing a couple, you begin to understand its beats and know exactly what to expect. See a ledge that’s too high? Don’t worry, the double jump ability is coming. Can’t get a door open? They’ll be a switch, later on, that’ll take care of that. Modern Igavania titles rely on pushing the boundaries when it comes to abilities in order to stay unique in the space. However, it’s not so bad dialing things back a bit to deliver a true Igavania experience from the man himself, Koji Igarashi.
Developer ArtPlay originally kicked off Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night through a Kickstarter in 2015. Now, fans finally see the result of the product. Through its many co-developers and a publisher announcement, I can honestly say, the wait was worth it. Sure, the game has its moments where it definitely looks like a crowdfunded indie game, but mechanics and gameplay bleed that Igarashi style that’s been missing in my life.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night begins by introducing Miriam, the subject of treatments enacted by the Alchemist Guild which turned her into what is known as a Shardbinder. Shardbinders are cursed with the fate of slowly turning into a crystal over time, but they are also granted enormous amounts of power. When Miriam enters the scene, she is surprised to hear that her old friend Gebel is leading a pack of demons to kill off humans and resides in a large castle. Furthermore, Miriam’s old teacher Alfred is also after Gebel and looking for a book. With some help from the church and a few friends, Miriam goes forth to stop Gebel and see what the hell Alfred is up to.
The story hits some key moments throughout the game, but it holds true to a pretty serious tone. While most of the text in the story can come off as campy, I felt that the great voice acting in the game lent a hand to downplaying some of these tones. I was constantly dissecting conversations between Miriam and her group of friends because I honestly didn’t trust anyone. Questions fill your head while playing such as why would Gebel do this and seriously what the hell is Alfred up to, which makes the adventure all the more exciting.
What’s interesting about Bloodstained is that it has no intentions of throwing new traversal abilities at the player after every boss. Instead, the game uses Shards as a way to constantly change up the gameplay and for the most part, this works. Shards are acquired by defeating enemies who will sometimes grant Miriam a special ability. While this is random, it wasn’t difficult for me to get shards and I even had some to sell off at times. Shard abilities can also be used for traversing and interacting with the environment which has them play a larger role in the game overall. With that said, it can be a little cryptic when and where to use these abilities, but I felt this just played to the charm of the genre.
Feeling lost about where to go is natural in a game like this and Bloodstained isn’t one to hold the player’s hand. However, there are plenty of clues about where to go next sprinkled across the map, but understanding Miriam’s abilities is pretty crucial to getting through the game without hitting too many roadblocks.
As for the castle layout and design, I will say that I was worried at first. The beginning of the game has players play through a pirate shit with generic rooms and hallways that look like copied and pasted environments. However, after entering the castle, all of my doubts were put rest and I discovered a beautifully designed castle with plenty of unique rooms and themed areas. Making a return are the vertical halls of random staircases, gears, and cathedral-like rooms to add to the nostalgia that this game was created to provide, but it also includes its fair share of unique environments. Make no mistake, the game seems to do its best to add in new elements here and there, but it stays true to the Castlevania layout.
When you’re not out exploring the castle, Bloodstained has some side missions that allow players to get items after killing a certain type of enemy. There’s also a little farming area and an old woman who asks for food. Weapons in the game can either be purchased or crafted. I found that I typically was able to craft the weapons that I needed and never ran into problems with unbalanced gameplay or insanely high difficulty spikes in the game.
Graphically, Bloodstained has some nice backgrounds. The moon in the background with spooky clouds passing by or a city on fire. It all creates a nice experience while exploring. The character models are decent, but they do have that distinct indie shiny look to them. Bosses are each awesome and unique. There are textbooks to find while traveling around the map which offer some further insight into the world and characters.
This is a game without an autosave feature, but luckily there are enough save points sprinkled around to make dying not so bad. However, I did encounter a crash during gameplay, which made me lose about an hour of my time, I was not able to recreate the crash when I tried again. I also felt that some of the Shards were pretty overpowered and I ended up fudging some of the boss battles this way.
Musically, Bloodstained strikes all the right chords. I was immersed in this devilish world and loved every single track that played. I couldn’t get enough of the nostalgia that the soundtrack provided and made my time with the game an awesome experience overall. Similarly, the voiceover team did an amazing job with this game and hearing David Hayter voice a badass character is something that I could never grow tired of.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is everything I could have hoped for from a modern take on the Igavania genre. The game took a chance on not delivering the more popular design choice of just overloading the player with traversal abilities and instead relied on slowly rolling them out along with including Shard abilities that incentivize killing enemies. I had an amazing time exploring the castle not knowing what was going to come next.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a true Igavania adventure and does a great job at bringing this experience to modern platforms. There are some low points here and there and some design choices can be a bit questionable, but honestly, there is just so much to love about this game that it really doesn’t matter. The wait was worth it and the story conclusion was something that I wasn’t expecting. Miriam is a great main protagonist for this new generation of Igavania titles and I would gladly go on a demon-slaying adventure with her again.
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