Released on: June 18 2019 (PC, PS4, XBOX One), June 25 2019 (Nintendo Switch)
Available platforms: PC, PS4, XBOX One, Nintendo Switch)
Price: $53.49 CDN ($39.99 US)
Castlevania is a game series I admired since I was a teenager. My first one was Castlevania: Circle of the Moon for the Game Boy Advance. Unlike the classic Castlevania, where the goal is to get to the end, this one was a 2D adventure game. The player had to go around Dracula’s castle to find different upgrades, weapons, and armor to progress. I then discovered that many other Castlevanias played like this. Some key examples that come to mind are: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Castlevania: Aria and Dawn of Sorrow, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. I loved these 2D Metroid styled Castlevania games (known colloquially as Metroidvanias). The controls were tight, the worlds were fascinating to explore, and the bosses were impressive. Sadly, Castlevania’s relegation to gambling machines and mobile games left me wanting another good Castlevania game. Thankfully though, the original creator of the Castlevania games mentioned above rose from the ashes and help make Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Bloodstained promised to be a return to form from the progenitor of the “Metroidvania” genre. With numerous delays, did it end up being all it’s cracked up to be?
The player takes on the role of Miriam, a woman fused with the unholy power of demonically-charged crystals with the power of Alchemy known as a Shardbinder. These Sharbinders were to be a sacrifice to summon demons to scare the populace of 18th century England. Sadly, this backfired immensely (what a shock). The demons then caused the annihilation of the Alchemy Guild and most of England until the church stepped in to banish the demons. There were only two Shardbinders left at this point: a man named Gebel, and our protagonist Miriam. Miriam wakes after a decade long slumber caused by the Sardbinding. She learns that Gebel summoned a demon castle called the Hellhold to destroy the rest of England as a means of revenge. Miriam vows to destroy the demon castle and save Gebel from his vengeful self. The story may seem complicated when in text form, but it is a lot simpler than it looks. The rest of the plot will sound familiar to those who enjoy Castlevania games.
Bloodstained’s art style is unapologetically gothic, and I love it. The enemy designs feel unique. The castle is foreboding, with multiple settings. The garden, for example, uses a lot of shades of dark blue from the moonlight in the background. Even though every section has it’s own aesthetic, they all work with the gothic theme of the castle. As for the character models themselves, they also look stylish. I’ve heard that Bloodstained had delays due to the original textures not being up to snuff. Whatever they did in that delay, I believe they nailed it.
Hellhold itself is another major compliment for Bloodstained. I’ve always believed that the best Metroidvanias need an exciting world to explore, and it has to be enjoyable to travel through its world. Bloodstained does both spectacularly. There are so many secret rooms to find, easter eggs to uncover and exciting locations to discover. Even after beating the final boss, I felt compelled to go back and try to find every item in the game.
Bloodstained’s main feature is Miriam’s Shardbinding ability. Shardbinding allows Miriam to absorb the enemy’s crystal shards, giving the enemy’s power to the player. These range from launching the enemy’s projectile, summoning said foe, increasing a particular stat, unlocking a permanent ability, and even give Miriam the ability to manipulate the objects in her environment. What’s more, Miriam can increase how strong each power is by visiting Johannes, the alchemist. This Shardbinding mechanic gave me an extra incentive to slaying enemies.
One aspect that I enjoy a lot in the Metroid-style Castlevania games was how deceptively technical their gameplay was. Bloodstained plays almost like a carbon copy of those, which is a good thing. Miriam has pretty basic movement options at the start of the game, except for the backdash. At first glance, the backdash only seems useful when dodging enemy attacks. Backdashing after attacking will allow Miriam to either attack again regardless of how slow the weapon is or jump to regain movement. There are twelve weapon types in Bloodstained. If the player likes speedy strikes and doesn’t mind getting up close to the enemy, they might prefer the boots or the daggers. For more power and greater range at the cost of swing speed, the greatsword is an excellent option. There are even firearms in Bloodstained for those that like fighting at a distance and don’t mind ammunition management. If the player is looking for more depth to their weapon, there are secret moves that can be discovered by accessing bookshelves scattered all across the castle. Using these special moves reminds me of the 2D fighting games since their input is identical. Even though I seldom found a use for these moves, they are a neat nod to past fighting games. When the player has slain enough monsters, their level will increase, improving their damage output and damage resistance. I always liked this level up mechanic, as it makes backtracking much less repetitive.
During her adventure, Miriam will find a myriad of different weapons, armor, accessories, ingredients, and miscellaneous items. These discoveries are part of what makes Bloodstained so entertaining to explore. The numerous weapons, armor, and accessories decide how powerful Miriam will be. As explained in my Outer Worlds review, I like thinking about how I build my character. With the amount of stuff to find in Bloodstained, it is easy to decide on a character build. There are also tons of customization options for Miriam. Once the player finds the barber, they can customize Miriam’s hair and makeup. The player can also craft weapons, armor, accessories, and cook meals (by visiting Johannes). The accessories and dresses that the player decides to give to Miriam all show up on the character, allowing the player to change Miriam’s appearance. Cooking as many meals as possible is highly recommended, as the first consumption of a meal will permanently increase Miriam’s stats. There is so much stuff to find in Bloodstained. It wasn’t easy for me to stop myself from playing.
So now that I have stopped gushing about the things Bloodstained did right let’s take a look at where Bloodstained can improve.
On a technical level, I find Bloodstained sloppy. I often came across a glitch where if I activated a bookcase, my game would crash. These crashes were aggravating, as it meant I had to get back everything I had lost before saving. My contingency plan for this was to save before accessing any bookshelf. Saving my game beforehand was thankfully a winning strategy as the bookshelves are close to save points. Even though I had a plan to deal with these crashes, they happened far too consistently for me to ignore.
On the topic of technical sloppiness, I heard horror stories involving the Switch version of Bloodstained. Thankfully, I played on the Playstation 4, but I heard that the Switch version had significant framerate issues. To give a little bit of perspective: most games today run at sixty (60) frames-per-second (FPS). The PlayStation 4 version had no issues running at that framerate, except for one boss. This boss caused an excessive amount of lag (dipping to the low 10s). The Switch version could only run at thirty (30) FPS when conditions were optimal. Put anything on the screen, though, and the framerate would drop down to those low 10s. It has been a while since I encountered these issues, meaning they could have patched out those bugs. That said, first impressions are crucial, and these issues were significant.
While I did enjoy the graphics of the Playstation 4 version, the Switch version was a disappointment in this regard. Another subject that one might hear on gaming forums is the topic of display resolution. Display resolution is the number of pixels that are on the screen. For Bloodstained, the Playstation 4 version has a display resolution of 1920 x 1080 (known as 1080p) while the Switch version operates at 1280 x 720 (720p) when docked. Usually, this isn’t a big issue, but in Bloodstained’s case, the Switch version looks way muddier and nowhere near as visually appealing as the other console ports. This downgrade in resolution is baffling as the framerate is much rougher on Switch.
It is worth noting that the developers are working on patches to fix these technical issues, thus making these criticisms much less severe.
It is a shame that there are so many bugs and technical issues with Bloodstained since the game itself is phenomenal. Even with these technical shortcomings, Bloodstained is still my favorite Metroidvania of all time, dethroning Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. With so many items to find, a vast castle to explore, a killer selection of customization options for Miriam, and a robust option of character builds, Bloodstained Ritual of the Night is a must-play. I would recommend it on Playstation 4, XBOX One, or PC for the best experience.