Kickstarter isn’t perfect; sometimes, funded projects take years upon years to deliver or don’t come to fruition altogether. Investing your hard-earned money can be a gamble and the final product could be vastly different from what was promised. But when it works as intended, we get many creative mediums which wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise. One of them being Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night which was successfully funded back in 2015.
Ritual of the Night looked promising to fans of the old Igavania / Metroidvania games. With numerous Kickstarter stretch goals, all of which were met, Bloodstained was set to become the next 2D side-scrolling hit. And as one of the rewards, we even received a more classic-looking Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon in 2018, which garnered generally favourable reviews. It made the long wait for Ritual of the Night more bearable. But now that the main course is here, well… let’s just say that the appetizer was probably better.
First of all, Ritual of the Night isn’t the prettiest game and changed quite a bit since the concept stage. It looks decent while in 2D, but whenever the camera enters a 3D perspective, such as during some of the cutscenes, things get worse. Character models lack expression and look rather angular up close, like from a low-budget RPG.
Bloodstained begins with Miriam awakening after a decade-long slumber only to find that her old companion, Gebel, has decided to conquer the world. Despite this shocking revelation, Miriam determines to stop Gebel and banish the demons unleashed by him. There’s not much else to the story, though you’ll find plenty of twists and intrigue along the way. Some of which are disappointingly predictable, because certain villains do a bad job at hiding their motives.
Bloodstained throws you right into the action as you and Miriam’s accomplice, Johannes, find themselves on a wayward ship in their pursuit of Gebel. This initial area can be surprisingly challenging, as many of the monsters constantly respawn and your abilities are quite limited. I found myself dying during this segment far more than any other, simply due to the lack of powerful weapons and abilities.
After defeating the first game’s boss, you’ll arrive at Arvantville which will serve as a hub area of sorts. Here, you’ll gain access to side-quests, crafting, cooking and much more. Crafting and cooking are fairly straightforward. During your travels, you’ll discover resources and ingredients to make new pieces of equipment – such as weapons and armour – or prepare delicious meals. Consuming food will restore Miriam’s health and often improve some of her stats, depending on the meal.
Bloodstained features some of the most boring and unimaginative side-quests known to mankind. By and large, you’ll be killing an X amount of a particular monster or collecting a specific item and then coming back to report. These tasks are made even more mundane because of the bland characters who provide them and I didn’t care about anyone’s plight whatsoever.
There’s Susie, who doesn’t remember what happened even 5 seconds ago. She’s constantly starving, but doesn’t recall the names of her favourite meals, so you’ll have to figure it out. She’ll describe what she wants and then a thought-bubble with the desired meal will appear above her head, prompting you to go and prepare it.
Then there’s Lindsay (ugh). She’ll reward you for killing a particular number of certain monsters and for avenging the deaths of characters you’ve never met. Her “quests” always begin and end with the same lines which are delivered in the most unnecessarily dramatic way.
I couldn’t become invested in the story, mainly due to the bland dialogue and characters. Every character in Bloodstained feels forgettable, except for one, Solid Sn… I mean, Zangetsu. Voiced by the man, the myth, the Canadian, David Hayter himself (who also narrates the story), Zangetsu was the main protagonist in Curse of the Moon. In Ritual of the Night, you’ll encounter him as one of the most powerful bosses early on, and later as an NPC. He’s extremely fast, wields an oversized katana, much like Sephiroth’s from Final Fantasy VII, and yells out every attack in Japanese like an overpowered anime character.
Once you leave Arvantville and reach the castle, things become better. In a classic Metroidvania tradition, you’ll explore various environs, like the castle halls, a dark courtyard and a library. This will gradually reveal the rooms on a mini-map, giving you a vague perspective on just how big the castle is (psst, it’s big).
Each section of the castle features numerous monsters for you to slay and gather experience from. And thankfully, combat in Bloodstained feels fluid; you’ll constantly jump around trying to avoid enemy projectiles and magic, and there’s a nice variety of them. Most enemies are based on actual Demonology and often surprise with their grotesque visual appearance. Sure, you’ll encounter some typical zombies, wolves and bats, but equally as often you’ll face oddly shaped and even disfigured monsters.
As you defeat these monsters, Miriam occasionally collects Shards which grant her new abilities. Some bestow the ability to shoot fireballs, while others provide her with a powerful companion at her side, like a demonic book or a screaming sword. These abilities become stronger the more of the same shard you collect (to a certain extent) and also develop as you use them.
Now bosses, as you might expect, are difficult, but not too difficult. Some of them will cover most of the screen, like the very first boss on the ship. Others will barely be bigger than Miriam herself, like Zangetsu. Beating a boss on the first try will not happen very often, but once you’ve learned the attack pattern, it will only be a matter of evading the attacks and dishing out your own when the opportunity presents itself. Many of them will reward you with a powerful ability, like a double jump or the ability to move certain heavy objects.
Early on, getting through each individual segment won’t be easy – not until Miriam becomes more powerful. You might end up dying constantly during the first few hours, but Bloodstained provides a generous amount of save rooms. In these, Miriam fully restores her health and magic, and resumes her journey from whichever last she saved at.
All enemies posses some sort of weakness, whether elemental or that of a particular damage type. However, I never found these necessary to exploit, at least not on the Normal difficulty setting.
To defeat them, you’ll find various weapons in treasure chests scattered around the castle: daggers, swords and whips. These differ in attack speed, power and reach, and as you grasp the overall mechanics, you’ll be looking for a weapon which offers a balance between all stats. I found my favourite in Carnot’s Rebuke. Imagine a combination of Nero’s Red Queen and Cloud’s Buster Sword with an added steampunk touch – that’s Carnot’s Rebuke.
Throughout the environments, you’ll also come across bookcases containing techniques associated with particular weapons. These techniques require a specific combo input while having one of the indicated weapons equipped. Here’s the problem: you often won’t have the required weapon and the combo is only saved for reference if you perform it at least once. In that case, you must find the required weapon and remember where the bookcase with its related combo is located.
Collected pieces of equipment – hats, masks and scarfs – change Miriam’s appearance in addition to improving stats. Whenever I found a new piece of equipment, I was eager to see how it would look on Miriam or if my current weapon would receive an upgrade. Some of these look ridiculous and I just couldn’t take the story seriously while Miriam was wearing a pirate hat during any conversation.
Later on, you can create your perfect waifu by visiting the barber, who can further alter Miriam’s appearance. Sadly, you can’t buy her bath water yet.
What I appreciated were the little fun additions, like a voice-changing mask which you discover in one of the many fake walls. This mask changes Miriam’s voice to a very high-pitched one and makes her sound like she’s on helium. Moreover, this transfers over to cutscenes making each dialogue sound utterly ridiculous. Ridiculous, but fun.
Last, but by no means least, music in Bloodstained is composed by Michiru Yamane, the author behind some of the older Castlevania titles, like Bloodlines and Symphony of the Night. It’s easily one of the game’s strongest assets and the castle’s main theme – Luxurious Overture – contains familiar notes from “Leon’s Theme” in Lament of Innocence. I would also like to mention “Forgotten Jade” which plays during the Forbidden Underground Waterway segment. It somehow invokes warm sensations and brings back memories of simpler times. It reminded me of “Sarabande of Healing” from Curse of Darkness and quickly became my favourite track in Bloodstained.
Unfortunately, my journey in Bloodstained on Xbox One came to an untimely halt due to a game-breaking bug involving treasure chests. This bug leads to many treasure chests being already open, including those with items necessary for progression. As far as I know, the only way to fix this is by restarting the game from the beginning. But thankfully, it seems like a patch is on its way to remedy these issues in the coming weeks, so don’t rush and delete your game save just yet.
So, at the end of the day, is Bloodstained worth it? At its current £34.99 price tag, no. The visuals don’t live up to the standards that one would normally expect at this price range. Bloodstained doesn’t offer much in terms of narrative either, and most of its characters – bar Zangetsu – are downright awful. If you really want to experience this latest project by Koji Igarashi, then consider waiting for it to land on sale, which I think will happen sooner rather than later. Otherwise, for £34.99 you can get two games vastly superior to Bloodstained.