One would feel as if they would have to turn immortal to see the release of this game. Well, fear not, as the day has arrived. And I’m here to tell you that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was worth the wait. How am I just now hearing about this game, you might ask? Well, if you choose not to follow Kickstarter, I could see how that’s possible. But I’m willing to bet you have heard of Castlevania, the long running game series by Konami. I’d also wager you might have stumbled across a title by the name of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Well, a man that goes by the name of Koji Igarashi(or just Iga) was the lead story writer and one of the lead developers on this title. He helped usher in a type of genre that would be here to stay in the gaming world. Complete with 2D exploration, action/rpg elements, an amazing soundtrack, and some cheesy voice acting, Symphony of the Night still holds up to this day. But enough talk!
Okay, maybe a bit more talk. While Symphony of the Night didn’t invent this type of game style, it took those elements and ran with them. Metroid, and later Super Metroid, more or less were the games that started this genre, which is why Super Metroid is also one of the greatest games of all time. But then we take the long running Castlevania series, chock full of horror goodness, level based design with some branching paths(Castlevania 3 and Rondo of Blood), and flip it upside down by creating the castle itself as the entire map, free to explore along with a certain character that wasn’t a whip wielding Belmont. Dracula’s own son, Alucard, was the main character here, and he came to put an end to this. With plenty of hidden rooms and powerups that let Alucard explore more of the castle, you start falling into a state where you have to search one more room, or come across a boss door, and wonder if you are able to defeat what awaits you on the other side? Add in one of the best soundtracks of all time by Michiru Yamane, and you have a complete experience that still holds up to this day.
Wait, wasn’t this a review for Bloodstained? Why all the Castlevania talk? The answer is simple. At a certain point, Konami stopped letting Iga make his style of Castlevania games. Long story short, Iga left Konami, and ventured out to see if fans wanted more of these so called Metroid-Vania style games. He launched a Kickstarter that would break all records, and go well beyond funded in less than a day! It seems that fans wanted more. Myself included. But then that would make me biased, right? If I had Kickstarted a game long before the release? I can tell you with certainty that answer is no. I have been burned by more than one Kickstarter campaign, making me want to fund anything at all less and less. Not to mention the early demo of this game was not great. I became very skeptical at this point. With all sorts of bonus incentives unlocked, including the 8-bit Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, things started to look up a bit. But the wait trudged on for over four years total.
So how is the game? Does it stack up to other Castlevania titles? Will Lassie rescue Timmy from the well? Well folks, Lassie is long dead, but he did indeed help Timmy out- nevermind, I’m doing nothing but showing my age here!
Imagine creating a masterpiece. Imagine years later trying to recreate that masterpiece, and coming so close! So very close, that you have nothing to really complain about in comparison. That is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night(RotN). Iga brings back the old team here, complete with some Castlevania devs, composers including Michiru Yamane herself, and a story that could fit right into the Castlevania timeline. I am a big fan of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and Order of Ecclesia, and RotN borrows from these games as well as Symphony. Our main character Miriam, is a Sharbinder- who is able to more or less crystallize the souls of demons and use their abilities. Sound familiar? If so, then Miriam is straight up Shanoa from Order of Ecclesia with a bit more personality. But that’s okay. As this game pays homage to everything you loved about the old Castlevania, and doesn’t shy away from that fact one bit. The game is rendered in 3D, but plays in 2D, just like, you guessed it. It’s time to explore that castle!
Right off the bat you get a bit of history here. Certain events happened ten years ago, and if you played the 8-bit Curse of the Moon, it will help fill you in on the characters that inhabit this story. Miriam has awakened from a mysterious slumber, and decides to help explore the castle and find out what happened. As you make your way through, you gain access to more weapons, that give a huge variety in play style here. Want to attack fast? Maybe go with a dagger or long sword. Slow and powerful great swords offer a huge area of attack, but you sacrifice speed that could cost you in boss fights. There are even guns for a nice ranged attack, although I wasn’t really a fan of them. Can’t reach an area? See if a certain shard will help you through it. And that is the big part of my enjoyment here, hoping to get those rare drops for weapons and shards. There are shards that offer passive abilities, like more damage with a certain weapon type, to casting a stream of fire from your hand, or a group of bats to attack your foes, to gaining super speed for traversing the castle in record time. It all tailors to how you want to play, and that’s a great thing.
I won’t spoil anything here, but some of the characters and bosses will leave you with a smile, assuming you have played some of the Castlevania goodness. And there is also Demon Hunter Zangetsu, voiced by David Hayter! I guess he does occasionally stop sneaking around in cardboard boxes to help out some friends! Zangetsu will also be a playable character at a later date, which comes via the free dlc promised from the Kickstarter. Things like boss rush mode, co op multiplayer, and more. There is also a paid dlc upgrade that lets you fight Iga himself for an exclusive weapon!
That was supposed to be Kickstarter exclusive, but was changed when an open poll was taken to see if it was a big deal that this was released to the public. I guess if I didn’t get to Kickstart the game I would want these items, so I can’t blame them for voting that way. It is still leaves a sour note on the experience though, that some have voiced a complaint about. I know what I won’t complain about!
That would be Michiru Yamane weaving together yet another great arrangement of tracks that will leave you humming them long after the game has ended. Being able to bring that classical style that makes each area distinct is a nice touch, and she knows exactly how to do it. Iga promised a much bigger castle to comb through, and he delivers here. All sorts of obstacles will block your way, usually with a boss that will give you your next ability to keep traversing the castle. Such as double jump, allowing you to jump a second time while in the air. Or invert, that turns the whole castle upside down! Think you have beaten the game? You might want to go over everything just to make sure. There could be much more than meets the eye here. You really do get everything and more with RotN.
So that’s it, right? Slam dunk, play this game, there are zero complaints. Well, not quite. One one hand, I felt the game was a bit on the easy side. Granted, there are harder difficulties, but normal was a breeze. I will also mention that some enemy types just felt generic, and that includes the bosses. Most are the same bosses from Curse of the Moon, and they really didn’t stick out all that much. Now there is a secret boss fight that almost single-handedly makes up for all the generic bosses, but I won’t spoil that here. Just be prepared to freak out a bit. At the end of the day, minor complaints, but they are present. I usually don’t go into performance, as there are plenty of other sites that will go into great length, but I will say that the Nintendo Switch does suffer here. I played it on the Xbox One X, and it really stood out at 4K, mainly 60fps. I also played some of the Playstation 4 version, which also delivers at a solid 60fps, but no 4K mode. But the Switch however has taken such a hit, that I feel it had to be discussed. I own the game for both Xbox and Switch. I wanted to have it on the go, and I knew the portability would mean taking a hit in graphics and performance. Granted the development time wasn’t as long for the Switch, because it was originally planned for the Wii U, and was later scrapped. But at times it feels like a different game almost. The graphics, shading, rendering, load times, everything has taken a hit on the Switch. Now I’m not saying don’t pick it up for the Switch, as Iga has addressed the issues, and hopefully some of them will be fixed. But I will say if you want the better experience, pick it up on the Xbox or Playstation.
Like I said, with plenty of new modes, including new game plus, there are a plethora of reasons to pick this title up, whether you come from that Castlevania background or not. I will be coming back to this game often, which is a rare thing for single player titles these days.
Great visuals and sound
Exploring the castle is a blast
The wait is over, and that long awaited Metroidvania itch has been scratched