Igavania has returned.
What They Say:
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a gothic horror action side-scrolling RPG set in 19th century England. A paranormal force has summoned a demon-infested castle, revealing crystal shards infused with tremendous magical power.
Play as Miriam, an orphan scarred by an alchemist’s curse which slowly crystallizes her body. To save humanity, and herself in the process, Miriam must fight through the castle and defeat the summoner, Gebel.
Collect, craft and unlock a vast array of weapons, equipment and loot to defeat the countless minions and bosses of hell that await!
The Metroidvania subgenre of side-scrolling action adventure video games has returned to popularity with a vengeance in the indy game space over the last several years. Imagine the excitement when Koji Igarashi, the man who codified the genre, approached the masses via Kickstarter with his idea for a return to form. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night broke Kickstarter records as fans of the genre flocked to back the project.
Then things looked grim, as they inevitably do when you get to watch development play out. Early showings made the game look unpolished, clunky, and the graphics weak. After a long gestation period and a surprise spin-off hitting the market first, Ritual of the Night final was ready to take center stage.
So, is it everything fans of the genre want and more?
The gameplay follows the classic side-scrolling we’ve come to expect from these games. You traverse an ever-expanding map taking you through castles, undergrounds, and all sorts of other strange locations. As you explore you fight respawning demons and gather shards from them, in the same way you collected souls in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Those shards grant new abilities and attacks, from massive screen-wide spells to familiars that follow you around. You can find, craft, or purchase new equipment and weapons. And what weapons… hundreds of them! From swords to guns to whips, they all have different timings and attack ranges. They also have special moves which can be activated via certain button-movement combos. You can also alchemically craft food which grants bonuses which add permanent stat increases. It doesn’t really add anything new to the genre formula, but I don’t think folks were expecting it to considering the big draw was IGA making another IGA game.
And, of course, some of those new techniques and items allow you access to new areas. There are plenty of secret rooms and breakable walls, sometimes rewarding life-increasing goblets or difficult optional battles.
The story is serviceable, and while the main arc takes itself reasonably seriously, it’s not much more than a framing device giving your characters some motivation. Miriam awakens after a ten-year slumber to find that someone has summoned a demonic castle into the 1700’s England she lives in. As a living experiment by alchemists, she is one of the few capable of stopping the one other living experiment who appears partially responsible. The acting is appropriately hammy, with some nice voice acting cameos. They all seem extremely aware of the nature of the project and narrative. However, if you came to this game expecting a story as nuanced or interesting as some of the other modern Metroidvanias then you’ll probably be let down.
In the looks department, the style is a bit inconsistent but often impressive. Despite some very luscious and complicated backgrounds, the enemies and characters don’t get lost inside them. That’s helped by a cell-shaded-esk outline surrounding some of the characters. You can change-up Miriam’s look by changing the color of her outfit, style of her hair, and a few other items which might have you prioritizing fashion over functionality. Although the overall character and monster designs are a mixed bag. The monsters range from massive and spooky to tiny and annoying, but they also range in the overall design. That design doesn’t always mesh with the look of the characters or word. It’s especially noticeable on the living paintings with backer portraits on them. The music is also pretty good and fitting, although it didn’t stay with me as classic titles have.
There are plenty of noticeable rough spots in the game which, while not exactly detrimental to the overall enjoyment, do put a damper on some things. The storytelling cutscenes are brusque and ultimately feel tacked on. The difficulty and balance are all over the place, and it’s easy to exploit the shard leveling system too quickly become overpowered against almost any map enemy while still being woefully underpowered for certain bosses. It’s also easy to become completely lost, as it’s often unclear where someone is supposed to head next or how to find the item or technique that will let you progress forward. The world map is also unwieldy, as it always opens zoomed out and must be reentered on your character upon opening, every time. While you can put markers on the map to note points of interest, there’s no way to label them. The weapon techniques are mapped to fighting game moves which, for people like me who rarely play fighting games, are difficult to execute on the fly. Luckily, the game doesn’t require you to master those (unless you want to platinum the game) and you can basically ignore those moves if you choose to do so.
My PS4 copy is updated to version 1.03, and I recommend making sure the game is fully updated before starting. There was a particularly nasty chest glitch that corrupted version 1.01 save files that had been updated. While I haven’t experienced any crashing, there have been a few reports of the occasional crash. Loading is speedy and jumping into the action is quick. On a base PlayStation 4 there is some hitching, mostly during shard acquisition or killing more than one enemy at once. There’s also some extreme slowdown on one late-game boss in particular.
My first playthrough, with plenty of time simply getting lost and grinding shards, clocked about twenty hours. I tend to take my time. Filling out all the side quests and completing the game 100% could add another 10 hours or more to that. The developers promise a large number of updates coming with additional playable characters and game modes, which could easily extend the replayability by quite a lot.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a comfortable return for Igarashi to the genre that he helped define. While not as polished or cohesive as other modern titles in the genre, it will feel immediately familiar and comfortable to anyone who enjoys the exploration and simple action of these games. More importantly, it’s fun to play and the satisfaction of getting new shards and finding hidden secrets doesn’t die down over the course of the game. With extra modes, harder difficulty levels, and additional playable characters coming later it is meaty enough to keep players engaged for a second or third play-through.
Publisher: 505 Games
Age Rating: Teen
Release Date: June 18, 2019
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Windows, XBox One, Switch
Review copy provided by the publisher.