Kickstarter has proven time and time again that it can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing. We’ve seen some stellar games coming from it; Yooka-Laylee, I’m looking at you. Though on the flip-side, we’ve seen some not so great games coming from it too; Mighty No. 9, Agony, you bet I’m looking at you, you ugly shits. The big question here, however, is where exactly Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night sits in that spectrum? Well, without wasting your time, I can safely say that it’s one of the best games to come from the platform.
Those of you unfamiliar with the game’s history, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a metroidvania created by former Castlevania producer, Koji Igarashi; who began work on the title following his departure from Konami in 2014. Naturally, it’s described as a spiritual successor to the series, and quite rightly so. Not only does this look like Castlevania reincarnate, but it plays like it to. The game takes place in the early 19th Century. Players take on the role of Miriam, a female orphan that suffers the curse of an alchemist.
Said curse is slowly beginning to crystallize her entire body, and in order to save not only herself, but humanity as well, Miriam must fight her way through a demon-infested castle to kill Gebel; a once fellow Shardbinder turned evildoer. The plot has a lot more depth than that, but taking into account how easy it would be to give out unnecessary spoilers and story threads, I think I’ll leave it at that. Take my word for it though, Bloodstained offers one hell of a well written, decently acted story; one that has a lot more twists than you would think.
This is one of the few metroidvanias in which the story has gripped me just as much as the gameplay, and that speaks volumes. I’ve played a great many deal, from Hollow Knight, right through to the likes of Ori and the Blind Forest. Bloodstained takes top spot as far as a gripping narrative is concerned. I’ll also take a moment to point out that the game is being heavily supported with a vast wealth of additional content, both at launch and beyond; speed run and boss rush modes, local and online multiplayer, and much more besides.
I say that because many will look at the game’s price-tag and scoff, but in truth, it’s a well set cost that’s justified by not only a lengthy campaign, but lots (and lots and lots) of extra meat. Now, moving on. Bloodstained, for those keen to know of its structure, absolutely lives up to the talents of its maker. The game is chock-full of loot, freakishly scary enemies, towering bosses, tons of secrets and hidden areas, massively varied combat, and more. This all rests on its overall gothic-themed design, making for a compelling trek beginning to end.
What’s surprisingly well done is how well balanced all of those aspects are. Not one component of Bloodstained feels overpowering or overbearing, it’s all so fluid and dynamic. I was a little afraid that the game would be somewhat convoluted in regards to its many elements, but no, it’s all surprisingly accessible. We’ll get to the game’s many systems in a moment, but for now, let’s focus on the fundamentals. The game does a good job at welcoming you in to its framework through a light but very informative tutorial section.
It’s clear from the get-go that this is going to be a punishing trek. The game’s difficulty is quite firm, but not overly so to the point that you’ll be turned away. The crux of play sees you moving from area to area, killing beasts and grabbing loot every step of the way. The sheer variation of weaponry is showcased from the off; guns, swords of all shapes and sizes, plain old fisticuffs, whips, and many more besides, all of which house their own pros and cons. The interface ensures that you always know the ins and outs of gear comparison.
Miriam’s stats cover the usual aspects, and through acquiring and applying new gear, these stats, alongside leveling up, will increase as directed. Outside of weaponry, you’ll also be able to swap out Miriam’s attire and apply accessories, all of which also feeds into the overall stats. Stripping it down to basics, you’ll be free to apply gear of all kinds to pursue a character build that suits your playing style, all the while building a Miriam that’s kick-ass. You can expect all the tropes of an RPG here; resists, ailments, stat effects, and so forth.
Thankfully, and as alluded to above, everything is kept simple to understand. I’ll say as much about the shards. Killing enemies grants you the chance to obtain its shard, giving you instant access to a host of wildly varying additional abilities and attacks. Should you spend time collecting more of the same shard, as well as using gathered materials to bulk up its capabilities, you’ll improve its rank and grade. Collectively, this makes each shard more potent, and as such, more helpful in more ways than one. It’s a pretty neat system overall.
Using the power of shards will of course deplete your MP, but MP recharges slowly over time. Further, you can expedite the process via smashing up your environment, or, via using an MP-replenishing item. Speaking of loot, there’s so much up for grabs here. Loot in Bloodstained spans a great deal of aspects. Crafting gear is pretty much a given. You’ll gather numerous items, and then combine multiple items together to build a specific piece of gear. You’re always informed as to what you need in order to build something.
On top of that, you can pick up food along the way. What’s neat is that food in Bloodstained isn’t just used for replenishing health, but it can be used to produce meals that will permanently buff you up. These mechanics (and more besides) will see you regularly visiting the game’s world hub; an area in which many NPCs gather to aid you in one way or another. Mercifully, a fast-travel system is in place to give you swift movement. Though, as you would imagine, you will indeed need to seek out alters in order to get from area to area.
There’s a shed load of NPCs to engage with over in the hub. There’s vendors that will plant seeds for you to grow crops, vendors that will give you side quests, vendors that will build graveyards to honor the dead – giving you rewards in the process, and so much more. Those of you that enjoy max completion will relish the fact that Bloodstained practically tracks everything that you accomplish, providing you with a lengthy list of percentage stats that enable you to reach max completion in any order. I cant commend its structure enough.
What’s great is that you’re never truly forced into doing anything other than pursuing the game’s story. Just want to meet the game’s end? You can do that. Fancy running through side quest after side quest? You can do that too. Perhaps you want to run through each vendor until they’ve expended their uses? You can (it will take a good while) do that too. The content value is through the roof, and easily puts the game’s hour length into high-end double digits. Like I said, the costly price-tag is certainly, wholly justified by content alone.
That being said, let’s move back to basics. How does the game play? This is likely where most will be split. Whilst there’s nothing technically wrong with how the game functions, it’s not as fast-paced as I was expecting in regards to movement and combat. With that in mind, after gelling with it, I found myself appreciating this design choice more than anything else. I’m not sure it’s going to be for everyone, but bear with it, because it’s absolutely worth it. The game is as close to a new Castlevania as we’re going to get, and perhaps for a while.
Still, I don’t want to blindly keep comparing Bloodstained to Castlevania, because in my humble opinion, Koji Igarashi has proven that Bloodstained deserves a spotlight entirely of its own. This feels very much like the start of a franchise, rather than an extension of another. Call that idiocy if you like, but that’s how the game spoke to me. Regardless as to my beliefs, Bloodstained is a game that’s been worth the investment, it’s a game that’s been worth the wait, and above all else, it’s a game that’s worthy of your time and your attention.
The game handles like an absolute dream. Movement is fluid and precise, combat across all weapon sets and abilities feels grounded and unique, and every system that upholds the entire journey slots in seamlessly. The level of diversity is unmatched in its field. There’s plenty of nasty looking creatures of all shapes and sizes to cut and blast through, all of whom come with their own movement and attack patterns. Sussing this out alone is like dancing on glass; trading blows and keeping distance until you’ve worked out what’s what.
That’s not to mention the game’s towering boss encounters. These foes are particularly vicious, and come equipped with the ability to serve an ass kicking like no other. Many of the screen-filling boss battles tend to revolve around the same sequence of attacks, but it sure takes some time and perseverance (and perfect precision) to evade their numerous, distinct attacks, whilst getting in a few of your own. I can only commend the design of each and every foe in the game; all are exciting in their own way, and killing never gets old.
It pays off to kill whatever you get your hands on, and if you want to grind the level-ups, you’re free to revisit previously trekked areas to nuke enemies all over again. Doing this wont only speed up your level-ups, but as alluded to above, will improve the resilience and capabilities of your wares. In regards to the game’s world, the world is jam-packed with secrets and hidden areas off the beaten path. The world map does a great job at telling you where you’ve been, where points of interest are located, and where you’ve yet to chart.
Being a metroidvania, there’s a boat load of areas that you wont always be able to access from the off, and as such, will need to return later once you’ve met the requirements. Though, even when you’re just exploring or following the natural path of play, there’s so much to get up to. The game’s world alone is like one gigantic puzzle, in which you’re constantly rewarded for brevity, daring, curiosity, and skill. Furthermore, there’s lore at every single turn, further lending the game a lot of weight as far as its story and history goes.
You’ll pull this from tomes and books found throughout, and you’ll even find unique combos that are tied to specific weapons. You’ll also want to spend time breaking anything you can, and seeking out the game’s hundreds (dare I say thousands) of treasure chests. One thing goes without saying, items come in handy in more ways than one, and if you put the time in to fully digest what each item is good for, and spend time seeking out the rarer items, you’ll have an easier, more combat-diverse ride. That, ladies and gents, is the core concept here.
You’ll dive on in, be met with a plethora of varying content, and be let free to do what you want at your own pace. Movement reservations to the side, the game responds well to your commands. Everything from jumping to attacking is instant, and the performance never buckles under the weight of the game’s action. The care and attention to player engagement is unreal. I could be here all day going over the ins and outs of Bloodstained, and a part of me wants to, but a part of me knows I’ve ranted for long enough as it is.
I’ll say this. Bloodstained is outstanding. It’s a rare gem that will have you lost in its many diverse elements, for hours on end, and that’s long before you even scratch the surface layer of its main pathway. One thing that I appreciated the most was the game’s encouragement for player change. The way the game is laid out ensures that you’ll need to frequently move out of your comfort zone; using tactics and gear that you wouldn’t typically gravitate towards, be it to reach new areas or overcome specific foes and bosses.
Look, if you’ve even been on the fence regards Bloodstained, get off it and invest. You wont be disappointed, especially if you’re a fan of its inspirations, or even just a fan of metroidvanias on the whole. The game’s depth, its deep and varied content, its countless hidden secrets, its near perfected systems, its core functionality, and everything between, is nothing short of remarkable. Max completion will certainly be a challenge for even the most veteran players out there, but thanks to how epic the adventure is, it wont feel like a slog.
Percentage stats are attributed by pretty much everything; map charting, item gathering, enemy encounters, everything. Like I said, all of this is charted in the menu, giving you little room to lose your way. Sure, it’s still going to take a lot of time to see and do everything (not to mention the side content and upcoming content) but if anything, this only demonstrates how freaking big the game is. It’s going to take a lot of time before you see everything, use everything, and do everything, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ll take a moment to say that I’ve heard reports that the game has some technical issues present. The dreaded chest bug, for one, is thankfully not hitting Xbox One as the developer has stated that they are withholding the patch that introduces this issue. Performance issues appear to be isolated to the Xbox One X, but having not run into any problems myself outside of a few drops in framerate, I wont be holding that against the game in my review. When all is said and done, my time with the game across three accounts, has been epic.
In regards to the game’s visual and audio design, Bloodstained gets a big fat thumbs up on both fronts. Koji Igarashi promised to improve the game’s visual presentation during the game’s campaign, and the game hasn’t failed to deliver. The game looks sensational throughout, sporting wonderful amounts of detail, and heaps of variation across the board. It helps, of course, that the audio design is equally as immersive, putting forward a soundtrack and cues that rarely get dull. Simply put, don’t pass this one by folks.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is one of the best metroidvania games of the gen, sitting in a league shared only by an elite few. Everything from its deep story and its diverse combat systems, right through to its remarkable gameplay variation and mechanical depth, is quite simply outstanding. Despite the occasional bug, this is as close to perfect as a game of this type can get, and one that’s certainly been worth the lengthy wait; this, is a must have.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.