Undoubtedly the discussion of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night will always bring to mind the existence of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and for good reason. Bloodstained, produced by Koji Igarashi, is the spiritual successor to Symphony is the Night in every way. From a demon infested castle to a vampire-like entity acting as ruler to a power up that is literally flipping the castle, Bloodstained owes much of its mechanics and game play to that of Symphony of the Night. For Bloodstained to be compared to Symphony of the Night, a game in which part of the term Metroidvania originates from, is to do a disservice to Bloodstained. No game could hold up to the lofty expectations that Symphony of the Night has left behind. A revolutionary game, Symphony of the Night has spawned more than half a dozen sequels and a bevy of Metroidvania indies and set the ground work for the existence of interconnected world maps, branching pathways, and powerful weapons.
Bloodstained is no different than many other Metroidvania games. An interconnected world map is at your disposable. Multiple branching pathways exist for you to travel down and uncover new surprises and mysteries. And progression is marked by new tools and powerful weapons that help you to combat the demons and monsters the world of Bloodstained throws at you. All things considered, Bloodstained is Symphony of the Night with a new coat of paint splashed on for the 21st century. Yet despite treading on the same beaten path Bloodstained still continues to wow and impress 25 hours in.
Story wise, the game initially passes itself off as that of Symphony of the Night. You are Miriam, a shard bender and one of two left in the world. In a coma for the past 10 years, Miriam wakes up to find the world being overrun by a demonic horde led by the shard bender Gebel. Assisted by the Alchemist Johannes, the Exorcist Dominique, and the Demon Hunter Zangetsu, Miriam travels throughout the castle to end Gebel’s reign and to fulfill the promise she once made him many years ago. Yet despite the obvious parallels to Alucard and Dracula the story takes a dramatic eleventh hour twist that reshapes the relationship between Miriam and the cast of characters she called friends and enemies.
And while the story is nothing to write home about, the voice acting is some of the best indie gaming has to offer. Erica Lindbeck captures the pain of each shard Miriam absorbs and prideful nature she expresses towards others. David Hayter displayed the ever gruff nature of his characters as Zangetsu quietly complies with the groups goals. Igarashi even enlists the help of a familiar voice actor for one particular librarian that is both a nostalgic blast and a welcome sight.
Game play, much like Symphony of the Night, is top notch for the genre. Miriam has access to a variety of weapons and spells at her disposal in order to combat the demons of the castle. From whips to boots to shorts to knives and more, Miriam uses many weapons in her arsenal that helps keep the game play fresh and inventive. There are many weapons that also hearken back to that of Symphony of the Night such as the Rheva Velar or Bandit knife. Spells also make a return in the form of shards. Shards act as the soul of the enemy in which Miriam can evoke powerful elemental attacks, summon various familiars, alter castle landscapes, and blast rooms with gigantic AOE spells. While initially weak, Miriam gradually becomes a powerhouse of strength and speed as more spells and weapons are availed to her. By the end of 25 hours of game play Miriam was destroying anything and everything in sight, even on hard mode.
Various locales litter the world of Bloodstained and while many are winners such as the glacial tomb some can be underwhelming and outright bad. A major problem many Metroidvania games can’t seem to get around is directing a player down a particular path. While that is a staple of Metroidvania games, it also serves to hinder progression as players stumble along trying to find the next tool or weapon for progression. Not only does Bloodstained gate content behind shard powers and tools, but one particular section has you traverse a body of water without ever telling you how to dive into the water. Stumbling around the castle, I accidentally ran into the bad ending before I figured out that one particular enemy had a shard to dive into the water. It would be nice if the game somehow expressed that the shard to travel in water is given by that same enemy in the water. It isn’t intuitive because during the first encounter I thought that I would have to be equipped with a swimming shard in the first place to fight that enemy.
Yet despite the convoluted nature of Metroidvania games as a whole, Bloodstained frequently amazes with its rich locales and sprawling environments. From the Japanese inspired Oriental Sorcery Lab to the gilded Dian Chet Cathedral to the enormous nature of Den of Behemoths, each zone feels unique both in atmosphere and in game play. Den of Behemoths in particular has you fighting enemies you had been fighting previously yet blown up to ridiculous sizes forcing the player to use all the movement options available to traverse the large open spaces of combat.
Bloodstained is not short on secrets and easter eggs either. The team at ArtPlay has packed this game to the brim with secrets. Befitting Metroidvania games, Bloodstained has you checking every walls for cracks and bashing every nook and cranny for goodies. While you won’t find any ham laid in these castle walls you will find various health boosting power ups, mana boosting power ups, and capacity boosting effects for the various guns used by Miriam. And once in awhile a secret room may yield some unexpected easter eggs. In particular, a room dedicated to another hit indie is present in this game. And another room dedicates itself to that of the classic 8-bit era of gaming to an extreme.
Looking at the game design of Bloodstained it is clear that Igarashi wanted to make something similar to Symphony of the Night yet unique for the modern era of gaming. The game uses a 2D plane of movement yet renders all of its models, graphics, and characters in a 3D style, as a result dubbed a 2.5D style. While initially this style may be off putting and distracting it comes together in environments where the style is meant to shine. The Glacial Tomb is one such environment where the background is littered with frozen demons that help to contrast Miriam’s struggles with the demons roaming about.
The music also calls back to that of old with designer Michiru Yamane composing most of the game’s soundtrack. From intense guitar riffs to somber piano solos, it is clear Yamane is evoking the music of Castlevania in that of Bloodstained. The quality of music, much like the environment, varies depending on locale and player action. None of the music was particularly bad however actual memorable music can be hard to come by save for one particular solo by a particular pixie friend.
Bloodstained clearly has been made with Symphony of the Night in mind. Thinking back this game should not be the success that it is. Mighty No. 9 had shown people that using nostalgia as a selling point does not make a great game. And all signs in early access had shown a poorly optimized and awful looking product.
In spite of the various failed products that Kickstarter has produced and this game had seemed to trend towards, Bloodstained is a marvel of the modern Metroidvania world. With some of the best gameplay Metroidvania games have to offer combined with the atmosphere and design of an Igarashi game, Bloodstained stands as a triumph in indie gaming and one many will look back on with fondness. Men may be a miserable pile of secrets, but Bloodstained is a joyous mountain of goodies.