Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1, Switch
Reviewed on: PS4
Reviewer: Tabitha Dickerson
Review Play-Time: 21h
Publisher: 505 Games
Review Published: 2020-05-03
+ Very pretty, impressive art direction
+ Combat feels fluid and satisfying
+ Miriam is quite likable and the story is interesting
+ 20h+ run length
- Some of the 'twists' are very obvious.
- It's easy to get lost and progression isn't at all straightforward at times.
- The dodge ability feels like it's not all that important
- Doesn't quite do enough to distance itself from its pedigree
- Combo abilities are difficult to pull off and hardly feel worth it
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an action platformer in the "Metroidvania" style developed by ArtPlay and published by 505 Games. Metroidvanias have grown in popularity the last few years. Games like Hollow Knight, the Metroid series, Shadow Complex, Cave story, Axiom Verge, and Salt & Sanctuary have steadily grown in popularity. If like me, however, these didn't quite manage to scratch that itch you had for a new Castlevania game, you might have been filled with despair. Whether you liked Suikoden, Metal Gear, Silent Hill, Contra, Boktai, or any other myriad of classic titles that Konami once produced, the entire games industry felt it. This sudden void that in one fell swoop killed off any chance of seeing another Snatcher or Suikoden title really stung. It left this emptiness that spanned across all genres. Whether you liked survival horror, action/espionage/stealth, platforming/ shoot em ups or even the occasional puzzler, Konami's stark paradigm shift towards gambling was a blow felt by all.
This also meant that the once highly successful franchise of Castlevania copped a huge hit, and in fact the Metroidvania genre as a whole. Other titles cropped up, claiming to scratch that itch; that combat, and brutal bleak atmosphere that later inspired so many games like the Batman Arkham and Dark souls series. That was their claim, but many failed to deliver. Oh they were great games in their own right, but nothing quite felt like the classic King of Konami. Until now.
Enter Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night; a game that rose from the ashes of Konami's developmental corpse. One of the most influential developers in the Castlevania series was disillusioned with the current state of the industry in 2014, and everything that had transpired within Konami's once-hallowed walls, that he turned to the fans for help. He knew he couldn't do it alone and with the help of Castlevania alumni such as Shutaro Iida, Michiru Yamane, and various other talented developers in their own field, one man brought them all together to make what he claimed was the "spiritual successor" to the much lauded and raved about '97 title: Symphony of the Night. This man was of course none other than Koji Igarashi.
The story of Bloodstained: RotN opens in quite a standard fare sort of way for a Castlevania game. The game takes place during 18th Century England. The local Alchemy guild are mucking around with powers beyond their control, doing all sorts of twisted experiments in a bid to harness the powers of hell and control demons to do their bidding. They did this by binding "Shards" of demonic powers to small children. As you can imagine, this didn't quite go so well and many of the children died during the process. In fact the only two survivors of this ordeal were a young girl and boy both. That was ten years ago.
You awake aboard a Galleon of sorts thrashing through the waves towards a small village named Arvantville. You take on the role of our heroine Miriam; one of the last remaining shardbinders. Miriam has been in a very deep sleep for the last ten years, and has forgotten a few things. She is adept at combat, and has been tasked with putting an end to the castle that has risen from the remains of the Alchemy guild. Demons now haunt its halls and terrorise the local populace; what remains of them anyway. This is where our story starts.
Players familiar with the established tropes and systems of Castlevania will immediately be right at home. Miriam can use any number of various weapons at her disposal. Staves, swords, great swords, cestus, whips and maces adorn every aspect of Bloodstained, and Miriam will need every single one of them to face the ordeal that awaits her. Secret shortcuts, goodies hidden within walls, and indeed loot galore are abound. Combat instantly feels familiar, with movesets for each and every weapon feeling similar to games like Symphony, Portrait of Ruin, Order of Ecclesia and even Harmony of Dissonance. The pedigree of its blood runs thick in this one. Miriam can dodge, duck and guard against attacks that come her way.
Borrowing quite heavily from both Symphony and Soma Cruz's Aria of Sorrow, Miriam can extract these aforementioned shards from each creature she defeats. These give rise to more abilities that can range from anywhere between guarding against an attack, swimming, falling upwards (no its not flying), projectile attacks, as well as even the ability to summon a floating sword familiar that will cut down anything in its path. All enemies have formulaic patterns Miriam must learn in order to conquer her foes, and the bosses feel new and refreshing. Despite the similarities, this doesn't feel like old ground being retread. More so it feels like an extension or advancement of the series. I found myself forgetting I wasn't playing a Castlevania game; expecting Dracula or Alucard to show up within these halls.
The crafting system at first can be a bit confusing. Certain sidequests in Arvantville centre around being able to cook or craft the food, weapon or trinket said NPC desires. There's a shop that will usually stock most of what you make once its been discovered or found (except the really rare monster materials damnit), and the quests serve as sort of a stepping stone to get you started. The problem arises when for certain quests, the food or weapon you need is unable to be made. At this point you need to head into the castle, and scour every square inch of it for the book containing the recipe you need (and I do mean every inch). Did I mention even the ceilings contain secret walls?
Fast travel exists in the form of magic mirrors scattered throughout each gorgeous locale of the castle, much like previous titles in the Castlevania series, and these help you get around, when looking for a specific item, or story trigger. Miriam can also craft or buy waystones that will immediately take her back to Arvantville, if she doesn't want to walk all that way. Movement feels good for the most part, though I wish she would move just a little bit faster. At times it seems like she's halfway between a run and a walk, and even the movement boosting items don't seem to help a whole lot.
Progression through the castle can be a little tedious at times. It's very easy to get lost, and spend hours figuring out your next destination (especially when certain events are only triggered by talking to said specific npcs, and you cant progress further until you do.) You can jump, and slide under obstacles, and there's various upgrades that will allow easier traversal of the setpieces. These are usually unlocked by killing a specific enemy or a boss to gain their ability, and in some cases aren't the most intuitive.
While we're on the subject. The setpieces: my god. The colours in this game are vibrant. Everything has a strange crispness that just jumps out at you. The characters are all cel shaded, but manage to retain a 3d feel. The environments are so colourful and varied. From a corrupted cathedral, to the bowels of hell, an underwater romp and hell; even the save points, everything just looks delicious. Enemies and Miriam's movements are fluid and believable. There's not a bad animation, and aside from the occasional clipping from certain garments acquired (there's a lot of fan service for Miriam), the art direction is mostly really solid.
Audio quality is fantastic. The music while not as memorable as previous titles, is still extremely good. Orchestral drones, atmospheric chiming, sound effects from a ball of flame that just tried to immolate your skull; everything sounds great. The voice acting is decent and aside from one extremely small part from one NPC, none of it is grating or frustrating. Solid Snake (Hayter) even makes an appearance as the gruff, misunderstood but meaningful rival Zangetsu.
A few complaints I found was it is easy to get lost and wander for hours, till you figure out the exact sequence of events to progress. Some of the boss fights are brutal initially, forcing you to reevaluate if you want to tackle them now or go find another path, or just stay and grind. Crafting can be a bit tedious and time consuming, when you find the item you need has a 1 percent drop rate (see you in four hours), and the last section of the game feels a little bit rushed, with things out of place here and there. In total though, I think I would have to say that Sympho-err Ritual of the Night lives up to its expectations, and it certainly scratches that itch for a new Castlevania game.