Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review: A Great Castlevania Game in Everything But the Name
Koji Igarashi delivers on pretty much exactly what is expected of the title.
By Chris Morse
If you were hoping that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night would faithfully capture the side-scrolling action RPG glory days of the Castlevania franchise, you will not be disappointed one bit. However, does this title build upon that foundation? Not really, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing here. The broader "Metroidvania" landscape has done plenty to advance the genre, but it's been missing a little bit of that gothic, Igavania flair for the better part of a decade now.
The best way to describe this game is that it fantastically meets expectations. It doesn't fall short of them, nor does it surpass them, but it was pretty much exactly what I expected and I'm loving it for that reason alone. All the core staples are here: action, platforming, exploration, equippable weapons and gear that alter your playstyle, powers to collect from enemies, and classic-style challenges to overcome.
Those staples also come with the more tedious elements you would expect, such as the desire to kill the same enemy over and over until you have all its collectibles, but that comes with the territory, doesn't it? Bloodstained is particularly friendly in that regard, given that all this information is tracked in the Archive, which is par for the course in IGA's recent games. It helps having everything clear and transparent to you, whether it's enemy collectibles or the map as a whole. There's something familiar and calming in knowing exactly how much you have left to do, which was always a draw for these games.
Familiarity is a key word that frequently comes to mind about this title. From the combat to the enemies and items that drop, everything just feels like a fond revisiting of a particular type of gaming experience. It really is a Castlevania game in everything but the name and specific details. Sure, the characters and lore are different, but we still have a castle full of demons to explore and that's just fine.
There is plenty of variety in how to build your character, though not everything is laid out perfectly clearly in terms of stats and what kind of immediate impact certain equippables might have. The game certainly encourages you to try a number of different weapons and styles, but I've found myself playing it relatively safe, at least for my first playthrough.
Shards are the main collectibles from enemies this time around, which give you equippable powers of various types. Some are purely passive bonuses while others can be aimed or just used with a single button press. Almost every enemy in the game drops one, so you have unlimited freedom to try them all out while free roaming the huge map. You are also able to spend MP on special attacks, which can vary from weapon to weapon. There are plenty of gameplay aspects to discover beneath the surface, so don't be afraid to experiment and try new things.
In particular, the RPG elements are fleshed out rather nicely. A great deal of effort went into these systems, especially crafting, where there seem to be few limits to what you can turn your item drops into. You are also able to dismantle almost anything you find, which gives you the potential to turn your trash into treasure. There are also quests to complete and plenty of secrets to find (break those walls!). Even after the first few hours playing the game, it still felt like I had barely scratched the surface.
Bloodstained is a finely-crafted game all around, but it's not without its issues. Although I've had the occasional hang-up or visual glitch here and there, those aren't problematic enough to sour my experience with the title. There was a bit of a game-breaking bug early on for day-one console players, who could experience a progression-blocking issue if they started the game on version 1.01 and updated to 1.02. Unfortunately, the only workaround for that one is to start over, but 505 Games says that's the best solution going forward with respect to the team's continued efforts to polish the game.
There's no doubt in my mind that they have worked very hard to do that, all things considered. Following a total art style revamp following feedback from the demo, the game is looking quite nice. For a 2D side-scroller featuring 3D models and environment backdrops with plenty of depth, everything looks and feels right. The animations and spell effects are looking good too. In terms of sound, Symphony of the Night composer Michiru Yamane did the music for this one and the score is loaded with familiar goodness.
The game as a whole is definitely a love letter to that classic title, so you can rest easy knowing it was done justice by a capable team with the right vision leading the way. If you are a fan of the Castlevania franchise when it was at its best, you will have a blast with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It doesn't do anything too new or unique, but it doesn't really feel like it needed to.
This is good, old-fashioned action-platforming fun, complete with all the RPG elements you were hoping for. The gameplay is fun and familiar, with plenty of variety and customization to do things your own way. The map is huge and contains plenty of secrets. It's a spiritual successor done right at every level.
The game doesn't do much to exceed expectations or evolve the genre, but there's something cathartic in its execution nonetheless. You will come across the occasional bug or visual error, but nothing game-breaking, provided you are a console player that started a new game after the 1.02 update.
With Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night comes a big welcome back to Koji Igarashi from players. This game ended up being no more and no less than what this fan hoped for, pretty much aligning perfectly with expectations. There's always room to grow and evolve this classic style, but maybe that's better left for a sequel. Here's hoping we see more from this team in the future!
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