Ten years have passed since Koji Igarashi delivered Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, his last entry in the long-running vampire killing series. And I have to say, his input has been missed.
Thanks to Kickstarter and a legion of fans willing to fund him, however, he’s back with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. A spiritual successor to his Metroidvania titles, it has definitely been worth the wait. A culmination of all the work before him, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night does enough to stand on its own two feet, but feels familiar enough to sink into like a well-worn pair of slippers. In fact, it may even be his best work yet. And that’s high praise indeed considering Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Playing as Miriam, a Shardbinder spared a terrible fate ten years prior, it’s your job to track down Gebel, a friend who’s apparently succumbed to dark forces. Of course, that means venturing into a mysterious castle and tracking him down, and along the way you’ll have to defeat bosses and gain new skills to access new areas. So far, so Castlevania. To be honest though, it’s Castlevania from beginning to end, with only more fantastical enemies and a lack of bloodsucking setting it apart. But that’s really not a problem.
Featuring a map that’s bigger than any of those found in Koji Igarashi’s previous Castlevania efforts, the locales that you visit in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night are varied to say the least. Starting in a galleon, you take a short visit to a village before entering a sprawling castle. Areas are separated by fancy-looking hallways, no doubt a nod to Symphony of the Night, and just when you think you might be entering the final area, another one is revealed to present you with new enemies and challenges. If you’re wanting to see Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night‘s true ending, expect your adventure to last at least 15 hours.
What makes the experience such a joy is the sheer number of weapons and abilities at your disposal. Not being a Belmont, Miriam is free to use swords, daggers, maces and even guns to eradicate the foul creatures she faces – though she can use whips if you insist. More impressive, though, is her ability to absorb the shards of enemies, each and every one of them offering her a benefit in some way. Some provide her with new attacks; others help her navigate the environment. There are even shards that grant Miriam passive abilities, and others that summon familiars to follow her around and help out when they can. Players are given a hell of a lot of scope to create their own builds, carving their way through the game as they see fit.
Adding even more depth is a crafting system. New equipment and shards can be crafted, allowing you to make items that are more useful to your cause. Shards can also be upgraded, improving their effects in various ways, and food can be prepared which permanently increases your stats the first time you consume it. It all adds up to create one of the most engrossing adventures I’ve embarked upon in years, with a real sense of discovery and more than enough secrets to keep you going back. And even once you’ve completed the game you’re likely to return thanks to multiple difficulties, modes and new game plus functionality. There’s even more content on the way including alternative characters.
As much as it pains me to say though, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night isn’t perfect. One item needed to truly complete the game is tucked away in a chest in the most ridiculous of places, and on normal difficulty the challenge the game provides can be a bit erratic. More problematic, however, are the technical issues and bugs that you might encounter while playing. They take a game that is a 10/10 in spirit and drag it down.
I’ve played the game on a standard PS4, Xbox One X and Switch up to now, and each one has its quirks. On PS4 I’ve experienced frequent framerate issues that are quite problematic in some places, while on Switch a lower framerate in general leads to less responsive controls but also less noticeable fluctuations. The Xbox One X version of the game, on the other hand, looks and performs the best of the bunch but is behind in patches, which means that the balance of the game is a bit off and there are some minor differences with regards to item placements.
There’s one issue that’s prevalent on all console versions of the game I’ve played as well: items dropped by enemies are sometimes unobtainable. If you defeat an enemy and it drops an item on flat ground you’re fine, but if an item lands on an incline or in a wall, you’re often out of luck. It’s more of a minor annoyance more than anything, as the items dropped aren’t pivotal to you completing Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night; it just makes you wish the game had a little more polish.
But, despite its issues, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has had me hooked like no other game released this year. Koji Igarashi and those who have worked with him have proved that there’s still life in the old Metroidvania formula and delivered a modern-day classic. It perhaps loses a little something without the iconic Dracula as the big-bad, but the gameplay surpasses that of any previous Castlevania games created with the same mould. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night looks great, has a brilliant soundtrack and is overwhelmingly gratifying to play. If only it had a little more polish, then it’d be pretty much perfect.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. We reviewed the Switch version.