Hands On with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night – Promising, but Far Away

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Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the passion project of Koji Igarashi, known for his previous work on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. We first learned about this game two years ago when Igarashi announced his Kickstarter campaign following his departure from Konami. I had a chance to visit a behind-closed-doors presentation and hands-on demo of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night at this year’s E3, which was impressive to say the least. It’s under the publishing banner of 505 Games, who have become more notable in recent years with releases like Abzu, Virginia, and Adr1ft.

Bloodstained is a spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night in the way that Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 was supposed to be for Mega Man. Needless to say, Bloodstained is looking to be a far more promising game. You play as Miriam, an orphan who is under a curse that slowly turns her skin to crystal. Instead of taking down Dracula, she fights against Gebel, an old friend who also struggles with this alchemic curse. Gebel has summoned a dangerous castle filled with demons that should resonate well with fans of Symphony of the Night.

Miriam’s primary goal is to battle her way through the castle, seeking out every nook and cranny along the way. It’s a Metroidvania (or in this case, Igavania) in its truest form, with a heavy emphasis on exploration and revisiting old areas after obtaining new abilities. Crafting and customizing is also a key component, offering plenty of weapons including daggers, swords, hammers, katanas, and of course, whips. Players will find their favorite weapon types for sure, but there is a level of depth to finding the right weapon to take on the varied enemy types.

Last year at E3, I played the demo that was available on the E3 floor, but that was mostly a tech demo showcasing the movement, mechanics, and art style. This year I viewed a presentation by Igarashi himself, where I learned that the game would unsurprisingly take a lot of influence from Symphony of the Night, which can only be a good thing. It seems that the creator himself understands what made that game great and wants to create something on the same tier.

My hands-on time was spent in a single level set inside Gebel’s creepy castle. Just like Symphony of the Night, candlesticks and chandeliers were the primary light source and could be destroyed to reveal mana potions. Within the 20 minute demo, there was plenty to discover and I ended up with over a dozen weapons to choose from and modify. I got a feel for the deep level design, which I didn’t even get a chance to fully explore. There was a lot of content in this short demo, hopefully exemplifying the depth of each area. I can’t wait to spend the extra time finding all secrets and hidden areas in the final game.

Bloodstained is filled with areas to explore and secrets to uncover.

In addition to the classic-feeling combat, Miriam can summon familiars to aid her in battle. There will be a range of them throughout the game, but I only had access to one ghostly ally during the demo. This helped me to take out multiple enemies when I was feeling overwhelmed by crowds. Spells, such as fire balls, can also be utilized by pointing the right analog stick in the direction that you would like to attack. It almost feels like a twin stick shooter in that regard.

One of the great things about Castlevania is its very simple, stiff controls that help to create tension in the dreary environments. Bloodstained also embraces this style, feeling like a true successor. This is not a game where you rack up combos, as the attack button lets out only a jab or slash with whichever weapon is equipped. It is more calculated and has more of a focus on landing the right blows at the right time. Enemies present a solid threat, which can be avoided with a well-timed back step.

Platforming is even more precise with the capability to control the height of Miriam’s leap by holding the jump button longer. This works in tandem with a double jump, which is ideal for reaching higher areas. The platforming feels accurate and I had no issues reaching points of interest within the gothic castle. A simple map helped me to seek out places I hadn’t yet visited filled itself in as I discovered new areas.

Bloodless wears a dress made of blood. It’s a dark, challenging fight. Image Credit: Twinfinite

My experience was capped off with a challenging boss battle that I completed with only a sliver of health left, thanks to a number of potions that I had stocked up on. A pale naked woman emerged from a coffin only to be instantly clothed by a dress made completely out of blood. Bloodless was her name, and her violent bloodthirsty nature could fit right into Bloodborne. I used her floating umbrellas to avoid getting hit as she rained blood down on me, simultaneously chipping away at her long health bar.

Though the level that I played seemed to be fully realized, I gathered that the game is still very far from release. It is slated for 2018, though there is no window at this time. Kickstarter games often take 3-5 years to develop and are under a lot of pressure from backers. They don’t always deliver on their promises, but I felt very pleased with this one after getting hands-on time. What I’ve seen of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is fantastic and the worst thing would be to rush its release.