Al Unlocked Reviews – Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

I’ve talked about crowdfunding and Kickstarter on this website before, but until now I’ve yet to do a full review on a game born from crowdfunding. Having just released in late 2019, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is one of the latest high-profile releases to come from a Kickstarter campaign, and the story behind this game’s birth has a lot of noticeable parallels with another high-profile Kickstarter backed game called Mighty No. 9. Bloodstained comes from the mind of Koji Igarashi (IGA), the man credited for helping create the modern Metroidvania subgenre of games through his work on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, after his departure from Konami. IGA launched the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained in 2015 and marketed it as a spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night. Bloodstained would eventually raise over US$5.5 million, shattering the asking amount of $500,000 by more than 11 times. If you’re wondering where the parallels with Mighty No. 9 lie, just take the same story, replace IGA and Castlevania with Keiji Inafune and Mega Man respectively, and there’s Mighty No. 9’s story. Unfortunately the story of Mighty No. 9 ended poorly, but that’s a story for another time.

Like I said above, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night falls under the Metroidvania subgenre of games; games in which you explore the game world in search of powerups and abilities that will allow you access to previously unreachable parts of the game world. This is one of my favourite types of game, and since Bloodstained was produced by the same guy who produced the granddaddy Symphony of the Night, my expectations were quite high going into it. Hell, I was a backer. Since I backed the game, I felt it only right to play and review the version I picked as my reward: the Switch version. Going into it, I had heard that the Switch version is the inferior version with a ton of performance and control issues, but that they had also been improved upon, so I honestly didn’t know what to expect out of the Switch version, but I decided to stay faithful to my pledge. Is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night another success story, or is it another Mighty No. 9?

 

Premise

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night follows Miriam, one of two surviving Shardbinders with the ability to absorb the power of demons in the form of crystallized shards. Having just awoken from a 10 year coma and discovering that fellow Shardbinder Gebel has summoned demons in a bid to destroy 18th century England. Miriam takes it upon herself to break into Gebel’s castle and stop him from destroying England. While in the castle she also has to contend with demon hunter Zangetsu and alchemist Alfred, both of whom have unknown motives. It’s a fairly similar to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s setup in which you storm Dracula’s castle as it’s just been summoned with a horde of demons to boot. The overall plot of Bloodstained is nothing to write home about, with everything happening as you’d expect, complete with a plot twist that absolutely anyone could see coming! You’re not playing this game for the story.

 

Presentation

I said it earlier, but I do need to stress that I played the Switch version of Bloodstained, so I’m basing everything I say in this section on that. The best thing about Bloodstained to me is the soundtrack, which sort of goes for an epic rock style that reminds me of both Castlevania and Ys soundtracks, which are both amazing. Outside of the music however, Bloodstained only really looks good at first glance. The colours and lighting are quite nice, but once you look a bit closer you can see just how low res everything appears to be, especially the character models which look like they could be mistaken as belonging to an early Xbox 360 game. This is very apparent in the game’s many awkward dialogue segments and cutscenes. While showing off the game’s low-quality models, the mediocre dialogue and animations that could be described as just plain odd are also put on display. The voice cast features the iconic David Hayter as Zangetsu however. That’s pretty cool. The Switch version of Bloodstained also runs at an average of 30fps. While this is fine, it isn’t ideal for an action game, and there are many points where the framerate dips down to a near unplayable state. Unfortunate.

 

Gameplay

The gameplay; this is why you plat Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Honestly, this is why you’d play any metroidvania outside of Ori and the Blind Forest. The metroidvania subgenre of action games has such a unique and addicting formula: explore the large game world to find and acquire the tools and abilities you need to access areas you couldn’t get to prior. The formula encourages exploration and excels at making the player feel like they’re getting noticeably more powerful as the game goes on. Thankfully, Bloodstained gets this right in spades. Right off the bat Miriam has access to a number of different weapon types, all of which play slightly differently and have a number of special techniques based on which specific weapon is equipped. You can also customize Miriam’s abilities by equipping her with shards that can be dropped by demons after killing them, and each demon has their own shard ability. I found myself using a ground shockwave and a fireball spell for most of the game, but there are so many different shards that you could try out a ton of different builds. Bloodstained makes it fun to experiment with shards, which is great for a game like this.

The map in Bloodstained is quite fun to explore, with each area giving a number of different reasons to backtrack once you’ve found more abilities. On top of that, there’s always hidden cracks in walls for you to find and break open for hidden rooms or HP, MP, and gun ammo upgrades. I wish I could say that the platforming in Bloodstained is perfect, but unfortunately I can’t. I’m not sure if it was just me, if it’s a problem with Bloodstained overall, or if it’s Switch specific problem, but controls felt clunky and I frequently felt that the game was missing some of my inputs at times. It didn’t ruin the experience for me by any means, but I definitely found myself annoyed with the controls at some points in my playthrough. However by the end of the game, movement felt really good with all of the upgrades I had, so maybe it’s just something that gets better as you get further in the game.

 

Final Thoughts

In the end, I enjoyed my time with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and that’s what matters. It’s a flawed game, especially on the Switch, but I wouldn’t call it bad by any extent. The metroidvania formula is done right, and the music is quite good, but there’s a lot that could be improved upon in the future as far as the presentation and performance. I wish I could say which problems are specific to the Switch and which are just overall issues, but I can’t. If you’re looking for something that captures the feel of older metroidvania titles then Bloodstained is for you. Just be careful with what platform you pick.

 

I tentatively recommend Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

Total time played: 15 hours, 38 minutes.

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