Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night shows how much fun the Metroidvania genre offers
By KEVIN TUCKER | Shacknews.com | Published: August 9, 2019
It’s been more than two decades since I first played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and my love for it has only grown through the years. In fact, I consider it to be my favorite game of all time, and I replay it regularly. Naturally, I was thrilled to hear that Koji Igarashi, the creative mind behind Symphony of the Night, was working on a spiritual successor titled Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
Apparently the rest of the gaming community was, too. The Bloodstained Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign was hugely successful, and the development team set to work on creating an experience that was meant to rival the very progenitor of the Metroidvania genre. Did 505 Games pull it off? Can Ritual of the Night even hold a candle to Symphony of the Night? In a word, absolutely.
If you ask me, one of the best things about the Metroidvania genre — or in this instance, the Igavania genre — is that it follows a very natural, old-school style of play. True to its form, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night sees players moving about a castle on a two-dimensional plane, and includes the sort of platforming and action-based combat that would be instantly recognizable to video game fans who learned their trade back in the 1980s. There’s something of a plot to be found — a great evil was awakened years ago, and a mysterious castle must be purged of the demons within — but the narrative mainly exists to encourage progression. Instead, the real meat of the experience is in the action.
It’s an old-school format for sure, and yet the game is full of modern touches. There are still enemies to kill, weapons and items to collect, and a massive castle full of secret passages and hidden areas. With that said, and in comparison to the game that inspired it, Ritual of the Night throws in several new features, including the ability to upgrade weapons, craft various recipes to earn stat bonuses, complete quests for villagers, and most notably earn Shards.
Shards are a big part of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and they are found everywhere. Almost every enemy in the game has a Shard to drop, and Shards range in utility from offering new offensive or defensive abilities to granting stat bonuses that can be developed or even stacked. Players can collect extra Shards to increase their powers, sell off the ones they don’t want for gold, and can also augment the effective range or spread of abilities by utilizing a variety of items or materials, often ones that are very hard to find.
Ritual of the Night places a heavy emphasis on making the most of Shards, weapons and items. And, as might be expected, some of the Shard abilities must be earned before progression can continue. This is the same as how it was in Symphony, where some areas can’t be reached until players can double jump, get past spike traps, and so on.
The difference this time around is that there are a frankly huge number of Shard abilities to find. While players are always free to experiment, there’s little doubt that only a handful of powerful or particularly useful attacks will take preference over essentially all the others. Given that many of the attacks or powers are slight variants of other abilities, this is to be expected. Still, all of those Shards are out there waiting to be found, and each one has something a little unique to offer.
Players will immediately notice that there are very few powers or weapons in Ritual of the Night that can’t be upgraded. Not only can players craft their own weapons or armor, they can use those crafted items to create even more powerful weapons and armor. In fact, some of the most powerful weapons in the game are only available after crafting and combining several other high-level weapons. Techniques are also available for specific weapons, and if players put in the time needed to master them, they can be used by any weapon of the same type. The result is that players really can deck out their character for whatever need they choose.
Of course, all of the fancy new features wouldn’t count for much if the gameplay was boring. Thankfully, this is not the case. Things are naturally a bit slow from the start, as Miriam isn’t as agile or as powerful as players might expect. Over time, though, she becomes a force to be reckoned with, able to double jump, invert her own personal gravity, zoom across the map, jet around underwater, and make use of screen-filling abilities that rain destruction down upon enemies.
Players shouldn’t jump into Ritual of the Night expecting a totally flawless experience. One of the first things I tested was the game’s save and resume feature, which upon reloading my save resulted in a broken model for Miriam with a missing head. There are also a few issues with typos in written dialogue, or discrepancies between what’s displayed on screen and what’s heard spoken aloud. These are relatively few and far between. With that said, players are likely to encounter a few instances where attacks that should have landed seem to miss or enemies who land hits they shouldn’t have.
Through it all, though, the game looks, sounds and feels great. Many players have expressed their distaste for the game’s art style, but nothing I’ve seen in my two complete runs through the game so far has managed to turn me off. I personally wouldn’t have complained if the game appeared to be pulled straight from the 16-bit era, with pixelated sprites and jagged polygons, but if you ask me, this new style strikes the perfect balance of old-school and new.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch