"Akin to the handheld Castlevanias and other independently made Metroidvanias, Bloodstained has failed to oust the king, and that really is okay."
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night earned gamers' instant attention when Koji Igarashi, who worked on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SotN), declared that he was going to make a spiritual successor. Although met with mixed reception during its production, primarily for its visuals, Bloodstained has come a long way. While a decidedly competent Metroidvania, is it the second coming of SotN, or is it simply another imitator?
Bloodstained follows Miriam, a shardbinder who has woken from a ten-year-long sleep. She meets a few companions along the way in the form of alchemists, exorcists, and denizens of a village who assist her in her mission to find and save Gebel, a dear friend who has apparently turned evil. The plot twists and turns throughout, following a simple formula experienced in so many other titles. Bloodstained's characters feel like pin-ups of archetypes or shells, acting as mere mouthpieces to move the story forward. Fans aren't here for the narrative, though, are they?
Similar to Alucard in SotN, Miriam equips all manner of weaponry, armor, helmets, and accessories. Few items in the game change her appearance, and those that do offer only modest alterations. In addition to physical equipment, she accumulates shards from enemies that give her access to spells, passive perks, familiars, and means of manipulating her environment. Yes, each enemy has a unique shard that has a decent chance to drop (gotta collect 'em all!), but most players will find a couple reasonable shards to latch onto; certainly, not all shards are created equal. I myself discovered what many have declared the most busted shard in the game. If you wish, this can be exploited to cheese several demons and bosses up until the later stages, but if this ruins the experience, just don't use it. It's that easy.
Other details in combat feel like afterthoughts, like special weapon abilities. Books littered around inform players that some weapons can do uppercuts, back attacks, rapid fire slashes, and so on. These feel more like novelties than actual necessities. Perhaps these come into play more on Nightmare difficulty, but on Normal and Hard, players probably won't rely too heavily on them. Crafting is another "fine" addition, but with all the weapons and armor available, players have little incentive to craft them all and try them out, since most don't offer a truly unique attack or abilities. Side quests exist in the form of fulfilling food, item, and bounty requests, but they offer little to the imagination and feel like tacked-on filler.
But how does it feel? That's one of the biggest factors in a Metroidvania. Overall, Bloodstained is smooth and addicting. Platforming functions fine overall, with the notable exception of three-dimensional environments in which it's not clear where one platform ends and another begins. Fortunately, these spiral towers don't turn up excessively. For the most part, hit boxes exist where they should, deaths are the player's fault (not the game's), and everything executes appropriately.
The other important aspect is the map, a crown no one has been able to swipe away from SotN. Bloodstained is no different. At first, players may be swept away by the castle, but a good quarter of the way through the game, typical Metroidvania fare sets in: get stuck, solve a puzzle, open the door, exhaust the map, get stuck again. Sure, SotN had similar instances, but the difference is how diverse and interwoven locations felt. Every area breathed its personality in visuals, music, enemy types, and amenities. Bloodstained starts to feel like the same hallway, shaft, and wide open space for most areas. Even some places that have cool visuals, like the lab, feel like previous areas with a different overlay.
Musically, Bloodstained doesn't touch SotN, but what does? Immediately after booting it up, my wife asked what game the music was from, which speaks to the attempt at replicating the SotN feel. That said, no one's going to be jamming out to a modern-day "Tragic Prince" or chilling to a new "Lost Painting." Essentially, the music is forgettable.
Now, the visuals. At first, I thought the game was way too shiny. I wasn't sure why the developers thought upping the glossy finish would somehow make it look better, but this doesn't last. Once players reach the castle, they are greeted by layered three-dimensional environments in a two-dimensional plane, but since their eyes will be drawn to the foreground, these environs may go unnoticed by the majority. Graphically and artistically, the game looks good, but by today's standards, it doesn't really pop the way it ought to. Speaking animations are stiff and awkward, and honestly, the game would be better off if the mouths just didn't move.
Bloodstained feels like SotN in combat, visuals, and plot but comes off as a rough impostor that we've gotten used to over the years. Rather than try to achieve its own identity, Bloodstained fails to compare to SotN in just about every aspect, but if you've never played its "predecessor," you'll find it a competent Metroidvania. Akin to the handheld Castlevanias and other independently made Metroidvanias, Bloodstained has failed to oust the king, and that really is okay.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.