Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review (PC)

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I can just hear the collective groans coming out… a crowd-funded video game. Is it going to be like Mighty No. 9? The majority of these projects never make it off the ground, and when they do make it off the ground, they come out as a watered-down version of what was originally promised. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a rare, rare exception of a crowd-funded game that was done right. Helmed by the grandfather of Castlevania, Koji Igarashi, this was something to, at the very least, keep an eye on.

Playing Bloodstained on multiple platforms is an experience, to say the least. When playing on a docked Switch compared to a PC running the game on its so-called “epic” graphics setting, the differences are striking [Editor’s note: 505 Games was kind enough to provide me the copy of the Steam version]. The visuals pop out in a way that gives the castle a level of depth. The game is so much smoother than on the Switch, and crashes far less frequently. The transitions between rooms is much less obvious as well. The animations are buttery smooth, and the input lag disappears.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a return to the familiar, and a return to form. The game takes a lot of inspiration from Symphony of the Night, and more recently, Aria of Sorrow and its respective sequel, Dawn of Sorrow. It’s a good familiarity. Heroine Miriam has the ability to absorb shards, which is a take on the Aria/Dawn of Sorrow tactical soul battle system, right down to the colors. Red for offense, blue for “special” type abilities, yellow for support, and then gray for traversal abilities. Every time you get one of those gray souls, a new portion of the castle will be open for exploration. The story is good, nothing extraordinary, and features a lot of familiar archetypes for characters. There are no Belmonts, but you can definitely make a connection with the Bloodstained cast. The locations of the castle are all familiar as well, featuring a castle entrance and a number of similar areas like a cathedral, a variation of the Floating Gardens, an underground reservoir, and the clock tower. It’s familiar and at the same time different enough where I’d say, hey it still works out great.

Controlling Miriam is an absolute joy. She can use a vast array of tools in her adventure, from the barehanded to a huge greatsword that’s way too big for her body. Her appearance is customizable with gear, and equipment can be enhanced using a crafting system that utilizes the monster drops and treasures that you find in the castle. You can craft almost anything in the game so long as you have the material – anything from consumables to endgame weapons. The weapons also bear strong resemblances to their Castlevania counterparts – from the Kaiser Knuckle to the Valmanway – this game has it all.

Let’s take a second and talk about sound design. For Castlevania games in general, that first location has to be really solid to set that tone for the game, and thankfully, Bloodstained delivers in spades. The first area and the entrance were easy favorites, followed by the Twin Dragon Towers music. The music has a lot of violin, and some of those solo moments are very well done. Also of interest within my notes were the ninja laboratory zone with all the warping gates, it was a nice change of pace and puzzle making that I could appreciate from the developers. The voice acting, on the other hand, isn’t exactly exceptional. It’s passable, but I found that some of the voice effects like Miriam getting a new shard in the English voiceover grating.

Battling bosses was a joy – hearing new details that the developers were required to beat their own creations with just a dagger and without taking damage was a real cherry to top it. The bosses were hard without feeling impossible, and became a learning game, taking several lives to learn the mechanics. As the game progressed though, these fights became a lot easier as my level increased well over their level.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and its sequel were both a large part of my childhood. Like imprinting, you tend to remember the first thing you play pretty well, and it’s something that definitely contributed to the overall joy I have had for Bloodstained. It’s not a perfect game; at its core, Bloodstained still has enough heart to stand by itself as a successful project that went against a lot of expectations. With several Switch fixes incoming, I do hope to see the Switch version reach the splendor that the PC version has been experiencing.