Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has some serious pedigree behind it! Koji Igarashi of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night fame created Bloodstained to be a spiritual successor to the aforementioned Symphony of the Night after leaving Konami.
Bloodstained was one of the higher paid success stories from Kickstarter. It did better than Torment: Tides of Numenera getting $5.5m pledged and at the time was the highest grossing Kickstarter project until Shenmue 3 came along a few months later!
The story is based in the UK during the 1700s where alchemists are trying to summon demons through the use of crystals. They are doing this as the Industrial Age is under way and they are essentially losing power. Miriam and her friend Gebel are being infused with crystals to help the summoning of said demons but Miriam drops into a coma. Whilst Miriam is in the coma, the alchemist’s lab is destroyed and a castle has risen up in place where said lab used to be. After waking up 10 years later, it is down to Miriam to enter the castle and stop what is going on and to also stop the crystals taking over her entire body.
The gameplay itself is literally the epitome of the Metroidvania class of games. In said games, you have a huge map to explore, but only certain areas are accessible once you have done something within the game. This is usually something like gaining a new skill from a boss that will be needed to get past an environmental puzzle much like the Legend of Zelda games. As an example, near the beginning of the game in one of the early rooms in the castle, you will come across a blood pool with an exit in the bottom. However, you cannot drop down until the blood has been removed. Around 7 hours after discovering the pool, I took out the Bloodless boss, which gives you a skill that allows you to drain the pool of blood and search a whole new area underneath the castle.
Alongside the large area to explore you will come across additional quests given to you at the village by members of the town who have ventured to the sanctuary there. These quests range from killing creatures and demons, finding items to bury with the dead and making food items for an old woman. On top of these optional side quests, you have certain quests and objectives that you must do to advance the story. One of the quests – as an example – is that you have to get the silver bromide for the camera so you can get your photo taken. To do this, you have to take out the dragon on the tower and the item is in a gold chest at the bottom. Then you travel back and get said photo taken, and you have to take it to the Vampire that is the librarian. This gets you the ID required to be able to get onto the train which takes you to a new unexplored area, where you have to take out a fast demon to gain the ability to get through small spaces. It all ties in nicely to the pace and progression of the game.
Combat is similar but different at the same time as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Each monster you encounter has its own attack patterns and tells as to what it is going to do, much like SOTN, so you learn tactics and adapt as you go to take out enemies. Instead of having a single secondary weapon, though, you get the crystals. These crystals come as active or passive and can range from offensive-type stuff like homing arrows, flails and ghosts (or other small beasts). You can also equip a familiar, once you find one like a Silver Knight that follows you around, attacking enemies and blocking occasional attacks.
Additionally to the offensive crystals, you have boosts like damage absorption and things like a ray which teleports you through small gaps to get to new areas of the map. Finally, with the combat you will come across book shelves, and stopping to read what is there either has a bit of background story or you can learn new moves for different weapon types which can be handy if you need to pull off a stronger attack to finish something off. It is a really good system that allows you to play how you want to.
Character customisation has an RPG stat system so whilst killing enemies you get plenty item drops which can be numerous bits of armour and weapons ranging from whips and guns all the way up to Great Swords. Whilst selecting these items, you will see what bonuses and negatives each piece will do to your character. I found keeping a few bits of armour and different weapons can help in certain situations, so you can swap out to something more suited for a specific enemy type or area if you are struggling.
On top of the customisation and swapping of gear which does make your character look a little different, you will come across a Demon Barber named Todd (pun intended I am guessing!). When you visit him, you can customise your characters hair (by finding new styles in tomes around the castle) and eye/dress colour/hair colour etc making the playable character more to your taste and style.
Visually, the game has come a long way after community feedback saying it looked lacking and almost like a mobile game. The creator took it upon himself to improve lighting and textures and now the environments and characters look absolutely stunning.
Overall Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is everything the developer promised it would be. It is certainly a spiritual successor to one of the greatest Castlevania games ever made but has its own character and style. Granted, there are a few times where it can be a little unfair like bosses and creatures guarding against attacks, but you do not have that ability with only a back-step dodge or jumping out the way available. There are also moments like the bloodrain on the Bloodless boss, where there is no way dodging it and you get caught in a stun lock till you die and have to start again.
Save points are the same as SOTN, where you physically have to go and save. After beating a boss as if you die, you will have it all to do again if you forget or decide against saving, so I found saving often is key to success. Thankfully, there are green room teleporters for fast travel around the castle, or back to the safe haven, which really comes in handy when you have unlocked a new skill and want to venture into uncharted territory and wish to get there quick.
Masterpiece is genuinely a word I don’t like to use when it comes to games, as no matter who you are, you either like or dislike something about a title. Bloodstained has it all, regardless of whether you are new to this type of game or a veteran. It eases you into the world and grips you from the moment you start. The sound, visuals and voice acting are second to none and really capture what the creator was aiming for.
Just to top everything off I have also read that Bloodstained is getting 13 free pieces of DLC! Lucky for all of us!
I think I can honestly say Bloodstained deserves to be classed as a Masterpiece!
- Developer: Artplay
- Publisher: 505 Games
- Players: Single-player
Retro at heart and lover of all things ’80s, especially the computers, the music and the awesome movies and TV shows! Crazy huge retro gaming collection spanning the ’80s and ’90s with hundreds of tapes, discs and carts for various machines on top of a 600+ strong Steam library that is ever-growing. No I am not a serial hoarder, just a dedicated retro gamer!